While most basketball players begin their playing careers in grade school, Saxony Lutheran 6-foot-1 junior post Evie Caruso didn’t start until she was a seventh grader at Cape Christian School.
When watching her on the court, though, one wouldn’t be able to know this was the case as Caruso has proven herself to be one of the better post players in Southeast Missouri this winter. It’s also her first full year of varsity action, too.
“Ever since I first started playing, I’ve always just been taller, so I usually work down in the post,” Caruso said. “Besides practice that we have here at school, I go to the gym at least twice a week to shoot and work on my ball handling.”
It’s also no surprise that Caruso is playing on the inside for Saxony since she’s the only player on the team that’s taller than 5-9. If someone watches the Crusaders, the easiest way you can find Evie is by finding the player in the huddle whose head is above everyone else’s.
Evie has helped lead the Crusaders to earn the No. 2 seed in this year’s Class 4 District 1 Tournament and currently have a .500 record at 12-12. In Caruso’s first two years at Saxony when she primarily played on junior varsity, the Crusaders finished below .500 each year for a combined record of 19-32.
Another key for Saxony’s success has been Sam Sides taking back the reigns as head coach after coming out of a two-year retirement. Coach Sides, who is a Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, helped the Crusaders reach the state final four twice and win numerous district championships during his previous stint at Saxony.
“It’s great being seeded so high in districts, and we’ve all worked really hard — we’re just a hard working team,” Evie said. “Coach Sides really pushes us a lot in practices and in games. He knows what to expect from us, and he’s a really good coach.”
Caruso is currently the Crusaders leader in both points per game (9.8) and rebounds per game (six), while she also leads Saxony in blocks (2.5 per game) and field-goal percentage (52.0). Evie has done so while only averaging the fourth-most minutes played among her teammates at 32.8 per game.
Caruso has registered nine double-digit scoring outings for the Crusaders this season, with two of those games being 20-point performances. Evie scored a career-high 28 points in a 51-41 win over Festus, and she also produced 22 points for a 58-46 victory over New Madrid County Central.
Both of these games were also double-doubles for Caruso as she came down with 13 rebounds versus Festus and 11 against NMCC, while she had a third double-double with 18 points and 11 boards in a 43-37 win over Fredericktown.
Additionally, Evie has recorded five or more blocks in five contests this season as she came up with a career-high seven versus Kennett for a 30-point win. She recorded six blocks in the NMCC game.
“I’ve worked on my game with my brother — Christian — a lot, and he’s a really big basketball fan,” Evie said. “He’s really helped me get a lot better because he just wants to see me do well. He’s really helped me with my ball handling, and he’s really the person who’s pushed me to get better with that and my shooting, too. He’s helped me get more comfortable.”
The reason why Evie began playing basketball is because her family is “really into it” and frequently watch the NBA as well as college basketball. Caruso had run cross country and played volleyball before seventh grade, but she wasn’t really a fan of sports until then.
While Evie is a standout on the court, having registered not one but two 20-point games this winter, the thing she’s come to love the most about basketball is the team aspect by building relationships with her fellow players.
“All the girls here are great people and are just great to hang out with,” Caruso said. “The coaches have all been really good, too, and I just really enjoy playing basketball. A lot of the girls from last year’s team did end up quitting, so that’s given me more of an opportunity to show off my skill.”
Another way Evie has been able to grow her game is by playing AAU basketball with TC Hoops over the summer. Caruso has been doing so for the past few years.
“They’ve definitely helped me get where I’m at today,” she said. “I used to be really shy, but I think playing with them has really helped me break out of my shell. It’s helped a lot by being able to go different places and experience harder and better teams — it’s opened my eyes and helped me become a better player.”
Pacing Caruso in scoring with nine points per game while leading in 3-pointers made (29) and steals (1.6 per game) is fellow Saxony junior and 5-9 guard Rebecca Johnson. Evie and Johnson combined for 36 points in a 54-46 win over Neeylville and 34 in the Crusaders win over Fredericktown.
“In between plays, we talk to each other a little bit and try to set up a play to do when we’re back out there,” Caruso said. “We also encourage each other a little bit. … All the players are really funny, and they’re just great people to talk to. We do try to do a few things outside of practice, so I think that’s helped us get better with our communication.”
Some of those team activities include volunteering for the Feed My Starving Children program, as well as go out to dinner, like they did earlier this season for Coach Sides’ birthday.
One thing Evie has learned about herself this season is how much determination she has. “Even if we are losing, you have to stick with it and just keep playing till the end,” Caruso said.