WICCOPEE - Maya Watts always has been able to compartmentalize, quickly turning her attention to the responsibilities ahead and shifting the focus just as easily. That is, in part, a product of the Arlington High School junior having spent most of her life balancing two passions and the obligations that accompany them.
She began playing the cello in the third grade. Her parents are pianists and her older sister, Kyra, is a violinist, so the early influence was almost unavoidable. Call it a sonic osmosis.
Maya also fell in love with basketball and she now stars for Arlington as 6-foot power forward, while also an advanced-level cellist for the school’s orchestra.
Her evenings usually dedicated to practices, on the court and on the strings, and the study of notes — those taken from the chalkboard in class and others read from a musical sheet.
There is sometimes an overlap in the winter as the schedules do conflict but, Maya said, her simple solution is always to prioritize what’s immediately ahead.
So, when an opponent drilled a dramatic 3-pointer at the end of regulation on Wednesday, delivering a figurative gut punch to the girls basketball team, Watts was almost sanguine.
Teammates admitted they were “shocked” when that shot forced overtime, and understandably so. Upstart John Jay-East Fishkill erased a 19-point deficit against an Arlington squad that had lost four of its previous five games, so there would be an inclination to believe that rally spelled trouble.
"My first thought was, 'Okay, so we're winning in overtime,'" Watts said with a shrug. "I was disappointed for a second when (the shot) went in, but I knew we would settle down and win it."
Be it the calm confidence of a symphony musician or simply athletic bravado, she was right.
The Admirals quickly regrouped and took control in the opening minutes of overtime before holding on for a 57-54 win over their rival on the road.
Watts scored twice on turnaround layups in the post and Julia Russo drilled a straightaway three, answering John Jay free throws, to give Arlington a five-point lead to open the extra period.
“I think we were a little nervous going into overtime after Stephanie (Jean-Baptiste) hit that shot,” senior Bella Kostyal said. “But we had a good energy even before the game. Although they came back from a huge deficit and we were like, ‘Damn, how did this happen,’ we kept our composure and fought.”
Gabby Sweeney's layup after the steal of an inbounds pass pulled the Patriots within 54-52 with 26 seconds left in overtime, but free throws from Sydney Dyer and Kostyal extended the lead to five. Grace Kennedy hit a floater just before the buzzer to create the margin.
Russo scored 19 points, including five 3-pointers, to lead the Admirals, who've won two straight following a four-game losing streak. Watts scored 12 of her 16 points after the third quarter and had nine rebounds and two blocks.
“This win was big for us, especially because we knew they would be one of our toughest league games,” said Watts, who had six points in overtime. “But our defense, especially at the end, was really good. I’m proud of how we pulled this out.”
Arlington dominated the first half and led for all but 14 seconds of regulation. Russo's three gave them a 30-11 lead with 2:34 left in the second quarter, and it seemed the rout was on. But the Patriots clamped down defensively and Arlington meandered in the third, held to three points as its lead was whittled to 33-24.
“We knew they would make a big push and try to come back,” Russo said of the Patriots. “A team like that doesn’t just lay down. But our chemistry was good and everyone was hyped, so I think that helped us respond.”
Watts' runner put the Admirals up, 39-31, with 4:40 remaining in the fourth, but John Jay’s rally continued. Ashley Buragas led the surge, scoring eight points in a three-minute stretch. That's when the action truly began to crescendo.
Sweeney scooped in a reverse that tied it at 40 with 1:29 left, then gave the Patriots their first lead, 42-40, on fast-break layup 30 seconds later. Kostyal hit a three that retook the lead for Arlington with 37 seconds to go and, after a missed John Jay three, Watts was fouled with two seconds left. Her free throws figured to be the clinching points… well, barring a remarkable shot.
Stephanie Jean-Baptiste with the tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. Unbelievably, it’s knotted at 45 and going to overtime. Reminder: John Jay erased a 19-point deficit to get itself in this position. pic.twitter.com/kUOd4kqmdj
— Stephen Haynes (@StephenHaynes4) January 20, 2022
Jean-Baptiste caught the inbounds pass on the wing and, despite being well contested, the guard turned and leaned forward to launch a high-arching shot that swished through as time expired.Fortissimo! The home crowd roared as that shot highlighted a spirited comeback in what's been a superb turnaround season for John Jay.
"Ugh!" Arlington coach Kim Costello said of her reaction. "All the credit to her; that was a great shot. But I was so proud of our composure. It would've been easy to fold right there, but we came back and scored the first few points of overtime and took back control."
Kostyal added nine points and Dyer seven for the Admirals (8-4). Nneoma Ezeilo had two points, 11 rebounds and two steals. Her interior defense, alongside Watts, was key in stifling the Patriots early. Kyleigh Short had four points and two steals, and Nicole Timm had a steal.
“It’s awesome to have them,” Watts said of Arlington’s cadre of perimeter shooters. “We have amazing chemistry and read each other well, so when I turn around in the post, I know where they’re gonna be for a pass, and I have total confidence they’ll hit it.”
Jean-Baptiste and Buragas each scored 16 points for the Patriots (10-2). Sweeney added 14 points.
“Coming off a losing streak,” Russo said, “it’s important that we get going in the right direction and start a win streak. We have to keep this going.”
For these teams, there was somewhat of a role reversal. It is Arlington, Kostyal said, that must “prove” itself this season.
The Admirals reached the Section 1 Class AA semifinals in 2020 and they shined in the pandemic-shortened season last year, winning the Dutchess County championship. The team then graduated four starters, excluding Watts.
“But we lost a lot of our team last year and people were doubting us,” Kostyal said. “A lot of our starters now didn’t get much playing time last year, so people don’t know us. We’ve got to show we can be good.”
After a strong start, Arlington did drop four straight games in December. Granted, they were without Watts for three of those losses when she traveled with the orchestra to Chicago to perform two concerts. Alas, this was an instance in which the overlap couldn’t be solved by sacrificing rest.
The Midwest performances went well, she said, and Arlington received multiple standing ovations. Watts’ absence on the court certainly was felt, though, as the basketball team struggled offensively during a difficult stretch of its schedule.
Teammates were supportive, though.
“She’s in the highest orchestra at our school,” Kostyal said. “The fact that she’s doing basketball and the highest-level orchestra is amazing. We’re proud of her.”
But the Chicago trip did create a dilemma, Watts admitted. She even asked to travel separate from the band on Dec. 14 and stay with the team for its game against Lourdes. Those arrangements couldn’t be made, though.
With that behind her , she said, basketball is the priority — as is Arlington’s “prove it” mission this season.
“Without her, you do your best, but things are more difficult,” Costello said. “On both ends of the court, she’s a difference-maker. Her scoring, her rebounding, her blocks, her athleticism, the height. She absolutely makes a huge difference in how we play.”
The orchestra probably would also attest to Watts making a huge difference in how they play.
But her return to the court, surely, is music to the Admirals' ears.
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
This article originally appeared on Poughkeepsie Journal: Girls basketball: Watt makes music for Arlington, on and off the court