Three’s a crowd, but not for Baldwin’s backcourt.
Juniors Aziah Hudson and Jenna Annecchiarico comprise not only one of the best backcourts in girls basketball on Long Island, but also one of the most experienced. They have played together on varsity since seventh grade and have complemented each other on the court going back to third grade.
Then there’s Kaia Harrison, the third piece to the dynamic trio. She’s a grade younger and would be the star on many teams, but for the Bruins she’s the true point guard who orchestrates the offense.
She’s grown with her two teammates through elementary and Middle School before coming to varsity a year after them. All three are among Newsday’s Top 50 players to watch this season.
“We have a huge connection on the court and off the court,” Hudson said. “We all think alike because we’re all best friends. We have to try and win these games and do it together.”
Their chemistry has helped the Bruins to three consecutive Nassau AA championships, but they’ve failed to advance past the Long Island championship each time. This year’s team is comprised entirely of returnees from last year’s 20-3 team, except for one player.
“We got older, we have a bigger responsibility to handle, everyone’s counting us,” Annecchiarico said. “But we know what we have to do.”
Having three high-level guards gives coach Tom Catapano the ability to mix and match players for each situation. Depending on how small he wants to go, all three could be on the floor at any time. If they’re all playing together, Harrison best fits the point guard position, while Annecchiarico is the shooter and Hudson is the small forward.
“It’s an exciting thing,” said Catapano, entering his eighth season as the coach. “I’ve never had so many kids return. It’s really, really exciting.
“The kids are hungry. I’m anticipating a deep playoff run this year.”
Each player brings an invaluable asset to the court. For Annecchiarico, it’s her handling and quickness. Hudson’s explosive first step and ability to finish at the rim is unparalleled. Harrison’s court awareness and passing allows her to control the flow of the offense. She knows where Annecchiarico and Hudson will be before they get there. It’s ingrained in her mind to find them when she crosses half-court.
“They’re actually both very good finishers,” Harrison said. “I always look for them.”
The older pair have helped Harrison along since she joined the team as a seventh grader, motivating her when an aspect of her play needed improvement.
But they’ve all been playing together for so long, there really is no divide in how they see themselves.
“She’s always playing up with us,” Harrison said. “It’s always the three of us in every game.”
While any projection would have Baldwin going on a deep playoff run, it needs to have a successful season to get there. It takes focusing on the opponents coming up and not getting hung up on the what-ifs of February.
“We’re not a cocky team — we’re still hungry to beat the best teams out there,” Hudson said. “We usually win, yes, but we’re still hungry to win and try to make it upstate this year.”
Senior Montia Moon is a defense-first player, and senior forward Sarah Pulis is coming off a missed season because of ACL surgery and provides an athletic presence in the frontcourt. Both will be factors in another Bruins run, but it starts with the talented trio bringing up the ball.
And as if it’s any shock, the best friends think alike when it comes to how they want their season to end: with a trip upstate.
“Everyone has to have the same mindset,” Annecchiarico said. “We all want the same thing.”