Though she has always had a strong admiration for the sport, Seton Hill junior Courtney Cecere gained an even deeper sense of what truly makes basketball special this winter.
Cecere, a 2017 graduate of Forest Hills, and her Lady Griffins were on a roll to open the season. Seton Hill commenced the season with a 10-1 stretch, highlighted by Cecere sweeping the PSAC weekly award slate in the opening weekend.
The Griffins ended the year with several substantial victories, including a 102-85 victory over Shepard Dec. 21. But while the New Year’s festivities typically promise new beginnings, Cecere’s first action of the new calendar year proved to be the end.
Cecere suffered a season-ending injury Jan. 3 at Mercyhurst and was forced to watch her team from the sidelines. Missing it’s star, Seton Hill struggled to close out the year. The Lady Griffins went 4-14 the remainder of the season with only three wins in conference play during that time, all in the PSAC West.
It appeared as though the program would miss the playoffs for the first time since joining the PSAC scene years ago, but the Griffins (14-15) did earn a playoff berth before being eliminated by Edinboro in the first round, 82-61.
“My team performed very well at the beginning but struggled severely at the end, eventually losing to Edinboro in the first round of the PSAC tournament,” Cecere said. “However, what made my team special was that we were able to put basketball aside when we were in the classroom and even in other areas on campus. We were students and people outside of the gym and the locker room.”
Before suffering her season-ending injury that ended her season, Cecere was on a tear to open the season. In 11 games, she averaged 10.5 points/game and was one of the most dominant players in the PSAC. While her offensive play was admirable, her defensive play was even more staggering.
Averaging 27.8 minutes/game, she totaled 73 rebounds, including 57 defensive boards. She was twice named the PSAC West Defensive Player of the Week.
She also racked up 42 assists and 25 steals.
“As a player, or when I was able to be on the floor, my strengths were being a good floor general and being able to tell others different things that were happening, what we were running or what defense we were playing,” Cecere said. “I was a good defender as well, winning the Defensive Player of the Week award for the PSAC West two times in six weeks. I set goals to hold the best players of teams to certain stats.”
Once her season came to a close due to injury, Cecere was forced to take a different viewpoint to the game. Notoriously throughout her career, Cecere has been a workhorse for her teams. A two-time District 6 champion in high school with Forest Hills as well as a third-team All-State athlete, coaches typically want her to have the ball in her hands when the game matters most.
But with her role now shifting to a motivational/leadership mentality, she quickly had to focus on being there for her team—even if the ball was not in her hands.
“On the bench, some of my strengths were seeing what was going to
happen next and being able to tell my team that on the floor,” she said. “(I could) even help out younger players who might not have gotten as much playing time so that they are aware of it too.”
Luckily for Cecere, a coach’s mentality is in her blood. Her mother, Carol, who was also her head coach in high school, is one of the winningest coaches in Cambria County over the past decade. Her father, Ralph, served as an assistant coach in the All American Amateur Baseball Association (AAABA) national tournament.
Amid the difficult circumstances, the eldest Cecere child was able to prevail. Looking at the game through a different lens, she trained herself to grow better as a person and a player because of what she has faced.
“My personal game has grown throughout the season tremendously by becoming a
better leader and a better listener,” Cecere said “Having to spend a majority of the season on the bench gave me a different perspective of the game, and I eventually was able to predict different things happening on the floor. I believe this will significantly change the way that I play in my final season as a Griffin.”
Even though the dust has just settled on the season, Cecere is eager to get back to work to make up for her lost time this season. While she is going to make sure her injury is properly healed before getting in the thick of her training, she has already mapped out an extensive offseason plan to prepare for her senior year.
“I plan on preparing for my senior season by doing rehab as much as possible and
pushing my limits to be stronger than I was last year to prevent any more injuries,” she said. “I also have been working hard on my ball handling by scheduling individual practices with coaches before the schools were all closed for the remainder of the semester. I will continue to work on my footwork to get back to where I was and being a quality defender that my teammates can rely on. I definitely want to continue to improve on my scoring and my offensive game, but that will have to wait until I am cleared from injury.”
Seton Hill will return a strong class in 2020-21 with only one senior leaving the starting lineup. Recognizing the potential her team has for next season, make no doubt that Cecere will be fully prepared this upcoming winter.
“I plan on becoming the best basketball player that I can be by working throughout the summer in the gym and the weight room,” Cecere said. “Lastly, I’ll make my team better by getting some extra work in with coaches and teammates during the preseason when I return to Seton Hill University.”