The Wantagh High School front gymnasium was silent as senior varsity basketball player Caitlin Albanese made a free throw to score her 1,000th career point on Jan. 29.
Once the ball swished through the net, her teammates and friends rushed to the court to hug her, congratulating the 18-year-old on her goal. “I was so happy,” she said.
During the home game against Valley Stream North, the athlete realized that the goal she had been working toward since eighth grade was within reach. “When I was playing, I was, like, ‘oh my gosh, this is going to happen,’” she said. “And then, when it did, it was just amazing.”
The point made Albanese the second female in Wantagh High School basketball history to score 1,000 points, Alex Parlato was the first, in 2015. “I was actually close with Alex when we were on the team,” Albanese said, about her time in the school’s varsity basketball program in eighth grade.
“It was a pretty amazing feeling,” Albanese said of her accomplishment, which helped her team win the game with a score of 63 to 18. “It’s been something I’ve been working to achieve, so it was pretty cool.”
Coach Stan Bujacich said watching his player score her 1,000th point was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I wanted to break down in tears,” he said, as his eyes filled up. “It was that exciting.”
Bujacich, who has coached varsity for 26 years, said it touched his heart when Albanese reached her goal. “That kid put so much into this game, it’s unbelievable,” he said. “She put every ounce of energy to every drill to every player on the court. She never takes off. She’s just always ready to go and I think the team feeds off of that, which is good.”
The 5-foot-3-inch competition-driven athlete said her love for basketball began in first grade, when her father, Michael Albanese, taught her how to play the game in their driveway. “It made a special bond with my parents and me, especially my Dad,” she said. “It’s something that helped me get away from [the] stress of school [and] stress in life.”
From first through fourth grade, Michael coached his daughter with the Police Athletic League. Michael also coached her in the Catholic Youth Organization, while she was in fourth through eighth grade. “Me and him are very close,” she said. “He’s tough on me. Very tough love. But it worked out.”
Albanese graduated from her father’s teaching in ninth grade when the Baldwin High School basketball coach, Tom Catapano, shaped her skills in the Amateur Athletic Union’s Lightning basketball club. She stayed through 11th grade. Currently, she concentrates on her high school team.
In addition to club basketball, Albanese attended the Wantagh High School basketball camp as a fifth- and sixth-grader. She joined the junior varsity team while a seventh-grader at Wantagh Middle School and made the varsity team in eighth grade.
Albanese’s mother, Kathleen, attends every one of her games. “She’s always there cheering and being my No. 1 supporter,” she said.
The athlete is also close to her 16-year-old sister, Alyssa. Alyssa plays volleyball and was on the team that won the state championship this season.
Love of the game
Albanese said she loves the competitiveness of basketball. “I just love stopping a girl,” she said about playing defense and blocking a player from the opposing team from scoring. “Shutting a girl down, I love that feeling,” she explained. “I love having that competitive edge.”
The athlete has also played soccer since she was 6 years old, although basketball is her favorite sport. She said the sports require different mindsets. “I just think that [basketball] is smaller [and] more confined,” she said. “We have 30 seconds to do something and make the best out of the 30 seconds.”
Albanese averages 15 points-per-game, with five steals and three rebounds. She has a shooting percentage around 40 percent and a 30 percent average shooting three-pointers. “Anything close to 30 percent in three-pointers for high school kids is really good,” Bujacich said.
The main difference between boys and girls basketball is the physicality of the sport, she said. “Boys’ [basketball] I think is more physical and a faster-paced game,” she said.
Apart from basketball, the senior loves to shop, get her nails done and spend time with her friends. “I’m a very girly girl,” she said.
Albanese is unsure where she wants to go to school next year, but she has received offers from several colleges. She preferred not to speak about them, because she is undecided about her post-high school basketball career.
The Wantagh Warriors have won a majority of their games this season with an overall record of 12-5, according to the Max Preps website listing team standings. The team is ranked 179th in the state.
Albanese never had a defining moment when she knew basketball was her favorite sport. “I think I just always liked it,” she said. “It was always my No. 1 sport.”