Girls only at Kearny Girls’ Basketball Camp

Natalie Osorio is a 12-year-old Kearny resident who attends Lincoln School.

Young Natalie also loves the game of basketball.

She already has aspirations of the future.

“I want to play here,” Osorio said in the Kearny High School gymnasium last week. “I know it’s what I want to do.”

So to become a better player, Osorio decided to attend the Kearny High School Girls’ Basketball Camp.

“I learned how to handle the ball the right way,” Osorio said. “It really encourages me to play basketball more.”

There’s another reason. Osorio likes the idea that there were only girls at the camp organized by Kearny High head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill.

It makes it easier for me,” Osorio said. “I came to this camp because there were no boys.”

“It helps your confidence,” said 14-year-old Catherine Raftery, the great niece of the legendary player, coach and announcer Bill Raftery. “I’ve been getting better.”

Hill was impressed with the number of younger kids she had in the camp. Of the 91 or so young women who attended the week-long instructional camp, 40 were 10 years old and younger. And 30 or so signed up on the first day of camp without prior registration.

“It’s the first year that we had that,” Hill said of the of the younger turnout. “I feel like we’re making a transition. The word has spread about the camp and the players have really started young. And the talent level is there. That really impressed me so much. I can’t imagine what they will be like when they’re eighth graders.”

Hill said that the camp’s instructional staff did a ton of teaching during the week.

“We had a lot of stations,” Hill said. “We did a lot of teaching, because they were coming in with so much to learn.”

Hill was also impressed to know that the little ones already had solid knowledge of the game.

“They were absorbing everything,” Hill said. “Most were never taught the basics, but they knew. And they were so cute with their questions and answers. It’s great to know that they’re interested. I found myself trying to spend as much time with the little ones, the 11-and-12s and the 10s and under. I used to concentrate my time with the high school aged kids, but the energy of the little kids was just amazing. They could scream all day long. I found myself working with the younger ones because of their energy.”

Kaylene Ronquillo was one of the younger ones. At age 9, Ronquillo didn’t feel intimidated at all by being with older campers.

“I learned about rebounding,” Ronquillo proudly said. “I love rebounding. I’m tall, so I have an advantage that way. I think I was given a fair chance because there were no boys here.”

Keala Cicchino is also nine. She also loved to learn about rebounding.

“It’s my favorite thing,” Cicchino said. “I just love it.”

And the same can be said for fellow 9-year-old Tommi Valente.

“I learned about rebounding and boxing out,” Valente said. “I feel like I’m a really good rebounder. I just like that idea.”

Hill was flabbergasted when she was told that three young campers mentioned a thankless part of the game like rebounding.

“Rebounding was a popular station,” Hill said. “It shows that they absorbed everything.”

Jocelyn Huancaya is a 10-year-old student at Schuyler School.

“I came here to learn more about basketball,” Huancaya said. “I learned how to play defense the right way and how to post-up to get the ball. It was a lot of fun.”
Huancaya was asked what she would be doing if she wasn’t attending the camp.

“Probably sleeping,” she said.

Juliana Huaranga is only six years old, but she comes from basketball royalty. Her mom is Kim McDonough Huaranga, the all-time leading scorer in Harrison High School history, male or female. The elder Huaranga, who also had a fine career at St. Peter’s College, is now the athletic director at Harrison.

Little Juliana was asked if she knew that her mommy was a good basketball player.

“She said that to me,” Juliana said.

She was also asked what she learned.

“If you keep your head up and keep the ball up, then pass it, you can get it back,” Juliana Huaranga said.

It’s safe to say her mother never passed the rock back. Only kidding.

“I’ve had a lot of fun,” Juliana said. “I like being here.”

Raftery learned a lot about shooting and scoring, much like her famous uncle.

Incredibly, the two top leading scorers in West Hudson history are Kim McDonough and Bill Raftery. And both were represented at the camp.

“I learned how to shoot a proper layup,” said Raftery, who was strictly a volleyball player before being enticed to attend the camp. “It’s been a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll keep playing.”

That was all that Hill needed to hear.

“It was a lot of fun,” Hill said. “I heard from parents that were there, asking me if we could do it for another week. When the parents hear that it’s not coed, then they’re all for it. It’s great to give the girls some confidence. It’s also great for the future of the Kearny girls’ basketball program.”

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer