By JOHN GORALSKI
Kristin-Wilcox Astiasaran didn’t know much about women’s sports when her grandparents dragged her to the state championship game in 1982, but she watched it unfold before her like a Hollywood film. For the first three quarters, Westhill High School deliberately constructed a 15-point lead. In the final eight minutes, the Lady Knights dismantled it.
The wide-eyed 12-year old watched in amazement as the Lady Knights celebrated the school’s first basketball title. She began to daydream as they cut down the nets. A few weeks later, when Lady Knight star Kelly Hart strolled into her youth basketball banquet to give a short speech, Wilcox hung on every word.
Just like that, she caught the bug.
“I can still remember being in awe of her when Kelly spoke. She said that any one of us could do what she did, and I can remember thinking that she didn’t know how bad I was,” Wilcox said with a laugh. “But it kind of stuck with me.”
At the time, it seemed more like a dream than any sort of possibility. Wilcox was a late bloomer—at best—when she sat at that banquet and dreamed about state championship titles. She said that she was one of the worst players on her team. When she’d come down with a rebound, she can still remember the yells.
“Don’t move,” they’d scream. “Don’t do anything to screw it up,” she’d think, and her biggest contribution was waiting for a teammate to come and save the day.
Sure, she was fast enough to win the 50-yard dash in gym class. Nobody doubted her athleticism when she scrambled for field day victories in three-legged races. She’d be picked before the boys in games of dodge ball at recess, but when it came to organized sports, Wilcox was only a rookie.
“We didn’t do a lot of sports in my family—at least my sister and I didn’t,” she said. “My brothers were very involved in quarter midget racing, and that sort of took over our lives. It was every weekend. It was all the time. I don’t think that I even picked up a basketball until fifth or sixth grade.”
So while her future teammates were honing their skills in youth leagues and local camps, Wilcox was traveling to weekend races to cheer on her brothers. A weekly dance class was her only shot at competition, but it didn’t stop the dream. Hart had planted it deep in Wilcox’ heart, and once she grabbed hold of it, she wasn’t about to let it go.
By the time that she reached Kennedy Junior High School, things were slowly starting to change. Making the girls basketball team was simple from the start, but as a multi-sport athlete, Wilcox was still behind the curve. Twice, she tried out for softball. Twice, she was left off the roster.
But as Southington fans would soon learn, Wilcox wasn’t one to give up. In her third try, she made the team. Wilcox would never be kept off a roster again.
“I just kept at it in my backyard, but the problem was that my brothers were all left handed,” she said. “So I learned how to catch a ball with the wrong mitt. Then, I’d take off the glove and throw it. I had no field sense.”
When she arrived at the high school the following year, Wilcox was no longer a long shot. As a sophomore, she fought her way onto the varsity roster in volleyball. That winter, she started for the Lady Knight hoopsters as a 5 foot, 8 inch center/forward.
“I remember it as being really scary,” she said. “There were a lot of seniors on the team that year with my sister and a bunch of her friends. I held my own, but Coach [Joe] Daddio was a big part of keeping me confident. He kept telling me that I belonged there and that it would all come together for me. He told me to just keep working hard, but it was scary. I was honored by the opportunity to play with those girls. They were such good athletes.”
Despite her size, Wilcox held her own against the bigger centers and forwards, and she finished the season as the team’s leading rebounder. The following year, coaches shifted her to guard, and that’s when things really took off. As a senior, she paced the Knights with a 23-point performance over top-ranked Bristol Eastern that led to Southington’s third straight championship title and the program’s only undefeated season.
A few days later, Wilcox scored 21 points in a win over Newington, and that thrust her into the state’s spotlight.
“She made up her mind that she was going to do something special for us,” Daddio told the Hartford Courant in January of 1988. “She stepped out of a team role. For the first time in her career, you could tell in her eyes that she really wanted the basketball, and that’s what you want in a team leader.”
But Wilcox wasn’t concerned about individual accolades. Instead, she was focused on the winning. Her 10.1 point career scoring average might not have engrained her in the record books, but Wilcox was difficult to forget. At the time, coaches had developed a ‘Plus Points’ formula for calculating a player’s impact, and Wilcox was the second highest ranked player at the time of her graduation.
The calculation was complex. Points were given for free throws and assists, while points were deducted for missed field goals and turnovers. Two points were awarded for defensive rebounds and field goals. Three points were awarded for offensive rebounds and steals, and five points were scored for taking a charge.
“We were about percentages. It wasn’t about individual goals. We talked about wins,” she said. “Even when I think about it now, I’d much rather have those championship rings than any individual record. We won as a team. Our whole bench would get in to play. We busted our butts in practice because you always had to be ready, but game time was almost like our days off—really. We worked that hard.”
Over her career, Wilcox scored 1,311 points in that system and 19.6 points per contest. Wilcox was ranked higher than future hall of famers like Kris Mach, Tracy Ciosek, and Kelly Hart even though her scoring numbers were never as close.
“With her, the team concept is so ingrained, she is reluctant to take over,” Daddio said to reporters during her senior season. “I want her to go ahead and be the leader, to start looking for her own shots and creating her own offense.”
Wilcox seemed to have the Midas Touch, and she didn’t stop at the end of the winter. The girl that was cut twice from her junior high school team was actually recruited to the high school diamond. As a sophomore, she worked herself into the everyday lineup as a pinch runner. As a junior, she moved into left field. She quickly rose the ranks as one of the team’s top hitters and led the team with a .444 average as a junior.
“When she was on the court or on the field, she really turned it on,” said former Lady Knight softball coach Joe Piazza. “She was such a great competitor in whatever sport she was playing. She was a great volleyball player. She was a really good softball player, and she was a great shooter and a very good defensive player in basketball.”
In the off-season, Wilcox was invited to elite basketball camps like the Blue Star Invitational Camp in New Jersey, and she represented the state on Connecticut’s only AAU basketball team and the Junior Olympics squad.
It was no surprise that college scouts began to appear on the sidelines. Keene State University offered her a scholarship to play volleyball and basketball. Geno Auriemma offered her a chance to play basketball at UConn during his early years at the school, but Wilcox opted to play division two basketball and secured a full scholarship to play at Assumption College.
“I remember Geno Auriemma telling me that, if I decided to go to UConn, I probably wouldn’t play until my junior year. He said that if I decided to go to a division two school, I would probably play right away, and he was right. That was nice to hear,” she said. “I just wanted to play. UConn would have been nice because it really was the start of his big rise, but I loved Assumption. I wouldn’t change anything.”
For four years, she anchored the Assumption team and graduated in the top 10 for career scoring. Through her four-year career, Wilcox earned the iron man title for the most games played at the time of her graduation, so it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Wilcox as a member of the Class of 2014.
“I’m surprised and completely humbled to be in that list with those athletes that came before me. It’s incredible,” she said. “I hope I was a good example of integrity and character. I always tried to do the right things and be a good student. I never skipped a class or a practice.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 12, she will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. For those that saw her play, it’s about time.
“She definitely belongs in the hall of fame. She was a standout athlete, and she contributed very much to a lot of championship teams in different programs,” said Piazza. “There aren’t a lot of people that can say that they won six championships. Even in volleyball, her teams did well. She was a great overall athlete. Basketball was probably her best sport, but she’s a rare player that can excel in nine seasons of sports.”
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9640.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.
By JOHN GORALSKI