TASTY TIDBITS Union City girls win Holiday Tourney, off to 4-1 start

Dan Finn Classic set for Saturday, Jan. 13; Lincoln, Hudson Catholic and Prep to play

After a highly successful run as the head boys’ basketball coach at Union Hill, followed by three years as the head boys’ coach at Secaucus, Carlos Cueto was content coaching with the St. Michael’s CYO program in Union City.
Cueto, the former St. Anthony and University of Richmond standout, was away from coaching high school basketball for the past two seasons, concentrating solely on the youth program.
“I love to coach,” Cueto said. “I love being in the gym. I love practice. I love seeing a team progress. I absolutely love it.”
Cueto said that he was impressed with the way John Sterling ran his program with the Secaucus girls.
“I watched the girls at Secaucus and thought to myself that I could do this,” Cueto said. “My daughter [Alyssa, age 11] said that she wanted to play, so I had to start a girls’ program for her at St. Michael’s. I did that for a while and really liked it.”
So when an opening came about with the Union City High School girls, Cueto, a long-time teacher in the Union City school system, decided to put his name in the ring.
“They asked me and I said, ‘Why not?’” Cueto said. “That’s how it all happened. I also watched Coach [Wilber] Valdez and his football team. I thought about the facilities we have here. You can’t beat it.”
So after coaching boys for almost 15 years, Cueto decided to become a girls’ head coach.
Cueto said that he changed his personality as a coach a little bit to deal with girls.
“I toned down the intensity,” Cueto said. “But I still have the passion. I’m as passionate as I ever was. Nothing has changed there. I give the girls a lot of credit, because they bought right in.”
Cueto has been helped by assistant coaches Isa Guzman and Danielle Ricca, as well as Jennifer Mateo, who was the Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year for 2008-2009. Mateo is coaching an eighth grade travel team.
“No way could I have any success without them,” Cueto said of his coaching staff.
The Soaring Eagles have exploded out of the box, winning four of their first five games under Cueto’s tutelage, including a huge win over Dwight Morrow of Englewood, traditionally one of the strongest girls’ basketball programs in northern New Jersey, in the championship game of the Union City Holiday Tournament.
It marked the first time ever that Union City won their own Christmas tourney.
“We’ve had a little bit of early success,” Cueto said. “We hope to keep it going. They’ve exceeded my expectations for sure. They’ve come a long way and done a great job.”
The Soaring Eagles are not blessed with a lot of size.
Leading the way is senior point guard Brianna Tapia, who does a little bit of everything.
“She handles it all,” Cueto said. “She’s our best outside threat and she handles the ball. She runs the whole show and leaves it all out there on the court every single game. She sets the tone. She bought in to our system and she’s the leader.”
Senior Michelle Baeza is the team’s inside threat. At 6-feet tall, she is a force to be reckoned with. Baeza scored 23 points in the win over Dwight Morrow after missing some time with a sprained ankle.
Senior 5-foot-5 guard Joselyn Chuqui is the Soaring Eagles’ shooting guard. Chuqui is also a fine soccer player for the Soaring Eagles in the fall.
“She’s the spark plug,” Cueto said. “She has that soccer energy and brings that on the floor. She just doesn’t stop and you can’t compete with that.”
Sophomore Maria Gil is a 5-foot-8 forward who came to Union City just a few months ago from Venezuela.
“Talent-wise, she has it all,” Cueto said. “We hope to build off her. She can do things that no one else can do, in terms of ball handling, scoring in the paint. But everything is so new to her. She’s learning everything, including the [English] language.”
Stephanie Herrera is a 5-foot-6 junior guard.
“She’s consistent,” Cueto said. “She plays good defense and makes open shots. She never comes off the floor.”
Emely Urbina is a 5-foot-8 junior forward. Veronica Caroda is a 5-foot-4 with a nice perimeter shot.
“She has a nice stroke,” Cueto said of Caroda.
Alondra Cepeda is a 5-foot-9 freshman forward.
“She’s a banger,” Cueto said. “She’s an incredible athlete. She stays in the weight room and has become much stronger. She’s going to help us. She’s the future.”
Cueto said that the Soaring Eagles will know more about themselves when they face Marist, a game that was scheduled for Thursday night weather permitted.
“I love the way they fight together,” Cueto said of his team. “They fight on every possession. I’m having a lot of fun. We’re going from one game to the next.”
Cueto is also still coaching his daughter’s team, which caused Cueto’s eight-year-old son Ethan to feel a little left out.
“Ethan said, ‘Why don’t you start a team for me?’” Cueto said. “So I did. My wife just shakes her head.”
It makes Cueto the busiest coach in Union City, but right now, he’s a winning one…
The 14th annual Dan Finn Classic will take place on Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Jersey City Armory, with six games on tap beginning with a Police vs. Fire, Hudson County Bravest vs. Hudson County Finest, beginning at 11 a.m.
At 12:30 p.m., Brighton High School of Boston comes to Jersey City to face Lincoln. At 4 p.m., there’s a showdown between Seton Hall Prep and St. Peter’s Prep. At 5:45 p.m., the game of the day will take place when the Patrick School will take on state and nationally ranked Hudson Catholic.
Three of the five high school games at the Dan Finn Classic will feature local teams. It’s a day-long smorgasbord of basketball in honor of Dan Finn, the former St. Peter’s Prep soccer and basketball standout who died tragically in 2004 after being struck by an automobile in Myrtle Beach.
Make plans to be there for a great day of basketball. – Jim Hague.

Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.