By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
A 2015 Super Bowl commercial may have altered Kimmy Casiello’s life forever. She was just 10 years old when she saw the clip featuring Braylon O’Neill, a child who is able to play sports and do everything with the help of prosthetic legs.
Casiello is a senior at Wildwood Catholic High School, a three-sport star athlete and somebody who is planning to study biomedical engineering in college. Someday, she may be the one designing new prosthetic devices for people.
“When I was younger, I remember watching a Super Bowl commercial. I’m a science-nut type of brain and a hands-on type of person, always playing with Legos and stuff like that, so I figured that might be the thing for me,” said Casiello, a four-year starter on coach Steve DiPatri’s outstanding Crusaders basketball team.
She’s planning to continue her basketball career at the collegiate level, but this spring she’s been enjoying her track season, her senior year with less of a global pandemic that nearly wiped out her entire junior year of sports, and looking forward to what life has in store for her. She’s also taking some time to reflect on a brilliant high school basketball career that included 77 wins and a berth in this year’s Cape-Atlantic League Tournament championship game.
“Kimmy had a great career for us. She topped it off with a sensational senior year where she was clearly our leader, a focal point of our offense as our point guard, and just well respected by our team,” said DiPatri, one of South Jersey’s winningest coaches. “She’s what programs are all about, you have kids who have been with you for years and understand the expectations and the culture, and they become your coaches on the floor and in the locker room. Kimmy was a perfect example of that, and she helped transition us from one group of kids to the next.”
Casiello, it seems, was born to play basketball. Her mother, Roseanne, is one of the famed eight Feraco siblings (Middle Township’s basketball court is named after Tom Feraco, one of South Jersey’s best all-time boys basketball coaches) and Kimmy’s older siblings, Chrissy and T-John, both played the sport at Wildwood Catholic.
“My whole family went to Wildwood Catholic — my older siblings, T-John and Chrissy — and my mom is a Feraco with eight siblings, and the whole Feraco clan went to Wildwood Catholic,” Casiello said. “Both my parents were raised Catholic and they believe in a Catholic education, so Wildwood Catholic was the best fit for me.”
Casiello made a big impact for the Crusaders right away as a freshman — even if she wasn’t expecting to.
“It was unfortunate for our senior at that time, Erin Connelly, she tore her ACL and I was next up, so I just had to take over that role as the next person in line. It was a little scary at the beginning because we had Gabby Turco, Marianna (Papazoglou), Alyia (Gray-Rivera) and Lauren (McCallion) and they were all upperclassmen and I was a little freshman. But they were all great teammates and they quickly got me acclimated to their style of play. They just got me up to speed really quickly. I got used to it, and after a few games I started gaining confidence being a freshman starting,” she said. “The tempo does increase from eighth grade to high school, and you see teams with a lot of upperclassmen who are bigger and stronger — a lot of people were bigger than me because I’m only 5-foot-3 — so it was a change, but in the summer (after my freshman year) I just had to work on getting stronger, and that helped me keep up with the pace of varsity.”
In Casiello’s first varsity season, Wildwood Catholic went 23-6 and made it to the Cape-Atlantic League Tournament and state sectional semifinals. She was part of an outstanding group led by Marianna Papazoglou and Gabby Turco. The next year, when Casiello was a sophomore, the Crusaders went 22-5 and again made it to the league semis. Most of her junior year was wiped out because of Covid-19, however, as in 2020-2021 Catholic played in just 10 games.
So, heading into this past season, Casiello had the burden of trying to bridge the gap between an outstanding senior class that graduated in 2021 and the next group of young stars, all while having her key junior season cut by more than half.
“Everybody talks about the shortened covid year, but for the kids in program it was more the shortened covid summer. Summer is when kids can really work to get better. We say it all the time, ‘players are made from March to November, teams are made from November to March.’ And these kids missed from March of 2020 until January of 2021, not having the ability to be together,” DiPatri said. “That break in your career — Kimmy had a great sophomore year and people forget what kind of year she had that year. To have that pause, to have her junior year when we only played about 10 games, we were expecting to have a great year but it couldn’t be the year we were thinking of. I think for everybody — seniors looked at it a little differently because they didn’t really get to have a full senior year — but even our kids this year, even our sophomores, nobody knew about them. They were freshmen in a year when we had a bunch of seniors and they didn’t get that summer to get better.”
“It was very difficult, especially with AAU and trying to get coaches to come and watch you but they couldn’t,” Casiello added. “It really messed up the junior year for me. We only had eight or 10 games and we couldn’t get that many practices in. It was very different, and annoying.”
Despite the lost games and practice time, Casiello said she had a good feeling about the 2021-2022 season, even if not many people in South Jersey had ever heard of some of the players who were slated to be in the Crusaders’ starting lineup.
“I think right from our summer camp in August we really started clicking well together,” Casiello said. “We looked at each other and saw we could be a great team. I think people underestimated us a little bit because we lost all those seniors, but after watching us you couldn’t underestimate us anymore because we really jelled together. Each and every game we got better and clicked more. Our starting five is really close, I actually take most of them to school, so I see them every single day. Basically, we saw each other all day until we had to go to bed.”
The fact that a team with not much varsity experience could put up 23 wins and make a run to the league tournament title game is a testament to Casiello’s leadership abilities.
“That’s one of the best lessons sports can teach you is leadership, and the way a team, program or business goes about its work is what proves its long-term success. Hopefully these are lessons Kimmy will take into college and her professional life,” DiPatri said. “I saw it from her when she was in seventh and eighth grade. You could see she had that personality. She’s the kind of person I call ‘a connector.’ She’s the kind of person who can build bridges between people and help people be the best versions of themselves. I wasn’t surprised with her ability to connect with this group and propel it to success this year.
“She’s well spoken, she’s easy going — it doesn’t always have to be about her. She does everything with a smile. But at the same time, she’s business-like, too. I could hear her saying things that I’ve been saying throughout the years, and there is no better thing that a coach, a boss or a teacher wants than to hear the things they are preaching repeated,” he added. “Part of the art and science of coaching is that kids come in all shapes and sizes, and molding them into being the best they can be. That’s what it’s all about. And to have great leaders like Kimmy makes our jobs as coaches easier.”
“I learned from the best, from the past seniors like Marianna, Gabby and Alyia. I knew as a senior I’d be one of the few and I’d have to take that role,” Casiello said. “From freshman year I knew I’d have to lead a group eventually, so I just learned and watched everyone before me. It was kind of natural in a way because I’ve learned from my older siblings as well, they taught me and my parents have taught me how to lead. It was natural.”
Casiello said she’ll miss everything about Wildwood Catholic when she graduates next month, from the tiny home gym to the bus rides, the summer workouts and everything in between. What she’ll miss most, however, is being able to put on that blue-and-white jersey.
“It’s the best team and I would no doubt represent Wildwood Catholic in a heartbeat,” she said. “We’re a great family together. We’re like a sisterhood, basically. It was a great honor to play for coach DiPatri’s team and to play with such great girls. It meant a lot to me to wear that jersey for four years.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays
Captain’s Corner: Wildwood Catholic senior Kimmy Casiello a natural born leader
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN