Glastonbury girls basketball seniors (L-R) Jillian Margaglione, Jaci Budaj, Rachel Roman, and Charlotte Bassett
Glastonbury basketball seniors Jaci Budaj, Rachel Roman, Jillian Margaglione, and Charlotte Bassett have shared the same court together since the third grade.
The four recently completed a nine-year basketball journey with a championship, leading the way as Glastonbury defeated Wethersfield on March 26 to capture a conference title.
“When you’ve been playing together that long you always know they will have your back on the court,” said Budaj, “We’ve all grown up together.”
In a day and age of private schools and player movement, the nearly decade-long basketball bond is a rarity.
“We all know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and how each other play,” added Margaglione, “We know what each of us have to do and we play so well together, so that definitely helped the team.”
That chemistry was more important than ever this season, which combined the complication of a pandemic with the normal challenges of a season.
Chris Vozzolo has been coaching the foursome since first entered GHS, most recently helping navigate them through an uncertain offseason following a near upset of #1 Staples in the 2020 Class LL state tournament.
“We talked a lot about that Staples game and about how we were up going into the fourth quarter, we left it all out on the court. Then the next day was a complete shutdown and it was tough to find any closure to the basketball season. We skipped out on a lot of the stuff we’d normally do at the end of the season,” recalled Vozzolo, “We were keeping our fingers crossed that we’d have a season. It was kind of a crazy offseason in terms of playing club ball or getting the team together. It was really just dark for a long time.”
With everything virtual, the veteran head coach leaned on the leadership of seniors and focused on the mental part of the game.
Vozzolo and his four seniors read the book, The Energy Bus, which emphasizes approaching life, work, and team with positive energy.
“We talked about how we wanted to infused energy and life into our program,” stated Vozzolo, who has been coaching the GHS girls’ program since 2016, “We discussed it and came up with some plans for the season together, and I’ve got to say that it went awesome.”
Following a delay to the winter sports season, the team finally received the green light to practice in January.
“We tried to enjoy it more and we talked about cherishing every day,” added Vozzolo.
With the knowledge that the season would be a shortened version, featuring twelve regular season games, the team decided to embrace the change.
“We were excited to be able to play because for a while we didn’t know if we’d be able to. We just approached every day like it could end at any moment,” said Budaj.
Roman added, “Playing together was our top priority. We just wanted to keep everyone with a positive attitude and play to win.”
The seniors, who were all returning starters, hit the ground running. The team began 2021 by winning six straight games, defeated the first half dozen opponents by a margin of 14 points per game.
Vozzolo said the continuity developed over the previous three years was helpful, “We got going right from the first day. We felt like we were right where we left off. They feel conformable with my coaching, I feel comfortable coaching them. We can all be honest and transparent with each other and it made it a lot easier.”
Margaglione added, “We wanted to have fun this season, mostly under the circumstances going on, and we just wanted to win.”
During the team’s fifth game of the season, a 63-52 win at South Windsor, Bassett eclipse the career 1,000-point mark on a layup in the second quarter.
After battling ankle injuries last season, Bassett was happy to accomplish the scoring mark, yet her priorities were elsewhere this winter, “I really wanted to focus on the younger girls more this year, so it wasn’t really about me. I wanted to make a lasting impact on the younger girls and make basketball more popular at our school, because I think we need that.”
The prolific scorer’s humble and unselfish demeanor resonated with both her teammates and the coaching staff.
“Charlotte is unbelievable, she promotes other people’s success and she gives off such a positive and encouraging light to others,” Vozzolo said of Bassett, who averaged 17 points per game this season, “At the same time we asked her to carry some of the volume when it comes to scoring the basketball. She takes it extremely seriously and works on it extremely hard. She’s been an unbelievable leader for us, and she’s been starting for four years. We’ll definitely feel that gap next year.”
Following the 6-0 start, the Guardians won four of the next five before falling to Manchester in the regular season finale.
“We were definitely disappointed after that loss, because that meant that we didn’t get into the top bracket,” recalled Roman.
“That Friday night in Manchester was a stunner,” added Vozzolo, who credited Manchester for outplaying them, “I met with those four the next morning and we decided that we’re going to move forward and do what’s best for our program and each other. We just took care of business going forward.”
Once the conference tourney started, Glastonbury’s defense rose to another level, holding Berlin and Farmington to 33 and 36 points, respectively, in the first two rounds of the tournament.
They almost got a shot at redemption against Manchester, however Wethersfield knocked off Manchester in the semifinals, setting up a battle with the Eagle from across the river in the title game.
Wethersfield entered the championship game in an offensive rhythm, averaging 57 points per game over the previous three contests.
“We preach defense every single day. Luckily, we have a team that buys in and allows themselves to be coached. They put maximum effort into the defensive end, and it translates into our defensive play in the postseason,” said Vozzolo, who credited assistance coach Tim Bosworth with putting together a perfect defensive game plan against Wethersfield, “We matched up accordingly and played our defensive style that we did all year. Our girls obviously turned it up a notch.”
Playing at home, Glastonbury held Wethersfield to a season-low in points, winning the title game 55-21 behind the masterful defensive effort.
Budaj was tasked with guarding Wethersfield’s main scoring threat Vanessa Venditti and the Guardians restricted the Eagles normally effective motion offense.
The championship triumph ended an impressive run for the four seniors, who helped the program win 31 of 40 games (including the postseason) over the last two seasons.
“We wanted to end our time together on a high note,” said Budaj.
Each of the seniors brought a different quality to the court.
Bassett handled the bulk of the scoring. Margaglione was the distributor, dishing out five assists per game. Roman controlled the insides, leading the team in rebounds (11 per game) and blocks. Budaj provided the energy as a defensive specialist, averaging nearly three steals per game.
Separately they were good. Together they were special.
“That is part of the magic, they complement each other very well. They’re all different players but when they all play together, they play very symmetric with one another,” said Vozzolo, who also coaches soccer and tennis at GHS, “They are not afraid to share the ball with each other, they are all great passers, and they play hard and stick up for each other. That comes from coming through the ranks and having good youth coaches and good club coaches, and once they got to me it was just a continuation of that.”
Vozzolo added that the team’s fifth starter, junior Sydney Kehl, was the ideal complement for the four seniors.
Following graduation this spring, the roundball quartet will head off in separate direction.
Bassett will continue her basketball career at the University of New Haven, Roman (Bryant University) and Budaj (Sacred Heart University) will play soccer at the next level, and Margaglione is off to study business at The University of Connecticut.
Next winter will mark the first time in 10 years that the Glastonbury girls will not share the court together.
They all agree that it will be bittersweet, yet the love of the game and for one another will remain.
“We didn’t just play high school together, we played AAU together and now that I think about it it’s kind of incredible that we still know each other to this day,” said Bassett, “That’s really cool, it’s probably the best sports relationship that I’ll have.”
Roman added, “I think it was good that we all stuck together. It made us all stronger. It was good to show the younger girls that they should stick with it because it will make the team better.”
Glastonbury girls basketball celebrating Charlotte Bassett's 1,000th career point following victory over South Windsor on March 2
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin