Penn-Trafford grad Palarino excels in role for St. Francis
More than anything, to be successful in college athletics, one has to understand and learn his or her role so the whole team can be successful.
St. Francis (N.Y.) women's basketball coach John Thurston pulled Penn-Trafford grad Maria Palarino into his office last week just to make sure he and his standout hybrid player were on the same page as the Terriers looked ahead to the second half of Northeast Conference play.
“Coach (John Thurston), the other day, pulled me into the office and said, ‘What do you think your role is on the team?' ” said Palarino, who ranks third on the team averaging 9 points through 19 games. “I'm a role player. An important part of being a part of a team is understanding your role and going out there every night and understanding what your role is.”
Inside, outside, up top or down low, Palarino has earned the role as Terriers' utility player in her second season as a starter. The 5-foot-10 former NEC All-Rookie first-teamer as a freshman, Palarino has come into her own as a junior and admits she feels comfortable with everything from hitting the books to the hardwood.
“Coming out of high school and the (high school) season is now just now wrapping up, and that was definitely an adjustment,” Palarino said. “Traveling on the weekends, your bags are a couple of pounds heavier (because of books). Your professors don't care, and that's no excuse.
“Our coach is a really big academics guy.”
Named to the NEC Winter Commissioner's Honor Roll as a sophomore, Palarino is beginning to put it all together around the halfway point of her collegiate playing career. She ranks first in field-goal percentage (.508) and 3-point percentage (.474) and is second in total rebounds (94).
“Maria is having another excellent year,” said Thurston, who is in his sixth season as the Terriers coach. “Maria's strength and her true value to our team is her versatility. She can play the No. 1 thru No. 5 positions offensively and defend No. 1 through the No. 5 defensively. Not many can do that.”
After last season, Palarino made sure she was going improve her defense.
“She always defends the other team's best player,” Thurston said. “Her toughness carries over to the other players, and she plays as hard in practice as she does in a game.”
Thurston is going to need Palarino and her teammates to be more consistent through the second half of the conference schedule to remain in the hunt for one of the six NEC tournament spots.
The Terriers (8-13, 4-6) finished 2017 riding a two-game losing streak that stretched to four games before rebounding with a three-game win streak. After last Saturday's 50-47 loss to NEC rival Wagner, St. Francis is mired in the middle of the standings at the sixth and final postseason spot.
“I think that we've come together, and we know that if we play to our maximum potential that we are definitely one of the top teams in this conference,” Palarino said. “We can beat any team in this conference on a good night for us.”
William Whalen is a freelance writer.