Player Profile: Senior Sini Mäkelä proves herself on and off the court

By Kelly Kennedy, Social Media Editor

Sini Mäkelä is taking on her final season as a Jasper, after recently setting the record for the most games played in a Jasper uniform. Mäkelä is a guard for the Manhattan College women’s basketball team as well as a graduate student pursuing her MBA with a concentration in business analytics. Originally from Helsinki, Finland, Mäkelä traveled halfway around the world to play for the Jaspers, and throughout her years here, she has proven to be someone her teammates and coaches can depend on.

Mäkelä grew up playing basketball and found her passion for it when she was only seven years old. As she is originally from Finland, leaving behind her family to come to the USA to compete in Division I athletics was a big deal for her. One of Mäkelä’s main inspirations is her mother, who was also a collegiate athlete.

“It was a big thing to come here to the States and fulfill that dream of mine to play Division one college basketball just like [my mom]. I’ve always just kind of had that passion because of my mom,” Mäkelä said.

She chose to come play at Manhattan College because of the sense of home she felt when she first visited campus. 

“I’m really far away from home and having that family environment was really important for me. Of course, I was starstruck about New York and Times Square, but it was really the people that made me feel so welcomed and just so comfortable,” Mäkelä said.

She has definitely found her place here at Manhattan, where her teammates have become almost a second family. Mäkelä plays alongside one of her closest friends, Christina Katsamouri, another international student on the team. The two quickly became close because of their shared experience of being international student-athletes. Katsamouri, a junior guard and forward from Thessaloniki, Greece calls herself Mäkelä’s “international buddy.”

“Since [we met], we’ve always related to each other because we’re international and outgoing, so that also always keeps us really close,” Katsamouri said.

Mäkelä has proven herself not only as a star player, but also as a strong teammate. She is known to push others to do their best, go above and beyond to make the team better and shows how much she values her teammates through her actions. Mäkelä’s dedication to her teammates is something that Katsamouri truly values about her. 

“She’s a very competitive player. She always brings her best self in every single thing we do. You will never get less than 100 percent of our effort. If you tell her to do 20 push ups, she’ll do 21 just to make sure that she didn’t miss any while she was counting,” Katsamouri said.

Head Coach Heather Vulin has also noted Mäkelä’s dedication and talent. Nicknaming Mäkelä her “security blanket,” Vulin puts her faith in Mäkelä knowing she will always pull through.

“I trust her so much, she’s the person I put in when I need someone to throw the ball in or someone to make a free throw or anything else,” Vulin said. “She’s done a tremendous job and I’m really gonna miss her when she graduates.” 

Mäkelä’s time in Manhattan has not always been easy. The COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges, especially since she is an international student. But the team has been able to bounce back from that and are more prepared for this season than ever.

“It was really, really tough, especially mentally. How do you keep staying motivated when you don’t even know if you’re gonna play tomorrow?” Mäkelä said. “But, I feel like this year we’ve responded much better. Now we’re able to come off of a pause and go straight into a winning streak after just a couple of days out of quarantine.” 

Despite these challenges, Mäkelä has constantly proven to be an athlete her coaches and teammates can depend on time and time again. Many are excited to see what she has in store for the upcoming season.

“She’s proven that she’s a kid that I can count on a player that I can count on,” Vulin said. “So I need her to continue to do that role. Plus, I feel she’s playing with the most confidence that she’s played with us and she’s been in the Jasper uniform this year.”

Mäkelä has grown into a leader for her team throughout her time at MC. Starting off as a nervous freshman, Mäkelä has grown into a confident player as she begins her fifth and final season as a Jasper. 

“When I was a freshman I was really shy and didn’t know what I wanted from life. And it’s been really amazing just kind of even realizing myself like the growth throughout the years,” Mäkelä. “I’ve become more vocal and determined throughout my experiences, more strong as a leader and I feel like I’m striving for much higher than I was as a freshman. I feel like I’ve gained so much confidence both as a player and as a person.”

Always making the most of tough situations, Mäkelä has proven herself to be a star both on and off the court. Mäkelä has worked hard as a student, and even participated in the W.I.S.E. program last year. Dedicating herself to her schoolwork and future career, Mäkelä hopes to stay in New York City after graduation. 

“Out of all the five years that I’ve been here, I feel like this year we’ve had the most connected team,” says Mäkela. “We have a lot of fun not only on the court, but also off the court. We have so much talent and potential in this team.”

With her final season ahead of us, we can expect a great season from Mäkelä. 

“I’m super excited to hopefully finish the season strong and then go into the MAAC tournament with just a great mindset, we’re fearless and just ready to compete,” Mäkela said. “And I’m really excited to see how this program will develop even after I graduate and I’m excited to come back to see some games because this team is really something special this year.”