Years before she could join the Baldwin High School Lady Bruins basketball team, Kaia Harrison stopped by its practices to watch her two older sisters — Amber Harrison, class of 2012, and Tyra Harrison, class of 2014 — play. She would also spend halftime during games practicing her shots.
Kaia’s dedication to the squad only became stronger when she was called up to the Lady Bruins in seventh grade, head coach Tom Catapano said. Since then, she has helped lead the team to multiple championships. “You can come into the gym any day of the week and she’s busting her butt to get better,” Catapano said. “She’s the hardest-working kid we have had come through this program.”
Next year, the senior will move on to the Division I Wake Forest University women’s basketball team on a full scholarship. Harrison made the move official on Nov. 21 during a commitment ceremony, during which softball player Katelyn Borello also made her college commitment, to Penn State Brandywine.
“It’s the end result of what’s been a long path for these young ladies,” Eduardo Ramirez, Baldwin’s athletic director, said. Ramirez noted that both student-athletes will be remembered not only as exceptional athletes, but also upstanding people. “You would never know the level of success they have had athletically,” he said. “They don’t let that interfere with the type of people they are. They carry themselves like model citizens in the school.”
Borello, who plays shortstop, was praised for being an asset to her team and showing up to every practice. “She comes to workout at 7 o’clock in the morning,” head coach Tom Llewellyn said. And he doesn’t expect her to slow down anytime soon. “Even though she’s signed, she wants to have her best year yet,” he said.
During her time on the team, Borello has been one of Baldwin’s best hitters, batting leadoff and hitting at least 10 doubles every season. On the field, she can play almost any position, including pitcher.
“She’ll win an award in any position I start her in,” Llewellyn said.
Llewellyn said the team also works hard during the offseason, which he expects will give Borello an edge over her future teammates in college. “She’ll slide right into there,” he said. “She’s probably going to be ahead of all the other freshman.”
Borello said she has played softball since she was 6 years old, but didn’t always want to play at the college level. “But then I just thought to myself, I can’t not do this in college,” she said. She picked Penn State Brandywine not only for its softball team, but also for its forensic science program, which is among the country’s best.
Borello said she would miss the camaraderie of the Baldwin softball team. “We’re just one big happy family,” she said. “We have late-night pasta dinners, and we’re all just very supportive of each other.”
Harrison said she felt a sense of family at Wake Forest, one of the reasons why she chose to sign with the Demon Deacons. “I saw myself going there right when I stepped on campus,” she said.
Catapano said that Harrison’s ability to excel on both offense and defense will help her at the school, in Winston-Salem, N.C. “She can facilitate the ball to other players on the court, and she’s one of the best defenders on Long Island,” he said. “Kaia’s a true point guard . . . She’ll make everyone around her better.”
In her career, Harrison has won five county titles, three Long Island championships, two state titles and a federation championship.
She was named MVP of last year’s federation game, in which Baldwin defeated previously unbeaten Christ the King High School, becoming the fifth Long Island public school to capture the crown.
Harrison, who plans to study communications, said that Baldwin’s emphasis on defense has helped to carry the Bruins to victory. “We just have to keep playing Baldwin basketball,” she said, “which is playing tough and outworking people.”