By: Eric Belair
“The whole bus ride from Rochester was a trip down memory lane since this is where I played tournaments with my travel team and participated in camps with my uncle,” said Ashlynn Palmitesso as she reminisced about a familiar court. “This helped settle my nerves and relax me because this was home to me.”
Palmitesso and Christina Pensabene tipped off their college basketball season last weekend for the Tigers of Rochester Institute of Technology.
The Tigers started their season on a familiar court that is close to home, Laker Hall at SUNY Oswego.
These two girls are former Fulton Lady Raider hoopsters that achieved a goal to play collegiate basketball.
“It all worked out well,” said Fulton head coach Derek Lyons, who coached both girls during high school. “I’m happy for both of them being at college and playing in college.”
RIT opened up its season on Friday night at the Max Ziel Tournament against the Cobleskill Fighting Tigers.
RIT pounced on Cobleskill early as they cruised to an 87-49 victory to start out the season 1-0.
The Tigers opened and closed the first half with big scoring runs to give them a convincing lead. RIT forced Cobleskill to take an early timeout as they went on an 11-3 run.
Then, in the final four minutes of the first half RIT went on another run as their starters reentered the game.
This 11-1 run was in thanks to their tenacious 1-3-1 zone defense.
Palmitesso, a sophomore for the Tigers, graduated from G. Ray Bodley High School in 2012. She is a starter for RIT at the guard position.
This guard scored early and often for the Tigers as she helped her team come out victorious. Palmitesso recorded career-highs with 23 points and 9 rebounds in the contest.
Pensabene had a solid collegiate debut for RIT. She came off the bench and led all freshmen with 6 points and 4 rebounds.
“I was really nervous because I knew a lot of the people were in the stands watching,” said Pensabene about her debut. “But I was glad it was in a familiar area.”
This victory put the Tigers into the tournament championship game against the host Oswego State Lakers.
In attendance for the championship game was Coach Lyons.
He brought members of his varsity team to watch his former players.
Last season, he brought his entire squad (including Pensabene) to Rochester to watch Palmitesso play.
Coach Lyons wanted to show the girls what hard work can lead to and that they can go play in college. Whether it is basketball or another sport that they are best in, if they work hard at that sport then they can play in college.
“Ashlynn was a very hard worker, the hardest worker that I’ve had, the second hardest worker was Christina.” said Coach Lyons. “That is what I wanted to show the girls; hard work pays off.”
The championship game against Oswego State did not come easy for RIT, it was hard work that kept the Tigers in the game. But in the end, it was the host team that took home the championship plaque as they beat the Tigers 87-74.
This contest was more of a track meet than a basketball game as these two teams got up and down the court quickly throughout the contest. It was an exchanging of baskets for the teams in the first half, drawing a halftime score of 35-32 in favor of RIT.
The second half was a different story for RIT as the Lakers went on a run of their own and never looked back.
RIT attempted to make a late comeback, but they fell short.
Palmitesso and Pensabene were both on the court during this time.
Pensabene connected on two important free throws, while Palmitesso scored 9 straight points for RIT down the stretch.
Pensabene scored 4 points in the game and Palmitesso led the team with a 20-point performance.
Being a freshman in college is not always an easy transition from high school, especially when you add being a student-athlete.
But this is something that Pensabene has not truly noticed.
“The transition hasn’t been hard for me,” said the new freshman. “Being on a team helps because it gives me a schedule and keeps me on track.”
Another resource that can help keep Pensabene on track is the one-year college veteran: Palmitesso. She said that she is there for her teammate on and off the court, they have a relationship that dates back from high school.
“I never thought it would happen, but it’s awesome,” said Palmitesso referring to playing with a high school teammate. “We already have chemistry from playing together in high school and that is a something that can take a while to build.”
While in high school, Pensabene was on the varsity team under Coach Lyons for three seasons.
For the duration of those three years, she was given the reigns to be the starting point guard.
Senior year was the most successful season for Pensabene as she helped lead her team to the sectional playoffs and a 10-10 record.
The Lady Raiders beat the New Hartford Spartans 35-32 in the first round before losing to the eventual section champion, Jamesville-Dewitt.
Pensabene led her squad in the first round with 12 points.
Statistically, Pensabene finished her senior season second on the team in points with 169 points and led Fulton in assists and steals. Steals were one of Pensabene’s specialties due to her quick hands and length.
Palmitesso was a four-year varsity starter for Fulton. She is only one of three Fulton basketball players to record 1,000 points during their career. This impressive milestone was reached by Palmitesso during her senior season.
“Ashlynn goes out there and does what she does best, scores the basketball,” said Coach Lyons.
This is something that Palmitesso has always excelled at as she finished her high school career with 1,171 points. She helped lead her team to sectionals in her freshman and sophomore seasons for the Lady Raiders.
During her freshman campaign, Palmitesso led her hoopsters to a 13-9 record and to the second round of sectionals after defeating East Syracuse-Minoa in a dramatic 59-51 game where she scored 18 points.
Both girls competed hard in high school, but they realize that college basketball is a different game.
Each player noted that the biggest difference was the pace of the game; college was a much faster game.
“The biggest difference is that college ball is a lot more physically demanding,” said Pensabene. “The play is a lot faster and more aggressive.”
Playing basketball in college was a goal for these girls while growing up. Palmitesso remembers shoveling off her driveway that was full of snow when she was little, just so she could shoot baskets and improve her game.
“I decided when I was young that I wanted to play basketball in college,” said Palmitesso. “I have worked hard, now it’s here and it’s real.”
These girls have shown throughout their careers that they excel in athletics, but they also excel in the classroom.
Palmitesso and Pensabene realize that they are student-athletes, with student coming first. Both are studying biomedical engineering at RIT.
“I’m happy about them going to a good school and getting a good education,” said Coach Lyons. “I’m glad that they are basketball players but more so, that they are successful students.”
Eric Belair is a communications major at Le Moyne College, with a concentration in journalism. He graduated from G. Ray Bodley High School (2010) in Fulton, where he was the sports editor for The Raider newspaper and RaiderNet Daily.