Xaverian Girls’ Hoops Off to Historic Start

Coach Margaret McKeon huddles up with her JV basketball team, the first-ever at Xaverian H.S. (Photos (C) Alexander Almedina)

The Xaverian H.S. girls’ junior varsity soccer team shocked the GCHSAA world by capturing a city championship title in its first-ever season since the Bay Ridge school went co-ed this fall.

So naturally, the girls’ JV basketball team has the exact same goal this winter.

The Clippers hoops team is off to an unbelievable start in the first season in program history. Playing in the ‘AA’ division, the team won its first 20 games and has already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Made up of 12 freshmen, the squad competes against well-established teams throughout the diocese. From day one, the chemistry on and off the court has simply clicked perfectly.

“None of us really expected to be undefeated at this point because we’re all freshmen and we’re playing people that are older than us and more experienced, but we’ve worked hard throughout the whole season and I think we deserve to be where we are,” said point guard Callie O’Brien.

Before enrolling at Xaverian, a number of the team members had played together, either in the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO), Amateur Athletic Union leagues or local basketball clinics. This familiarity has been a huge factor in the team’s early success.

“We were all rivals before we got here, so we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” said forward Selma Markisic. “I feel like we each have a role on the team and we each have a talent that we bring.”

For the Clippers, it all starts at the top. Head coach Margaret McKeon, who doubles as the school’s assistant athletic director, has an extensive basketball playing and coaching pedigree, and it has quickly rubbed off on her players.

McKeon played CYO hoops at St. Joseph’s, Astoria, before starring at Christ the King H.S., Middle Village. Her team was ranked No. 1 in the country her senior year, and she was named Miss New York Basketball in 1986 – the first-ever year the award was presented. She is a member of the GCHSAA Hall of Fame.

She played in college first at the University of Oklahoma, Norman, and then St. John’s University, Jamaica. She broke into the coaching ranks as an assistant at Arizona State University, Tempe; the University of Houston; and George Washington University, Washington, D.C.

McKeon’s first head coaching job came at Boston University, Mass., where she led the team to an NCAA Tournament appearance. She then moved on to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, where she oversaw the program’s ascension from Division II to Division I.

Though she had never coached high school, she knew Xaverian would be committed to the girls’ sports program since it had such a rich boys’ sports tradition. Her initial goal was to simply lay the groundwork for the future success of the program.

“I had really no clue that we would be this successful this quickly,” McKeon said. “I’m very fortunate that I have young, talented, smart women that even know the game of basketball, not only the books. It’s just been a perfect storm.

“I’ve never taken over a program that’s been this successful since day one. I’ve always had to build it, and then by the fourth or fifth year is when we started seeing wins and success and championships.”

The key to the Clippers’ success has been their unselfishness on the court. The team has developed the ability to make extra passes in order to find open shots. Each game, a different player has stepped up in the clutch.

Despite all the success and an undefeated start, the players remain firmly focused on the task at hand.

“It’s a really big accomplishment for us, but I also think that we have to keep it going for playoffs and the championship, which is our main goal,” O’Brien said.

“Until we actually get the championship, that’s all that matters,” said Markisic. “But for now we didn’t win anything. We won games, but those are games. But until we actually win a title, that’s all we’re waiting for.”

And the coach agrees.

“If we can stay humble and aggressive and confident, I think good things will happen for us,” McKeon said.

The Clippers have a first-round bye in the playoffs and will compete in the semifinals on March 1. The team is hoping to cap off its historic first season run with a little “March Madness.”

No matter what else happens, Xaverian has established itself as another competitive GCHSAA hoops program within the Diocese of Brooklyn.

But even so, a city championship title would be the icing on the cake!

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