Not too long after Catherine Gilwee committed to the University of Vermont women’s basketball program last November, the Champlain Valley Union star could be seen in at home working on skills for a different sport.
The onlooker? Stan Williams, the CVU girls soccer coach who happens to be Gilwee’s next-door neighbor.
“I’m like, ‘holy … there’s the kid who just committed to go play D-I basketball and she’s in her backyard kicking a soccer ball in the air and working on settling it and playing it forward,'” Williams said. “That, to me, exemplifies Catherine.
“The stuff she does when nobody tells her to do it, nobody is watching her. I think that work rate is definitely what separates her from many others.”
It showed on the pitch and hardwood time and time again during the 2019-20 school year.
Bound for UVM in the fall of 2021, Gilwee wasn’t just a first-team selection on the Free Press all-state basketball team for the second straight winter, but the 5-foot-8 junior also patrolled the midfield for Williams’ Redhawks, earning BFP honorable-mention honors, in a 38-0 run across the two sports.
That combination of team success, athletic exploits and unwavering determination was plenty of evidence to name Gilwee as this year’s Free Press girls athlete of the year, an honor now a decade old.
“I’ve been around long enough to see a lot of great players and Catherine Gilwee is one of those types of kids,” said longtime Colchester girls soccer coach Jeff Paul. “I have nightmares about Catherine.”
Paul has unique perspective: His Lakers have lost in the Division I title game in back-to-back years to the Redhawks, with Gilwee scoring the lone goal in the 2018 final and then adding the final tally of a 4-1 triumph last fall to cap CVU’s third straight perfect season.
“When you look at a superstar player who can score, distribute and defend — she can do that,” Paul said. “She’s a very talented kid on a very talented program. She’s one of the special ones.”
Gilwee finished 2019 with seven goals and seven assists.
“I like how so much of the action goes through the center of the field. I feel like I’m involved all the time,” Gilwee said.
Gilwee was even more of a focus in basketball, one half of an unmatched backcourt with Mekkena Boyd, the duo powering the Redhawks to a 21-0 campaign before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down their season on the eve of the semifinals.
Although she averaged 9.6 points, 4.5 assists and 2.5 steals a game, a shooting slump nearly wrecked her all-star campaign.
Gilwee spent more hours in the gym, finding time before and after practice to work on her shot. And CVU coach Ute Otley loaned Gilwee a book — Dick DeVenzio’s “Think Like a Champion” — to help snap Gilwee out of the funk.
“My favorite chapter of that book to read was about confidence, and I’m still working on that now,” the soft-spoken Gilwee said. “It wasn’t even that my skills were off, it was just my mindset wasn’t there and I was down on myself.
“Once my mind shifted back in the right direction I was able to get out of that slump.”
That night arrived in CVU’s second meeting with rival Essex in February. Late in the third quarter, the host Hornets stormed back from a double-digit deficit to take what would be the only second-half lead against CVU all winter.
Then Gilwee, along with Boyd, reignited CVU’s attack by forcing turnovers, knocking down 3s and scoring quickly in transition. The fourth quarter was all CVU as Gilwee finished with a school-record 12 assists to go with 19 points and six steals.
“It was one of her better performances and it was necessary. It was critical she was that good in a close game,” Otley said. “The mental toughness to step up in that situation, it was huge. They are not a lot of kids who have that ability to take it up to the level of play that she did.”
After the game, Gilwee returned the book to Otley. In next game at South Burlington, she drained five 3-pointers in the first quarter on her way to a career-high 21-point effort.
“I needed that, I needed that Essex game to be close,” Gilwee said. “Something just clicked in me — we are not losing this game. I felt like I needed to pick the team up, we needed to pull through as a team.”
Six years as neighbors with the Gilwee family, Williams says Catherine Gilwee is more than just a star athlete.
“Without a doubt Catherine is deserving for athlete of the year. I love the person, I think she is phenomenal,” Williams said. “To know her as a player, student and a neighbor as a role model for my own seventh-grade daughter — it’s been pretty cool to see Catherine grow up and become the person she is.”
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Girls Athletes of the Year
2020: Catherine Gilwee, Champlain Valley
2019:Lisa McNamara, Rice
2015: Kathleen Young, Essex
2013: Anne-Marie Farmer, South Burlington
2012: Mollie Gribbin, South Burlington
2011: Rachel Crews, South Burlington