CORTLANDT MANOR – The proudest memory of Gabby Branciforti’s bowling career can’t be summed up into one specific moment or event so much as it is the culmination of years of hard work dedicated to her team. It also has little to do with bowling, per se.
The Yorktown senior captain and Westchester/Putnam girls bowler of the year led by example on the lanes — averaging a county-high 180.93 and tying for an area-best 1,165 series at the Section 1 tournament — but has been doing it off the lanes for years.
“When I was a freshman and sophomore, we were really separated,” Branciforti said of the Huskers program. “I also think it’s because the older kids, they knew everybody else on the bowling team and coming in as a freshman or sophomore is intimidating because you don’t know how to really click with them, but over the years, it’s become closer.”
Part of that can be attributed to spending more time as a team outside of bowling alleys, which Branciforti spearheaded. The boys and girls teams often grab team lunches together now, hitting anywhere in the area from Salsa Fresca Mexican Grill, to Panera Bread, to pretty much any pizza joint, depending on the mood.
Branciforti even offers to drive.
The teams have also participated in a “Secret Santa” exchanging of gifts the past three years after Branciforti pitched the idea her sophomore year. The $15 price limit per person forces the young keglers to be creative and frugal when thinking of a present for teammates.
“I thought it would be interesting and fun because you don’t really get team gifts (for each other),” said Branciforti, who received a small bowling table from junior Anna Shulman this year. “It’s funny to see what other people get.”
Branciforti purchased a miniature air hockey table at Toys ‘R Us for junior Chris O’Connell.
As a way to break the ice and learn more about each other in the beginning of the season, the Yorktown bowlers will partake in a game of “Two truths and a lie,” where players list three facts about themselves — two of which are actually true, one of which is false — and teammates have to guess which one is the lie.
This reporter played — and failed — a quick round with Branciforti at Cortlandt Lanes. Branciforti, who is quite the aquatic aficionado, has snorkeled with sharked and swam with dolphins, but has never scuba dove with sea turtles.
Not only does the experiment allow players to get to know one another better, it can sometimes help them conquer fears and open doors.
“My friend, she’s never been on a roller coaster, which I thought was really interesting because we always go to Playland in eighth grade for graduation, and they always have rides,” Branciforti said of Eliza Pratt. “I was really shocked by that.”
Sure enough, the team took a trip to the Rye landmark and rode the park’s famous Dragon Coaster. Pratt was on board.
The rest of the Journal News first team includes:
Jess Paternoster, Mahopac: A returning Journal News first-team selection, Paternoster fell three pins shy of a state tournament berth after shooting 1,165 at sections to tie with Branciforti.
Kellina Murphy, Yonkers: Another repeat first-team selection, Murphy finished 13th in the section after shooting an 1,140 six-game series.
Brianna Murphy, Yonkers: Joining her sister on the first team list, Murphy finished just outside of the top 20 at sections, shooting 1,099 for a 21st-place finish.
Anna Hlushko, North Salem: A former state qualifier, Hlushko shot a 965 series at sections.
Coach of the year
Bill Tovar, Yorktown
Sabrina Bellantoni, Valhalla
Deepa Mistry, Hen Hud
Sarah Raimondi, John Jay
Anna Shulman, Yorktown
Robin Weiss, Irvington