Abby Conklin distributed more than the basketball for the Irvington Bulldogs

In a memorable senior season, Conklin is The Rivertowns Enterprise Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year. (Adapted from the April 3, 2020 edition of The Rivertowns Enterprise.)

Abby Conklin playing on-ball defense (Courtesy to Carucha L. Meuse, The Journal News)

Irvington senior Abby Conklin has a distinguishable stature and, according to her teammates, and unequaled energy. Junior center Grace Thybulle described it as intense while also optimistic. It’s reflexive, received by anyone who she’s playing with. She maintains a tempo during game time while retaining the emotional temperature of her teammates.

She’s known to stay as grounded as her pivot foot, although there’s nothing stopping her on a contested set shot on the wing. She’s known to raise the bar that she sets for herself, playing a spider-like defense that has her expanding her arms and legs into the passing lanes while also collapsing on the ball when it gets low, and batting it away.

Conklin credits those around her with her success. A quiet confidence is a part of her nature. On the hardwood, she dishes dime after dime as well as expertise and counsel.

Although she averaged 17.2 points and more than three steals, she was defined by another statistic — more than six assists per game. Abby Conklin is about “everybody,” creating opportunities for her teammates and helping others. It’s in her DNA.

“She’s as happy throwing a really good pass for an assist as she is with scoring a three-point basket,” Irvington head coach Gina Maher said about her point guard.

The way Conklin communicates on and off the court is what defines her leadership. When I watch her directing traffic, it’s quite obvious. Her mouth is always moving, her eyes are locked and she’s always using her hands to call a play, moving one of her many chess pieces toward her into the backcourt.

In a season plagued by injury and uncertainty, Conklin emerged as a calming presence for a team that had just two seniors, the other was shooting guard Nikki May.

According to May, Conklin’s leadership took giant leaps and bounds when she was out for four weeks from mid-December to January with a high ankle sprain. The Irvington shooting guard had to fill in as her replacement.

“Honestly I went to her and asked her for help,” May said. “I was just like how do you do this. I think she was completely honest with me and she would help me out on the sideline. She would tell me don’t pick up your dribble. ‘Look at this player.’ On this play, know that Grace [Thybulle] rolls this way. She helped me with all the small little things when I had to be point guard…and I would ask her specific questions about what to do during a fast break.”

So how did Conklin get here? How did she become a leader at the point with such a sharp emotional intelligence?

Owning her role

Conklin was not a born floor general but became one. As an underclassman, she was unassuming and “didn’t really want to take over,” according to Maher. Conklin credits the “core four” (Olivia Valdes, Mary Brereton, Heather Hall, and Kelly Degnan) as integral to the growth of her self-assurance.

“They did a great job of making me, within the first game, become the point guard and telling me this is my role for the rest of the year and I have to take it — that I don’t have any other choice,” Conklin said. “That really made me own the role and use it and be it.”

In addition to her teammates, Conklin realized it was her job to use her voice. “You have to speak up. It’s not a matter of yelling at people if you have to correct them. It’s a matter of being respectful when you do it and I think I was scared to maybe help someone. And if I did something wrong, I’d be scared to get yelled at. I just realized that you can’t be shy anymore.”

And according to her teammates, she’s not. This season, Conklin was the glue. “The way the eighth graders felt so comfortable around Abby, they were really close,” Thybulle said. “I think it just says a lot about how she connects with people and the kind of person she is.”

Conklin soothed anxieties and watered down inner critics. “She’s able to get the best out of everyone which I think is really important,” May said. “I’ll mess up and I’ll hear someone on the sidelines and I’ll be upset and Abby’s just always able to bring me back and be like ‘you got it.’

She doesn’t let go

Beyond the hardwood, Conklin is always laughing and her contagious cackle radiates to the Bulldogs. She considers herself the clown of the group. And her quirkiness allowed for that closeness and comfort to function as such a mainstay for her squad. I saw it with my own eyes.

While watching Ursuline compete for their Class AA championship the day after falling to Putnam Valley in the Class B championship, Conklin and Thybulle tag teamed differently. Instead of on the pick and roll, the teammates were trying to win a t-shirt. While the shirts were hurled from half-court during a stoppage of regulation, the nimble guard instructed her teammate to bend down. She hopped onto the centers back to try to claim the freebie from the stands.

There was a whole lot of laughter.

Looking ahead to her Division I future at Fairleigh Dickinson University, Conklin looked back on her legacy at Irvington. According to her teammates, her effect on the program will revolve around her work ethic and commitment to friendship. “There are so many people who improved so vastly,” Thybulle said.” I think that’s a testament to Abby’s leadership and the example she sets, and she makes people want to get better.”

“I think I’d love to leave behind that I represented varsity girls’ basketball well and what Ms. Maher wanted varsity girls’ basketball to be,” Conklin said.

I pressed her a bit more. “But what exactly does Ms. Maher want VGB to be?”

“Unselfish, spending time together 24–7, being all sisters, helping when one of your teammates falls and everyone runs to them, helping them up,” Conklin replied. “When someone makes a shot, yelling or screaming in excitement and going to hi-five them. Being energetic and as a team and just wanting to win. Having the will to win.”

According to Gina Maher herself, Conklin is the embodiment of the Bulldogs’ ethos and well-acclaimed motto: “hold the rope.” She keeps her teammates on it and doesn’t let go.

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