Light at the end of the tunnel for NA girls’ basketball squad

Photo by Jim Hague/ The North Arlington girls’ basketball team won two straight games last week after starting the season in tough shape. From left are seniors Kim Mosher, Kristel Buie, head coach Karen Smith, Megan Namnama and Ashley Gandulla.


By Jim Hague

The high school girls’ basketball season wasn’t exactly going as planned for North Arlington. The Vikings, under second-year head coach Karen Smith, were experiencing some brutally tough times, losing game after game.

But never once did the Vikings lose faith and lose their spirit.

“We have a very good group of seniors who kept everything positive,” Smith said. “We all just knew it was a matter of time before we would get a win.”

But the 0-5 start quickly became 0-8 and then became 0-11.

“But I did see a lot of improvement since the start of the season,” Smith said. “We graduated eight seniors from last year’s team (that finished 8-12), so we knew that we were bringing some younger kids into the program. Even though we weren’t winning, I did see progress.”

Smith then decided to forget about the team’s misfortunes.

“We stopped paying attention to the record,” Smith said. “We tried to win at smaller pieces, like trying to win a quarter. By starting small, we saw if we could put three quarters together and then maybe have a chance to win in the fourth.”

Not once did the team’s demeanor change.

“It was always very good,” Smith said. “The girls were always positive. They were always encouraging one another and that really helped the spirit and the morale of the team.”

Smith also remained upbeat and strong.

“I told them that if they kept working hard, they then stood a chance to win,” Smith said. “Sooner or later, we were going to turn things around. I just knew it.”

Last week, the Vikings took on a Newark East Side team that had won five games, but presented an opportunity for a victory.

“I didn’t know much about them,” Smith said. “I knew they had five wins, but I told the girls that if they came out aggressive, good things could happen.”

The Vikings did exactly that, scoring 21 points in the first quarter en route to an easy win. Finally, after 11 losses, the Vikings had their first win of the season.

“It was a big game for us, because 12 girls scored in the game,” Smith said. “It was good to see smiles in the locker room.”

They didn’t wait long to get their second one.

In the very next game, the Vikings played well again and defeated Weehawken, a team in similar dire straits.

“I think the momentum from the Newark East Side game carried over to the Weehawken game,” Smith said. “We knew that they were in the same boat as we were.

But we absolutely knew we could build on the first win.”

Suddenly, the team that hadn’t a single win now had a two-game winning streak. It was a complete reversal of fortune. Things were definitely looking up.

“The wins have definitely helped us,” Smith said. “Things have definitely changed. We’re now looking forward to playing the teams in our league that beat us the first time around. I know we’re going to be a lot more competitive the second time.”

The Vikings lost at least two games early on that could be victories now with the new-found confidence and the younger players gaining valuable experience.
Leading the parade of youngsters is sophomore point guard Brianna Cunanan. The 5-foot-4 Cunanan is leading the Vikings in assists and developing into a good floor general.

“She handles the ball well and controls the floor for us,” Smith said.

Fellow sophomore Cara Dlugo, a 5-foot-8 forward, is also playing well.

“Over the last two weeks, she had two games in double figures, so she’s really coming around,” Smith said. “She’s our team leader in rebounds.”

The team is also bolstered by the play of some senior leaders, like 5-foot-5 guard Megan Namnama.

“She’s a good leader, a vocal leader,” Smith said. “She’s also our best defensive player, our go-to defensive player.”

Fellow senior Ashley Gandulla, a 5-foot-10 center, is another key contributor.

“She’s a good rebounder who has scored some key baskets down low,” Smith said.
The team also has two promising freshmen who are contributing and giving Smith a lot of hope for the future. Taylor Barth, a 5-foot-6 guard, had 14 points in the win over Weehawken. Elizabeth Danco, a 5-foot-5 freshman guard, scored nine points in the win over Newark East Side.

“They have definitely been promising,” Smith said.

So there is light at the end of the Vikings’ tunnel. There’s now a ray of hope when there once was none. Two straight wins will do that for a team, even if the Vikings did drop a tough game to NJIC Meadowlands Division leader Secaucus last Thursday. The Vikings are in much better shape now than they were a week ago or at the beginning of the season.

“We’re definitely looking forward to the second half of the season,” Smith said. “We’ve improved a lot in our fundamentals and we’ve cut down on our mistakes. We had games earlier in the year where we just couldn’t get there, but now I feel we can.”
Chances are there will be more wins down the road now, ever since the Vikings got a taste of the first one. And then the second one.

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