By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Belleville High School girls’ basketball team won 10 games a year ago. Liz Ramirez, the third-year head coach of the Buccaneers, truly believes that her team should take a step up this season.
“We have a lot of seniors back from last year,” Ramirez said. “The core of the team is back. The girls know the deal. They’re familiar with what we want. We should hit the ground running.”
The Bucs have started the 2013-14 season with a 2-2 record.
“We lost two games (Science Park and Glen Ridge) that we should have won,” Ramirez said. “We’re still growing and trying to get into the swing of things.”
Ramirez said that she wished the schedule was kinder in the early going. Playing only four games over the first three weeks of the season isn’t easy.
“I would have liked to have faced more competition at this point,” Ramirez said. “It’s just the way the schedule worked out. We’re going to see a lot more games in January and February.”
One of the top returning players is junior point guard Arianna Douglas, who averaged nearly 14 points per game last year, earning All-Super Essex Conference honors.
“She’s improved a lot in the offseason,” Ramirez said of the 5-foot-3 Douglas. “I’ve definitely put a lot more on her shoulders this year.”
Another key returnee is senior center Shatia Silas. The 6-foot-1 Silas, another All-SEC honoree last year, averaged 11 rebounds per game last year. Silas has played in only one game thus far – and had 20 points and 10 rebounds in that game.
“It was good for our guards to step up and learn that they could play without Shatia,” Ramirez said. “We learned that if we don’t have one of our key players, the others have to step up.”
The Samaniego sisters are also key contributors, namely senior Alisson and junior Samantha.
Alisson is a 5-foot-3 guard, while Samantha stands 5-foot-1. “Alisson is all over the place,” Ramirez said. “She gets points, rebounds. She gets something in almost every statistical category. She gives us an all-around look. Samantha is a good shooter who has developed her shot even more. She’s already made a few from 3-point range.”
Senior John’Nae Williams is a 5-foot-10 inside presence.
“She has crazy leaping ability for a girl,” Ramirez said. “She’s our shot blocker. She is a natural at blocking shots.”
Senior guard Amber Bulna is a 5-foot-5 sharpshooter.
“She’s our best technical shooter,” Ramirez said. “She has the best technique. When she’s on the floor, then she’s behind the 3-point line, because she can make those shots. We have to find her if she’s on the floor. She has a lot more confidence in that 3-point shot.”
Ramirez is ecstatic about the prospects of two freshmen who are seeing action right away.
Gianna Benacquista is a 6-foot forward. She comes from a long family lineage of talented female athletes in her family.
“She really has come a long way,” Ramirez said. “She’s getting a lot more playing time than I first envisioned. I can’t ask for a more dedicated player.”
Benacquista is averaging seven points and eight rebounds per game thus far.
The second freshman is guard Giselle Luna. The 5-foot-1 Luna has impressed Ramirez with her hustle.
“She’s an excellent defender,” Ramirez said. “She’s definitely our fastest player. She’s one of the quickest kids I’ve ever seen. I’m a defensive-minded coach, so I like defensive players. She’s proven she can give people problems with her defense.”
The Buccaneers continue their season this week against Christ the King of Newark and then a local rivalry is renewed Friday afternoon, when neighboring rival Nutley comes calling at Belleville at 4 p.m.
“It’s a good rivalry that we have with Nutley,” Ramirez said. “It’s good that we’re going to get a chance to play against a top team.”
And if Silas is able to play, it should be a fine battle between Silas and Nutley’s fine inside player Blair Watson. Where else can you see two talented players over 6 feet tall going head-to-head against each other?
Ramirez knows that her team still has to accomplish a lot.
“I would like us to be more patient on the offensive end,” Ramirez said. “I think that comes with time and experience.”
Ramirez believes that her team has a chance to capture the Super Essex Conference- Freedom Division crown.
“I really think we have a shot at the division title,” Ramirez said. “Our goals are to make the states, have a better than .500 record and win the division. I believe we can do all three.”
The opportunity certainly is there.