By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
After winning 17 games a year ago, Harrison High School girls’ basketball coach Al Diaz was expecting big things from the Blue Tide this season.
“We had a good core of returning players,” said Diaz, who is in his third season as the head coach of the Blue Tide. “We have a couple of seniors and six kids who saw some time last year. So we were definitely expecting a good season.”
But no one could have anticipated the great start that the Blue Tide has enjoyed. Harrison started off the new year with a 4-2 record, including two wins in the Wallkill Valley Christmas Tournament, defeating Hopatcong in the semifinals and Vernon in the finals to capture the tourney crown all the way up in Sussex County.
“The two games we lost, we could have won,” Diaz said. “We definitely can have a good season. I think we have a team that is finally starting to come together as one.”
Leading the way for the Blue Tide is senior do-everything Rayven Lucas. The 5-foot-9 Lucas can play any position on the floor. She’s averaging nearly 19 points per game, scoring 22 in the win over Hopatcong in the tournament.
“She can bring the ball up and she can post up as well,” Diaz said of Lucas, whose father, Ray, is a Harrison legend, a former New York Jets quarterback and current football radio and television analyst for Rutgers games (radio) and Jets commentary (SNY). Lucas also serves as a volunteer assistant coach for the Blue Tide.
“Rayven has been great for us so far,” Diaz said. “I really think she can play on the next level, but I’m leaving that all up to her.”
Lucas is insisting on attending Rutgers, like her father, but she won’t be able to play there.
“I’m expecting Rayven to have a very big season,” Diaz said.
It looks as if she’s already headed in that direction.
Another key performer is junior Sarai Rivera. The 5-foot-6 Rivera has been sensational thus far, scoring 15 points in the win over Hopatcong.
Rivera has also done a little bit of everything thus far for the Blue Tide, scoring 12 points per game, but also collecting rebounds, steals and assists.
“Sarai is more of a leader by example,” Diaz said. “Because of the way she plays, she’s allowing the younger girls to look up to her. Sarai does so much for the team.”
Senior Yulissa Pereyra is another key returning player for the Blue Tide. The 5-foot- 6 Pereyra is a forward who doesn’t mind getting a few floor burns.
“She’s the one who does all the little things for us, like diving on the floor for loose balls,” Diaz said. “I like the way she plays.” Junior Emmalee Lucas, a 5-foot-4 guard and a cousin to Rayven, is another solid contributor. “Emmalee controls the tempo of the game,” Diaz said. “She’s able to handle the pressure and get the ball to where it has to go. She’s been doing that for us for two years.” Stephanie Flatley is a 5-foot-6 junior forward who controls the action close to the basket. “She’s the one who does all the work down low and takes on the bigger players,” Diaz said. “She’s not afraid to play against someone who is taller. She’s definitely our most aggressive player. She’s a very physical player, which helps.”
Sophomore Amber O’Donnell is a 5-foot-5 guard who is an excellent athlete. O’Donnell is also a fine softball player. Sophomore Kayla Montilla is a 5-foot-3 guard and a bundle of energy.
“Kayla plays a big role for us defensively,” Diaz said.
Sophomore Heather Harris is the tallest player on the Blue Tide roster. The 5-foot-11 Harris is a solid rebounder, but she has worked hard on her ball handling skills.
“She is not afraid to bring the ball up if it’s needed to break a press,” Diaz said. “She has really improved.”
Diaz credits the team’s improvement in ball handling and shooting to offseason workouts with Tom Ferriero, a veteran girls’ basketball coach who has worked at Queen of Peace and McNair Academic in Jersey City. Ferriero is a Harrison native and former standout.
“They really worked hard with Tom and he did a tremendous job working with them individually,” Diaz said.
“They all went regularly to work out with him. It’s helped out a lot.”
Senior Lauren McCormick is another tall player who helps down close to the basket.
So after a successful Christmas break and a win over Queen of Peace last week, Diaz is hopeful that the Blue Tide can continue their winning ways.
“I think this is the type of team that can win 20 games,” Diaz said. “A lot of it depends on our leadership. We’re getting good leadership now, so we have to continue that way. No question, we have high hopes for the season.”
The Blue Tide is certainly on their way.