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February 23, 2021
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Chasing major personal and team goals, Marianna endures an ’emotional roller coaster’

Wildwood Catholic standout Marianna Papazoglou, surrounded by Mainland players in a game earlier this season, is 49 points shy of tying the program career scoring record. She and her teammates are waiting to see if and when they can resume playing.


Marianna Papazoglou has described the last year as an “emotional roller coaster.”

It’s been that way for just about every high school athlete, as the COVID-19 pandemic has canceled, shortened and severely altered every sports season since the middle of last March.

For Papazoglou, however, dealing with the circumstances of the past year has been especially traumatic.

After finishing her junior season with 1,512 career points, the Wildwood Catholic Academy girls basketball standout appeared poised to not only break the program’s all-time scoring record but also become the first female basketball player in school history to score 2,000 career points.

But then in the spring, with the school closed at the genesis of the COVID-19 outbreak in this region, an announcement came that Wildwood Catholic High School was going to close its doors for good that June. That meant Papazoglou and all the other current Wildwood Catholic students would have to find another school to attend.

They were given a reprieve when the school eventually was saved after some major fundraising and organizational restructuring and rebranded into Wildwood Catholic Academy.

But then as the fall moved along, an announcement came that high school basketball teams in New Jersey would only be permitted to play 15 games instead of at least 26 and that the season would not start until late January. There would also be no state tournament as well.

Gone was Papazoglou’s chance at 2,000 career points.

She took that news in stride, however.

“I think what’s very special for our program is that we’re here and we’ve been able to play,” she said. “The entire thing this summer, whether we were going to even have our school and be in school, let alone have a season, I feel very fortunate. Just to be in school and to be able to play with my team every day taught me a lot.”

But then last week, on the eve of one of the biggest games of the season in South Jersey, Wildwood Catholic was forced to cancel practice Thursday due to a positive COVID test within the program. That meant Friday’s game with Middle Township – with first place on the line in the Cape-Atlantic East Division – was off. Wildwood Catholic’s team is currently in quarantine and, as of today, no definitive timetable has been set on when – or even if – the Crusaders will be able to return to the court.


Papazoglou, a 5-10 guard/forward heading to Division I Penn, was due to enter Friday’s game with Middle just 49 points away from tying 1990 graduate Carol “Budy” Blum’s program record of 1,759 points. Had the season gone on as normal – despite it being shortened to 15 games – the North Wildwood resident would have easily broken that record. Now, if Wildwood Catholic (7-1) doesn’t return, it represents another opportunity lost due to a health crisis that has affected so many.

“There’s no question Marianna has put in the time and the effort to achieve this personal goal as well as many other personal goals,” Wildwood Catholic coach Steve DiPatri said. “We all know how much in life is beyond our control and COVID has certainly reinforced that. To be a high school kid and to have some of those dreams shattered has to be devastating, whether she wants to admit it or not.”

Friday was perhaps the most emotional day of this whole ordeal for Papazoglou. That morning, she learned she was named as one of about 350 nominees for the McDonald’s All-American Game, a massive honor for any high school basketball player. Then, that afternoon, came the official news that not only was the rivalry game with Middle postponed but also that the Crusaders were forced into quarantine.

Being nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Game “was definitely another personal goal of mine ever since I was a kid,” Papazoglou said. “Especially being so close to (former Mainland star and now Oregon freshman) Kylee Watson and seeing her not just get nominated but becoming an All-American. I always looked at her as a role model, so just being able to be nominated is great.

“But the whole day was definitely an emotional roller coaster. I got such great news in the morning and then by the afternoon our game was cancelled. And then by the end of the day, it was really upsetting not knowing what’s going to happen going forward.”

DiPatri is hopeful that his team will eventually take the court next week, just like others in the area currently under quarantine such as Lower Cape May and Middle Township. But with the season mandated by the state athletic association to be complete by next Saturday, March 6, he admitted he’s not 100 percent sure what might take place regarding a potential resumption of play.

“I have faith we’ll have an opportunity to play and she’ll have the opportunity along with her classmates to have their Senior Night and she and the rest of the senior class can have their just due and get a nice sendoff in our gym, and, of course, that Marianna can achieve the (program) scoring record,” he said. “However, as we all know too well, with COVID things change day to day and we can only deal with the cards we’ve been dealt.”

Papazoglou is averaging 24.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 3.8 steals through eight games. All she can do is wait and hope to see if she can build upon those numbers.

“You definitely learn about not taking things for granted, especially during this time,” she said. “This is the first time we don’t have answers to certain things. This has changed everybody’s life in some way.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened so late in the season. We’ve played eight games, so to look at the bright side of it, I think we’re very fortunate to have played those games. I’m proud of our team and our coaching staff. It’s just a weird time. We don’t know many answers.”