Basketball standout and outstanding student

By Jenelyn Russo     2/7/2016

It was during a pick-up game of basketball with her baseball teammates that Marina LaPuzza’s parents first discovered their daughter could play some hoops.

“One of the coaches saw me and went and told my parents and said, ‘Did you know Marina can play basketball? You need to put her in basketball instead of baseball,’” says LaPuzza.

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Her parents took the recommendation, and as a third-grader LaPuzza began playing in a local basketball league. As the only girl on her all-boys team, her introduction to the sport didn’t go as smooth as she hoped.

“It was a little rough,” says LaPuzza. “The boys wouldn’t pass me the ball. I got frustrated. One of my coaches said, ‘You’ve just got to be better than them.’”

And improve she did. By fifth grade, LaPuzza started receiving passes from the boys nearly every possession. Now a senior at Mater Dei High School, LaPuzza is a four-year varsity player on one of the top girls basketball programs in the state, a program that has won eight straight Trinity League titles. But the transition to high school basketball wasn’t without its own challenges.

“When I first came to Mater Dei, it was kind of a culture shock,” says LaPuzza. “I realized I couldn’t just use my God-given talent any more. I actually had to work and develop my game to make it better and raise it to the level of my teammates.”

The 18-year-old is routinely tasked with defending the top player on the opposing team, a role LaPuzza welcomes.

“I like it. It’s more like a personal challenge,” says LaPuzza. “Each team has a new best player for me to guard, so each game is a new excitement.”

Because she is a co-captain and one of only four seniors on a young team, Varsity head coach for the Monarchs, Kevin Kiernan, looks to LaPuzza to for leadership as well as increased offense to support her defensive contributions.

“Marina is a very active defender, and has worked this past offseason on her offensive game,” says Kiernan. “She is a great kid and she’s put in the work. I think it will pay off.”

Off the court, the Costa Mesa resident enjoys participating in MDTV, Mater Dei’s student-run television broadcast program. If the opportunity presents itself to continue her basketball career in college, LaPuzza will definitely take it, but with a strong interest in making movies and short films, she hopes to study filmmaking on her way to becoming a director.

Additionally she serves as a lector and stands in front of the congregation at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Costa Mesa each Sunday to read the liturgical selections, an opportunity she cherishes.

“I love being able to spread God’s words to everyone,” says LaPuzza. “I think it’s something really special.”