By Cary Shuman
Even before Nicolette D’Itria arrived on the St. Mary’s campus as an incoming eighth-grader, there was talk that a very talented athlete from Revere was ready to make a major impact in the school’s powerful girls basketball program. D’Itria has lived up to those high expectations and then some at the Lynn school.
An eye-opening 30-point performance, in three quarters no less, during a JV game versus Bishop Fenwick was a telling indicator of her superior offensive skills as a guard.
“We knew Nicolette would be very good when she came to St. Mary’s an eighth-grader,” said St. Mary’s girls basketball coach Jeff Newhall. “She already had a tremendous grasp of the fundamentals, her handling of the basketball was exceptional, and most importantly, she could score and distribute the basketball very well.”
Now known for her dexterity in finishing off drives with either hand, D’Itria’s role with the Spartans varsity expanded quickly, and she became a three-year starter.
Last Wednesday on the biggest stage in high school basketball – the famed parquet floor at the Boston (TD) Garden – D’Itria capped off a sterling junior season by helping St. Mary’s defeat Rockland, 53-37, in the Division 3 state semifinal. When MIAA officials canceled the state final due to health concerns related to the coronavirus, St. Mary’s was crowned co-champions of Massachusetts.
In an impressive win over the South Sectional champions, the 5-feet-6-inch D’Itria scored eight points and demonstrated her long-range shooting proficiency with an NBA-range three-pointer beyond the top of the key. Her defensive pressure in the backcourt helped hold Rockland well below its season average.
“It feels good, really good to win a state championship and play at the Garden,” said D’Itria. “It was definitely different from last year considering I had an ankle injury – so this time I could actually play 100 percent. I think it showed that we can beat anyone as a team. It was a great experience overall.”
She added that the cancellation of the state championship game was disappointing because the Spartans would have had a rematch with Hoosac Valley.
“It was definitely disappointing, we were looking forward to that, especially after last year’s upset against Hoosac,” D’Itria said.
Looking back on the Spartans’ 24-2 season that included a sweep of two inter-state games in South Carolina, Nicolette said the team improved steadily and used a late-season loss to Cathedral as motivation heading in to the tournament.
“We knew we were moving up in the rankings,” said D’Itria. “When we lost to Cathedral, we used that game as motivation to continue going toward our goal the rest of the season.”
And as its trademark, St. Mary’s, under coach Newhall, played its best basketball when it counted the most in March.
The City’s First Family of Basketball
The day at the Boston Garden was a unique family experience for the D’Itrias.
The St. Mary’s boys basketball team also played at the Garden in the state semifinal, which meant that Nicolette’s father, Mike, an assistant coach of that team, and her younger brother, Anthony, a freshman playing varsity basketball, were also part of the Spartans’ doubleheader on Causeway Street. The St. Mary’s boys fell to Jeremiah Burke, 50-47.
“It was excellent, awesome to see the St. Mary’s girls win the title because they’ve been working hard ever since they lost last year [in the state final],” said Mr. D’Itria. “It’s nice that it all paid off. Unfortunately, the ending to our boys’ season wasn’t as nice.”
It was Mike D’Itria who helped set in motion his children’s enthusiasm for basketball and their desire for greatness. Nicolette played basketball for the Immaculate Conception (Revere) School, leading the team to the league title as a 20-points-per-game scorer. She was also a standout on the Revere travel team coached by Anthony Palermo and [current St. Mary’s assistant coach] Tim Spinney. Mr. D’Itria later became the coach of Nicolette’s seventh-grade travel team.
“I think when Nicolette first started playing basketball in the fourth grade, you could just see how athletic she was and she would stand out,” recalled Mr. D’Itria.
There have been very few Anthony versus Nicolette one-on-one basketball matchups inside the family, according to the dad. But like Nicolette, Anthony is a terrific ballhandler who can consistently hit the three-pointer, having averaged double figures for the St. Mary’s JV team this season.
Praise for her work ethic
Jeff Newhall said few players in St. Mary’s hoop history have devoted as many hours to their game as Nicolette has.
“Nicolette has been a varsity player for four years and has shown tremendous improvement each year,” said Newhall. “I don’t think there is anyone else who is in the gym as much as she is and she deserves all the accolades she gets.”
Nicolette said she was grateful to coach Newhall for his leadership and inspiration.
“I just want to thank him for the season and always pushing me to do my best at practice and in the games,” said Nicolette. “I think his coaching style is different from other coaches and it works. I like his coaching a lot. I’m very thankful to have him as my coach, and all the assistant coaches as well.”
Looking ahead to college basketball
Nicolette will compete for the MCW (Michael Carter Williams) Stars in her AAU basketball pursuits this spring and summer (the AAU circuit is currently on hold), having previously played for the Mass Thundercats.
She will team up with her 6-foot St. Mary’s classmate and teammate Maiya Bergdorf, and Alyssa Moreland of Beverly and the Tilton School, on the MCW contingent.
The talented 16-year-old backcourtman is starting to consider college basketball. UMass/Dartmouth, Springfield, Endicott, Trinity, Middlebury are among the college programs with whom she has begun correspondence.
But next winter, Nicolette will back in St. Mary’s Blue and Gold for her senior year, trying to lead her team to another state title.
“As good as she has been, Nicolette has the opportunity in 2021 to finish off one of great high school careers in memory,” said Newhall.
Mike D’Itria credits his daughter’s improvement each year to coach Jeff Newhall. “I think year-by-year Nicolette has gotten better and better as a player. I feel like he [Newhall] trusts her to basically do what he wants done on the court and run the offense he wants to see. I think Nicolette does a good job of managing the team for him. She’s almost like a coach on the court.”