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Cops ID counterfeit suspect: NPD blotter

A Newark woman is being sought in connection with the alleged use of counterfeit bills to defraud a local merchant, Nutley PD said.

Police said the episode unfolded on Nov. 15 when a woman entered a Franklin Ave. business and used fake $100 bills to purchase $900 worth of gift cards.

The discovery that the bills were not legitimate currency wasn’t made until after the woman had left the store and could not be traced, police said. However, police said that her image was captured on the store’s surveillance camera system and was circulated to surrounding police departments.

At the same time, police said that detectives working with patrol officers developed a couple of other leads to establish her identity as Wineoka Jordan, 51, of Newark.

Det. Sgt. Anthony Montanari noted that Chief Tom Strumolo – in consultation with Mayor/Public Safety Director Alphonse Petracco – has assigned patrol officers to assist detectives with an investigation of multiple burglaries and other cases.

Among those assisting, Montanari said, are Officers Anderson Antonio and John Mecka, who partnered in working with detectives on the counterfeit cash case and came up with an image from the state Division of Motor Vehicles that matched “dead on” the one from the surveillance tape and arranged for a photo array of similar looking females, including the suspect, to be shown the store manager who picked out the suspect’s image from the array.

Additionally, Montanari said, on a piece of scratch paper on which the suspect had written that was recovered from the Franklin Ave. store, they found a notation of an appointment at a doctors’ clinic in Newark which Mecka visited and came up with the suspect’s name.

Using the video from the tape, the DMV image and the writing sample, police recently established Wineoka as the suspect in the case. She was charged with theft by deception and a warrant was issued for her arrest, Montanari said. As of last week, she remained at large but police are optimistic she will be traced, he added.

In the week between Dec. 27 and Jan. 2, the Nutley PD also logged these incidents:

Dec. 27 

Police pulled over a motor vehicle traveling on Hillside Ave. after observing that the vehicle had an inoperable front passenger headline. But the driver, Anthony Casale III, 18, of Clifton, ran into more trouble after police said they found two round metal objects on the front passenger floor believed to be marijuana grinders. Police said each grinder had suspected marijuana residue on them. Casale was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and issued two summonses for maintenance of lamps and failure to provide valid insurance card.

Dec. 28 

Police conducted a traffic stop on Washington Ave. of a green Jeep after noticing that its driver’s side brake light was out. In the passenger seat, police said, was the registered owner of the vehicle: Deborah Cedeno-Olmo, 35, of Nutley, who had an outstanding warrant from Bordentown. After Bordentown PD was advised she could not make bail, Cedeno- Olmo was released with a new court date. The driver of the Jeep was given a summons for maintenance of lamps.

Dec. 29 

A fraud victim told police that accounts for two mobile phone numbers had been opened in their name and that they’d been charged $1,499 for two iPhone 6 models picked up at a store in Westchester, N.Y. Police said T-Mobile, the vendor, has closed the accounts and registered the transaction as fraudulent.

Dec. 30 

Another fraud victim reported that two unauthorized charges totaling more than $900 were made on their bank debit card – one for $200.67 at Game Stop in Manhattan and another at Quick Chek in Totowa for $756.16. Police said the bank has closed the card account.

– Ron Leir 

Harrison Ave. fatality

By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent 


What began as a Harrison Ave. fenderbender ended in tragedy Friday morning with the death of one of the motorists, who was struck by yet another vehicle after he had exited his own, Kearny police reported.

Police said the victim, 62-year-old Oscar Carpio of Jersey City, was westbound in the pre-dawn darkness at 6:15 a.m. when his Hyundai Santa Fe sideswiped a box truck that had become disabled in the right lane of the avenue (County Rt. 508). He pulled in front of the truck and got out of his SUV to exchange information with the other driver.

While Carpio was standing in the roadway, police said, he was hit by a westbound Toyota RAV4 operated by a 55-year-old man from Budd Lake.

Kearny EMS responded, but Carpio was pronounced dead at the scene at 6:47 a.m.

Police said the truck driver, a 27-year-old East Newark resident, was “brushed” by the RAV4 but his injuries were not life-threatening. He was transported to St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark, treated and released.

Police said the driver who hit them was not hurt and had immediately pulled to the side of the road.

The accident investigation was continuing, but reportedly there were no charges pending.

The fatality occurred near the Dominick Daniels USPS Distribution Center.

Heavily traveled Harrison Ave. was closed to traffic in both directions until nearly 9 a.m.

New townhomes taking shape


Photo by Ron Leir

Arlington Village Development Partners LLC is moving forward with construction of 12 townhome condominium units on a former nursery site at 65 Schuyler Ave. in North Arlington. The pre-fab building project will be a combination of one- and two-bedroom units.

Thoughts & Views: A lion among leaders


In its editorial euology last Friday, my alma mater, the N.Y. Daily News, referred to Gov. Mario Cuomo as “the last lion of New York liberalism.”

An excellent description.

Those of you who know me, or think you do, might wonder then why his death left me feeling bereft.

It’s because, once in a great while, there appears a politician who transcends politics. And I have always been one to place more store in the character of the man, or woman, holding, or seeking, office than in the political platform the person espouses.

In other words, what I value most is honesty. Because in the political arena, that can be a rare commodity.

Mario Cuomo, whom I had the privilege of meeting more than once on a professional basis, was someone who inspired trust. He was genuine. Unlike the case with some others in government, who shall be nameless, you could sit in a conference room with him for a couple of hours, listen to him field myriad questions from journalists, and not once doubt the sincerity of what he said. Or suspect that his responses had been fed to him and memorized.

I may not have agreed with his stance on some issues, but I respected the person taking the stance.

Of course, there was also his eloquence. Mario Cuomo, who had the ability to hold his audience spellbound, was also the last (I fear) of the great orators.

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard his keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 1984. I was on the M101 Lexington Ave. bus heading south from 42nd St., listening to the coverage on my Walkman. And I was transfixed. The memory is that vivid.

Cuomo had the ability not only to use words, but to deliver them. There’s an echo of his voice and cadence in his son, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but it doesn’t have quite the same resonance.

Another side of the man I had the luck to witness was his quick-wittedness.

Every spring, the reporters covering the N.Y. state capitol, host the Legislative Correspondents Dinner. Unlike the White House Correspondents Dinner that is telecast on C-Span, the Albany event is more than a basic political roast. It is a show. With skits and musical numbers. All the pols are fair game for the journalists’ jibes, but none more so than the state’s chief executive.

The first time I attended, Mario Cuomo was governor, and I was at a table near his. Throughout the show, I could see him scribbling notes.

As is customary, the person who gets the last word at this event is the one who was prime target.

When it was Cuomo’s turn to answer his comedic critics, he delivered a monologue that would have put George Carlin to shame. Point-by-point (which explains those notes), he rebutted the slings and arrows that had been directed at him, and he had the audience laughing ‘til we cried. Literally. The man was a master of comedy. Who knew?

So, even though he had been out of the spotlight for some time, and even though he was a lion of liberalism, I shall miss him.

In that 1984 speech, challenging Ronald Reagan’s image of America, Cuomo said: “Mr. President, you ought to know that this nation is more a ‘Tale of Two Cities’ than it is just a ‘Shining City on a Hill’ . . . . There is despair, Mr. President, in the faces that you don’t see, in the places that you don’t visit, in your shining city.”

I may not agree with everything in that speech, but I can appreciate the passion of his arguments. The elegance of his rebuttal.

Mario Cuomo had character.

And he had class. T

hese days, what passes for a rebuttal? “Sit down and shut up!”

– Karen Zautyk 

A look at probiotics and health


Unlike the bacteria that cause diarrhea, fever, and many other symptoms, probiotics are live microorganisms that may improve your health and boost your resistance to some illnesses. They may also improve intestinal health for some people.

Your gut is home to trillions of microorganisms. Although few cause illnesses, probiotics may keep the harmful bacteria in check so that you avoid or shorten a bout of stomach upset.

Foods rich in probiotics may enhance your immune system, reducing your risk for some diseases, according to ongoing research. But preventing diarrhea and other digestive problems is an important reason to add probiotics to your diet.

To get probiotics’ benefits, eat foods that contain adequate amounts of the live organisms that have been shown to have an effect. Here are some guidelines:

Head for the market’s refrigerated section. Probiotics are living organisms that must be refrigerated. Fermented dairy products are proven sources you’ll find in the dairy case. The list includes most yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir (a beverage similar to yogurt).

Try soy yogurt if you don’t like or can’t tolerate dairy foods.

Start slowly. Eat small amounts, such as a 2- to 4-ounce serving. Work up to 6 to 8 ounces a day.

Use yogurt or other probiotic products as ingredients in food. Top a baked potato with plain yogurt, use buttermilk in a salad dressing, or add kefir to a fruit smoothie. Don’t cook fermented dairy products. You’ll kill the friendly microorganisms.

Make probiotics a habit. Probiotics don’t become a permanent part of your body flora. That’s why you have to take probiotics every day or every other day.

Talk with your doctor before you take probiotics if you have an illness. Probiotics are generally thought to be safe. But not much is known about the safety of probiotics for people with weakened immune systems or for very young children.

To learn more, stop in and see in-store Registered Dietitian Julie Harrington, R.D., at the ShopRite of Lyndhurst, 540 New York Ave., Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071. For information on health and wellness events contact Julie at 201-419-9154 or Julie.harrington@ wakefern.com.

PBA, Red Bulls share holiday spirit


By Kevin Canessa Jr. 

Observer correspondent 


Unfortunately, 2014 won’t go down as a banner year for law enforcement. Far too often, the women and men who put their lives on the line on a daily basis were negatively portrayed because of the bad actions of a select few.

But as this year comes to an end, we’re delighted to bring you a police-related story that is a reminder that here in West Hudson, we’re very lucky to have the police we have.

Enter Harrison Police Department Patrolman Allan Ford. He’s been on the job for 13 years — the last eight with the Harrison Police Department and before that, he spent five years as a Hudson County Sheriff’s officer.

He and Lt. Mike Daggett, Sgt. Dave Strumolo, Detective Charlie Schimpf, Patrolman Daniel McChesney and the department’s two PBA unions have, in one form or another, taken part in the Christmas Angels program, one designed to ensure less fortunate children of all ages are able to experience a holiday that might have otherwise been not so memorable.

The two PBAs first offered the Christmas Angels program back in 1996. And in the 18 years since it kicked off, it’s evolved significantly, according to Ford. And the evolution has all been for the better.

In the early years, the program was open to any of the town’s children, regardless of whether there was a need. And while it was certainly successful right from the get-go, Ford says he envisioned something more — something quite significant.

“Initially, when the program was open to any of the town’s children, it certainly served its purpose,” Ford said. “But the truth is, a program like this is better suited when the toys and presents are given to the people who are most in need, who might otherwise not have a Christmas. And so changes have been made over the years to get to where we are now.”

The first year he was on the job in Harrison, Ford immediately got involved. But he wasn’t satisfied with a supporting role — he wanted to do much more. So he asked if he could play Santa the following year, and seven years later, he’s still doing just that.

“I wound up spending around $700 for the Santa costume,” Ford said. “I always enjoy seeing the reaction of the kids when they’re given presents. Sometimes, they’re afraid of me — but most of the time, they understand it.”

A few years after Ford began playing Santa, the core guys involved in the program revamped it entirely. The presents had been given out at the Harrison Community Center — but that space just wasn’t big enough.

“So everything moved to the LCC (Lithuanian Catholic Community Club) in Kearny,” he said. “And they’ve been just wonderful to us.”

And the method of deciding who gets presents also changed.

Instead of the program being open to everyone, the guys decided to get the local schools and child-care centers involved. At the schools, guidance counselors were asked to come up with a list of the families that would most benefit from the Christmas Angels.

“And now, this year, we had 30 or so families involved,” Ford said. “It was wonderful.”

Each of the families were invited to the LCC for a Breakfast With Santa just before Christmas. Youngsters received toys and gifts and families were given Walmart gift cards to satisfy needs such as clothing or food.

The gift cards were made possible by a generous cash donation from the Red Bulls’ supporters, the Viking Army. They’ve donated over the last three years — and this year handed over a check for $1,000 for the cards.

But the generosity goes even beyond this.

One person donated $500 to cover the entire cost of the food for the Breakfast With Santa. Pechter’s Bakery donated all of the bread needed for the breakfast. The 50/50 winner, a member of the department, donated $200 of his $1,200 winnings toward the breakfast.

We could go on forever here.

But are you seeing the bigger picture here?

Here’s a group of dedicated people. They each put their lives on the line every time they put on their uniform. But they also take pains to ensure that kids have memorable holidays instead of holidays that cause anything but joy.

It’s one of the many reasons why Carol Manley and her husband, Danny, are involved in the program. And for those who know Manley, no, it’s not just because Ford is her son-in-law either. “

Allan is such a special guy,” Manley said. “And with there being so much negativity out there about cops of late, I really think it’s important that these guys’ stories are told. They all have their own families. They all have their own lives. And what they do is just inspiring.”

It all reminded Manley of an incident that happened with her son-in-law a few Christmases ago. The family was all gathered at Manley’s brother’s place in Freehold. Ford got a call from a fellow cop.

It was a domestic-violence case — and in the course of the investigation, the officer noted there was no Christmas tree. There were no toys for the kids. Instead, they were playing “hockey” with pencils, erasers and paper.

The officer asked Ford if he’d put on the costume and head over to that location with some gifts for the kids.

And despite being away — and smack in the middle of his own holiday celebration with his family — that’s exactly what Ford did. Drove north from Freehold to get the costume, picked up a bunch of unused gifts (mind you this was after Breakfast With Santa) and those kids, who otherwise wouldn’t have had a Christmas, instead had one they’d never, ever forget.

“At first they were scared of me as Santa,” Ford said. “Once they realized what was going on, though, it was much better. To see the joy and happiness this brought to them — unbelievable. This is what it’s all about. This is why we do what we do. This makes it all worth the hard work that goes into the preparation process.

“This is the true meaning of Christmas.”

Around Town


Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., presents its version of the traditional Italian legend of La Befana with interactive storytelling, live musicians, singers and dancers, and more on Sunday, Jan. 11, at 2 p.m. Children receive gifts from both Befana and Santa Claus. Reservations are required.

To register or for more information, call the library at 973-566-6200.


New Jersey Blood Services announces that Abundant Life Evangelical Community Church (Comunidade Evangelica Vida Abundate), 151 Midland Ave., will host a blood drive on Jan. 12, from 4:30 to 9 p.m.

Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., continues its new series of Saturday Family Film Matinees on Saturday, Jan. 10, at 11 a.m., with a screening of the newly released “Dolphin Tale 2” (PG/107 minutes), the sequel to the popular 2011 film. Donuts and light refreshments will be served. Admission is free. For more information on any library program, call the library at 201- 998-2666 or visit www.kearnylibrary.org.

Trinity Episcopal Church, 575 Kearny Ave., hosts its monthly flea market, in conjunction with Christ Episcopal Church, Harrison, on Saturday, Jan. 10, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Refreshments are available. Vendors are welcome. Tables are one for $15 or two for $25. Call the church at 201-991-5894 to schedule your table. Or, call Annamarie at 201-998-2368 after 5:30 pm. Walk-ins and new vendors are welcome.

Kearny UNICO is sponsoring a bus trip to the Tropicana Casino on Sunday, Jan. 25. The cost is $30 with $25 in slot play back from the casino. The bus leaves from American Legion Post 99, 314 Belgrove Drive, at 8:30 a.m. Refreshments will be served inside the hall beginning at 7:30 a.m. To purchase tickets or for more information, contact Chapter President Lou Pandolfi at either 201-368-2409 or lpandolfi@ verizon.net.


Lyndhurst Library Children’s Room, 355 Valley Brook Ave., hosts the following events:

  • Walk-in story, open to grades pre-k to 2, is held on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6:30p.m. No registration is required.
  • Winter/Spring Storytime, open to ages 3 to 4 1/2, is available for two sessions at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will run every Thursday from Feb. 19 to May 14. Registration is open until Feb. 13.
  • An igloo craft, open to grades 1 to 4, is set for Thursday, Jan. 15, from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Pre-registration is required.
  • A snowman craft, open to grades pre-k to 3, will be held on Thursday, Jan. 29, from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Pre-registration is required.

To register for programs, call the library at 201-804-2478.

Lyndhurst Health Department announces the following:

  • Flu vaccine is available for township residents. Call 201-804-2500 for an appointment. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older receive a yearly flu vaccine.
  • Rabies Clinics are set for Thursdays, Jan. 8 and 15, at the Community Center on Riverside Ave. (behind the Little League fields), 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Township residents can also license their dogs and cats at these clinics. Licensing deadline is Jan. 31. Call the Health Department for more information.

Knights of Columbus Council 2396 sponsors a Tricky Tray Friday, Jan. 16, at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. The $15 admission includes coffee plus one prize sheet of tickets. No alcohol is permitted. No tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call Steve Cortese at 201-657-0800 or Sal Russo at 201-446-7244.

VFW Post 3549, 586 Valley Brook Ave., hosts karaoke on Friday, Jan. 16, starting at 7:30 p.m. The post’s hall is available for rental for all occasions. For more information, call the post at 201-939-3080.

For Weaver, it’s better second time around at QP


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

Scot Weaver thought he had built something special when he first was the wrestling coach at Queen of Peace.

After all, the former Lyndhurst coach and current resident of the township did build the fledgling Golden Griffins wrestling program into a state power in just three years.

Weaver coached a three-time state champion in Frank Cagnina, who won state titles twice wearing the QP singlet. Weaver also mentored state medalists like Jamie Westwood, Matt Fusco and Glenn Cannici while leading the Golden Griffins to prominence both on the Bergen County and NJSIAA levels.

But four years ago, Weaver left, much like most coaches who work at QP, for a host of reasons. One reason was a lack of a place to practice. The team was forced to use an old storage room in the old Boystown facility, run by the CYO, on Belgrove Drive in Kearny.

“The bottom line was that there were problems between me and the administration there at the time,” Weaver said. “When I left, I thought I was done there forever. I put it all in the rearview mirror.”

Queen of Peace wrestling struggled without Weaver and the sport eventually died with no proper leadership.

Last year, soon-to-be former principal John Bellocchio and former athletic director Ed Abromaitis contacted Weaver and asked if he would be willing to come back to revive the wrestling program at the school.

“I told them that what I was promised in the past didn’t come through,” said Weaver, who was once promised a private workout facility for his wrestlers that never came to fruition. “They really had to entice me to come back. I was always in contact with them. I still live here (in Lyndhurst).”

Weaver had been coaching at Brearley Regional in Kenilworth, but he felt that he had run his course there.

“It was a dead-end game there for me after four years,” Weaver said. “Nothing developed there. So the timing was right.”

Sure enough, Weaver agreed to come back to Queen of Peace and bring the wrestling program out from the ashes.

“I had about 100 people or so ask me if I was nuts,” Weaver said. “But I never said I wouldn’t come back. Until they fulfilled their part of the bargain by getting me a wrestling room and giving me full support, I wasn’t going to consider it.”

Weaver, Bellocchio and Abromaitis met several times and went over classroom space in the school that could be converted into a wrestling room.

Eventually, three classrooms in the school’s basement were changed over and replaced with mats and proper padding to have a full-fledged wrestling room for the first time. There was no more need to roll out mats in the gym and cafeteria.

“It was definitely doable,” Weaver said after the plans for the wrestling room were presented.

Weaver also wanted to make sure that the school agreed to allowing him the ability to bring kids into the school to start the program again.


Photo by Jim Hague Queen of Peace now has a state-of-the-art wrestling room for practice and training.

Photo by Jim Hague
Queen of Peace now has a state-of-the-art wrestling room for practice and

“They accepted my recommendations (for transfers),” Weaver said. “They also agreed to let us travel and attend high school tournaments. The bottom line was that I didn’t reach out to any kids. There are always disgruntled kids who perhaps don’t feel they are worthy in another program, who feel they’re not wrestling in the proper venue. I think that putting kids in the proper venue, with the right practice facilities, giving them an opportunity to move on into college, would attract kids.”

Weaver was asked if the approach could be construed as recruiting. A few years ago, QP had to answer to the NJSIAA about possible illegal recruiting for wrestling.

“Those allegations were dismissed by the state,” Weaver said. “There’s a small wrestling community, parents who get the word out. This time around, I did talk to parents and told them that here we are, giving kids a chance to be coached by me and my staff in a brand new facility. It’s a great opportunity.”

Whether it will be perceived as recruiting throughout the state remains to be seen. For now, Weaver is back with a full roster of wrestlers who he thinks can contend with a state power like DePaul Catholic for the NJSIAA Non- Public B state crown this year.

“We’re extremely competitive and have some of the top competitors in northern New Jersey,” Weaver said. “We have some guys who are not on the mat for the first time and others we are teaching. The product you see now will not be the same you will see at the end of February. We’re going to be much improved by then. We are going to compete at the state level. Is it possible to beat DePaul? Anything is possible, once you’re able to compete.”

The Golden Griffins have two wrestlers at 106 pounds in talented freshman Enrique Sanchez and freshman Matt Armamento. Sanchez was a finalist at a recent Maryland tournament and won two matches at the prestigious Beast of the East tourney in Delaware.

The 113-pound class is being shared by junior Jeremy Puente, a transfer from Kearny, and sophomore Ray Wetzel, a transfer from Brearley, where he won the District 11 title and finished third at Region 3.

Junior Anthony DeLorenzo is a transfer from Nutley who holds down the 126-pound class. DeLorenzo won the Mountain Madness tourney in Maryland, defeating three other reigning state champions in the process.

“He’s doing very well,” Weaver said of DeLorenzo. “He’s a stud. He’s a mature, tough kid.”

Junior Mike Scaravelli is the team’s 132-pounder. Scaravelli is a transfer from Paramus Catholic, where he was a District finalist.

The 138-pound class is being shared by junior Diego Lopez and sophomore Jahki Smith, both of whom have been students at Queen of Peace all along and decided to join wrestling.

The same can be said for 145-pound senior Shaquan Chavis, who joined the QP wrestling team after football season was completed.

Joe Rocca, a 152-pound senior, is a transfer from Elmwood Park, where he finished second in the District and fourth at Region 2.

Mim Salaam is a 160-pound sophomore who is wrestling for the first time. The same can be said for 171-pound freshman Ariel Molina and 182-pound freshman Yasim Peppers, both of whom were football standouts in the fall.

Senior Jeff Velez is a transfer from Brearley Regional where Weaver formerly coached. The 195-pound Velez already owns a scholarship to Old Dominion. Velez won a high school national title last year, as well as winning District 11 and Region 2. Velez should be one of the top wrestlers locally this season. Velez finished eighth at the Beast of the East and was second at the Mountain Madness tourney.

“If he continues to wrestle well, he could be up for a state championship this year,” Weaver said of Velez.

Christian Reyna, a newcomer, is the team’s 220-pounder, while football standout Chima Dunga is the Griffins’ heavyweight.

“He never wrestled before, but he’s just tough and big and strong,” Weaver said of Dunga, who was sixth at Mountain Madness. “He might be inexperienced now, but he’s going to get quicker and better. In February, he’s going to be a much better wrestler.”

So Weaver has returned. So has QP wrestling.

“I feel we have a competitive team right away,” Weaver said. “We have the makings of a good team. We will be ready by February.”

Belleville girls’ hoops: Record misleading

1-7 View_web

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.

NA’s Gainza enjoys scoring explosion in holiday tourney


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

When Rob Lado took over the North Arlington girls’ basketball program at the beginning of June, he knew he had to make some changes.

But first and foremost, Lado needed to find a point guard, as last year’s starter, Bri Cunanan, had graduated.

Lado did see some possibility in junior Denaijah Gainza, who was the team’s starter at the off-guard slot a year ago, averaging close to seven points per game.

“I did see some promise,” Lado said. “I knew that she could score and I knew she had the chance to do a lot more, so we were moving her from shooting guard to point guard.”

It was a move that Gainza welcomed.

“When Coach Rob came in and picked me out to be the point guard, it made me feel more confident,” Gainza said. “He made a big difference in me. I put my heart into basketball. I worked on my game all summer. I worked on my ball handling, my shot, my defense, pretty much everything. It was a huge change for me.”

When the season began with practices in late November, Lado saw that Gainza was definitely ready for her new role.

“She was comfortable with the transition,” Lado said. “She had the ball in her own hands now and could score on her own. I needed her to distribute the ball, but she understood that. She handled the transition very well.”

But no one could have ever dreamed just how well Gainza would handle becoming an instant point guard.

“Since I was a shooting guard, I thought that I was going to have to grow into being a point guard,” Gainza said. “But as I grew with it, I grew to like it. I’m getting used to controlling the tempo and the pace of the game. The ball is in my hands.”

And as was proven in the recent William Ferguson Holiday Tournament at North Arlington High School, the ball was in the basket, courtesy of Gainza’s new-found confidence at her new position.

“I just saw the lane open up for me and I kept going,” Gainza said.

Gainza scored 24 points in the Vikings’ 49-45 win over next-door neighbor Queen of Peace in the opening round of the Ferguson tourney, then added 30 points a day later in a 58-49 win over Lyndhurst a day later in the championship game, giving the Vikings the tourney title, earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award in the process.

Incredibly, Gainza scored 54 points in consecutive days, after scoring just 46 points for the entire season last year.

For her efforts, Gainza has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week. Gainza is the first honoree in the weekly feature for the scholastic winter season as well as the new year of 2015.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect all of this,” Gainza said. “I didn’t think I could improve this much. I think I am doing my best to get the whole team involved, but I am getting more chances to score. I just felt like I had to put my whole heart into basketball. I wanted to win the tournament and wanted to win the trophy for our team.”

Not to mention the individual MVP award.

“But it’s more about the team for me,” Gainza said. “It was our house and we needed to beat those two teams. It was honestly an overwhelming experience for me. I never expected to get that many points. It’s really hard to explain.”

Gainza was rewarded for her aggressive playing style and taking the ball to the basket. In the two games, she made a remarkable 18 free throws, including 10 against Queen of Peace with a close game on the line.

“She knows her importance now,” Lado said. “She understands that she has the ball in her hands and the offense has to go through her. She has to get the offense going. Those are very big numbers that she produced, but we can’t expect that every night. But I’ll take it.”

Marissa Piscal has also played a big role for the Vikings, who hold an impressive 4-2 record in the early going. Piscal had 19 points and 11 rebounds in the win over Lyndhurst and is averaging 12 points and nearly nine rebounds per game.

But Gainza is the one who has made the biggest gains.

“She’s playing well all around,” Lado said. “I really wasn’t expecting this much of her this soon. But I felt if we could help her understand her role, she could be much improved. She is definitely running with it right now. With her and Piscal, we have a good 1-2 combination. They feed off each other. Denaijah has definitely gotten everyone else involved. She’s running and everyone seems to be following her. She’s been like our engine.”

Gainza likes the way the season has unfolded for her. “This is definitely building my confidence up big time,” Gainza said. “It has been a great experience thus far, but we have to keep it going. I’m going to continue to work hard with Coach Rob and the whole team. That’s what comes with being the point guard and being a leader. It’s a huge change for me.”

And it’s a huge change for the NA girls’ basketball team, which has half as many wins now as the Vikings had all of last season, courtesy of the confidence of the new point guard.