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12/27/02 Patalano leading her team from bench

Knee injury doesn't stop C-C senior from being a role model

By Jeff DiVeronica
Democrat and Chronicle

(December 27, 2002) — RIGA — Before their girls basketball game last week, the Fairport players approached the Churchville-Chili bench to offer their best wishes to Joanna Patalano, who found out the day before that her senior season was over because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Fairport was about to try to avenge last year’s loss in the Section V Tournament semifinals to C-C, but that gesture -- moments before a big early season game -- showed the type of respect Patalano has earned.

Over the past four years, she has grown from talented young player to solid contributor to unquestionable leader for the Saints in soccer, basketball and softball. They used to be a dangerous underdog. Now they’re a championship contender and Patalano has been a driving force.
 

“It’s bigger than just sports,” basketball coach Ryan Raftery says. “She’s a role model to kids who aren’t that much younger than her. And it’s more than, ‘I want to be like Joanna because she’s a great player.’ They want to be like Joanna because she’s a great kid -- a straight-A student, someone who spends countless hours helping kids in little biddy basketball and soccer.”

MAX SCHULTE

Joanna Patalano, left, chats with Lisa Howe, whose daughter Caitlin ended her senior season prematurely last year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Patalano, a Churchville-Chili senior, has been a leader in the school and admired by opposing players.

A guard-forward and All-Greater Rochester pick, she averaged 19.8 points, 10.1 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 5.2 steals last season in basketball, guiding C-C to its second straight Section V title.

She averaged 17.5 points and about seven rebounds as the Saints started this season 3-1, but she suffered the ACL tear in a Dec. 10 loss at Penfield.

It’s the second straight winter Section V has lost arguably its top player to an early season ACL injury. Caitlin Howe’s standout career at Fairport ended Dec. 11, 2001. Surgery is scheduled for Jan. 15 on Patalano’s right knee. But she will be on the bench and in the huddle, helping her younger teammates with encouragement.

“It has raised my spirits to know people out there care,” she says.

Patalano was initially devastated by the injury. “Sports have pretty much been my life in high school,” says the All-Monroe County pick in three sports last school year.

But her legacy won’t soon be forgotten.

“She’s the best leader I’ve coached in my 20 years,” softball coach M. P. Dewey says. “In every sport, she’s had a huge impact on teammates.”

It was Dewey, then the basketball coach, who brought Patalano up to varsity as an eighth-grader for sectionals and gave her immediate minutes. Before Patalano’s freshman season, Dewey said she had the tools to become one of the best players in school history.

Indeed, she has. The 5-foot-8 Patalano ranks first in career points (1,200, 15.8 average), assists (479, 6.4 avg.) and steals (272, 3.6 avg.) and third in rebounds (587, 7.7 avg). C-C is 57-19 in her career.

“She’s always hustling. She’ll find ways to beat you,” said Fairport guard-forward Liz Hahn, an AAU teammate of Patalano’s with the WNY Lady Lakers. “She’s not a dirty player, but she’ll find a way to get in your kitchen and get you frustrated. She outrebounds people who are 6-foot or taller.”

It is because of sheer determination and smarts. Patalano says her father, Gary, has taught her a ton and “given me the drive I’ve shown the past few years.”

“If she went to anyone’s practice, even a Division I (basketball) team, and just practiced with them for a week, the coach would find her a spot,” Raftery says. “But she’s not the best shooter, the best rebounder or defensive player.”

He pauses, points to his heart. “But she’s the best inside. You can’t match that.”

She’d like to play soccer and basketball in college. Roberts Wesleyan, Brockport State, William Smith and Cortland have shown interest.

Patalano has a favorite moment in each sport. A two-time AGR defender in soccer, she helped guide the Saints to their first sectional title last fall. They had lost two of the past three finals. In basketball, it was winning a second straight crown. Underdog C-C, the No. 4 seed, upset No. 1 Fairport and No. 2 Greece Athena to finish on top.

“No one thought we could get to where we went,” she says.

Patalano is a vocal leader, never afraid to raise her voice, but teammates understand that’s just how she is.

“They know I’m passionate about the game. They respect that,” she says. “They know I’m not trying to be hurtful.”

The young basketball team, which also is likely will be without starting guard Kelly Monahan (mononucleosis) the rest of the season, will now have to listen to Patalano’s advice from the bench.

“The girls cried about Joanna’s injury, not because they thought their season was over,” Raftery says. “They cried because their leader, their friend, the girl they look up to, isn’t going to be there on the floor anymore.”

E-mail address: jdiveron@DemocratandChronicle.com

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Patalano file
School: Churchville-Chili.

Class: Senior.

Sports: Soccer, basketball, softball.

Academics: 96 average.

Height/weight: 5-feet-8/140 pounds.

Positions: Defender/goalie (soccer), guard/forward (basketball), center field (softball).

Nickname: Joey.

Honors: Twice named All-Greater Rochester in soccer and an AGR basketball pick last season. All-Monroe County in three sports last school year. 2002 Monroe County Division I Soccer Player of the Year.

From the coach: "She's the best leader that I've coached in my 20 years. In every sport, she's had a huge impact on teammates," Churchville-Chili softball coach M.P. Dewey.