When the 2019-2020 girls’ high school basketball season began, Weehawken head coach Chris Hernandez didn’t know what to expect.
The Indians graduated a few top scorers from last year’s team that went 23-5 and rolled through the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division schedule, winning all 16 of their games, claiming the league title along the way – the third straight NJIC Meadowlands championship.
Over the last three previous seasons, the Indians won 64 games and lost just 14.
“We’re young,” Hernandez said. “We have a lot of young kids and others who didn’t get a lot of shots last year. It’s the least amount of experience that we’ve ever had.”
And Hernandez, a phenomenal three-sport athlete in his playing days at Weehawken, is in his eighth season as the head coach.
“We have so much youth,” Hernandez said, reiterating the point. “Most of the team is 10th graders. None of them had varsity experience at all. I had no idea it was going to turn out this way. Other than seeing them in practice, I didn’t know how good they were. We had to roll the dice and wait to see what happens. We just started to go at it day after day.”
Well, lo and behold, the incredible started to occur. The Indians started winning. And winning – to the tune of eight straight right now and 13 wins in their last 15 games to go to 16-6 on the season.
The Indians won their first round game in the Hudson County Tournament, defeating Dickinson and moved on to face Union City in the next round this weekend.
That’s an interesting matchup, because Hernandez and Union City head coach Carlos Cueto are the best of friends and teammates who once coached together in the St. Michael’s CYO program and when Cueto was the head boys’ coach at the now-defunct Union Hill High School.
The Indians also defeated Becton Regional in the opening round of the NJIC Tournament and will now face Saddle Brook in the next round of that tournament.
So it’s a busy time for the Indians in tournament play – even before they move on to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I tournament. The Indians will face Arts of Newark in Weehawken in the first round of the state tournament on March 2.
Hernandez is somewhat surprised by the Indians’ ascent.
“I feel like we’ve been able to play above their heads a little bit,” Hernandez said. “I think we shoot the ball pretty well, but everyone we play is bigger than us. I think we’ve been able to play well enough to get a good number of wins, but we still have a long way to go.”
Hernandez said that he got some signs along the way this season that enabled him to believe that the Indians were for real.
“In eight years, we were never able to win our own Christmas Tournament [the Weehawken Indian Classic], but we did this year,” Hernandez said. “We were able to beat Hoboken [47-27] and then we were able to beat Memorial [41-40]. We were able to hold them off at the end. That made me feel like something is here. They played a very good game against Memorial and that was a good sign.
Added Hernandez, “Then we were play a good game against Wood-Ridge [losing 47-39]. They played very well and came up short. I started to think that maybe there’s more that what we think here.”
Hernandez said that there’s one aspect to his team’s game that is a little disheartening.
“We’re very streaky,” Hernandez said. “We’re very good until inconsistency shows its face.”
What’s incredible is that the Indians have won 16 games – and do not have a single player averaging more than 10 points per game.
“I’ve never coached anything like that,” Hernandez said.
The leading scorer is senior Marie Eid. The 5-foot-8 swing player is averaging just 7.3 points per game. Yes, that’s the leading scorer. Amazing to say the least.
“She does a little bit of everything,” Hernandez said. “She sometimes plays at the bottom of the zone on defense or she can come and play the top. She’s improved her shooting a lot. She’s always ready to hit the big shot.”
Last season, Eid nailed the buzzer beater that sent the Indians to the North 2, Section 1 championship game.
Sophomore Viviana Mendez is a 5-foot-11 forward who is averaging 6.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest.
“She plays more like a swing player,” Hernandez said of Mendez. “She plays hard. She rebounds well and has a great nose for the ball.”
Sophomore Sofia Mendez, Viviana’s twin sister, is a 6-foot power forward. Yes, she’s an inch taller than her twin and almost as tall as her famous brother, namely Sal Mendez, the pitcher in the Texas Rangers’ organization.
“She hurt her back early in the season and missed eight games,” Hernandez said of the other Mendez. “But she’s the vocal leader of the team, the one who keeps everyone together.”
Zionna Loftin is a 5-foot-5 junior guard.
“She’s all energy,” Hernandez said. “She’s a great defender and a great rebounder for her size.”
Morgan Tomlinson is a 5-foot-6 sophomore point guard. Tomlinson averages 4.7 points, 4.3 assists and three steals per game.
“She is a much improved outside shooter,” Hernandez said. “She has a good grasp of our offense and knows what I’m looking for. She’s a true point guard.”
Niyah Navarro is a 5-foot-6 sophomore who is a good outside shooter. Sydney Williams is a 5-foot-10 sophomore who Hernandez believes “has a ton of potential.” Hernandez believes that Williams is just getting used to being a varsity player.
Natalie Cancio is a 5-foot-9 junior who “is the hardest worker we have,” according to Hernandez.
“She never misses a workout,” Hernandez said of Cancio. “I can put her anywhere and she plays. I think she can be big for us going forward.”
Dagnelly Sarmiento is a 5-foot-6 senior, one of the lone seniors on the roster.
“She’s a defensive specialist,” Hernandez said. “She knows which plays she’s supposed to stop.”
The young roster certainly has its benefits.
“I think this definitely bodes well for the future,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez said that it’s special that the Indians are participating in the Hudson County Tournament.
“Even though we play in a Bergen County league, we’re still Hudson County,” Hernandez said. “We’re just trying to balance everything right now. We are playing a lot of basketball and hopefully, we have a lot of basketball crammed into the next few weeks.”…
The Hudson County Tournament moved forward this week and left the remaining teams in some really tough quarterfinal contests. Perhaps the toughest boys’ quarterfinal game pitted the two hottest teams in the county, namely Snyder, which has won 11 straight games and 15 of their last 16, against North Bergen, which has won seven straight and 12 of 13. It’s a little unfair that this contest was only a quarterfinal game…
On the girls’ side, defending champion Hudson Catholic has hit a perfect stride, having won 10 in a row before a tough loss out at Long Island Lutheran last week. Zanai Jones scored her 1,000th point in a win over Dickinson, a game where she scored 40 points. Want to guess who next week’s Athlete of the Week is going to be?…
The state’s District wrestling tournaments are this weekend all over the state. Please, give me the days when all our locals wrestled at District 16 at North Bergen. That was a good intense District tournament every single year. Now, the Hudson County grapplers are spread out all over New Jersey and it’s just not right…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Peter’s Prep (20-3). 2. Hudson Catholic (16-6). 3. Snyder (17-4). 4. Marist (18-4). 5. North Bergen (16-5)…
Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (20-3) 2. Bayonne (20-3). 3. Marist (17-4) 4. Secaucus (19-2). 5. Lincoln (13-6). – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com