By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Eight-year-old Natalie Natalie likes playing basketball a lot. So much that she wants to stay a step ahead of her twin brothers, who are seven.
“We have a 10-foot basket at home so I can practice my shooting,” said Natalie, a Jefferson School student. “I have practiced hard on my shooting and I feel like I’m getting better.”
Natalie wanted to continue her improvement, so she attended the Kearny Girls’ Basketball Camp recently at Kearny High School.
Natalie attended the camp last year and had such a good time that she made sure she attended the camp, directed by Kearny High head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill, for another year.
Nearly 100 young ladies spent a week learning more about basketball and having a little bit of fun at the same time. And this camp was strictly for and about girls. No boys allowed.
“It really helps me a lot,” said 11-year-old Olivia Montenino, who attends Roosevelt School. “I have two brothers at home and this gets me away from them. If you have boys here, they’re always hogging the ball and tell you that you can’t play because you’re a girl.”
Olivia said that she was able to work on her shooting and defense at the camp. She obviously wasn’t alone.
“I think it was great that we had such a great turnout,” Hill said. “I know some girls told me that they were really looking forward to it. The kids have so much fun and they are learning so much. I think the fact that the numbers are so high, it means that a lot of girls are interested and want to play.”
Hill said that she had to make a tough call in limiting the camp to strictly girls.
“I think the decision I made to separate the girls and the boys was a good one, because the girls like that aspect,” Hill said. “They’re able to get some confidence and don’t have to worry about that intimidation factor. They’re put in an environment that they’re used to and I can see the difference in the way they handle everything.”
Hill said that she has received great support from local organizations and teams, like Sacred Heart of Lyndhurst.
“A lot of these teams have spread the word and other girls have come,” Hill said. “You get to see some of the same faces every year and that’s great to see. I like to think that these girls are taking some of the skills they learn and working on their game on their own.”
Hill said that she was impressed with some of the up-and-coming talented players.
“Kearny definitely has a few surprises talent-wise,” Hill said.
One of the rising stars is Sydney Pace, who is 13.
Pace is the younger sister of former Kearny High standouts Stefanee and Samantha, both of whom went on to play college soccer.
Sydney is a soccer and softball player, much like her sisters, but for the week, she concentrated on her basketball skills.
“It’s tough to juggle all three sports, but I’m managing,” Sydney said. “This camp helps me a lot with basketball. I’ve been working on my left hand, because it’s my weaker hand. But this camp helped me get better.”
Meagan McClelland is another 13-year-old standout who is entering the eighth grade at Lincoln School.
“I play a lot of basketball, but this is a great experience for me,” Meagan said. “It is going to help me prepare for high school and make me a better basketball player now.”
Meagan said that she learned a lot of different shooting techniques.
“It’s definitely going to help me practice on my own,” she said.
Hill received a lot of assistance from some of her former players, including 1,000-point scorers Janitza Aquino and Stefanie Gomes, both of whom are former Observer Female Athlete of the Year recipients who are now currently attending Montclair State.
Giovanna Scrimo is a 14-year-old who will be a freshman at Kearny High in the fall.
“It’s definitely going to help me a lot, as I try out for the basketball team,” Giovanna said. “Since I’m left-handed, I worked to use my right hand this week. I’ve been coming to the camp for eight years now. I feel I’ve learned a lot.”
Sandra DaSilva is another 14-year-old who will enter Kearny High in September.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Sandra said. “I’m very excited about it. I’ve been playing basketball for two years now and this was my first year at camp. It was the best experience for me.”
Since she is a potential point guard, Sandra concentrated on point guard skills.
“Shooting and ball handling are important for me,” Sandra said. “This has totally prepared me to get ready to play later this year.”
“I think the future looks really bright,” Hill said.
“There are a lot of good seventh and eighth grade players here. We have a whole new group coming up and I can see already it’s going to be a really nice group.” Which is another advantage of having a girls’ only camp. You can see firsthand what the future has in store.
Hill wanted to thank Applebee’s of Kearny for being a camp sponsor, helping to defray the cost of the campers’ T-shirts.