The Secaucus High School girls’ basketball team won 22 games last season, led in part by Amanda Ulrich, the school’s all-time leading scorer who was a four-time Hudson Reporter All-Area selection and three-time Hudson Reporter Player of the Year.
Ulrich merely scored 2,224 points, becoming only the seventh girl in Hudson County history to reach the 2,000-point plateau. Ulrich finished her career as the No. 4 all-time leading scorer in county history.
That’s some legacy to follow.
“We’re not going to replace someone like that,” said Secaucus head girls’ basketball coach John Sterling.
So how does Sterling’s team prepare for the season without Ulrich, who is currently the leading scorer at St. Leo University in Tampa?
“Well, it’s going to be an adjustment for everyone,” Sterling said. “We need everyone to pick up the slack.”
It means that the Patriots will continue to play at their typical frantic pace.
“We generally have one way to play,” Sterling said. “We play full-court defense and fast break offense. And we’re a little faster than other years. It means we will try to create more fast break opportunities and taking the ball to the basket.”
Leading the way is senior point guard Damaris Rodriguez.
The 5-foot-4 Rodriguez is a three-time Hudson Reporter All-Area section, earning Third Team as a freshman and twice being named to the Second Team. Rodriguez looks primed to take the leap up to the First Team as one of the top five players in the county.
“I think she will be more of a scorer this year,” Sterling said. “She’s naturally always been a pass-first kind of player. But when you don’t have the same firepower as before, maybe the best shot will be the one she takes.”
Rodriguez averaged 15 points and eight assists per game last year. Both of those totals could be raised this season.
“She has always worked hard at her game,” Sterling said of Rodriguez, who is also a sensational soccer player. “I think she can pick up a level. She has more maturity and I notice a big difference in her. She’s even better than she thinks she is.”
Senior forward Jasmin Bujari also returns. The 5-foot-8 Bujari, the sister of former Secaucus and Rutgers standout offensive lineman Betim Bujari, is a strong inside presence.
“She can go after rebounds,” Sterling said of Bujari. “She likes to shoot the three [point shot], but we need her inside strength. She has a great attitude and she’s a great kid.”
Senior Mackenzie Szabo is a 5-foot-6 guard.
“She has to play bigger than she is,” Sterling said. “She’s a strong player. She worked hard to get in better shape, so now she’s able to stay on the floor longer. She’s also a good leader.”
Lyndsey Ross is a 5-foot-9 junior forward.
“She’s grown a bit,” Sterling said. “She has worked hard on her game. She’s responded well to the added responsibilities. She only plays basketball. She’s a gym rat who is always in the gym. She’s also a good perimeter shooter.”
Freshman Daniela Peschetti, the younger sister of former Secaucus soccer/basketball star Julia Peschetti, is ready to make her mark on high school basketball. The younger Peschetti is a 5-foot-4 guard who could be the Patriots’ second leading scorer behind Rodriguez right away.
“She’s a great athlete,” Sterling said. “She’s very fast. She dives on the floor and shows a lot of hustle. She runs the floor very well and will score off transition. She still has some things to learn.”
However, Julia Peschetti obviously knows a lot. The former Iona College soccer star is ready to graduate in the spring from the New Rochelle, N.Y. school and just was accepted into law school after serving as an intern in the Secaucus Municipal Court.
Sophomore Nicole Parise is a 5-foot-6 guard. She also can run the floor like Peschetti.
“She’s also very fast and runs very well,” Sterling said. “It’s a luxury to have her on the team. She has forced me to play more aggressive. She also has a great attitude.”
Freshman Nicole Rocha is a 5-foot-7 inside performer.
“She’s very raw and still learning the sport,” Sterling said of Rocha. “She’s fast and strong. She also can jump well. She’s a tenacious rebounder.”
Senior Sabina Galang is a 5-foot-4 guard.
“She missed a lot of practice time with an ankle injury,” Sterling said. “She’s back now and she rebounds well. She boxes out well and holds her own. She also gets along so well with the others on the team.”
Others to get playing time include juniors Zoe Sukatos and Gina Fragliosi, sophomore Nurisha Ferati and promising freshman Taylor Hartung.
Needless to say, Sterling likes his team’s potential.
“We are fairly athletic, so that helps,” Sterling said. “We should be a playoff contender again this year.”
Sure looks that way. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com