Most of the athletes on St. Raphael’s fifth-grade girls’ basketball team had not played in a competitive setting before last year. But head coach Robert Twible said it would be difficult for someone to tell that by watching from the bleachers in the St. Agnes Cathedral School gymnasium in Rockville Centre on Feb. 11.
At that game, the girls became the first team in St. Raphael’s more than 40-year history to win the Long Island Catholic Youth Organization’s A Division championship by defeating a tough Bellmore squad.
“This team epitomizes what our program is all about,” said Dave Hudzik, who is on the CYO’s basketball program board of directors. He explained that many CYO teams have competitive tryouts, but St. Raphael’s is a walk-on team. “So Rob took a bunch of girls who signed up to play basketball . . . and made them A Division champions,” Hudzik said.
In their championship game, the girls tipped off against a team from St. Barnabas in Bellmore — the same squad that they lost to during the regular season. Player Kiera Olson said, however that “sometimes it’s good to lose. That way we know our mistakes and can fix them.”
She and teammate Allison Twible explained that the Bellmore girls were much taller than them, so they learned to switch from a girl-to-girl to a zone defense. Despite it being their first time trying such a maneuver, the girls mastered it and kept on the offensive, winning the game 24-12.
“This season’s been amazing; they’ve all improved so much,” coach Twible said, adding that he was humbled to lead the squad. “I think it put them in the right place for sure, but come game time, it’s what they learned that matters.”
Twible graduated from Queens College in 1997, earning his degree in physical education. There, he helped the basketball team, the Lions, earn a National Junior College Athletic Association regional championship.
Since graduating, Twible has been employed in the school’s athletic department and was recently named its interim director of athletics.
Twible led the St. Raphael’s team with his wife, Kathy, who has also played basketball for all of her adult life. “It’s in our blood, it’s our passion,” Robert said. “And we like to give back to the girls. I think they’re falling in love with it too.”
Hudzik said that Twible recognizes the girls’ strengths and weaknesses and uses an “old-school” approach to helping them improve. “As basketball coaches, we demand a lot from our players,” Hudzik said. “We demand focus, we demand commitment, and [Twible] pushes the girls to get to their maximum effort.”
Twible said the team also had the support of the East Meadow community, with the girls’ friends and neighbors turning out to cheer them on at games. He added that the St. Raphael’s boys’ team contributed to the victory by helping out at the girls’ final practices before the game.
Teammates Allison Twible and Kiera Olson said that they were excited to win and humbled to do so alongside their friends.
“No matter win or loose, we’re always a team,” Allison said. “No matter what happens, we encourage each other.”