Kearny’s Gomes has 1,000 reasons for having a solid season

Photo courtesy Stefanie Gomes/ Kearny senior forward Stefanie Gomes holds the ball she received for scoring her 1,000th career point, becoming only the eighth girls’ basketball player in the school’s history to reach that milestone. Pictured with Gomes are coaches Jody Hill (left), Janine Wallace (second right) and Melina Montanez (far right).


By Jim Hague

The high school basketball season was reaching the midway point and the Kearny girls’ squad was teetering just a bit.

After a great start, the Kardinals sputtered to a handful of losses to teams that they should have never lost to. In the process, senior forward Stefanie Gomes, who started off the season with such an explosion that had her ranked among the top scorers in the state, slumped along with the team.

It was time for head coach Jody Hill to have a little heart-to-heart conversation with her star player.

“I talked to her about being more of a leader, that the team was down and the team needed her,” Hill said. “I told her that she needed to step up and be more of a senior leader. That when she got the ball, she needed to be more of a floor presence. She had to take the game on her shoulders. She admitted that she wasn’t used to it, but she was ready to give it a try.”

“She told me that I would have some good games, then I would have some bad ones,” Gomes said. “She said I had to do a better job with my shooting, that my shots weren’t going in. She told me I had to be more of a leader. I never did it before, but I listened to what Coach Hill had to say and I pretty much stepped it up.”

So Gomes took Hill’s words to heart and became more of a leader. She scored 19 points in a win over McNair Academic, scored 19 in a clutch win over an improving St. Anthony team that had won six straight games and capped her week by scoring 23 in a win over Cliffside Park.

This came on the heels of Gomes becoming the eighth girls’ basketball player in the school’s history to eclipse the prestigious 1,000-point plateau for her career.
For her efforts, Gomes has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Gomes, who is also a standout soccer player at Kearny, prepared for the current basketball season by playing almost every day in Harrison with and against a group of boys.

“You can’t shoot with the guys, so you have to drive to the basket,” Gomes said. “That worked most of the time while I was playing there. It gave me so much more confidence, playing with the guys.”

Gomes was a more aggressive player when the season began.

“This year, she’s definitely more of a slasher, getting to the basket,” Hill said. “She used to pull up to shoot. This year, she’s going to the basket and she’s not afraid to draw contact. She’s also equally strong with her left and right hands. She used to be all right-handed, but now, she sometimes goes more left than right. She’s also so fast that it takes her maybe five dribbles to get up the court. She just has that ability.”

Gomes knows that her speed is an asset.

“Sometimes, I get out of control because I operate at two different speeds,” Gomes said. “I’ve learned to slow down a little.”

Gomes obviously has already carved a niche as a top-flight soccer player. She ended her soccer career as one of the top scorers in the school’s history.

There was a time when Gomes would consider herself a soccer player first and a basketball player second.

That’s not the case any longer.

“I consider myself to be both now,” Gomes said. “I grew up playing soccer first, but now, I’m a legitimate two-sport athlete. I don’t know what I’m better in. I think some days I might be a better soccer player, but then I have a good day in basketball. It’s really evened out. Most definitely, I’m a lot better basketball player.”

“She’s learned to love the game more,” Hill said. “I know she’s equally talented in both sports, because she’s improved her basketball game tremendously. She never had that confidence before and now she knows she can be a special player. She’s showing a little bit of maturity now and that has come with the improvement in the game. She’s really put in a lot of hard work to improve.”

Gomes doesn’t know what sport she will play in college. She may try to play both. But at least now, there is a possible choice since basketball has become more of a part of her life.

“I’m not sure about anything right now,” Gomes said. “I may play both. I really don’t know. I always felt that I would probably play soccer. Now, I’m not so sure.”
Gomes also doesn’t have any firm offers, although Montclair State, where former teammate Janitza Aquino plays, has been in contact.

Needless to say, a lot has changed in the course of the past week. The coach-to-player chat worked wonders.

“It’s such a rewarding feeling,” Hill said. “We had a sit down and she absorbed what I had to say and she completely responded. She’s done what was asked of her and now, we got it back as a team.”

Three straight wins and an overall record of 15-5 will do that for a team and its star player.

“I always felt that this was going to be our year,” Gomes said. “We had a little bump in the road, but we’re fine now. I always listen to what Coach Hill has to say. She’s always there to help me. I think that we’re now looking for a home game in the county and state playoffs. The school record for wins is 19, so we’re shooting for that as well. We’re just four away from that. We’re going for it. This has been a great year for me.”

Now it is, after the little heart-to-heart that definitely hit home for Stefanie Gomes.

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