Fraser head coach Rob Fulgenzi holds a conversation with his team in their game against St. Clair on Jan. 31 at Fraser High School.

Fraser head coach Rob Fulgenzi holds a conversation with his team in their game against St. Clair on Jan. 31 at Fraser High School.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

‘Cohesive’ chemistry nets winning season for Fraser girls hoops

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Fraser-Clinton Chronicle | Published February 8, 2023

 Fraser junior guard Jaida Oxendine commands the ball against St. Clair.

Fraser junior guard Jaida Oxendine commands the ball against St. Clair.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

FRASER — It was a tough ride in 2022 for the Fraser Ramblers.

Aside from not having a winning season since 2018, coach Rob Fulgenzi entered his first season as head coach of Fraser basketball. While Fraser finished 6-13 and was demoted to the Macomb Area Conference Gold after competing in the MAC Blue, their four returning starters aimed to make a difference this season.

“Last year was about us learning the new coaching style that Coach Rob (Fulgenzi) brought to the table,” senior guard Skylar Claeys-Meeks said. “Even though most of the team is new this year and on the younger side, it feels more cohesive than before. Our mindset is to work as a team and mesh well. We created an environment where we can build our strengths and help each other with their weaknesses.”

Claeys-Meeks joins juniors Jaida Oxendine, Claire Wise and Izzy Norbeck as the four varsity veterans for Fraser this season.

With a significant amount of new faces and inexperienced talent, Fulgenzi said there was one major question heading into the season.

“That’s one thing I thought about coming into this year was how this team was going to gel, but I really think all that time in the offseason really playing together really made a difference,” Fulgenzi said.

From attending St. Clair Community College Camps in the summer to playing in spring and fall league sessions at Greg Grant Sportsplex, it didn’t take long for Fraser to develop a successful chemistry.

Now sitting at 11-6 on the season and only two games behind first place in the MAC Gold, Meeks said the team’s chemistry has been the key component.

“The summer camps and Greg Grant leagues were factors in our success this season,” Claeys-Meeks said. “We only have four returning varsity players this year, and the chance to play with the girls coming up from the JV, freshman and eighth-grade teams in the summer helped us create a bond before the season started. We have been comfortable playing with each other since the beginning of the season.”

Allowing just under 32 points per game and countering with over 47 points per game on the offensive end, Fraser’s defensive improvement was something Fulgenzi emphasized in the offseason. Fraser allowed 47 points per game in 2022.

“I think early before the season started, the girls committed themselves to the system we were going to play this year, and it fit them as well,” Fulgenzi said. “We wanted to play an up-tempo style of defense with man-to-man, full-court defense; it all stems from the defense.”

Wise has anchored the defensive effort from the guard position, covering the opposition’s best player each night. Norbeck continues to be a defensive force in the frontcourt.

“She does a great job of anchoring our defense on the inside,” Fulgenzi said. “She’s tough on the boards; she does all the dirty work.”

Fraser’s offense has been paced by freshman standout Alaynah Quinn, who averages team-high in points (10) and assists (4) from the guard position.

Fulgenzi said Quinn’s maturity and skill level is beyond her years.

“She’s not a normal freshman,” Fulgenzi said. “She plays basketball year-round. She’s a basketball-first girl.”

Newcomers to the team, freshman Brynn Norbeck and junior Loralai Logan, have been consistent contributors for Fraser this season.

Claeys-Meeks said the team’s confidence, especially from the underclassmen, has grown on the offensive side throughout the year.

“Being a leader on the court, I have seen the group grow confident in their playing,” said Claeys-Meeks. “We have a lot of sharpshooters and good finishers coming off the bench that benefit the team. They bring a new pace that shifts our team back under control when we’re under pressure.”

As Fraser enters the final stretch of the season, the program has transformed its look not only this year, but for years to come.

Losing seven seniors last year and acclimating a significant amount of young talent, Fulgenzi said his young players have grown up quickly.

“I think at this point in the season, you kind of throw away the terms youth and young,” Fulgenzi said. “I don’t look at the freshmen as freshmen players after 15 games. I think we’re really focused on the task at hand, and they know what’s out there for us.”