As Al Ruiz begins his sixth year as the head coach of the Harrison High School girls’ basketball team, he finds himself in a bit of a quandary.
Ruiz simply doesn’t have the deep bench he once had. Participation numbers in the program are way down.
“It’s going to be different,” said Ruiz, who guided the Blue Tide to a 14-11 record last year. “The last couple of years, we had a good number of girls who came out. But not this year. I’m going to have to be smart as a coach, pick when I can sit my best players. I have to work with zone defenses not to tire out the rest of the team.”
In fact, Ruiz has only six girls that he can really count on as the season begins this Friday night against a blossoming powerhouse in Queen of Peace.
“We lost a good portion of the girls to graduation,” Ruiz said. “We had a couple of girls with us during the summer, but it was hard to get the whole team together. We tried to drill the ones we had to understand the system. We’re trying to change things up a little.”
One of the key returnees is junior do-everything Cynthia Ferreira, a 5-foot-8 forward who averaged 12 points per game last year, but will need to increase that production this season.
“We’re doing things to be able to get her the ball,” Ruiz said. “She can control the ball because she’s the main cog. She can definitely be a top scorer and she’s showing that a little bit in the preseason. She can definitely shoot the ball. We definitely expect more scoring from her this year.”
Another key player is 5-foot-3 senior point guard Shaneida Falcon.
“She makes a lot of good decisions with the ball,” Ruiz said. “She sees the court very well and gets the ball to the right places.”
Tabatha Ferreira (no relation to Cynthia) is a 5-foot-5 senior guard.
“She usually guards the best player on the other team,” Ruiz said. “She’s an absolute workhorse.”
Senior Alona Ortiz is a 5-foot-7 forward.
“She’s the top rebounder on the team,” Ruiz said. “She goes to get the ball. She is real good around the basket.”
Junior Liz Martinez is a 5-foot-6 junior.
“She’s really started to advance her game,” Ruiz said. “She’s much improved. She’s become more of a shooter for us and we need that.”
Senior Kimberly Valencia is a 5-foot-4 senior.
“She’s a real good shooter,” Ruiz said. “We need her to put the ball in the basket to help us out.”
Junior Betsaida Gutierrez is a 5-foot-4 junior.
“She’s a good defensive player,” Ruiz said. “We need her to play hard.”
But that’s it. That’s all Ruiz has. Six players to start the season – and they have to open with that juggernaut Queen of Peace, who will be missing some players because they have to sit out due to transfer regulations.
Saturday, the Blue Tide come back to reality a bit when they face McNair Academic of Jersey City, so that gives the team a ray of hope.
But it remains to be seen how Harrison can compete with such a depleted roster.
Give Ruiz credit. He’s a hard worker who gets the most out of his players. He’ll do whatever he can to keep the Blue Tide flowing. But this will be his toughest challenge to date. The Blue Tide will go as far as Cynthia Ferreira can carry them.
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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.”