By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The start of the high school basketball season might still be four months away, but it appeared to be in full bloom recently during the Kearny High School Girls’ Basketball Summer League.
For example, Kearny played Harrison last Thursday night in one of the regularly scheduled games in the league that ran from late June and will conclude next week.
The way the game was going, you could swear the game was in the middle of January instead of July. The only reminder that it wasn’t the regular season was the heat coming from outside, the doors to the gym being wide open and fans were blowing to try to keep everyone cool.
Every loose ball was followed with a full-fledged dive on the floor. Bodies were bouncing off each other. Elbows and forearms were flying. It was intense.
Sure, it was Kearny against Harrison and the two schools could face off in Chinese checkers or a forensic debate and it would become heated. But this was particularly passionate for a summer league contest.
“It did get pretty physical,” said Harrison head girls’ basketball coach Al Ruiz said. “The girls all know each other and work out together, so they really want to win here.”
“We wanted to win so much, so it did get a little chippie,” said Harrison sophomore forward Cynthia Ferreira. “You could see the competition. It was good for us.”’
“There’s that competitive side in me that always wants to win,” said Kearny junior forward Nawal Farih. “But then again, you have to be reminded that it’s just a summer league, so you just try to do the best that you can.”
Kearny was missing several of its top players to other commitments, so the final score was lopsided in favor of the Blue Tide, who showed significant ball handling prowess en route to the win.
Ruiz was impressed with the way his team performed in the win.
“We do have a couple of ball handlers,” Ruiz said. “Shanaieda Falcon (a junior this upcoming season) is doing a good job, so that enables us to get Amber O’Donnell away from playing point guard. We have another senior, Kayla Montilla, who also can handle it well. Between Shanaieda and Amber, we have the possibility of having a nice season.”
Ruiz said that he has kept his girls busy during the summer. The Blue Tide also competes in the Paterson Kennedy summer league.
“We get them together three or four times a week,” Ruiz said. “It’s good that we can be together so much.”
“It’s a good opportunity for us to get to know each other better,” Ferreira said. “We talk more and it helps camaraderie. It gives me a chance to become a better player against good competition. It’s good practice and it gives me confidence that I am becoming a better player. And it’s a good feeling anytime you win at any time.”
Especially when it’s against the dreaded neighborly rival.
The Kearny girls’ summer league featured 12 teams from throughout Hudson and Bergen counties. Some of the other local teams to play in the league included North Arlington and Lyndhurst.
Lyndhurst second-year head coach John Cousins wasn’t pleased with the way his team performed against Marist, but he was just glad that his team was together in full force, working hard and playing hard.
“This is awesome,” Cousins said. “I’m so happy to get in this league. It’s a great opportunity for us to get better and we have to get better. The girls didn’t play in a summer league last year, so win, lose or draw, this is outstanding. These games don’t count. We just want to try to compete and get better.”
Lyndhurst sophomore Kira Adams agreed.
“It’s a chance for us to get more practice to get ready for the season,” Adams said. “It’s a great opportunity to play in the summer. It creates better chemistry between us for the coming season. We have a bunch of new girls coming in, so we’re getting to know each other better.”
“We’re not doing anything strategic here,” Cousins said. “All we want to do here is compete and play hard. I do like the effort we have been getting. A couple of players have really impressed.”
Junior Cameron Halpern and sophomore Caitlyn Blake are two of the Golden Bears who have shown improvement in Cousins’ eyes.
“I’m just so happy to be here,” Cousins said.“We don’t have to worry about winning.”
Kearny head coach and league coordinator Jody Hill has been pleased with the way the league has turned out.
“We have a 12-team league this year,” Hill said. “We doubled in size. I’ve been able to work with (Kearny boys’ head coach) Bob McDonnell and he’s helped us tremendously. Every game has been competitive. We’re really getting what you want in a summer league.”
Hill said that Thursday’s short-handed game gave other girls a chance to show her what they could do.
“We had some incoming freshmen who may have been a little over their heads, but they tried hard and got some good experience,” Hill said.
One of those newcomers was guard Megan McClelland.
“She was thrown out there and handled herself pretty well,” Hill said of McClelland. “She’s going to be a rising star. She’s quick and she’s not afraid to mix it up. It was nice to see her and a few others go out there and just play.” “Since we have such a new team, it was good to get a chance to gel and be together,” Farih said. “It’s helped me a lot that I’ve learned to be more composed and relaxed as I play.”
Ruiz loves the way his team has come together during the summer months.
“We really have put a lot of time and effort all summer,” Ruiz said. “It’s been great for us. We’ve been playing in this league for a couple of years. Jody comes to help us out with the training of the girls. They know her and respect her. It’s all good.”
Hill loves being the host school.
“It’s very convenient for us,” Hill said. “We’re here every day and I get the chance to work with the younger girls. We don’t have to worry about transportation to get here and there. It’s excellent for us. The league is going well.”
Chances are that the Kearny summer league will continue to do well for the years to come as well. The competition is good and the teams are good, so all in all, the league is very good.