The Secaucus High School girls’ basketball team had a great year in 2017-18, posting a 27-3 record and advancing to the Hudson County Tournament and NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II championship games.
But there was a sense of disappointment in the season.
“We didn’t win the championships and that’s a little disappointing,” said veteran Secaucus head coach John Sterling. “We had a great year, but we didn’t win a championship. Any coach would be crazy to complain about 27 wins. I’m very proud of our girls. It’s a new season and we’ll play new teams. We can never duplicate what we did last year.”
But in Sterling’s eyes, the Patriots could indeed be better.
“I think we’ve gotten a little bit better every day,” Sterling said.
That can be said for the coach as well. In early November, Sterling was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Sterling immediately had the surgery.
“I’m not going to let it bother me,” Sterling said. “I had it removed and then went back to work. I have to be careful. I can’t be too active. I can’t yell too much.”
That last statement had to be soothing for the Patriot players.
“I think the girls might like that,” Sterling laughed. “I think we’re doing a good job correcting mistakes. Having two guards like the ones we have makes it look like I know what I’m talking about. They never disappoint us with their hard work.”
Leading the returnees is two-time defending Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Amanda Ulrich, who recently signed her National Letter of Intent to play next year at St. Leo’s University in Tampa.
The 5-foot-9 Ulrich merely averaged 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists per game last year, earning her second straight Player of the Year honor.
“She’s everything and more,” Sterling said of Ulrich. “She’s as versatile of a player that I’ve ever had.”
And she’s on the throes of becoming a legendary player, as Ulrich now stands less than 200 points shy of becoming the all-time leading scorer in Secaucus history, boy or girl. Ulrich now has 1,691 total points in her career, chasing current assistant coach Andrea Innis’ mark of 1,903 career points.
“Barring injury, Amanda should go over 2,000 points and I’ve never had one,” said Sterling, who has been coaching girls’ basketball for more than 35 years, going back to his days at Bogota and then Secaucus. “No doubt about it, Amanda is one of the best I’ve ever coached. She’s an intense competitor. She did a good job in the offseason improving. She’s a very good shooter and she’s not taking bad shots. She’s running the floor better and getting to the basket more. She’s a better player in every area.”
Ulrich had 31 points, seven steals, five rebounds and four assists against New Milford, had 26 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals against Northern Valley-Demarest and had 21 points, eight steals, six rebounds and five assists against league rival Dwight-Englewood. As you can see, Ulrich fills up a statistical sheet.
The Patriots also welcome back junior point guard Damaris Rodriguez, who was Second Team Hudson Reporter All-Area last season for a second straight year. The 5-foot-4 point guard had 10 assists against New Milford, scored 17 points and had five assists against Northern Valley-Demarest and had 18 points, seven assists and six steals against Dwight-Englewood.
“She’s truly a point guard, pass first and shoot second, but we want her to shoot the ball a little more,” Sterling said. “We’re going to give her more shot opportunities. She’s looking to shoot the jumper a little more. No doubt about it, she’ll have a better year.”
Senior Peyton Intindola is a 5-foot-7 swing player.
“She will cover the center on most teams,” Sterling said. “She will be a post player for us. She has started every game of her career, so she’s a veteran with a lot of experience. She does a great job defensively. She does a lot of things that coaches love that don’t necessarily show up in the scorebook.”
Junior Jasmin Bujari is a 5-foot-8 forward and sister of former Secaucus and Rutgers University standout football lineman Betim Bujari.
“She’s a streak shooter who gets hot from time to time,” Sterling said. “She’s a good athlete. She’s very strong. She boxes out and rebounds well.”
Lyndsey Ross is a 5-foot-8 sophomore forward.
“She’s made great strides in the offseason,” Sterling said. “She lives in the gym at the Rec Center and has gotten better and better.”
Ross had 15 points in a recent win over Dwight-Englewood.
Mackenzie Szabo is a 5-foot-7 junior center/forward.
“She has good skills around the basket and has good post moves,” Sterling said. “She is a good inside player and good contributor.”
Senior Hailey Mojica is a 5-foot-3 guard.
“She works very hard,” Sterling said. “She has a good attitude and can make a 3-pointer. I think she’s going to have a good senior year.”
Junior Sabina Galang is a 5-foot-6 forward who missed all of last season due to a knee injury.
“She’s fitting in nicely,” Sterling said. “She has the strength to box out and get rebounds and she can make an open 3 [pointer].”
The Patriots were scheduled to play in the Joe Poli Holiday Tournament over the break. The Patriots shocked the Bergen County world by being the smallest team to ever win that tournament a few years ago.
“I think if we work hard, we can compete with others,” Sterling said.
Count on that being the case. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com