Castro is one of three juniors leading a UW squad without a single senior.
Dec. 22, 2004
by Mike Bruscas
Someone might want to inform UW science students that they are wasting their time -- the secrets of chemistry have already been unlocked by Washington's women's basketball team.
"The chemistry on and off the court is amazing," says junior guard Nicole Castro. "Every girl brings something special as an individual, but we all seem to click so well. It's incredible. I just love being a part of this team."
Castro -- whose soft accent is a product of her upbringing in the city of Darwin on the north shores of Australia -- has been a key element to Washington's formula for success in the past few seasons. However, the loss of stars Giuliana Mendiola and Andrea Lalum has left spectators wondering if these young Dawgs can fuse together quickly enough to make a run to the top of the Pac-10 Conference.
"I think we're going to get there," Castro says. "We need to be a lot more focused because we're a young team. That's just going to come."
One year ago, the Huskies were decimated by injuries that on occasion forced the team to suit up only eight players. Castro played a big role in keeping the Huskies afloat during the tumultuous season, providing a consistent lift off the bench while averaging over 12 minutes per game.
This season, with the return of guards Kayla Burt, Kristen O'Neill and Erica Schelly and the infusion of talent from the prep ranks, the guard position ranks as the team's deepest. Castro, however, isn't focused on how many minutes per game she receives, but rather on what she does with the time she is given.
"The great thing about this team is that we're so deep," she says. "I'm in a tough spot, in that I do have a lot of players who have produced in the past at my position. I just have to keep getting better every day. I think I've improved a lot this season over the spring and summer, but I've just got to keep working hard. You haven't heard the last of me yet."
One reason Husky fans should be hearing Castro's name with regularity this season is the defensive pressure she puts on the ball, coupled with a knack for reading opposing offenses and stepping into passing lanes for easy steals. As a sophomore, Castro received the KKNW Radio 1150 Outstanding Defensive Player award.
Whenever the Huskies need a stop, Castro can be counted on to fire up the D.
"I love to play defense. I love to get up in people's faces. I believe defense is the most important part of the game and I hope I bring that intensity. When you get up on defense then it carries over onto offense," she says.
The youthful Huskies are ready to scrap for every point they can get this season. Without a single senior on the roster, and just three juniors, Washington faces the reality of an offensive learning curve for the underclassmen, who are being asked to contribute early and often. With that knowledge, Castro says that outworking their opponents is "what we are all about this year. That's our identity.
"We just have to be competitive and make each other better every day. Working hard isn't just about making yourself better, it's about making the team better," she says.
If the team can buy into that concept, then the lack of seniors will transition from a concern to an opportunity. Freed from the nuisance of attrition, the Huskies will have two full years to perfect the current squad.
"We have so much to prove," Castro says. "We were picked sixth in the Pac-10. No one expects anything from us and yet I think we have a chance to do a lot better things than we did last year. Having the two years is even more exciting. If we work hard every day and at the end of the season have reached our potential, next year will just be even better."
Looking forward is tempting, but in Castro's case, a look back is equally intriguing. She took up the game at the age of 10, wanting to follow in the footsteps of older brother Marc. After an exceptional high school career, Castro weighed her options and decided that the best fit for her game and her studies was somewhere halfway around the world.
"I knew I wanted to go the States to play basketball," she explains. "In Australia, universities don't offer scholarships for sports. Basically, you go to the university and you play professional basketball, there's no in-between. So I knew this would be the best place for me because I could go to school and work on my game at the same time."
Interestingly, the purple and gold seeds were planted in Castro's heart years before the time actually came for her to make her college choice.
"Washington had actually come to Australia a couple times on trips, and I actually got to play them one time when I was 14," she recalls. "I remember getting a little pin at the end of the game. I didn't really think anything of it then; I wasn't even looking at Washington for college. They were one of the last teams to contact me.
"Then they contacted me and my coaches back home just had so many good things to say about the Daughertys," she continues. "I came on a visit here and I saw the team and I saw Seattle and I liked everything about it and I knew this was the place for me."
Of course, picking up and moving to a new continent comes with some sacrifices.
"The hardest transition was just being away from my family," Castro says. "I still miss my family and I still miss the ocean. I used to live really close to the ocean. I didn't go home this summer, so next time I go back it will have been two years since I've seen my dad. But it feels like I have family here as well. My teammates and the families of my teammates have become a second family."
The much-publicized events surrounding Husky women's basketball the past three years have given Castro a steely resilience she never realized she possessed, and a willingness to adapt and grow as a person. She remains completely committed to the team and holds a firm belief that her best is yet to come.
"You have to be able to change your perspective on a couple of things that might not be going your way. I've had to learn how to do that," she says. "It's made me become a stronger person, a harder worker. I don't tend to give up too easily. You just can't. I've committed myself to be here four years and I love every part of it."
An English major, Castro hopes to return to Australia for her post-graduate work and eventually teach English in both Australia and the U.S. Castro sees herself coaching basketball someday as well, but her time at Washington has shown her where the sport fits in the grander scheme of things.
"The things that I've gone through these last couple of years have given me greater faith. It's taught me that there is more to life than just basketball," she says. "The only thing I was ever sure of in my life was basketball. Yet, coming here and being in an environment where you're always 24/7 about basketball, I've learned that there's so much more to life, and that's pretty cool."