By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Carly Catania took the floor for the Comets this summer to battle against one Division I forward after another on the Girls Under Armour Association circuit.
Catania, a 5-9 guard from Villa Maria, wasn’t always an eye catcher in the box score but she grabbed rebound after rebound and made big play after big play on an undersized team. She more than held her own against some of the country’s best players.
“She’s not the biggest kid, but she plays like she’s 6-3,” Comets 17U coach Steven Gelone said. “She’s fearless and does the little stuff. She has a high basketball IQ, always in good position and she doesn’t really care. If there’s a game where she needs to score she does. If there’s a game where she’s gotta be a defender she does. She’s like that Swiss Army knife kid.”
Before the start of her senior season at Villa Maria found a college program that valued those traits. She announced in late November that she will continue her hoops career at the University of New Hampshire for head coach Kelsey Hogan.
“It was definitely stressful,” Catania said. “I had to be patient but I’m glad everything worked out.”
Villa Maria senior Carly Catania will continue her career at New Hampshire. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Catania said New Hampshire saw her play a few games for the Comets this summer and first reached out in early September. Villa Maria head coach Kathy McCartney didn’t make the initial introductions, but she was able to put a good word in as one of her former players Mandy Pennewell is in her third season as an assistant at New Hampshire.
That connection piqued Catania’s interest.
When she decided she didn’t want to play at D-II or D-III school, Catania’s options included preferred walk-on spots at New Hampshire and Fairfield. She visited both in the fall, heading up to Durham, N.H. to check out a practice before the start of her own season. She announced her commitment Nov. 27.
“Definitely the culture between the players and the coaches,” Catania said of what sold her on UNH. “The coaches really make an effort to get to know you and that’s what I really loved about it.”
Catania’s grandfather Don McLaughlin played at Holy Cross and her grandmother Mary McLaughlin played at St. Elizabeth. She is a fourth-year varsity player at Villa, but the desire and drive to play hoops at the next level didn’t fully begin to take hold of her until after her sophomore season.
“She let us know at the end of sophomore year she really wanted to play at the college level and we started marrying academics and basketball,” Gelone said. “New Hampshire is a great spot for her. She’s going to fit into their system because of how versatile she is and how hard she plays. We’re super excited. I wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to end up landing but she couldn’t have landed at a better place.”
Following a really good AAU summer leading into her junior campaign, Catania thought she had a chance to start for the Hurricanes last season before a soccer injury caused her to miss the first few games of basketball. She instead embraced a role off the bench behind five starting seniors for the 2022-23 Catholic Academies champions.
Catania was part of a District 1 basketball championship team as a sophomore for the Hurricanes and added a District 1 championship on the soccer pitch this fall.
This season, she exited her fall sport fully healthy and ready to take on a starring role for the Hurricanes after the graduation of a large senior class. That’s exactly what she’s done on an inexperienced team that is out to a 6-4 start overall and 2-0 start in the AACA, including a triple overtime win over last year’s league runner-up Gwynedd Mercy.
Catania played a "big" role for an undersized Comets team this summer. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“Her leadership skills have grown immensely,” McCartney said. “She’s our go-to person now. When she was a freshman she was a little timid and she’s grown into that. She’s not timid. She’s ready. She was the fifth wheel, and now she’s the No. 1 wheel and she’s ready to take that.”
Gelone had six other Division I players on his Comets team this summer, but Catania made it nearly impossible to take her off the floor. Even against the likes of GUAA champion FBC United and 6-foot-2 South Carolina commit Joyce Edwards she proved invaluable.
The coaches at New Hampshire saw it too when they watched Catania play this summer and once again after coming to see her play at Villa last month. She won’t have to play forward at the next level, but those toughness attributes are attractive to any coach.
“Definitely my rebounding and my aggressiveness on and off the floor,” Catania said of what the New Hampshire coaches liked.
“They’re a little bit bigger, so I’m going to have to move into the 2, 3 guard, which I can do that. It’s just going to be a little bit of an adjustment.”
McCartney has had Division I talent come through her program over the last 36 years. She’s seen what it takes to thrive at the highest level of college basketball. She’s certain Catania fits that mold.
“I already told their coaches, she may be a preferred walk-on, but she’s gonna play,” McCartney said. “You gotta put her in the game because of how aggressive she is and how strong she is. She’s gonna be a player.”