Julie Caputo took her first dribble at age 7. Soon after, she was scrimmaging with the boys on the church-ball hardwoods. By high school, she found herself under the tutelage of a former WNBA player and a legendary local coach.
But for the Cyprus point guard, the road to becoming the leader of a team in contention for the Class 4A state title started with a few tears.
"Soccer was my sport, so when my dad signed me up for basketball, I just started to cry," she said. "I didn't wanna play at all."
The Pirates can be thankful for her change of heart. Caputo now lives, breathes and dreams basketball. Her teammates know they can find her logging some overtime on the hardwoods after practice.
"She's a total gym rat," forward Marquessa Gilson said.
It's a commitment that has its roots at Skyline, where Caputo started her high-school career under the direction of former WNBA player Natalie Williams and longtime coach Deb Bennett. There, she became accustomed to the ways of winning. She was determined to pass on the knowledge when she transferred to Cyprus.
"I feel a responsibility to be a leader on this team," she said.
Cyprus, after all, is relatively new to the game of chasing titles.
The upswing started just two years ago when, under coach Josh Adams, the Pirates battled their way into the state tournament with a play-in game. They were Region 6 champions a year later. Now they've got their eyes on the top prize.
"We're all determined and we want to succeed," Gilson said. "We want to make our community proud."
And while the Pirates are well on their way to realizing their goal, they're far from the prototypical championship team.
Experienced players like Abby Barrett, Gilson and Caputo followed a more traditional route to varsity ball, starting young and honing their skills on club and competition teams. The trio certainly are the anchors of the Pirates evolving lineup.
But Cyprus also suits up a string of players, like sophomore Talyssa Sawn, who took their first shots on the courts at Cyprus.
It's all the same to Caputo and company.
"It's really never too late to start," she said. "We all come from different places and have distinct skills. We never knock anyone down for making a mistake."
"We all realize that we're only as strong as our weakest player," Gilson said.
It's fitting, then, that the Pirates adopted the mantra of "WE" for the 2013 season, which doubles as an acronym for "winning effort" and signifies a united front.
If both pieces come together, the Pirates believe a title is within reach. Until then, Caputo can't think of much else.
"My goal is to help lead this team to state," she said. "I view it as my job to set the tone. If we can pull this off, it'll mean not only a lot for us, but for the community. It would put Cyprus back on the map."