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  • Writer's picturePatrick Engels

Katelyn Andres Brings Resiliency To Felician U.

It's November 30, 2012.

Twelve-year-old Katelyn Andres lays sound asleep on the living room sofa in her North Bergen, New Jersey home after a tiring day of schoolwork and household chores.

With her mother out of the house with her then-boyfriend, Andres abruptly awakens to the sound of a pounding on her front door.

It is a group of police officers, looking for her mother. A few hours earlier, she had been in the passenger seat of a vehicle involved in a hit-and-run accident.

But when they discover no parent or guardian — and not enough food — in the home, the officers deliver an unexpected jolt: Katelyn and her five siblings will need to be removed from their mother’s home and placed into the foster care system.

“I was scared,” Andres said. “I was just confused. I was [thinking], ‘I don’t know what is going on.’”

With her mother and siblings no longer by her side, Andres was left alone at a young age to search for how to make her way in the world. She found her answer in a ball and a hoop.

“Honestly, if it wasn’t for basketball, I don’t know where I’d be in life,” Andres said. “Basketball helped me in so many ways, it made me the person that I am today.”

Specifically, the Felician University graduate guard said it is the many relationships she has gained from the game that have helped her find stability and direction and emerge as a resilient young woman, on and off the hardwood.

Before she was placed into the back of a van and eventually into three foster care homes, Andres grew up as an observant and mature child in Hudson County, New Jersey.

With her single mother, who had her first child at 17, working multiple jobs to provide food and other essentials for her children, Andres filled a motherly role for her younger siblings, tending to their needs as early as age 10.

“I was basically the mom,” Andres said. “My siblings just came to me whenever they needed help with anything. I would be cleaning the house, cooking for them. And then from there, I had to do my homework, but I would be exhausted by then.”

Although she excelled in this parental role, Andres admitted that assuming these unusual responsibilities forced her to sacrifice many of the benefits of a regular childhood.

“I didn’t really have a childhood,” Andres said. “I grew up at a really young age. I wasn’t really able to play with my friends. I didn’t know how to.”

Andres’ childhood turned even more tumultuous that late November evening in 2012 when she and her older sister were separated from their four younger siblings and placed into foster care for nine months.

During this period, Andres was displaced from two different Hudson County foster homes due to an infestation of bed bugs and lice.

While bouncing around between three foster care homes in less than a year, Andres saw her mother and siblings just once a week, often at a local McDonald’s. This was her lowest point, Andres recalls.

“It was just not feeling like I have a stable home,” Andres said. “Around that time where I was moving so much, it was just like, ‘I’m not going to unpack my things, because what if I’m leaving?’ I was at the age where I didn’t know what depression was, so I wouldn't know if I was depressed. But I remember the one feeling I had was not feeling like I had a stable home.”

Though negative thoughts had pervaded her psyche, Andres said her outlook on life began to shift when she encountered a striking statistic while waiting to meet her mother at the foster care agency.

“I picked up this manual, and I was reading it, because, you know, you’re a kid at an office and you’re just bored,” she said. “And the statistics, I will never forget. It was such a high number with females. They either drop out of school, [or] they become pregnant.”

Andres vowed right then and there that she would avoid such a fate.

“I just kept telling myself, ‘I am going to try and push to prove these statistics wrong, because they were trying to say that kids in foster homes turn out to not be great,” she said. “It was a low percentage of kids that actually made it out, so I wanted to be one of those.”

As it turned out, basketball would provide the means for Andres to buck the odds.

Andres’ infatuation with the game started as a sixth-grader visiting North Bergen Recreation, across the street from her middle school, Lincoln School. Watching the numerous athletic games being played in the facility, Andres got the itch to get involved.

There was just one problem. The fees to play were prohibitive, given her circumstances.

“Me and my friend would walk around before I was going to get picked up, and I just wanted to know more of how we can play,” Andres said. “And I heard that you have to pay money, and I was like, ‘Oops, yeah, can’t do that.’”

That’s when Andres and three of her siblings received a gift that continues to pay dividends. Aware of the family’s struggles, the late recreation center owner John O’Dell Sr. — “Digger,” as he was known — allowed the Andres siblings to play in the recreation league at no cost.

Andres participated in the recreation center’s cheerleading, softball and soccer programs, but quickly gravitated towards basketball in the winter because it provided her a sanctuary away from her difficult upbringing.

“It was just a door to a different world,” Andres said. “I know I wasn’t good. I couldn’t even dribble a ball. And I shot with two hands. I just knew this sport wasn’t for me, but I’m going to try it. I was just there for the experience. I wanted to try something and be a kid.”

Little did Andres know, basketball was exactly for her.

After slowly learning the fundamentals of the game on the North Bergen Recreation team for two years, Andres found herself talented enough for AAU play going into her freshman year of high school. She earned a roster spot on two of Donald Osbourne’s North Bergen teams, the Titans, for whom she played during her freshman and sophomore years, and the Lady Bulls Basketball Club, for whom she played as a junior and senior.

Osbourne, who describes Andres as “like another daughter,” said he was immediately impressed by the North Bergen native’s toughness and resolve as she competed against older high schoolers at just 14 years old.

“She was new to the game in terms of intensity and the speed of the game,” Osbourne said. “She was basically a young girl playing against 17-year-olds when she first started playing with me. And she never shied away from a challenge, she never shied away from the contact. That made her into the player she is now. To play for me, I only ask for three things: Play hard, play tough, and play defense, and she did all three of those.”

While Osbourne didn’t need to teach her how to play with energy and passion, the Titans and Lady Bulls coach said he helped Andres play with a sense of confidence and fearlessness on offense, which he calls the “emotional” side of the game.

“She put a lot on herself, and if she wasn’t playing well offensively, she would be upset with herself,” Osbourne said. “She had to learn how to put this miss away, this turnover away, and go onto the next play.”

While “Coach Ozzie'' helped steer Andres’ focus away from her family situation, the young hooper said she leaned on another important childhood mentor to help her find stability off the court.

That mentor was Kelly Wall, who first met Andres in December 2012 when she stepped in as coach of the seventh and eighth-grade North Bergen All-Star Team for one game.

After coaching the talented guard for the night and driving Andres to her foster home, Wall extended an offer that would sprout a special relationship.

“I just knew it wasn’t a typical situation,” Wall said. “I just decided to say, ‘Hey, if you need anything, I am here,’ after meeting her for just one day. But I just have a heart for people. So I just gave her that offer, and I’ve been helping her ever since then.”

As Andres says, “she wasn’t playing.”

Wall, who played Division-I college basketball as a walk-on at St. Peter’s — yes, that St. Peter’s — allowed Andres to stay at her house in Verona and Belleville, New Jersey throughout her high school and college career, hoping to provide some structure in her life.

“Just seeing a girl that wants to play basketball, it’s supposed to be fun,” Wall said. “But when you have all this other stuff in life that, quite frankly, I’ve never had to go through… I learned from coaching some of these girls that they don’t have that same setup, and it kind of just tears at your heart.”

Wall played a role in helping Andres fix what she admits was a “horrendous” shot on the court. But perhaps more importantly, the former Peacock also helped Andres sharpen her skills in the classroom.

“When I was trying to help her on the way, one of my standards is that you need to do well in school — not that I would throw her away if she didn’t,” Wall said. “I remember when I first met her, she wasn’t doing very well in school. I don’t think she thought she would ever do well. I was challenging her to get A’s, and she looked at me like I was crazy. And then within one marking period, she was already getting B’s and some A’s. And then one marking period after that, it was all A’s.”

With athletic and academic successes now under her belt, the New Jersey native set her sights on attending college as a student-athlete after high school, uncharted territory for her family.

After receiving 33 collegiate offers, Andres signed her letter of intent to play at Post University on an all-academic scholarship on May 5, 2017.

Right beside her in support as she signed? Her mother, her father, Robert Andres Sr., (she now considers both her parents her best friends) her three younger siblings — Joshua, Robert and Junior — and a number of coaches who guided her throughout her journey.

Andres said having her siblings and parents present as she became the first member of the family to attend a four-year university was a special moment for her, as it provided her with the opportunity to serve as a role model for her siblings.

“I did all this basically for them,” Andres said. “Especially for my siblings, I wanted them to see that there is a way out. We all experienced the same thing, and I wanted them to know that, no matter what path we went through, we can make it doing whatever we want.”

With a sense of pride in her pocket, Andres set out for success on the hardwood at Post.

In her first year playing for Coach Jon Plefka, Andres shined in limited playing time, starting eight games for the Eagles, averaging 7 points and 2.1 rebounds a contest.

Coming off such a promising freshman campaign, Andres was looking to assume a larger role on the team, only to encounter another hurdle.

During the spring of her freshman year – which she spent participating on Post’s lacrosse team - Andres suffered a torn ACL while playing in a pickup basketball game after practice. Although she downplayed the severity of the injury days after it occurred, the diagnosis led to a grueling six-month rehabilitation process that would once again test her resiliency.

“I felt like returning was going to be so hard; I didn’t think it would be possible,” Andres said.

Andres had some reason for that belief: A good friend had given up the game after suffering a similar injury.

“I didn’t want that to happen to me,” Andres said. “Because I loved the sport so much and it did so much for me in life, I didn’t want to just give it up because of injury.”

But as uncertainty swirled and her activity level dropped, Andres began to gain weight, leading to depressive thoughts.

“It was hard because I wasn’t as active as I normally was since sixth grade,” Andres said. “So I gained a couple of pounds, I was bigger than I normally am. I wasn’t as active, so it made me depressed as well. I struggled mentally and physically to be who I really was.”

Facing yet another hurdle, Andres said she mustered everything in her power to keep the sport that gave her so much in her life. That included a regimented workout plan that stretched seven days a week and four times a day.

Working with her trainers, Andres endured a four-phased daily workout in North Bergen consisting of weightlifting, basketball training, group workouts and summer league games. Although tiring, the exercises only made her stronger, the New Jersey native says.

“I overworked myself, but it was worth it,” Andres says. “I got into the best shape that I ever was. Tearing my ACL was for the best because my freshman year, I wasn’t even in shape. It really helped me. It was a blessing in disguise.”

With her knee fully recovered, Andres experienced what she calls “the best season she has ever had” during her redshirt-sophomore season. Playing 20 games, Andres helped lead the Eagles to a CACC North Division title in February 2020 by averaging 6.9 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game.

Andres said finding her way back on the court for Post served as a testament to both her resilient nature and commitment to basketball.

“It just shows that I’m mentally tough, no matter what obstacle I face,” she said. “I just know I’ll just tackle them, one by one.”

Fast forward two years and a global pandemic later, and Katelyn Andres is faced with yet another challenge. Now enrolled at Felician University — Post’s rival school — Andres is a graduate student-athlete seeking both success on the hardwood and a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

Andres excelled in her first season in Coach Steve Fagan’s program, averaging a career-high 11.3 points and 3.7 rebounds a game for the Falcons.

Although she has high aspirations for her sixth and final season, Andres and others around her know the degree is what will make her second collegiate stint worthwhile.

“Her being, out of my whole family, the only one to go all the way, there is no words for that,” her mother said. “It was something I wanted to do but couldn’t. I feel like I’m completing my college years with her. I’m achieving my goal through her.”

After receiving her master’s degree in counseling psychology in spring 2024, Andres said she hopes to pursue her doctorate in counseling psychology, with a focus in sports psychology.

In the meantime, Andres also plans to use her platform to spread awareness to athlete’s mental health by giving a “TedTalk like” speech to every Felician student-athlete next year. Working with the university’s Career Services and Counselors team, Andres said the event aims to help athletes make a seamless transition to life after sports by tackling the mental health problems that may arise as they enter their post-athletic careers.

“Athletes struggle to find a job due to lack of experience, and that is because of our commitment to sports,” Andres said. “This TedTalk will help athletes see that they are not alone, and [also] help the younger class start preparing themselves for what’s to come in the future. Overall, it is to prevent self-doubt and help athletes reach their full potential.”

No matter what the future holds for Katelyn Andres, she already stands as an example for foster care kids throughout the country, showing that, with a healthy outlet and a little perseverance, you do not have to become a statistic on a pamphlet.

“You’re not alone,” Andres said. “That’s the biggest thing. Even though you feel alone in the situation, you’re really not. Whether it’s your family, whether it’s sports, whether it’s just life itself, you’re not alone. There are other people that are going through the same or worse things. There’s always an outlet. There’s always a door to fix anything. And my door was basketball.”

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