ATHLETE OF THE WEEK

SDA’s Branigan: An athletic artist, both on and off the court

St. Dominic Academy sophomore forward Maddie Branigan
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St. Dominic Academy sophomore forward Maddie Branigan

Maddie Branigan is an accomplished artist.

The St. Dominic Academy sophomore, who is also a highly respected member of the basketball team at the school, paints on canvas regularly, creating abstracts and portraits. She also makes her own jewelry – rings, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, the whole works. Branigan is doing so well as an artist that she is in the process of launching her own website, featuring her artwork and her handmade jewelry.

“I draw, paint, make jewelry, whatever I feel like,” Branigan said. “It comes in spurts. I won’t do anything at all for a few days, then I sink myself into my art. I have had people ask me to make gifts for friends.”

Branigan is also an excellent student at SDA.

“I guess I get A’s on my report card,” Branigan said. “I’m really not sure. I guess I got First Honors last time.”

But right now, Branigan is making her mark as a forward on the SDA basketball team.

Branigan doesn’t come from a line of basketball players in her family, but there were certainly some noteworthy athletes, in particular, Maddie’s father, Alan, who was a standout player at Nutley High School, Rutgers University and was a draft pick of the Dallas Burn in Major League Soccer in the 1990s.

Alan Branigan enjoyed a good professional soccer career with the Hampton Roads Mariners of the old United Soccer League.

When Maddie was a youngster, it was only natural that she should take to soccer.

“I was always running around, kicking at the ball,” Branigan said. “I played soccer through preschool.”

But when Maddie was just seven years old, she retired from soccer to concentrate on basketball. Imagine a second-grader making such a momentous decision?

Maddie and her older brother Maguire played basketball throughout grade school. Maguire Branigan also played basketball at Nutley High School before stepping away this season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Maguire Branigan is a senior at Nutley.

“We used to play basketball together a lot,” Maddie Branigan said. “We have a hoop in the yard and played there together.”

When Maddie was younger, she lacked confidence. She never thought she was going to be a good basketball player.

But then there was one game she enjoyed playing in the Nutley Recreation league. Branigan tossed in 18 points in just her second game of organized basketball.

“It was an instantaneous thing,” Maddie Branigan said. “When I scored 18, the coaches all said, ‘Who is this kid?’ That game gave me a lot of confidence.”

When the time came to choose a high school, Branigan decided to attend the school that her mother went to, not her hometown public school. Needless to say, it caused a little bit of an uproar in her native Nutley.

“I think we all thought St. Dominic was going to be a better fit for me,” Maddie Branigan said. “I wanted to try the private school thing. When I went to visit, I bonded with the girls there quickly.”

Needless to say, SDA head basketball coach John Hester was excited to have someone of Branigan’s talent and stature come into his program.

The 6-foot-1 Branigan averaged 14 points and eight rebounds last season as a freshman.

“I think the biggest challenge with her was for to understand her importance to the team,” Hester said. “She was trying to figure out how often she could shoot the ball. We needed her to find the right rhythm and be the focal point of our offense. I don’t think she understood that.”

Branigan said that she was her own toughest critic.

“I’m very critical of myself,” Branigan said. “I tend to focus on all the bad things I do. I watch film and tear things apart.”

Before the compacted season began three weeks ago, Branigan was poised to have an even bigger role this year with the Blue Devils than last year.

“I think I could have more success shooting the ball,” Branigan said. “I think I could be better with my ball handling. I had to sharpen those points of my game. I saw what I did as a freshman and I thought, ‘What could I do better as a sophomore?’ I was disappointed that it was only a 15-game season, but I was going to make the most of it.”

Hester knew that Branigan was poised for a better go round than last year when she was selected to Third Team All-Hudson County.

“From the first game, she has that feeling,” Hester said. “She’s making good decisions with the ball. We’re comfortable with her having the ball in her hands a lot. She’s understanding her role better. There’s not a spot on the floor where she’s not allowed to shoot it from. I told her, ‘If you’re open, shoot it. There are no restrictions. She’s an excellent shooter. Sure, there’s room for improvement, but there’s nothing stopping her.”

Branigan has enjoyed a sizzling start to the new season, averaging 21.2 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. She’s leading the Blue Devils to a stellar 4-1 record thus far. She scored 13 points against Ferris, had 27 against McNair Academic, had 24 each in games against Lincoln and Memorial and had 18 in a win over North Bergen.

For her efforts, Branigan has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. Branigan is the first honoree of the winter scholastic sports season.

Hester loves Branigan’s attitude.

“She has no ego,” Hester said. “Maddie doesn’t know how good she is. I have to remind her that she has a gift here. She’s a really sweet girl. She’s very talented outside of basketball. She’s very interesting. I love talking to her.”

Branigan hopes to study pre-med in college one day. After all, who’s going to stop her?

Branigan was asked what she enjoys doing more – playing basketball or making jewelry?

“I really don’t have a favorite,” Branigan said. “I enjoy doing both equally.”

But as for her start of her sophomore season?

“Oh, I’m definitely happy about that,” Branigan said. “Last year, I wasn’t even close to where I am now.”

Hester knows he’s fortunate to have an All-County star for two full seasons after this one.

“If she stays healthy, we can’t put a cap on what she’s capable of doing,” Hester said. “She’s bound by nothing. She’s very gifted.”

In more ways than one. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com