Viking girls’ squad looking to improve

The North Arlington High School girls’ basketball team owns a 5-6 record as the season rapidly approaches the midway mark.

In the eyes of head coach Karissa DePena, the record is no indication of how well the Vikings have improved since the start of the season last month.

“We’re not disappointed at all,” DePena said. “We are continuing to work on correcting our mistakes and we’re continuing to improve. As we improve, the record will follow.

DePena said that the Vikings are playing much better basketball than they were in the middle of December.

“I think the communication between the girls is much better,” DePena said. “We’re still basically a very young squad. We’re still learning the game. But the communication between them is a key. There’s a connection between each other.”

The Vikings have only two seniors on the roster, so DePena is being very patient with the growth of her team.

“We had 25 girls come out for the team this year, which wasn’t bad,” DePena said. “It shows that there is interest in the town. The JV (junior varsity) team is doing pretty well, so I’m pretty happy.”

Junior Sam DiPopolo is the team’s point guard. The 5-foot-3 DiPopolo has been with the varsity for three years and a starter for two. She’s averaging close to 12 points and four assists per game and tossed in 17 points in a 52-43 win over McNair Academic of Jersey City on Saturday.

“She’s the leader on the court,” DePena said. “She’s the one directing all the girls. She’s my voice on the floor. She’s even teaching the younger girls, which is a big help. She’s taken on more of a leadership role this year and she’s improving every game. We’re going to help her continue to grow as a player, as a captain and as a teammate. She’s definitely doing everything I ask of her. She’s extremely coachable. I’m happy with what she’s doing. She knows her role.”

Junior Jennifer Garcia is the team’s shooting guard and the team’s leading scorer at better than 14 points per game. Garcia had 26 points in a loss to Elmwood Park and had 18 points each in wins over McNair Academic and Paterson Charter.

“She’s doing great,” DePena said of the 5-foot-3 Garcia. “She’s not afraid to shoot. She has good form on her shot. She takes it to the basket well. She’s aggressive. She also gets a lot of rebounds for her size.”

Junior Emily Cordova is the team’s small forward. The 5-foot-4 Cordova has been a pleasant surprise this season.

“She sees the floor very well,” DePena said. “She’s very aggressive. She’s also another voice on the floor.”

Freshman Alex Gomes has emerged as the team’s premier post player. The 5-foot-8 Gomes has reached double figures in scoring in each of the Vikings’ last three games, scoring 16 points in a loss to Becton Regional, 15 in the win over Paterson Charter and 16 in the win over McNair.

“She has a good basketball IQ,” DePena said of Gomes. “She works hard under the boards and also takes the ball to the basket strong.”

Senior Kayley Miller is a 5-foot-10 power forward.

“She’s our leading rebounder,” DePena said. “She’s also blocking a lot of shots. She’s a swatting machine. She also makes sure that some of my messages come across.”

Junior Gabriela Marques is a 5-foot-3 forward.

“She’s our defensive specialist,” DePena said. “She provides tempo and locks down the opposition’s top scorer. She also has excellent body language. She goes at it and nothing stops her.”

Rayna Taormina is a 5-foot-2 sophomore guard.

“She has a really nice shot and she’s not afraid to take the ball to the basket,” DePena said. “She has good speed and uses that to her advantage.”

Taormina is one of several of the Vikings who also play soccer in the fall.

“I think that soccer speed translates well to basketball,” DePena said. “It absolutely helps us having all the soccer players.”

Maria Fahmy is a 5-foot-3 senior guard.

“She also has nice speed and that helps her,” DePena said. “She is constantly deflecting passes with her quick hands.”

Izabella Feliciano is a 5-foot-5 freshman guard.

“She’s another shooter I have coming off the bench,” DePena said. “She’s not afraid to take the shot when she gets the chance. She’s going to improve over the years.”

Rachell Ortiz is a 5-foot-9 sophomore forward who comes off the bench, as does Katherine Garcia, a 5-foot-4 junior guard and sister to Jennifer, and 5-foot-5 sophomore forward Sierra Parisi.

Needless to say, DePena is pleased with her team’s performance to date. They have tough games upcoming against Ridgefield, St. Mary’s of Rutherford and Waldwick this week. All three of those teams are battling for state playoff berths like the Vikings.

“I am pretty happy with this group,” DePena said. “We have a good group of girls. They have that heart and passion that you need and that I like. I can’t ask for anything more.”

CAPTION

The North Arlington girls’ basketball team is battling for a possible berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs next month. From left are Kayley Miller, Sam DiPopolo, head coach Karissa DePena, Emily Cordova, Maria Fahmy and Gabriela Marques. Photo by Jim Hague

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer