Hurricane in homeland stirs Northeastern star

Barry Chin/Globe staff

Senior guard Claudia Ortiz averaged a team-high 13 points a game last season for Northeastern.

By Globe Correspondent 

The terror lasted more than two weeks.

Claudia Ortiz, a Northeastern graduate student and women’s basketball player from the San Juan suburb of Carolina in Puerto Rico, was in Boston for preseason classes and workouts when Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 20. All of her family, except for her father who was working in New York, was at home in Puerto Rico.


The family had made preparations, her mother moving inland to a safer house, and her older sister moving out of her 19th floor apartment with its wall of windows.

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Then the storm hit, and Puerto Rico was ripped to pieces. The pictures that began to trickle out were frightening. Much of the island was gone. There was no cell phone service, no electricity, no water.

Day after day, Ortiz waited to hear from home, to hear that her mother, sister, and brother had survived the hurricane.

“I was destroyed,’’ she said this week as the Huskies ran through their final practices before Friday’s season opener against Boston University.

“It was very scary. I knew I couldn’t get in touch with [anybody]. You could send texts and you could just tell they’re not getting them. And then, the really, really hard part was that everybody was posting stuff on social media and obviously, you see the worst. But then since you don’t have anything that’s real, you just believe everything you see. I would see videos of houses that are under water, people swimming, it was the scariest.”


Ortiz took a deep breath.

“I was trying to keep myself together but all I wanted to do was be home, even though I couldn’t do anything about it, couldn’t help.’’

Finally, after 2½ weeks of silence, Ortiz’s older sister got through to her father.

“It was a long two weeks,’’ Ortiz said. “The whole time I felt like they were OK, but I just wanted it to be real. So when I heard from my sister it was like, whew.”

Ortiz, a senior leader and last season’s leading scorer with a 13.0 points per game average, said she tried to remain composed in front of teammates. Harder still, her close friend, the 17-year-old daughter of her Puerto Rican national team coach, is a freshman at a Georgia college, and Ortiz tried to stay calm for her when she called crying because she had not heard from her father.

“Here I am being a mom when I just want to cry and ask for my mom and my dad,” Ortiz said. “I think I handled it pretty well but it doesn’t mean that I wasn’t dying inside. Cause this is my family, this is everything.


“Everybody in my family is safe. Obviously they lost a lot of stuff but they’re alive, which is all that matters.”

With the help of Northeastern, Claudia’s mother and sister were able to visit her in Boston for a few days, but she won’t get home until the Christmas break, and perhaps not then, as her mother said she doesn’t expect to have power restored, making a visit difficult. Her mother, for instance, is doing her laundry outside.

“You think about it but you don’t understand until everything changes, what you eat, you shower with cold water, there’s no power,” Ortiz said.

Puerto Rico is a strong motivator. Ortiz began playing for the national team for her age group when she was 12. That’s when she first realized that basketball could take her somewhere. When she was 16, Ortiz was spotted by the University of Mississippi coach during a tournament in Mexico and soon accepted a spot with the Rebels. The South was a culture shock. At first, she had trouble understanding the Southern drawls. Then she discovered that she “didn’t see eye-to-eye with the coach” and left after one year.

But Northeastern found her in the summer of 2014 and the 5-foot-8-inch guard joined the Huskies for what has been a successful four years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in June in psychology and is now working on her master’s in leadership. On the court, she has gained a reputation for what Huskies coach Kelly Cole calls “creative scoring.” A Colonial Athletic Association preseason first-team choice, Cole said Ortiz is more than an accurate shooter (she ranked fourth in the conference in both 3-point shooting percentage (39.7) and free throw percentage (80.4) for last season’s 12-19 team).

“She can hit the long-range shot,’’ Cole said, “but she’s got a knack for scoring different ways.’’

Ortiz also brings the same proud heart and fierce resolve in her love of Puerto Ricoto the basketball court. She tackles challenges one at a time, saying that if you look ahead, you lose the moment.

“If I set a goal for myself, it can become frustrating,’’ she said. “I like to just focus on doing everything right and working as hard as I can. The results will come.”

Previews of local Division 1 women’s college basketball teams:

(Capsules by Karl Capen/Globe Correspondent)

Boston College

Coach: Erik Johnson (sixth season, 61-92).

2016-17 record: 9-21 (2-14 ACC).

Probable starters: G Rachel Gartner (2.1 ppg), G Taylor Ortlepp (7.3 ppg), F Georgia Pineau (7.5 ppg), F Emma Guy (5.7 ppg), G Andie Anastos (NA).

Key reserves: F Milan Bolden-Morris (NA), C Katie Quandt (4.4 ppg).

Outlook: There are a lot of new, young faces for the Eagles. Coming back from injury, Ortlepp was a key part of the offense and will be looked upon for that again. Freshman Bolden-Morris and graduate student Anastos (who played hockey at BC for four years) will play important roles.

Previews of local Division 1 women’s college basketball teams:

Boston University

Coach: Katy Steding (fourth season, 13-68).

2016-17 record: 13-16 (11-7 Patriot League).

Probable starters: G Corrine Williams (8.1 ppg), G Payton Hauck (3.0 ppg), F Nia Irving (7.2 ppg), F Naiyah Thompson (6.0 ppg), C Sophie Beaudry (12.9 ppg).

Key reserves: F Kara Sheftic (5.4 ppg), G Lauren Spearman (1.2 ppg).

Outlook: The Terriers saw a huge turnaround last season, posting their most wins in league play since 2013, when they joined the Patriot. Beaudry & Co. will try to maintain that upward trajectory.


Coach: Kathy Delaney-Smith (36th season, 567-384).

2016-17 record: 21-9 (8-6 Ivy League).

Probable starters: G Katie Benzan (13.4 ppg), G Madeline Raster (10.6 ppg), G Taylor Rooks (5.9 ppg), G Kirby Porter (2.6 ppg), F Jeannie Boehm (7.2 ppg).

Key reserves: G Sydney Skinner (8.5 ppg), G Nani Redford (2.9 ppg).

Outlook: The Crimson reached the second round of the WNIT last year, the program’s 13th appearance in the postseason. With returning cocaptains Porter and Raster, along with local talent Benzan (Wellesley), another tournament appearance could be in store.


Coach: Tory Verdi (second season, 9-21).

2016-17 record: 9-21 (3-13 Atlantic 10).

Probable starters: G Leah McDerment (6.2 ppg), G Jessica George (2.7 ppg), F Genesis Rivera (12.7 ppg), G/F Hailey Leidel (15.5 ppg), C Maggie Mulligan (13.9 ppg).

Key reserves: G Vashnie Perry (5.2 ppg), F Alexia Allesch (NA).

Outlook: The Minutewomen ended last season on an 11-game losing streak. To turn things around in Verdi’s second year, they will need scoring from Mulligan and Leidel, plus production from the five freshmen on the squad.


Coach: Kelly Cole (fourth season, 31-60).

2016-17 record: 12-19 (8-10 CAA).

Probable starters: G Claudio Ortiz (13.0 ppg), G Jess Genco (9.8 ppg), G Zoe Zwerling (4.3 ppg), F Gabby Giacone (7.3 ppg), F Maureen Taggart (4.7 ppg).

Key reserves: F Loren Lassiter (2.2 ppg), G Te’Erica Eason (3.6 ppg).

Outlook: Ortiz and Genco are projected as one of the CAA’s best backcourts; both were named to the preseason all-conference team. But if the Huskies want to improve on a disappointing 2016-17 campaign, other players need to produce. A tough schedule to open the season doesn’t bode well.