Rising through the ranks

Cinnaminson senior Kaitlyn Mulligan carries on Pirate tradition of mentoring younger teammates

The Cinnaminson girls basketball team has had a number of talented players come through its program in recent years, helping the Pirates boast a combined record of 59-24 over the past three full seasons.

Their leadership, sheer basketball prowess and desire to better themselves and their teammates over the years have helped create a strong cycle of young players developing into unquestioned leaders, eventually filling the role of those they previously looked up to, becoming mentors and helping grow the new batch of younger program players.

The newest player doing that is senior captain Kaitlyn Mulligan, one of three senior captains on the team this year. She currently leads the Pirates in points with 94 after seven games, nearly double her closest teammate.

Looking back at her time in the program, Mulligan says she’s had the opportunity to learn from a number of talented girls over the years.

“I’ve played with some crazy magnificent players over the years,” Mulligan said. “They’ve all been incredible role models that I’m just so thankful to have had the chance to play with.”

In remembering her former teammates, Mulligan feels she was able to learn something different from the team’s captains year after year, ultimately using those lessons to help up her own game as she got older.

“My freshman year, our captain Fiona Flynn, a 1,000-point scorer, was just a phenomenal player who really showed that you can’t be afraid to drive and she displayed such passion for the game,” Mulligan said. “My sophomore year, Maddie Parrish had the best ball handles I’ve ever seen … Maddie Ogden was another 1,000-point scorer and a crazy athlete that never gave up.

“I was a little fish in a big pond honestly,” Mulligan said. “I was younger, they were older and they all really showed how to be a team player. I’ve taken some behaviors from those past teammates, on and off the court, to make sure we have fun while we’re out there, too.”

But the girl who had the most profound impact on Mulligan growing up is her older sister Emily, a senior during Kaitlyn’s junior year who led the team in points during her senior season.

Since early childhood, Kaitlyn says her older sister was always one of the better players on her teams. Having looked up to Emily her whole life, she loved being able to practice, play, compete and train with her.

“I really miss playing with her,” Kaitlyn added. “The game just clicks for her; she taught me so much over the years.”

Now, in the midst of her senior season and the first without her sister on the same team, Mulligan and her fellow seniors are on a mission to continue the success of the program’s recent years. Coach Bret Jenkins, who is in the midst of his ninth season at the helm for the team, said the maturity and growth from this year’s senior class are what sticks out to him the most about that bunch.

“One of the things I’m most impressed with is their maturity and how much they’ve grown over the years,” Jenkins said. “With the times that we’re in currently this season, I think leadership is probably more important than it’s ever been, and I’ve been impressed with how our three seniors watch over the girls to make sure we’re doing the right things.

“Their attitude throughout the season so far also sticks out, with them not being upset about our situation, but almost feeling lucky that we’re getting to play in general,” the coach added.

With regard to Mulligan specifically, Jenkins said she sticks out as one of the hardest-working girls on the court each and every game.

“One of the best parts about her leadership is how hard that she plays,”  Jenkins said. “It’s really easy to stress the importance of defense and effort when your leading scorer is playing great defense and gives a bunch of effort on the defensive end. It’s a great message to the younger girls that you can be the leading scorer and still be working extremely hard on the defensive end.”

Jenkins admits he didn’t anticipate Mulligan being the team’s leading scorer coming into the season, but the fact that she is, is a testament to her growth and hard work over the years.

“I don’t think, coming in, we saw her scoring this much,” Jenkins said. “I think after Emily left, Kaitlyn got ahold of that confidence and now is taking the opportunity to do some of the things that Emily was doing last year.”

Now halfway through the season, Mulligan said in the coming weeks the team wants to accomplish the goals it set at the beginning of the season, allowing her to enjoy the fact that, fortunately, she gets to have a senior season at all.

“As a team, we wanted to win the division since we don’t have playoffs this year,” Mulligan said. “Personally, I know that we could get our season taken away at any moment, so you can’t take it for granted. Some schools don’t even have sports this year because of COVID, so I’m just grateful that our town gets to have sports and I hope we can have a full season … because I couldn’t imagine if it got taken away from me.”