The first time Kristina Ulrich walked into a Secaucus High School girls’ basketball practice seven weeks ago, there was a different feeling.
That’s because for the first time in ages, Julia McClure and Andie Lennon were not there. McClure is off playing basketball at Wagner College. Lennon is playing at Caldwell. Ulrich was left to handle things on her own.
“It was definitely a little weird, because I played with both of those guys since third grade,” said Ulrich, a senior guard for the Patriots. “I knew it was going to be tough to get used to.”
Gone were the two key components to the Patriots’ amazing 27-1 season a year ago that included the school’s first-ever Hudson County Tournament championship. McClure, the 2014-2015 Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year, and Lennon took nearly 3,500 combined points and over 100 victories with them out the door.
Ulrich was left as the main returnee, along with fellow senior Julia Pischetti.
“I knew I had to step up,” Ulrich said. “I don’t know if I felt that much pressure, but I knew we had two really good teammates leaving and I was going to have to fill a bigger role.”
Secaucus head coach John Sterling knew that Ulrich had to be the one to lead the way.
“She obviously had to find a bigger role for us, because as the point guard, the ball was now going to have to be so much in her hands,” Sterling said. “But I was so confident that she could do it. She’s very comfortable in doing what she does.”
Ulrich isn’t the most vocal person in the world.
“She’s actually a pretty quiet girl,” Sterling said. “She lets her actions speak for her. She goes hard all the time and loves to play. A true leader leads by example. Words don’t necessarily need to be spoken. We have a very young team and the younger girls on the team all look up to her.”
That includes one important younger player – namely her little sister, Amanda, who is a freshman and on the team.
The two sisters have had a healthy rivalry going back to when they were toddlers.
“We’ve been going at each other, one on one, since like first grade,” Kristina Ulrich said. “We have a court in the backyard where we play against each other all the time. We’re pretty competitive. We go back and forth. I’m older, so I have to be better, right? But if you ask her, right away, she’ll say she’s better. That’s just the way it is.”
The two Ulrich sisters are part of an extended family that has produced its share of incredible athletes in Secaucus. There were the Schlemms and the Roesings and the Ulrichs. They’re all related.
Kristina’s aunt, Sheila Ulrich Rivera, was a standout athlete in her day at Secaucus and is currently the head volleyball coach. Her cousins, Cory and Danielle Roesing, are former Hudson Reporter Female Athletes of the Year. Her cousins, Ed, Bobby and Sean, were all excellent multi-sport athletes during their days at Secaucus. Zac, Kyle and Katelyn Schlemm were also great athletes at Secaucus. They’re all cousins as well.
“I quickly learned about the family tree and found out that everyone seems to be related,” Sterling said.
“People laugh and say that it’s practically half of the whole town that’s related,” Kristina Ulrich said. “Everywhere I go, I meet someone and they say, ‘Oh, you’re related, too?’”
The key relation these days is her little sister. For once, the two are teammates, not combatants in the family backyard court.
“It’s so exciting,” Kristina Ulrich said. “I always dreamed of playing with Amanda on the same team. We only have the one year together before I go off to college, so I wanted to make it a special year. It’s pretty cool. Since she’s my sister, I talk about a lot of things with her. She’s listening now and accepts criticism. She has to listen to what I have to say.”
So Kristina Ulrich had the pressures of replacing two of the best all-time players in the school’s history, then living up to the family’s intense and extensive reputation and legacy and finally improving her skills as a player. Not an easy task at all.
“I really wanted to have some consistency,” Ulrich said. “I wanted to get involved with scoring, with rebounds, steals, assists. I worked on my shooting over the summer. I played AAU ball and that helped me. I had to improve my own skills and become a good role model and leader for this team.”
Ulrich seems to be handling the roles well. Last week, she had 20 points, seven steals and four assists in a win over Bogota and last Tuesday, she had 14 points, five assists and five steals in a win over Bergen Charter.
For her efforts, Ulrich has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week, the first honoree of the winter scholastic sports season.
Previously this season, Ulrich has enjoyed scoring outbursts of 26 points against Dumont and 24 against Lyndhurst. Incredibly, Amanda tallied 26 points in her high school debut and earned Athlete of the Week honors from the Record of Hackensack.
“I’m actually really happy that my sister is doing so well,” said the elder Ulrich, who is averaging 17.5 points per game and has scored in double figures in all eight Patriot games this season. “She’s also proving that it wasn’t just one game.”
“She’s the leading scorer on the team,” Sterling said of the older Ulrich. “We put the ball in her hands. I’m really proud of the way she’s leading the team. She’s had the ball in her hands more and she’s had the opportunity to get to the basket more. She’s extremely quick and just goes by people. But she’s also very unselfish and she’s looking to pass first. She’s a good scorer who makes good decisions with the ball.”
Ulrich is also extremely dedicated. In one preseason practice, she collided head-to-head with another Patriot player and the result of the collision was a gash over Ulrich’s eye that required six stitches to repair.
“A lot of other kids might have chosen to sit it out,” Sterling said. “But Kristina was there the next day, like she always is, ready to play. It just shows an example of how hard she plays. She goes hard all the time. She’s a great role model who makes my job easier.”
“No way was that going to stop me,” Ulrich said of the injury. “I knew I had to set an example.”
Ulrich has not decided whether she wants to play volleyball or basketball in college. She has a few offers to consider, like the University of Maine-Fort Kent for basketball or Caldwell College for volleyball, like her cousin Cory did.
“Nothing is locked in just yet,” Kristina Ulrich said.
Nothing’s locked in – except her dedication to basketball and her desire to excel, living up to both the program’s and her family’s reputations. It looks as if Kristina Ulrich has a handle on all of that and more. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.