Over the summer, as COVID-19 restrictions loosened but remained in place, Katelyn Mollica bombarded her basketball coach at Foxborough High, Lisa Downs, with texts asking if there was any chance she and her teammates could sneak into the gym to shoot.
If there was a way Downs could have said yes, she would have, and it pained her to prevent her senior captain from working on her game. Instead, Mollica relied on the hoop in her driveway and others around town, wandering around like a nomad in search of a place to sweat and a net to ruin.
In her 10th season on the Foxborough bench, Downs said what separates the Stonehill-bound Mollica from other players is her work ethic and determination.
“Honestly, in all the years I’ve coached, I’ve never seen somebody put so much work into their game,” Downs said.
Mollica has featured a feathery touch from the outside since her varsity debut as a freshman, but as her career has progressed, she has developed her playmaking ability, defensive intensity, and knack for inspiring others. After helping Foxborough capture the Division 2 state title her freshman year and steadily improving as a sophomore, the 5-foot-5-inch sniper averaged 18.9 points and 2.7 assists per game last winter for the D2 co-state champion Warriors.
A two-time Globe All-Scholastic, she’s established herself as one of the premier players in the state. The Warriors will open the season Tuesday night at Sharon, and they’ll rely heavily on Mollica once again as they look to contend in the Hockomock League.
“She doesn’t work hard for just herself,” fellow senior captain Jordyn Collins said. “She works so hard for the whole team, and even for the younger girls who aren’t on our team, she’s always pushing them to get better.”
Part of Mollica’s competitive drive simply comes from how she’s wired. But also credit her brother, Anthony, two years older and a former guard at Foxborough, for pushing her in their 1-on-1 games in the driveway.
Mollica is still in search of that elusive first victory in their head-to-head battles, and she’s benefited from having him not show any pity.
“When we were on vacation once, I broke my arm because he pushed me off a swing set,” Mollica said. “He’s just made me tough. He’s really special and helped me get to where I am today.”
She is also plays on the varsity girls’ soccer team. But as a kid, she realized how much she loved basketball and devoted more and more to the game.
Downs said Mollica has always been at practice well before the team’s abdominal workouts to set up routines and push those around her to improve. The coach herself has what she describes as “a sickness” for getting places early; Mollica has apparently caught the bug, as she’s usually walking in the gym door at the same time.
Before the pandemic, when courts were open, Mollica would often be getting shots up when Downs arrived for games. The gym was closed this Christmas, but Downs insists Mollica would have been there, firing away, if she could have.
“Basketball is a game that you can’t put down,” Mollica said.
Even as she’s had remarkable individual success, she has never prioritized her own accomplishments. When she buried eight 3-pointers in a game against Stoughton last season, Mollica was more focused on the team win.
As Mollica closed in on 1,000 career points last season, Downs described the milestone as the “elephant in the room.” But the junior star simply wanted to get it out of the way so the attention could veer elsewhere and she could get back to work.
“She holds herself accountable,” Downs said. “She’s human. She’s not going to have a great game every single night, but she’s always going to be making sure she gets better the next time on the court. All in all, she’s the whole package.”
▪ The Catholic Central League has made the biggest dent in its winter basketball slate, with teams now a week-plus into play. The early leader is newcomer Bishop Feehan, off to a 3-0 start after departing the since-disbanded Eastern Athletic Conference along with Bishop Stang.
“We had high expectations coming into the season,” said coach Amy Dolores. “We’re bringing back a core of a lot of players who had experience as sophomores, so we were hopeful with this season.”
The opening run has been characterized by stifling defense; no opponent has eclipsed 40 points.
“We scrimmaged early in the season and it was a noticeable weakness, and we spent a lot of time working on transition defense [and] help rotations,” she said. “I really credit the players.”
Senior captain Kyla Cunningham, junior guard Lydia Mordarski, and junior forward Camryn Fauria have led the way.
▪ St. Mary’s has paused team activities because of a positive COVID-19 test within the program, according to coach Jeff Newhall. After opening the season with a win against Cathedral, the Spartans plan to restart on Jan. 12. Games postponed during the pause will be rescheduled.
▪ In addition to the Catholic Central League, the Patriot and Middlesex started this past week, though Marshfield (two weeks) and Reading (indefinite) have paused athletic activities because of COVID concerns. In the Cape & Islands, Barnstable, Falmouth, and Sandwich have paused until at least Jan. 11.
▪ Ninth-grade breakouts have been an early-season theme. Arlington Catholic’s Cecilia Kay and Duxbury’s Molly Donovan each managed 20-plus points in a game. Three freshmen — Julia Webster, Kiliegh Gorman, and Regan Gill — cracked double-digit points for Bishop Feehan in Wednesday’s win over Austin Prep.
Correspondent Ethan Fuller also contributed to this story.