On January 11, Natalia Zappone ’23, a four-year senior, scored the 1,000th point in her basketball career at The Frederick Gunn School. It is the kind of accomplishment that does not happen often, and requires years of practice, commitment, hard work, and consistency.
“For a lot of kids it takes a full four years to get there, even among the best players. Natalia hit her 1,000th point the other day in only her 46th game. We didn't have a season her sophomore year, and so that piece alone puts her in a totally different category,” said Amy Paulekas, Director of Studies and Head Coach for Girls Varsity Basketball, who noted that Zappone’s scoring record is on track with that of Zion Williamson, who broke 1,000 points in 44 games playing for the NBA. “She has been averaging 27.3 points per game this season. Over the two and a half seasons she has played here, she has averaged 21.9 points per game, and she has led the team in scoring for three years.”
Heading into the game on January 11, which Gunn played at home against Cheshire Academy, Zappone’s coaches, teammates, friends, and supporters fully anticipated that she would hit her 1,000th point. Her parents, Mark Zappone and Dr.
Luci Juvan, were in the crowd, along with her two older brothers, Alec, who is now a student at Bentley University, and Eric, who is a student at Elon University, and Marylou Walsh-Iannone P’15, her favorite teacher and former principal at St. John the Evangelist School in Watertown, Connecticut.
Zappone had to score 19 points during the game to break 1,000. The moment came on an offensive play with just over two minutes left in the third quarter. “She carried the ball up. Cheshire was set up on defense. She saw an opportunity to take her opponent one-on-one. She got a step on her, cut down the middle, and just put up a floater. That’s what went in. She scored to make the game 30-42 in favor of Cheshire, who went on to win the game 68-38,” Paulekas said.
The score did not deter Zappone’s teammates from launching into a full-on celebration. “I have loved how supportive and excited this group of girls was for her, because it certainly is a huge thing. I did not plan on a storm-the-court celebration in the middle of the game but it’s what naturally happened and it was a special moment for sure,” said Paulekas, who had talked to the referee and the Cheshire coach in advance and had planned to call a full time-out. “But really it was pretty special when they all ran out and were jumping up and down around her and giving her a big hug.”
The team presented Zappone with a gift basket stuffed with chocolates, basketball knick knacks, and gift cards, her parents made a poster, and Paulekas brought in oversized silver balloons that spelled out 1,000.
“You run into these moments coaching,” Paulekas said, reflecting, “We had the opportunity to watch someone else hit 1,000 points last year. The thing that I think is really cool is, in those moments in the basketball world, regardless of whether your team is winning or losing, or whether the kid scoring the 1,000th point is on your team the other team, just the respect of how impressive that moment is. The Cheshire team clapped for Natalia, their coach clapped for Natalia. It was a really cool moment.”
On January 20, Paulekas spoke about Zappone’s accomplishments at School Meeting and Prefect and team co-captain Viv Boucher ’23, her best friend, presented a video of highlights from her career. Boucher credited teammate Hadley Nussbaum '24 with suggesting the highlight reel, and Alec Zappone, one of his sister’s biggest fans, with supplying many hours of footage. Head of School Peter Becker and Athletic Director Mike Marich P’23 ’24 then presented Zappone with a special basketball commemorating her achievement.
Zappone joined the Girls Varsity Basketball Team as a freshman, having broken 1,000 points in her middle school career, playing for the St. John’s Eagles. “She came in certainly as a shooter, but what she has put into her game and her craft over the course of the last four years has been nothing shy of pretty incredible,” Paulekas said.
As a freshman, Zappone became an integral part of a well-established team, and after a sophomore season that wasn’t, she came back as a junior ready to play, Paulekas said. “She has led this team for two years now. She was the captain last year, she’s the captain this year. The drive the kid has as a player is pretty incredible. I haven’t seen a kid who can shoot the way that she does, and consistently after a lot of games, particularly over the past two years. I’ve had coaches, I’ve had refs come up to me just to compliment her as a player and her shots. She’s the kid they point out after the game. It’s pretty cool to have a kid like that on the team. She scored over 500 points her junior year, which set her up well to, early on in her senior season, hit that 1,00th point mark. I’ve been coaching here for 11 years and I’ve been tracking stats like this. The closest we’ve ever had a kid come was a four-year senior who hit 800 points.”
Zappone said she was influenced in her decision to play basketball from a young age by her brothers, who both played. “I played on a lot of inner city, competitive boys teams, probably from about third grade to sixth grade. I played with all boys. The inner city basketball was definitely different and it made me tough. I was able to compete with other people who were as good as me,” Zappone said.
Throughout high school, her commitment to the game exceeded what was required during team practices. She plays basketball six days a week, and can often be found on the court alone, even — as Becker pointed out in his presentation at School Meeting — on holidays from school.
“My father comes and rebounds almost every day for me,” Zappone said later. “I meet him during my free block. I think people don’t realize how much practice it takes. You see the good moments but, when you really go through it, you appreciate the times when you go and work out when you don’t want to.”
Playing basketball has helped her to improve academically, for example in math, and she is now taking PreCalculus and Statistics concurrently. She has also learned how to read people, a skill that has helped her in games and practices. “You have to read their strengths and weaknesses. You have to know how to know who you’re playing with, and dealing with, and that helps. I definitely push some of the girls in practice. It's important to get people out of their comfort zone. As a leader, that’s what I try to do at every practice.”
Boucher vividly remembers that during middle school, when she was playing basketball for St. Mary Magdalen School in Watertown, she considered Zappone a formidable adversary on the court. “I was always so intimidated by her. I didn’t want to go near her and I didn't want to guard her. She was just so good. I knew she was one of our best opponents.”
As freshmen, the two recognized each other at orientation, and Boucher remembers her mother, Jennifer Boucher P'23 '23 '25, leaning over and saying, “See that girl right there? You’re going to be best friends with her.” Now that they are friends and play on the same team, Boucher has found Zappone’s ability to read people an asset. “When you're on the court, you try to have chemistry with everyone, but she can always find me. She knows when I’ll set up a screen for her. She knows I’ll run down the court on a fast break with her. She knows her teammates and she knows what their strengths and weaknesses are.”
Zappone is also a great motivator, encouraging Boucher to go running or to wake up at 7 a.m. on a summer day to do a basketball workout. “She gets me out of my comfort zone in a good way. She is someone I can rely on for the rest of my life for both good and bad things.”
As a coach, Paulekas said it is what Zappone does outside of scoring that sets her apart. “She is the one who, pre-season, is taking the time in warmups to help a teammate work on a skill. She’s the one who is picking up her teammates after a missed shot and saying, ‘Well, go get the next one,’” Paulekas said. “Her teammates look up to her in knowing that she can teach them something about the game of basketball, but even more importantly, that she is going to be the player that’s ready to support them, to pick them up, to push them to be a better version of themselves.”