A year ago, the Kearny High School girls’ basketball team went more to a power lineup to utilize the talents of 6-foot forward Emilia Fernandes.
Now that Fernandes has graduated and moved on to Montclair State University, veteran Kearny head coach Jody Hill has decided to do what she knows best – move the ball in the open floor.
“We lost six seniors to graduation and four starters from last year,” said Hill, who guided the Kards to a 16-9 record a year ago. “Since we lost our inside game with Emilia, it’s going to change our style of play. It was nice to have a side advantage, but that’s gone. That’s the biggest change we face.”
The Kardinals welcome back some familiar faces, like senior guard Amber Crispin and junior forward Sidney Pace. The 5-foot-5 Crispin chose to sit out last basketball season to concentrate on her soccer skills, while Pace was still recovering from a knee injury she suffered during that 2013 soccer season.
“We’re extremely happy to have Amber back,” Hill said. “She’s already made a huge difference in the way we play. She has the experience and the basketball IQ. She also has tenacity. She’s a huge asset to this team. It’s a step to equalizing the loss of Emilia and the others.”
Hill likes the way Crispin, an All-State soccer player, performs on the court.
“She can drive to the basket or she can pull up and hit the shot,” Hill said. “She has a nice outside shot. She can also jump pretty well. She brings a lot to the floor.”
The 5-foot-7 Pace missed all of last soccer and basketball seasons due to the torn ACL, but she’s back and almost better than ever.
“I’m extremely happy with how fast and how strong she is,” Hill said. “She hasn’t missed a beat after being away for a year. She made sure that she stayed with all the conditioning in the off-season. She’s our best pure shooter. She can also handle the ball well and pass well. I think she’s going to have a big year.”
Sophomore Megan Mc- Clelland, who started for the Kards last season, returns this season with the starting point guard slot in tow. The 5-foot-8 McClelland, the goalie on the soccer team, was able to adapt her game as a freshman and will utilize the experience this season.
“She has such natural competitiveness,” Hill said. “She’s not afraid of anything. Being a good soccer goalie brings confidence to her game on the floor. She’s an excellent ball handler and can shoot the three [3-point field goal]. I think she’s going to put up a lot of points this season.”
Junior Isabel Fernandez is another member of the soccer team who plays a huge role with the Kearny basketball team
“I think she is a very good athlete with good speed and can run the floor,” Hill said. “She’s good at what we need defensively. It’s important that we stick to the game plan.”
Hill likes the interchangeable parts she has in 5-foot-9 senior Noelle Farih and 5-foot- 9 senior Isabella Gonsiewski.
“They’re both great leaders and give the team a huge lift when they come in,” Hill said, “They are very both very coachable and do whatever I ask of them. They will help with the inside game.”
Senior Izabela Staszewski is a 5-foot-9 senior who also has good leadership skills.
“She has good presence inside and she’s a good rebounder,” Hill said.
Sophomore Bre Costa is yet another member of the girls’ soccer team who will play basketball. Costa is a bundle of energy and has a lot of speed on the court.
“I just love watching Bre run the fast break,” Hill said. “She’s a good decision maker.”
Jillian McCourt, another standout on the soccer pitch, is playing basketball.
“She’s strong and athletic,” Hill said.
Giovanna Scrimo, who suffered a horrifying broken back during the softball season, has yet to recover.
“I just hope she can recover,” Hill said.
Sandra DaSilva is another player who comes off the bench.
“She’s very feisty,” Hill said of DaSilva.
Savannah Iverson is a 5-foot-4 sophomore guard.
“She’s very unselfish and drives and dishes well,” Hill said.
Sophomore forward Emilie Marshall will get some quality minutes. The 5-foot-10 Marshall can play close to the basket.
“She’s a good rebounder,” Hill said of Marshall.
Estefania Dilone is a 6-foot- 1 sophomore who will eventually get playing time.
“She’s agile and can move,” Hill said. “She can catch and run. We just need her to understand the game a little more.”
Freshman Kaitlyn Aquino, the cousin of the school’s all-time scoring leader Janitza Aquino, the former Observer Female Athlete of the Year a few years back, is also on the team. She’s a 5-foot-6 guard who will also get playing time.
“She has natural athletic ability,” Hill said of Kaitlyn Aquino. “She’s a wonderful talent.”
Janitza Aquino just completed her playing days at Montclair State and has joined the Kardinals’ coaching staff as a volunteer assistant.
“I’m excited about that,” Hill said. “She’s a good addition.”
The Kardinals open their season Dec. 18 against Union City at home at 4:30 p.m. The Kardinals will also host the Charlie Dolan Holiday Tournament, with Livingston, St. Anthony and Hill’s alma mater Harrison participating.
There’s also a scheduled doubleheader – both boys’ and girls’ teams – with neighboring rival Harrison sometime in February.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Hill said. “We had a really successful JV (junior varsity) program last year and had a phenomenal freshman class. We’re focused now on our youth, so we want to get the younger players some varsity time. I think we’re going to be okay. We have a nice rotation.”
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”