By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
As the Lyndhurst recreation coordinator, Paul Passamano has been involved with the coaching of youngsters for more than 30 years.
“It started with my daughter and I just kept going,” said Passamano, who remains active with the development of kids in Lyndhurst.
However, last year, Passamano took over a new challenge, when he became the head girls’ basketball coach at nearby Queen of Peace.
“I wanted to coach high school girls’ basketball all my life,” Passamano said. “I played at Bergen Tech and in the Navy. I love coaching.
It was my passion when I started coaching.” Sure, there were mixed feelings the first time QP faced Lyndhurst last year.
“We were playing against girls I coached,” Passamano said. “They were my heart and soul. But things are different now. Everyone understands that this is my team and I love coaching the girls at Queen of Peace. I was fortunate to get the chance.”
The Golden Griffins own a 3-3 record thus far in the early going of the season.
“I would have liked to have a better record,” Passamano said. “We’ve had a tough early schedule. But I think we should have a good team.”
In fact, Passamano believes that the Golden Griffins will be vastly improved on last year’s 7-15 mark.
“I think we should have double figures in wins,” Passamano said. “We’re trying to reverse last year’s record.”
Passamano said that he has instructed his players to not look at the scoreboard.
“They don’t look at the scoreboard,” Passamano said. “They just play hard, hard and hard. We’re a running team. We play hard and don’t give up. We have a good bunch of kids. We have a good bench that works the starting team hard in practice. They’re there every day in practice with no complaints.”
Passamano said that his team utilizes a variety of defenses.
“We do it all,” Passamano said. “We play zone, press, man-to-man. We mix it up to try to confuse the opposing team.”
Leading the team is senior Nikki Sammartino. The 5-10 forward is a hard worker under the basket.
“She’s a tough kid,” Passamano said. “She has the heart for the game. She is aggressive around the basket.”
Sammartino is averaging 18 points and 11 rebounds per game this season and is approaching 1,000 points for her career.
“We have to get the ball to her,” Passamano said.
Another solid contributor is senior forward Lia Rodriguez, who is one of the best all-around athletes in the area. Rodriguez, a standout soccer goalie in the fall and a track athlete in the spring, is averaging 13 points per game.
“She can really jump,” Passamano said of the 5-foot-9 Rodriguez. “She’s very athletic. I can put her up against someone 6-foot-2 and she’s going to get the ball. She’s also a pleasure to coach. She’s quiet, pleasant and says nothing. She’s just a great kid and a great kid coach.”
Passamano said that he interchanges Allison Gaudenzi and Chelsea Kaszka at the other forward slot.
“They flip-flop,” Passamano said. “It depends on the team we’re facing. Allison can put up the three (pointer). We mix it up.”
The Golden Griffins also have the Mastrofilippo twins, namely juniors Michele and Michaila, to operate in the backcourt.
“They’re coming into their own,” Passamano said of the Mastrofilippo twins. “We need them to shoot a little more, like 15 times a game. We’re working on that. But they’re very quick and athletic. They’re good players who understand the game.”
Junior Jamie Nemeth is another solid contributor.
“Jamie is our speed demon,” Passamano said. “She can run and jump. She just needs to understand the game more. Once she does, she can be a real threat.”
Senior Raychel Piserchia is a solid forward, while senior Maria Ruiz is a guard off the bench. Junior Tianna Peluso is a power forward who “goes after rebounds hard,” according to Passamano.
Junior Clara Marie Talban is a reserve forward and junior Devisha Khan is a new player, still learning the ins and outs of basketball.
Passamano is encouraged about the contributions of three freshmen, namely guards Kelly Lennon and Kaylee Ameri and center/forward Jane Amadeo.
“They wanted to be part of the team,” Passamano said. “They wanted to stay with us and train every day. They’re getting better and never complain. They’re going to help us down the road.”
As for now, Passamano is content with the Golden Griffins, taking full advantage of the opportunity he craved for a lifetime.
“I love coaching these girls,” Passamano said. “I love the team. I love the school. I love the people in the school. I think we’re going to show improvement this year. We’ll see how well we hold up over the next few weeks.”