By BRIAN CUNNIFF
Kimmy Casiello averaged 10.5 points per game for the Wildwood Catholic Academy girls basketball team this season, good for second on the team.
She also led the team in assists per game at 4.0 and steals per game at 2.0. And, despite standing around 5-3, Casiello also managed to average 3.9 rebounds per contest, good for fourth on the team.
The numbers, however, do not tell the whole story when it comes to the senior point guard’s value to her team, which finished 23-6 with championship game appearances in the Cape-Atlantic League and South Jersey Non-Public B tournaments.
“Kimmy’s leadership and experience were critical to our team’s success this year,” WIldwood Catholic coach Steve DiPatri said. “We would not have been able to have the same kind of season we had without the intangibles she brought to the plate.”
Casiello was the lone senior on a Crusader team that tied a program record for wins in a season.
“I just knew I had to step up as a leader, being the only senior and the person with the mostar experience,” Casiello said. “Since I had started since I was a freshman, I knew I had to give all my knowledge and attempt to be a leader and show that we could do whatever we want as a team if we practice hard and play hard and give it our all.”
Casiello’s value to her teammates was on full display after a home game against Egg Harbor Township late in the regular season. After posting 11 points, six assists and two steals on Senior Night in a 62-50 victory that clinched an unbeaten season in Cape-Atlantic United Conference games, Casiello was lifted onto the shoulders of her appreciative teammates during the celebration after the game. Photos of the celebration, with a smiling Casiello lofted into the air, made the rounds on social media for days.
“Often people will try to lead but they don’t have people that want to be followers,” DiPatri said. “The pictures and images of that night are indicative of how our team followed her and how strong her leadership was for us.”
Casiello was overwhelmed by the moment.
“That was a great moment, because my team, they’re just fantastic,” she said. “I could see that they love me a lot. It’s just a fun group. I know they’re always going to be there for me, just like I always try to be there for them. It really meant a lot to me because they showed me a lot of love and that they really valued me as their teammate.”
Casiello nearly didn’t get to finish the season on her terms. An awkward fall after being fouled early in a third-round state playoff game against Gloucester Catholic sent Casiello to the bench with arm injury for the remainder of the game. Her teammates managed to rally from an eight-point deficit to get the victory and send the program to its first South Jersey title game appearance since 1998.
Two nights later, with her wrist and forearm in severe pain, Casiello took the floor anyway against a heavily favored Rutgers Prep team and managed to score nine points in a 67-36 defeat.
“I knew that was going to be the last game of my high school career and, to me, it just can’t end that way,” she said. Casiello paused, then added with a laugh, “To the Casiellos, injuries aren’t really a thing. I had to give it my all. Maybe I shouldn’t have been out there, but it was my last game and it was a special moment since it was a South Jersey Final. It was an honor to be there, so I had to play.”
Casiello has been around basketball her entire life. Her older sister, Chrissy, and older brother, T. John, were both standout players at Wildwood Catholic. T. John went on to play collegiately at Division II University of the Sciences, briefly played professionally overseas and currently runs a successful basketball training venture in the Cape May County area. Her uncle, Tom Feraco, was a longtime successful boys coach at Middle Township. Her parents, Steve and Roseanne, rarely missed a game over her entire four-year career at Wildwood Catholic.
“It was great being around it as a young child and watching my siblings play,” Casiello said. “I don’t remember my sister playing as much because I was pretty young but I remember a lot about my brother playing, especially when he was in college.
“I’ve always had great support from my family and my extended family. They’ve always been there for me to give me whatever I need when I need it.”
Casiello, who was also a soccer standout at Wildwood Catholic, has two more basketball games to play as a high school athlete. She’ll compete in the Al Carino Girls Basketball Club of South Jersey’s senior all-star game on Friday before suiting up for the prestigious North-South state all-star game on Saturday.
Due to her strong leadership skills and high basketball IQ, it comes as no surprise that Casiello is also an outstanding student. She’s ranked No. 1 in the senior class at Wildwood Catholic academically and plans to study biomedical engineering in college, most likely at either Delaware or Drexel. At this point, she plans to try to make the women’s basketball team’s at whichever of those Division I schools she chooses as a walk-on.
“I really have nothing to lose,” she said. “There’s no harm in trying. If I can’t walk on, I’m sure I’ll play on a club team or an intramural team.”
And there’s no doubt she’ll be a great leader there as well.
(photos courtesy Jessica McCabe.)