At Desiree Palmatier’s high school, soccer reigned supreme.
In her small hometown Schoharie High School — just outside of Albany, New York — everyone only seemed to care about soccer. Basketball season would come around and serve as a transition sport or a way for people to stay active at a school of under 500 students. Palmatier played multiple sports, but starting fourth grade, basketball became her favorite.
“I just knew I loved basketball and that was all I wanted to do,” she said.
It was not always easy she said, noting it can be discouraging to play for a team that doesn’t get the same level of recognition or results.
It is also a trend that has continued. While basketball remains a significant part of her life and she dedicates a lot of time to it, she is doing it off the radar, for the love of the game and all it has meant to her. Palmatier is president of the women’s basketball club at Brockport, a school in the State University of New York system, located midway between Syracuse and Buffalo, NY.
Palmatier’s love for basketball faced challenges, but the people in her life helped keep the passion alive. Yet it goes well beyond basketball. Be it a best friend, a Naval unit overseas or club basketball team, Palmatier has always tried to embrace and lift those around her and they give her that support in return.
“If it weren’t for Desiree, I don’t think I would have accomplished the goals I did athletically,” Angela Simone, Palmatier’s best friend and high school teammate said. “She definitely pushed me to my full potential in a very positive light.”
Best Friends and Basketball
Palmatier has competed as a multi-sport athlete since she can remember. Be it basketball, soccer, track, even rugby, she did it all. But as basketball became her first choice, attending a school not as dedicated to the sport made it difficult to invest.
The soccer team would go to state championships and the basketball team would put together middling results.
Palmatier had one more thing to keep her there— her best friend.
“It definitely was hard not to win, everyone likes to win,” Palmatier said. “The mere fact that I loved basketball and I had my best friend there. She is really what kept me going and kept me at basketball.”
Simone and Palmatier met in kindergarten and started playing basketball together and were also teammates in soccer and track. Simone said she admired Palmatier, even though they were the same age. Her leadership, kindness and pure basketball talent resonated with Simone. The pair pushed one another to improve, show strong work ethic and stay with basketball until graduation.
“Without her, basketball definitely would not have been the same,” Simone said. “We really did work very well together. She’d look at me and we’d know exactly what we were supposed to do.”
In the Navy
Out of high school, Palmatier considered becoming an actuarial scientist, but instead began her post-high school life enlisting in the Navy. During months of boot camp and job training, she realized she’d rather spend her days away from a desk, working hands-on. Her main sources of growth from her first stint with the Navy was added structure and organization.
“It’s been a really great experience for me to build my character,” she said.
She then decided to pursue something she knew she would be happy doing — physical education. A quick search of the best PE programs in New York sent her to SUNY Brockport. Three days after boot camp and training concluded she began her studies.
Palmatier does not aspire to be an old-school PE teacher, but to continue a role she often plays on the lives of friends. Even as a resident housing assistant in college she is often tapped by those on her floor to develop workout plans. Palmatier asks what her friends and peers want to accomplish in their workouts. She will even go to the gym with them to help get started. She is never doing the same workout, but even just being in the vicinity, she said, makes people more comfortable and confident. She eventually wants to teach high schoolers how to stay in shape, especially if they do not typically like PE class.
“Giving them that knowledge to be able to do so and knowing that they can do that [after graduating],” Palmatier said. “That’s really what got me to be a PE teacher and made that click for me.”
She took her physical education talents international while deployed in Djibouti for 10 months in 2019. She helped build out a Naval base and served as Assistant Command Fitness Leader, keeping the entire unit in shape.
Staying with Basketball
The Brockport women’s club team was established in 2016, just a year before Palmatier arrived, but it quickly offered her a dynamic unlike she’d experienced in high school. In a typical year there would be at least 30 players out for club basketball and they would often send two teams to tournaments, one competing as part of the National Club Basketball Association.
The team even brings a modest crowd of friends and family to the stands despite frequent early Sunday tipoffs.
“It gets a lot of attention. Even some men try to come up and join our team,” Palmatier said, adding that she hopes a men’s team will soon be established at Brockport.
Brockport is not a powerhouse, but Palmatier knowing people wanted to be there and compete made it mean more. When she became president of the team she said working alongside fellow officers MacKenna Taggart, Kaitlynn Finch and Linsey Madison elevated her experience further.
“It’s easy to get so focused on playing with your club because you feel like you’re just on another varsity team,” Palmatier said. “You get to play other schools, we do a lot of team bonding.”
Palmatier is a provider on the court.
“I prefer to have one of those nice crisp passes that leads to an assist,” Palmatier said. “I try to play the high post as much as possible because I love being the one who kind of moves the pieces.”
As her interest in basketball developed, she wanted to advance every aspect of her game.
Palmatier frequented basketball camps, her favorite being Point Guard College where pro players like Jamal Murray and Kristi Toliver have attended. There, she said, they spend half their time on the court and the other half in a classroom, learning the game. Palmatier’s takeaway was that anyone can be a playmaker.
Advice from a former coach, Jeremy Karker, never leaves her: “To be the best player, you have to know what every other player is doing too.”
Palmatier embraces the Xs and Os on her club team and it’s noticed by her teammates.
“On the court, she’s one of the ones who’s selfless,” Madison, the Brockport club vice president said. “She pays attention to the game and how it works and how it’s supposed to be played.”
Value in a Loss
Palmatier’s time at Brockport is coming to an end. Although still a member of the Navy reserves, she plans to pursue her masters after graduating. But before she even thinks about becoming a teacher, she has — unsurprisingly — a higher calling. Palmatier is considering becoming an active-duty pilot in the United States Army.
She will have a wealth of experiences to look back upon, but one that stuck out was when Brockport played Syracuse, a dominant team in the North Atlantic Region that has been ranked inside the top 6 since week three of the season. In their final game, the Eagles narrowly lost, 41-34.
Palmatier has had her fair share of losses, but this one was by no means discouraging. She got to share a special game with what she calls her second family. After everything she has done, that value wasn’t be lost on her.
“We finally figured out how to play as a team and our team chemistry was probably at its peak,” Palmatier said. “We all were able to end our season knowing we gave it everything we had.”
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