Kearny girls’ basketball team enjoys solid start

Photo by Jim Hague/ The Kearny girls’ basketball team is off to a solid 6-2 start, winning six of their last seven. Front row, from left, are Angel Conde and Vanessa DaSilva. Back row from left are Mercedes Lois, Stefanie Gomes, Michelle Goncalves and head coach Jody Hill.


By Jim Hague

The girls’ high school basketball season was only one game old and already Kearny head coach Jody Hill had some worries.
Her Kardinals started off the season with a loss at Marist, so Hill had to wonder whether her team was headed for a tough campaign.
“I was concerned,” Hill said. “We were definitely not ready to play the first game. I didn’t know what to expect. We had to find our identity a little bit, with some new faces. We had to go through a little of an adjustment.”
Hill was also worried about senior point guard Vanessa DaSilva, who was still recovering from off-season knee surgery.
“We needed a lot of work,” Hill said. “I knew we had no place to go but up.”
The Kardinals showed a lot of improvement in wins over Ferris and Dickinson of Jersey City, then headed to the Paterson Eastside Christmas Tournament.
Little did Hill know that the tourney would become an absolute blessing.
The Kardinals won three games in the tourney, defeating University Charter of Jersey City, then Plainfield and finally Hackensack in overtime.
“I was pleasantly surprised to go 3-0 in that tournament,” Hill said. “I couldn’t be happier. After the first game, we completely got our confidence back. It was the team that I thought we could be.”
The Kardinals lost a heartbreaker to Bayonne, considered by many to be the top team in Hudson County this year. They were up by three at the half, but managed to score just seven points in the second half to fall, 42-30.
“It was tough to take, because we knew we could compete with them,” said Hill, whose team shut down Bayonne standout guard Tara Flynn, holding her to just four points. “I think we all wish we could have that one back.”
The Kardinals then rebounded to defeat neighboring rival North Arlington, 55-22, last Friday to improve to 6-2 overall. Not a bad start for a team that was in trouble in the coach’s eyes to start the year.
“The key to us is that we have five senior starters,” Hill said. “We have to rely on their leadership and their senior composure. We also needed to believe in ourselves. If we do that, we can compete with the best. We proved that against Bayonne. We’re starting to get there and showing improvement.”
Leading the way is senior forward Stefanie Gomes, the soccer standout who continues her prowess on the hardwood. Gomes is averaging 17 points per game and had 21 points in the win over North Arlington Friday, a game where the 5-foot-9 Gomes also had eight rebounds, six steals and four blocked shots.
“She’s doing a good job letting the game come to her,” Hill said of Gomes. “She’s definitely more team oriented and has become more of a leader. Her shot selection is better. There’s never been a question about her ability to run the floor.”
DaSilva, the 5-foot-4 point guard, has returned from the off-season surgery well. DaSilva is also learning a new position, taking over the role that former Observer Female Athlete of the Year Janitza Aquino held before she went off to play at Montclair State. DaSilva was the off-guard to Aquino last year, but she’s had to learn to handle the ball more and become more of a playmaker.
“She’s doing a great job running the floor and running the team,” Hill said of DaSilva, who had 18 points in the big win over Hackensack and had 11 assists and five steals in the win Friday over North Arlington. “She’s had to make a tough transition, but she’s done a great job.”
DaSilva is averaging a little better than 10 points per game.
The third senior starter is 5-foot-5 swing player Michelle Goncalves, who is the team’s best defender. Goncalves was the one responsible for putting the clamps on Flynn last week.
“I think she may be the best defensive player in the county,” Hill said. “She wants the challenge of guarding the best.”
The fourth senior is Mercedes Lois, a 5-foot-8 forward.
“I say that she’s our gamer, because when the game is on, she’s ready,” Hill said of Lois. “When it’s a big game, she’s ready to step up to the challenge.”
The fifth senior is 5-foot-5 Angel Conde, who does a host of duties for the Kardinals.
“When we need her at point guard, she can play the point,” Hill said. “When we need her inside, she’s there. She can play anywhere and she’s the most well rounded player we have. She’s very versatile and can step up into any role.”
Junior Noura Farih is the team’s first player off the bench. The 5-foot-8 Farih, the younger sister of the St. Peter’s College walk-on, is a fierce competitor inside the paint.
“She loves to bang around inside,” Hill said. “She’s a smart kid and extremely coachable. She’s also ready to play every single day.”
Another key player off the bench is junior Mandy Jaing, a 5-foot-6 guard.
“She may have the smoothest shooting stroke on the team,” Hill said. “She also has good court vision and can see the floor.”
Other bench players include junior Jaime Carlen, who has six points off the bench against North Arlington, and junior Sylwia Kolodziej.
With a record of 6-2, Hill has to like the way her team has evolved.
“I definitely believe in my team,” Hill said. “With the seniors we have, we definitely can make some noise this year.”

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