Over the years, Red Hook had the three Nero Brothers; Middletown had the three Ray Brothers — thousand-point scorers all. And giving them all their due for being great players…but no school in Section 9…NONE…has ever had five family members like the Rozzi Sisters of Highland basketball. They ARE Highland basketball.
Before Erica, the oldest Rozzi sister, came on the scene as an eighth-grader in the mid-1990’s, the girls’ basketball program was merely an afterthought in a community that usually funneled kids into soccer. She was joined a year later by Renee — also as an eighth-grader — and the two of them got the Huskies into the Section 9 tournament for the first of four straight appearances. There was a near ten-year break for sister Christie, who led Highland to one Section 9 title and one MHAL title in her four-year career — the girls’ program’s first ever for both. After another ten-year break, came along sister Ali — now a Highland senior — and then two years later sister Bri — now a freshman — with both leading the Huskies to yet another Section 9 title in 2014.
Along the way, Erica set the Highland career-scoring record of 1,608 points (broken by Lisa Pritzlaff with 1,621 five years later) and the single game record of 53 points; Renee finished just three points shy of 1,000 at 997 (then-coach Zorro Hartford lost track of her point total down the stretch of her senior year); Christie finished with 1,080; Ali hit for her 1,000th against New Paltz in the regular season finale and added 50 more by season’s end; and Bri, the freshman wunderkind, has already amassed close to 500, with three more seasons on tap.
Incredible, yes? Out of the six all-time leading girls scorers at Highland, four are Rozzi’s (Christie Morano scored 1,230 for the Huskies in the mid-2000’s), with Bri — barring injury — ready to top them all.
So how was it possible? This tale of basketball brilliance? Also considering that the girls are the offspring of different mothers in Kathy Fasano-Rozzi — who is deceased and the mother of Erica and Renee; and Linda Rozzi, who is the mother of Christie, Ali and Bri, one would have to look no further than their roundball-junkie father — “The Patriarch,” offers Christie, laughing — who raised his girls on the basketball court in the family driveway.
“Playing me one-on-one,” laughs Tom Rozzi.
That one-on-one began with nine-year-old Erica, who just “wasn’t into soccer,” says Tom. “She liked playing basketball in the driveway. She was good one-on-one, and remember I was under-30 with her and Renee, so she got me at my best,” laughs Tom. “So, Erica played CYO ball and I coached her and Renee in softball, so they were both used to my style. Erica was a great competitor, had a great first step to the basket and most of all had a sweet shot from the outside. And she was a quick learner. The (high school) team was weak her first year, then when Renee joined her the next year, they got into the Section 9 playoffs (for the first time). Erica scored a lot because it was necessary at the time. But her game rounded out by her senior year and she became more of a complete ballplayer.”
Renee had no trouble being a “complete ballplayer,” says Erica. “I would never have scored as many points if it wasn’t for Renee.” Renee was the quintessential point guard at the time: fast, a great ball-handler, looking to breakdown the offense…a pass-first all-around player. “She just came into the game the same way (out on the driveway, CYO, then AAU ball with Tom as coach) and with such great court savvy,” says Tom. “She was always smaller than everyone else, so she liked the point. She was also a tenacious defender, always guarding the other team’s best back-court player.” Tom still bemoans that Renee didn’t get her 1,000 career points. “No one knew how close she was, and knowing her she would have passed off even if she did, but…” and Tom still shakes his head at Renee’s final game for Highland against Tri-Valley in a Section 9 Class C (the Huskies were then in Class C) semifinal game, where, with Highland down by a point, “she drove for the basket, was clobbered going up for the shot” and left lying on the floor as the other team went downcourt and scored to ice the game and end the Huskies’ season. “I thought maybe we could dress her for one more game next year, let her hit a three to get her 1,000, but Renee won’t do it,” laughs Tom.
In Christie, “I looked at this beautiful, sweet blond-haired, blue-eyed little girl who wouldn’t hurt a fly and thought: How can I make her as mean as possible (to play basketball),” laughs Tom. “But underneath all that she was as competitive as Erica and Renee. She started, like the other two, in CYO at nine, and playing me one-on-one…I had lost a step, but still could give her a good game,” adds Tom, laughing. “She really matured quickly as a ballplayer and played with my AAU team — the Ulster County UltraStars — that had Allie Rozzi (Tom’s brother Steve’s daughter), Ashley Hanhurst, Casey Brooks, Erin Marx, all really good players. It was a really good team that eventually became the MHAL and Section 9 champions, but under my craziness were like 0-25 until Renee (at age 22 and just recently graduated from Nyack College, were she was the starting point guard for four years) took over for a few games and won them all, before I came back and started yelling and screaming and we started losing again. I was crazy…WOW!”
As for Christie, “she was just a good all-around player, a three or four player (small forward or shooting guard), with great court sense.”
With Ali and Bri, the Rozzi System began a little earlier. “Alison was in second grade and Brianna going into kindergarten and both liked to shoot around with me. Ali started in CYO and then moved up to AAU in fourth grade; the same with Brianna — who hung around watching Ali and trying to imitate her — both playing with and against older kids. Ali was always, like Erica more than Renee and Christie, a sweet shooter, she just needed to bring the rest of her game up to that level, and as her high school career continued, she went from ‘just’ a shooter to a solid all-around player like Christie — she doesn’t have Renee’s speed or breakaway ability. She rebounded better; made her teammates around her better. She learned a lot from Jim Delmar (her coach her first three years on varsity) and from Jim Malak (her coach this year), and has become more of a student of the game.”
“Brianna has taken Rozzi Basketball to a different level,” laughs Tom. “She’s a combination of the other four girls. She has great court vision. Size. Athleticism. Physique. The mindset. She just has to focus more on getting her shot on track and she can do great things out there on the court.” And who can forget that it was Bri (as a seventh-grader) and Ali (as a sophomore) who nearly led Highland to a first-round win over highly-favored Woodlands in a State Tournament game two years ago. “Division 1 coaches have already contacted me about Brianna, so she could, with focus, become the best of the girls.”
And where are they now? Well, excluding their attendance at every Highland girls’ basketball game and sitting in the Rozzi Corner (along with various uncles, aunts, husbands, boyfriends and cousins) to watch Ali and Bri — plus Tom, who is the new JV coach — Erica, after a stint in the Air Force, is a teacher’s aid and has three kids; Renee graduated from Nyack, works in finance, has two kids and is looking more into coaching again; and Christie graduated SUNY New Paltz and is an elementary school teacher and a one-time assistant girls’ varsity basketball coach at Marlboro. All three still play basketball in the adult league in Highland.
So…will there be a third wave of Rozzi basketball? Children of the five sisters? Hey, you never know, but if it is up to “The Patriarch,” he now has a full-size basketball court at his house…just in case.