Caitlin Azzalini, a French-speaking native of Le Chable, Switzerland, is a guard on the UTM’s women’s varsity basketball team and has been on fire lately. Azzalini’s skills aren’t even the greatest contributing factor to the team; it’s her sense of responsibility and maturity on the court. She understands the type of influence she has on her fellow teammates and the outcome of the game. Selflessness and humility have been key contributors to her performance, and she is certainly deserving of a championship banner at the end of the season.
However, when fans come and sit in the stands to watch the women play, they’ll notice Azzalini leaking out for the easy basket. “That’s where I get my confidence in games. It also speeds up the game, disorienting the other team’s defence,” she says. “I also readily focus on my defence. I’m active on my legs and usually do a good job at stopping the ball.”
The fourth-year biotechnology student is only in her first year with the women’s squad. She understands that she doesn’t have the most experience and that she hasn’t found absolute comfort on the court yet, but her philosophy has helped her get to a pinnacle in a short period.
“I push myself to the maximum in any situation, always striving to do my best during practice, workouts, or games, and I encourage my teammates to do the same. You don’t succeed at basketball by going solo; it’s always about the team,” she says.
Azzalini’s knowledge of the intangible qualities of what makes a great leader may come from her dedication to her work with UTM’s Health and Counselling Centre. “I have been working there since my second year. There, I interact with many students, especially first-years, trying to promote a healthy mind and body while being in university. School can be overwhelming, and I love guiding students in making this experience a healthy one,” she says.
Azzalini’s friends can attest to the perspective that she’s a self-actualized individual who not only dedicates her time to helping others help themselves, but she takes time for herself too, understanding her strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately garnering herself to become her best self. “Recognizing where my strengths are is what allows me to focus on being the best player I can be for the team. You cannot be good at everything, so thankfully basketball is a team sport,” she says
Azzalini hadn’t played on a structured team since she left Switzerland at the age of 17. “The move, the culture shock, the new language, it was a lot to take in at first, and I couldn’t focus on basketball. Though, throughout my first few years of university, I kept playing recreationally, whether it was in front of my house or in the UTM gym, where I made many friends.”
During her time here at UTM, she made a co-ed intramural basketball team several times. “I never stopped. I call basketball my therapy. I can focus on myself, work on my shots and my handles.” Even though she wasn’t on the team, she kept on playing. Being active is a way of life for her, whether on a team or not. Last year she trained for five-kilometre and eight-kilometre runs. Whether having basketball in her life or not, she’ll always be UTM’s Energizer Bunny.
Azzalini commends her coaching staff for helping her become more disciplined mentally and physically on the court. “I am usually serious and focused during games, but what I’m trying to improve these days is my mental discipline,” she says. When her body is tired, she reminds herself that’s it’s all about mind over body. One thing that tends to work is head coach Salee Johnson-Edwards’ words: “Have fun girls, play some basketball.” She’s the first coach Azzalini has had who repeatedly says to have a good time. “That takes away the pressure of performing, letting us play our best, and not overthink things.”
Once her undergrad is complete, Azzalini is hoping to pursue her master’s degree in Biotechnology. “I see a lot of potential in the field of biotech. I see pharmaceutical companies impacting lives in many ways, whether it’s through new medication, treatments, or support. That’s something I want to be part of.”
Other than striving to find success in her own endeavours, she intends to help the women’s basketball team next year in any way she can as they start their journey within the OCAA. “This year has shown me that basketball is an important part of my life, and I’m a happier version of myself when I’m around the team.”
Before beginning her next chapter, she’s excited to finish the challenge she’s currently working on with her team—to win a championship. “I am proud to be an Eagle. The UTM community is amazing, and being part of it makes me feel like I’m at home. I can’t be more grateful.”