By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The Belleville High School girls’ basketball team has posted a 1-4 record to start the new season.
However, don’t let the Buccaneers’ early record fool you.
“It’s not a reflection of what’s really going on,” said Belleville fourth-year head coach Liz Ramirez. “Even though we’re 1-4, I’m not discouraged at all. In fact, I’m extremely pleased. Sure, we would have liked to win more, but we have already played some of the tougher teams on our schedule. We have a very young team that is learning. I don’t think anyone is discouraged at all. I’m extremely happy with them. Sometimes, the record doesn’t tell the whole story.”
Ramirez was quick to point out that two of the Bucs’ four losses thus far have come in overtime to Cedar Grove and Verona.
“Knowing how to win is essential,” Ramirez said. “If you’re blowing teams out by a lot of points, it doesn’t teach you how to play in pressure situations and understanding pressure situations. We’ve already had that and we’ve really improved in understanding the game.”
Ramirez knew that there would be some growing pains for the Buccaneers, who finished 13-7 last season.
“We graduated six seniors from that team and have only two returning starters,” Ramirez said. “Most of the bench players now are freshmen and sophomores. So they’re still learning. We were so senior dominated last year that they all knew what they were supposed to do. Now, we need our returning players who were bench players last year to step up. Their roles changed in a hurry, so we needed to build their confidence up. I can see that they’re getting more confident and that’s important.”
One of the key returnees is 5-foot-6 senior point guard Arianna Douglas, who has been a three-year starter for the Buccaneers.
“We made her the point guard and she’s done a nice job,” Ramirez said of Douglas, who is averaging 16 points per game in the early going, including a 20-point performance against the Montclair Kimberley Academy and 19 against Glen Ridge. “She’s really come a long way in leaps and bounds.”
The other returning starter is 5-foot-5 senior guard Samantha Samaniego, who is averaging eight points per game, including a 17-point outing against MKA.
“I expect a lot from both of them,” Ramirez said. “The two of them have been playing together since sixth grade, so they know each other very well. I’ve been watching them together since eighth grade and working with them over the summers. Samantha is a good 3-point shooter and her dribble-drive is excellent. She’s also our best defensive player by far, so she gets to guard the other team’s top player.”
Ramirez said that she has been impressed with the performances of her new starters.
Sophomore Gianna Benacquista, who comes from a family of talented athletes, is a 6-foot-1 center, but she has the ability to take the ball to the perimeter when necessary. Benacquista is averaging seven points and 10 rebounds per game, including 15 rebounds in the overtime loss to Cedar Grove.
“She played AAU basketball over the summer and has worked on her 3-point shot,” Ramirez said. “Believe it or not, we rotate her in as a guard because she can handle the ball.”
Priscilla Olivarria is a 5-foot- 10 junior forward who has taken a step up the ladder.
“I told her that we needed her to score more and she did that (Saturday against Verona),” Ramirez said. “She had her best game. She’s going to be one to watch. She’s grown a lot, but now has control over her body. She knows what to do.”
Giselle Luna is a 5-foot-5 sophomore guard who gives the Buccaneers a lot on the defensive end of the floor.
“She has a lot of tenacity on defense,” Ramirez said. Junior Janae Bryant is a 5-foot-10 forward with a lot of promise.
“She’s a good rebounder,” Ramirez said. “Right now, she’s trying to find her way. She can jump really high, so that’s a plus. We’re working on her shooting technique and her mobility when rebounding. She’s going to get better.”
Emani Hill is a 6-foot-1 freshman who also has huge up side.
“She has a lot of promise,” Ramirez said. “The first time she ever touched a basketball, Emani was in sixth grade, so she’s still learning. She’s come a long way. Her technique is pretty solid.”
Najalis Gual is a 5-foot-6 sophomore guard who is the team’s backup point guard.
“She’s very strong with the dribble and has worked hard over the summer on her left hand,” Ramirez said. “She’s developed a left hand now. She’s also a good 3-point shooter. She’s always looking to improve.”
Francesca Russo and Helena Dropic are two others who are coming off the Belleville bench these days.
So the record may read 1-4, but you will not find an ounce of disappointment in the voice of Ramirez. She’s totally upbeat. So are the Bucs.
“We’re looking to improve as a team and we are going to get better,” Ramirez said. “We are not demoralized at all. We’re working hard and staying focused.”
It seems like better days are ahead for the Buccaneers of Belleville.