The Secaucus High School girls’ basketball team had its traditional successful campaign a year ago, posting a 23-4 mark, making it the 13th straight season that the Patriots won 20 or more games.
The Patriots were also able to add a different championship last season, winning the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference title, defeating Rutherford in the NJIC title game.
However, because of an altercation in a game against Lyndhurst earlier in the season, where three Patriot players were ejected from that game, the Patriots were ineligible to play in the NJSIAA Group II state playoffs.
“It was very disappointing,” said veteran Secaucus head coach John Sterling. “I felt so bad for the girls who worked so hard to get to the state tournament.”
Well, as the new season begins this week, there will be no state tournament for anyone this year, due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. In a safety precaution, the NJSIAA stated that there will be no state tournament in any sports this year.
“The girls only get these four years to compete in a state tournament,” Sterling said. “Now without having a state tournament this year, the seniors will have missed out on half of their chances.”
The Patriots also begin life without stellar point guard Damaris Rodriguez, a four-time All-Hudson County selection, including a First Team honor last season.
It’s not an easy thing to do, get through playing without one of the best performers in the school’s history. Rodriguez graduated with more than 1,700 points, 900 assists, 800 rebounds and 500 steals.
“In terms of ball handling and court vision, Damaris is in a class by herself,” Sterling said. “Her skills with the ball only helped to make her teammates better.”
Sterling said that he wouldn’t dare to ask anyone to take Rodriguez’s place.
“I could never ask anyone to replace her,” Sterling said. “It’s my job to put someone in that position to make us the best team possible.”
And the newcomers get to understand what it is like to be part of the Patriots’ tradition.
“Once you come in as a freshman, you see how much pride the others have,” Sterling said. “They learn to play the game the right way and that gets passed down from class to class. It’s definitely something that rubs off on the others. I think that’s part of being successful and having the level of consistency that leads to being successful. The younger girls step in and take a bigger role.”
Leading the returnees is 5-foot-8 senior forward Lindsey Ross, who was a Second Team All-County honoree last season, averaging 12 points per game.
“Her best attribute is that she is an excellent spot shooter,” Sterling said. “She’s been a starter for us since her sophomore year.”
Senior Zoe Sakatos is another returning player. She’s a 5-foot-5 guard.
“She’s a pretty solid defender,” Sterling said. “She also makes good decisions with the ball. She knows what to do and knows the system well.”
Senior Gina Fragliossi is a 5-foot-4 guard who also contributes in a lot of ways.
“She has a superb attitude,” Sterling said. “She can step in and take a charge. She does that better than anyone.”
Junior Nicole Parise is a 5-foot-6 swing player who started last season.
“She’s lightning fast,” Sterling said. “She runs track and plays soccer, so she runs all the time. She can fill the lane on fast breaks and never gets tired.”
Junior Nurisha Ferati is a 5-foot-8 power forward.
“She’s a very strong player,” Sterling said. “She’s good around the basket.”
Sophomore Daniela Peschetti is another key performer. The 5-foot-7 Peschetti averaged about nine points per game last season. That number is sure to increase this season with all of the attributes that the soccer standout possesses on the hardwood.
“She can definitely score,” Sterling said of Peschetti. “She can also play the point guard if we need it. She’s tough and fast and gets to loose balls. She’s also very coachable. She’s a confident kid who is only going to get better.”
Sophomore Nicole Rocha is a 5-foot-9 inside player who has one interesting attribute.
“She can really jump,” Sterling said of Rocha. “She’s a very good rebounder.”
Freshman Mia Cruz is a 5-foot-3 point guard who is working her way into the rotation right away.
“She’s relentless,” Sterling said. “She gets to the ball. She digs in and works hard. I think she’s going to develop into an excellent point guard. She takes everything to heart. She’s just a real pleasure to coach.”
The Patriots opened their shortened season with a lopsided win over Wood-Ridge last week. They have games against Rutherford, Lyndhurst and Weehawken in the week to come.
“As competitive as we are, this year isn’t about wins and losses,” Sterling said. “It’s all about just enjoying the time they have on the floor. Let’s just get through this season safe and healthy. We’re not going to go crazy over a couple of losses. We just have to stay healthy enough to get all of our games in.”
That’s the challenge most high school teams will face in a pandemic world. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com