Sports Person of the Week
Cipolla’s Ready for the Next Level
Ivoryton resident and Mercy High School senior Rachael Cipolla recently signed on the line to continue her athletic career at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. (Photo courtesy of Rachael Cipolla)
Rachael Cipolla has racked up some impressive accolades while competing in three sports at Mercy High School. Rachael, who lives in Ivoryton, runs cross country, plays basketball, and does outdoor track at Mercy, an all-girls’ school in Middletown. Rachael’s unrelenting energy has earned her a key role as a spark plug off the bench for the reigning Class LL state champion Mercy basketball squad, which is preparing for another run with its record of 15-6. The senior recently signed her National Letter of Intent to continue her basketball and track careers at Division III Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Rachael was on the floor as time expired when Mercy defeated Hall to take the Class LL title last year. Winning a state championship under the bright lights at Mohegan Sun Arena was an experience that Rachael will never forget.
“I was on the court when the buzzer went off in that final game. We were up for the whole second half,” says Rachael of the Tigers’ 49-37 victory in the Class LL State Tournament final. “The feeling of actually winning at Mohegan was amazing, and that team was really close with each other. That was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever had.”
Rachael is a combo guard who can handle the ball and drive through the lane. By doing so, Rachael either creates space for outside shooters or high-percentage shots for herself near the rim. Rachael has spent hours perfecting her swishing and dishing skills.
“I’d say I’m more of a driver than a shooter, but if I’m wide open, I can make a shot. We have a girl on our team that’s known for her threes, and I’m known for my driving. That’s more of my game,” Rachael says. “Nick Economopolis and Ken Carpenter, they were my coaches for Starters with AAU. They focused on ball-handling and taught me how to get into the paint without going into people. If you have the handles to get by a person, then you can have a wide-open shot.”
While Rachael is a threat with the ball in her hands, she’s also a formidable presence on the defensive end. Rachael’s knack for jumping the passing lanes creates all sorts of problems for opposing offenses.
“What’s first in my mind in the game is stopping the other team from scoring. I will steal the ball and create havoc, and that gets the other team down, then our offense picks up,” Rachael says. “When I steal the ball, it helps my teammates get a good shot. Whenever we get a play like that on defense, we know that the effort is there, and we can continue that on the offense.”
Tim Kohs, who is Mercy’s athletic director and head coach of its basketball team, relies on Rachael to give the Tigers a boost when she comes in off the bench. Rachael’s energy helps Mercy increase its pace. Typically, that leads to more stops on defense and more points for the Tigers on offense.
“Rachael’s a tremendous kid and a pleasure to coach. She brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to practice, and that translates to the court. She plays up-tempo and, depending on the night, she can have an impact offensively or defensively,” says Kohs. “She always creates havoc defensively. She defends her player closely and deflects a lot of balls in the passing lanes. Whenever there’s a scrum play, she’s either the one at the end of it picking up the ball or the one at the start of the play who caused it. She’s aggressive at getting to the basket and getting to the line.”
Basketball may be Rachael’s primary sport, but she’s also an accomplished distance runner. Last spring, Rachael earned third place in the 1,600-meter run at the Class MM Girls’ Outdoor Track State Championship. The year before, she claimed eighth place for that same event in the Class L State Championship. This past fall, Rachael served as a captain for Mercy’s cross country team and capped off her campaign by recording a 12th-place finish at the State Open. Rachael decided to take up running due to her speed on the basketball court.
“In 5th grade, I was playing in a basketball game, and my mom’s friend’s daughter saw me running. She said that I could be successful as a runner,” Rachael says. “I didn’t want to do it at first. Then, I would run eight miles in a day sometimes, and I eventually knew I wanted to keep doing it.”
Rachael’s skills on the court, the track, and the trails generated interest from several schools, but she ultimately zeroed in on Smith College. After spending some time on campus and looking at the options the school offered, Rachael’s decision became a little easier.
“I’m going mainly for basketball, but I can also run at Smith, too. It was hard to make the choice, but it was the academics drew me in,” says Rachael. “One thing that separated them was how welcoming the coaches were. The coaches at Smith wanted me there, and I knew it. With other schools, I would have had to choose between basketball and running, and at Smith I can do both.”
Rachael is looking to make a big impact for the Pioneers’ basketball team. From an academic standpoint, she plans on studying to become a social worker like her mother Lisa Murphy Cipolla. Rachael has already put in 100 hours of service time learning about child advocacy and wants to follow in her mom’s footsteps.
“I want to get my American Family therapist license and be a child advocate like my mom. She works with kids who’ve been abused or neglected, and that’s exactly what I’d like to do,” Rachael says. “I want to be licensed as a social worker in as many things that I can be, so I can help as many people as I can.”