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St. John the Baptist looks to take final step to state title

Abby Gress of St. John the Baptist during

Abby Gress of St. John the Baptist during a basketball practice on Dec 1, 2019. Credit: Anna Sergeeva

St. John the Baptist’s Abby Gress remembers walking off the court at Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym after losing in the CHSAA Class A state championship in March.

“I was so upset,” Gress recalled.

So after the 11-point loss to Cardinal Spellman, there weren’t many words spoken between Gress and her best friend, Cougars dynamo guard Cara McCormack. Their friendship goes back to second grade at St. Patrick School in Smithtown.

“There’s a lot of things that we don’t have to say to each other,” Gress said. “I know sometimes after that kind of loss, she wouldn’t want to talk that much.” 

The two and the Cougars regrouped and are ready for the 2019-20 season.

“We’re working really hard to do it again,” Gress said. “We’ll be back.”

Not only will Gress and McCormack be back, the Cougars return 12 players, including nine seniors, from their state finalist team.

It all starts with the Holy Cross-bound McCormack. The 5-3 guard averaged 15.5 points, four steals and 3.6 assists en route to CHSAA Player of the Year honors. 

But the Cougars are far from a one-player show. Gress, a 5-10 wing, is a nightmare matchup for opposing CHSAA coaches.

“Guards can’t cover her because of her height, and bigs can’t guard her because she’s so quick and has great low-post moves,” McCormack said. “I love playing with her.”

The feeling is mutual.

“She’s always had that effort and hard work,” Gress said of McCormack. “She feeds energy to other people and makes them better.”

Anna Rich also knows how McCormack can make her teammates better. The senior guard has battled McCormack in practice since they were freshmen and played against her in CYO and AAU games since grade school.

“Being pitted against her in practice makes you such a better player, because she is the hardest-working person on the court,” Rich said. “She makes you want to be a better player.”

The feeling was contagious among the Cougars during a recent workout. Besides Gress, McCormack and Rich, SJB features seniors Jess Deagan, Jen and Dee Gaffney, Katie Maguire, Kennedy Keenan and Cat Carleo.

“These seniors take over in practice,” SJB coach Kate Gordon said. “They’re cheerleaders to the younger kids, and they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing. Now we just have one more check on our list to be checked off.”

Which is?

“Get to the Federation [tournament],” said the sixth-year coach. “That’s our expectations and it won’t come easy. There’s never a moment you can take for granted with any team we’re playing against.”

That would include the likes of Sacred Heart, Kellenberg, and Our Lady of Mercy, which will battle the Cougars for the A title.

St. Anthony’s, which has won four straight CHSAA championships (and three straight AA crowns), looks to talented 6-1 sophomore wing Colleen McCullagh and 5-11 junior wing Gianna Santacroce. Seniors Synclair Taylor and Kayli Parham also will be counted on to continue the Friars’ winning ways. St. Mary’s, which won the league crown in 2015, will also be in the playoff mix.

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