BATAVIA — In terms of high school basketball lore, you would think that Notre Dame senior guard Callie McCulley would have a lot to live up to on the hardwood for the Fighting Irish.
McCulley grew up watching her older brother Tim reach the 1,000-point mark for Notre Dame, while he won a pair of Section V titles, while Tim’s older brother, Doane, was a solid player in his own right and teamed with Tim to reach the Class D New York State Final Four in 2011-12.
Their father, Mike, is high on the board for all-time leading scorers in Notre Dame history, while Callie’s uncle — and current Notre Dame girls head coach — Tom McCulley is the all-time leading scorer in Fighting Irish boys history and led the team to a Class D state in the 1991-92 season.
Not to mention her other uncle, John, as well as cousins Madison and Macy, who both played staring roles at Batavia High School in the recent past, as well as her grandfather, Tim, who is regarded as one of the best high school players in Le Roy history.
Those are lofty standards set before her, but Callie McCulley has never come into playing basketball with that mindset.
“I never really wanted to play basketball growing up so I never really thought about it,” she said. “I didn’t really start playing until seventh grade and so trying to live up to the name wasn’t something that was important. I was just trying to go out there and do what I could do and help my team.”
Needless to say, McCulley has certainly done more than just help her team since joining the Fighting Irish varsity team as an eighth-grader.
The 6-foot, 1-inch versatile McCulley has been a big factor in leading Notre Dame to two straight Section V titles, one in Class D1 in 2016-17 as a sophomore and again in Class C1 last season as a junior. She is a two-time Genesee Region League all-star, while she was named Fourth-Team All-State last season in Class C when she averaged a team-best 14.8 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 assists for a Fighting Irish program that has had gone 37-14 during that two-year stretch.
And playing for her uncle in each of these last two seasons after she started her career under the legendary Dave Pero has been interesting, to say the least.
“To be honest it has been a challenge to coach Callie for a variety of reasons,” Notre Dame head coach Tom McCulley said. “She is my niece, so I have to make sure the coach/player relationship comes first in the gym. That’s the only way it will work for the team, the player and the coach. This hasn’t been easy, especially in the beginning, but now it’s just what we do and it’s been great.
“Also when you have players with potential to be very good players you have to make sure they are working on the proper skills and are focused so they have the opportunity to be successful,” Coach McCulley added. “This means you have to be demanding to get the best out of them. Callie has taken all of this in stride.”
On Friday night McCulley further cemented her own name in Notre Dame basketball history when she reached the 1,000-point plateau in a win over Wheatland-Chili.
“It means a lot, especially after watching my brothers play at Notre Dame, my father, by uncles, Madi and Macy at Batavia and my grandfather was a great player,” McCulley said. “It’s a big number and its something I never thought I would get to but it shows all the hard work that I’ve done over the last few years.”
McCulley was also named a Daily News Fab-5 member last season, while she is averaging 23 points and 12.5 rebounds for 4-1 Notre Dame this year.
“She has matured over the past few years and has become a very good player,” Coach McCulley said. “She has been one of the top players in the GR since her sophomore year, not only because of size and athleticism but her work ethic as well. She has put a ton of time in over the past three years and her achievements on the court are the results. I am proud of her both as coach and uncle.”
However, things are a little different for McCulley and her teammates this winter.
Following their back-to-back sectional titles, the Fighting Irish were bumped from the Class C1 classification this season to Class B1, which includes the likes of 2017-18 Class B champion Midlakes, as well as Batavia, Hornell and Palmyra-Macedon.
Plus, Notre Dame will have to get it done without two of its key players from those two sectional title-winning teams in the graduated Margaret Sutherland and Natalie Thornton. Now a lot is falling on the shoulders of McCulley and fellow senior Stevie Wilcox.
“It’s be tough but we’re working on it really hard in practice and we’re getting better every day,” she said, though Notre Dame has really yet to think about what playing in the Class B1 bracket might be like come February.
Luckily enough for the Fighting Irish they will possibly get the chance to face a pair of Class B teams in early January in the Rotary Club Tournament at GCC; Notre Dame is set to meet Class B2 Wellsville in the opening round with a possible meeting with cross-town rival Batavia in the finals.
“It’s tough because when we found out we were in B we couldn’t really change our schedule because everything was set,” she said. “So I think getting these challenges in the tournament will really help us come sectional time. We can’t really focus on Section V or anything like that we just have to focus on who’s here because it’s just us and the coaches.”
Regardless of the class, McCulley has definitely gotten to the point where she will be the focal point of an opposing team’s defense. Just ask someone who has the unenviable task of facing her two times a season.
“It’s tough because she’s so skilled and so tall,” Elba head coach Tom Redband said earlier this season. “For her size and to have the skill set that she does, I’m not sure I’ve seen another player like that that I’ve coached against. You’re really just doing the best you can and I let our girls know that there is really only so much you can do against her.”
Though she never wanted to, McCulley has carried on the family hoops legacy in spectacular fashion and now that she has 1,000 points, she has her brother Tim’s career total firmly in mind.
“I’ve haven’t talked to him about but he knows it’s coming,” McCulley joked. “I’m gonna get past him.”
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