THIELLS – She’s a senior now, and stands 5-foot-4, so barring any growth spurts over the summer, it’s safe to assume that Gabby Cajou will be playing against significantly taller competition when she suits up for Manhattan next season.
It’s a good thing she’s well prepared.
Well before she committed in May, and even before suiting up for North Rockland High School, Cajou had been working on how to combat one of the biggest hurdles, literally, standing between her and greatness on the basketball court: her height, or lack thereof.
The backyard of her house has regularly been the host site for head-to-head battles against her father, who stands around 5-8, and her older brother Matthew, a former Red Raider who stands 6-1.
“I always used to play them one-on-one, and I always used to lose,” she said. “Every time I kept losing I’m like, ‘No, I can’t let this happen again,’ so I kept wanting to play them, which made me better because playing (against) a boy is definitely harder than playing girls. It made me learn how to shoot over taller people and get past quicker people.”
She was quite the pupil.
Cajou led North Rockland to one of the best seasons in program history this year — its first 20-win season since 2001, and first Section 1 finals appearance since winning it all the same year — and is this year’s Journal News Rockland girls basketball player of the year.
Despite playing a game where recruiters drool over players with size and freakish wingspans, Cajou’s size never fazed her.
“Definitely not,” she said, smiling. “Playing with taller people helped me believe that my height doesn’t matter.”
Entering a season in which North Rockland graduated one of its most prolific scoring duos in program history, Ciera Rivera and Olivia Burden, and lost its only other returning starter (Naya Rivera, Ciera’s sister) to an ACL tear in the fall, the pile of Cajou’s responsibilities was quickly at eye level. She delivered.
The lightning-fast point guard exploded for 17.5 points per game this season, nearly doubling her total from last year. Her 410 points scored during the year were more than her previous three seasons combined. Cajou said the most joy she felt this year came from seeing her teammates having fun and succeeding.
“Making my whole team smile, that was the best thing,” she said. “Playing in the game — everyone getting a layup, everyone getting a shot — definitely made everyone get hyped, and I loved watching my team and the excitement.”
The bonds she forged with her teammates, particularly senior center Pamela Miceus, were undeniable.
The last moment Cajou and Miceus spent on the court as teammates featured Miceus fouling out in the Section 1 Class AA final against eventual state and Federation champion Ossining. As Miceus walked off the Westchester County Center court in what ended up being the final high school game of her career, Cajou ran across the court before Miceus was able to reach the bench.
The two shared a custom handshake and hug before Miceus made her way to the bench.
“It means everything to me,” said Miceus, who added she sees Cajou as a sister. “Playing the four years with her, that’s the best thing I could possibly ask for.”
The rest of the Journal News first team includes:
Jenna Feinberg, Clarkstown South: One of the top long-range shooters in the county, the Manhattanville-bound senior was a threat from virtually every inch of her team’s side of the court this season. When the Vikings were hit with a slew of injuries at the same time, Feinberg’s play kept the team competitive throughout the year.
Lauren Gallagher, Pearl River: Often tasked with guarding the opponent’s top scorer, the senior was the anchor of a sensational Pirates defense and a key factor in the team’s run to the County Center. Given her soccer commitment to Georgetown, it’s not surprising to hear that the All-America goalkeeper’s defensive prowess translated well from the field to the court.
Dani LaRochelle, Albertus Magnus: Fans should get used to seeing LaRochelle’s name grace this list. The sophomore point guard led the Falcons back to the County Center for the 17th consecutive season with her exceptional court vision, athleticism and clutch shooting.
Pamela Miceus, North Rockland: The 6-foot-2 senior center came into her own in her final season, playing with a physicality and confidence that did not exist in her previous years with the Red Raiders. Miceus plans to attend Manhattan College for academics.
Coach of the year
Kevin Metcalf, North Rockland: For North Rockland to have the level of success it had between the team’s expected loss of talent to graduation and unplanned loss to injury was nothing short of sensational.
Mairead Durkin, Albertus Magnus, So.
Jaida Patrick, North Rockland, Fr.
Alana Prosapio, Nanuet, Sr.
Jenna Scanlon, Pearl River, Sr.
Liz Trojan, Suffern, Sr.
Zoe Amalbert, Nanuet, Fr.; Caleigh Cahoon, Suffern, So.; Erin Clinton, Pearl River, So.; Nieve Donegan, Clarkstown North, Fr.; Lexi Huertas, North Rockland, So.; Victoria Kurisko, Clarkstown South, So.; Angelic Levy, Clarkstown North, Sr.; Kate Mager, Albertus Magnus, So.; Fiona Mullen, Tappan Zee, Fr.; Emily Novick, Nyack, So.
Natalie Alfieri, Westlake, Jr.; Lisana Burnett, Peekskill, Sr.; Gabby Cajou, North Rockland, Sr.; Rachel Cohen, Scarsdale, Sr.; Kayla Correa, New Rochelle, Sr.; Marion Dietz, John Jay-East Fishkill, Sr.; Mairead Durkin, Albertus Magnus, So.; Maddie Eck, Rye, Sr.; Jenna Feinberg, Clarkstown South, Sr.; Samantha Fitzgerald, John Jay-East Fishkill, Sr.; Lauren Gallagher, Pearl River, Sr.; Aubrey Griffin, Ossining, Fr.; Korina Guerra, Ursuline, Jr.; Lindsay Halpin, Irvington, Jr.; Kailah Harris, Ossining, Fr.; Teisha Hyman, Woodlands, Fr.; Amanda Kiriakos, Saunders, Sr.; Lindsay Kramer, Scarsdale, Sr.; Avery LaBarbera, Harrison, So.; Dani LaRochelle, Albertus Magnus, So.; Katie McLoughlin, Ursuline, Jr.; Frannie Merkel, Brewster, Sr.; Curstyn Moore, Mount Vernon, Jr.; Sam Morillo, Valhalla, So.; Reena Olsen, Putnam Valley, Sr.; Maddie Plank, Briarcliff, Fr.; Katie Popp, Rye, Jr.; Alana Prosapio, Nanuet, Sr.; Lanay Rodney, Peekskill, Sr.; Gabby Rosenzweig, Somers, Sr.; Shadeen Samuels, Ossining, Sr.; Lauren Schetter, Beacon, Jr.; Casey Schweitzer, Arlington, Sr.; Maddie Siegrist, Lourdes, So.; Jaida Strippoli, Ossining, Fr.; Maria Violante, Fox Lane, So.