OSWEGO — Joe Babcock has long admired the skill set of Oswego girls basketball center Caitlin Lilly, and will look to the senior standout to set the tone for his vision of the program during his first season as head varsity coach.
Lilly is back for a third varsity campaign to lead an experienced Buccaneers squad into the upcoming season, which will tip off at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 2 with a nonleague game at Baldwinsville.
The 5-foot-11 varsity mainstay was selected to the All-Salt City Athletic Conference first team as a junior last year while leading Oswego in scoring and rebounding, and garnered a second-team selection as a sophomore.
Lilly is one of six seniors back from a squad that finished 9-10 overall last season. She played a key role in the Buccaneers winning six of their last seven regular-season games to surge into the Section 3 Class A playoffs before suffering a season-ending loss to eighth-seeded Cortland in the first round.
“We have a lot of potential if we use it,” Lilly said following Oswego’s first practice of the season.
“Things could go really well, because I’ve played with about half of these girls since fifth and sixth grade, so we know how each other plays, and the other half we’ve played with throughout high school, so we could be really good if we work hard and work as a team.”
Babcock coached the Oswego junior varsity team last year and assisted with the varsity squad, and took over when former coach Chris O’Brien stepped down after last season. He previously coached a travel team in the area and said he first became familiar with Lilly when he saw her play in the Leprechaun League while she was in sixth grade.
Babcock said that he has frequently reminded Lilly that he is counting on her to be the “leader by example,” since he accepted the varsity coaching position.
“She’s always been a standout just because she’s very, very athletic and skilled at the game of basketball,” Babcock said. “I’m really looking forward to coaching her this year because I think I can add a lot of fundamentals to her game and she’s going to be an even bigger weapon.”
Lilly has proven to be a dynamic threat offensively as a capable scorer from deep and mid-range, runs the floor willingly and can post up to utilize her height inside.
She is likely to draw significant attention from opposing defenses, with coaches around Section 3 and SCAC scheming to limit her production much like last season, but Lilly said that she learned to pass out of double teams and trust her teammates when similar situations arose last season.
“I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m going to make it more difficult to stop me and my team, and I’m just looking to play hard,” Lilly said.
Lilly is also a standout volleyball and softball player for the Buccaneers, but described basketball as her favorite sport. She has played for a travel team during the offseason throughout her high school tenure and is aiming to continue her career in college.
Lilly will start the season under the guidance of a new coach for the third straight year, but said that her mother and coach during her youth playing tenure, Dawn Lilly, has provided a consistent source of counsel and motivation.
“I want to make my mom proud this season like I know I can,” Lilly said. “She used to coach me and is always there for me, even just during practices I would think my coaches were yelling at me, and I would tell my mom that and she would be like: ‘They’re just pushing you,’ and help me see that.”
Seniors Nicole Pappa and Megan Albright also should provide leadership and production along with Lilly as returning varsity mainstays, and junior Mary Culeton is expected to start at point guard and should be another critical component for the Buccaneers in Babcock’s debut season on the bench.
“We’re really trying to drive standards, build a real strong culture, and the kids have seemed to respond pretty well,” Babcock said. “If we come in and we work hard and we continue to build good habits, we have enough talent that the ‘W’s’ will come along with that.”