NA girls’ basketball: Trying to find right rhythm

Photos by Jim Hague The North Arlington girls’ basketball team welcomed back senior standouts Denaijhah Gainza (l.) and Marissa Piscal (r.), but the results have not been there, as the Vikings own a 2-6 record thus far.
Photos by Jim Hague
The North Arlington girls’ basketball team welcomed back senior standouts Denaijhah Gainza (l.) and Marissa Piscal (r.),
but the results have not been there, as the Vikings own a 2-6 record thus far.

North Arlington High School girls’ basketball coach Rob Lado believed that his team would be much improved over last season, his first with the program.

In fact, Lado scheduled tougher opponents from bigger schools in his independent schedule with the idea that the Vikings could contend with the better competition.

But it hasn’t exactly worked out that way so far this season. The Vikings have sputtered out to a 2-6 start.

“It’s not the type of start I was predicting,” Lado said. “We have experience, with five seniors on the team. We have most of our starters back. We had more of a challenging schedule because of it. We won 10 games last year, including our first game in the (NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I) state playoffs. I expected this team to be .500 or better.”

Lado can’t put his finger on why the Vikings have struggled this season.

“We didn’t lose anyone from last year,” Lado said. “We didn’t have any seniors graduate. We had a nice summer season and a nice fall season. I felt like we had the personnel. But we’re eight games in and I don’t know what’s going on.”

Lado knows that the Vikings have enough talent to get things turned around, but the season is rapidly racing by.

One of the top returnees is senior guard Denaijah Gainza, a former Observer Athlete of the Week last season. The 5-foot-5 Gainza averaged 12 points per game last year.

“She’s still our leading scorer,” Lado said of Gainza, who is averaging 10.5 points and three rebounds per game. “She’s a good shooter who goes to the basket well. She always draws the other team’s best defender.”

Senior forward Marissa Piscal is also back from last year’s team. The 5-foot-9 Piscal is a solid inside player, averaging eight points and seven rebounds per game.

“She’s an intelligent, physical player,” Lado said. “She’s a key player for us.”

Junior Danica Krawczyk is a 5-foot-7 guard who is the Vikings’ best threat from long range.

“She’s our leading 3-point shooter,” Lado said of Krawczyk said. “She led the team in threes last year as well.”

Junior Melissa Torres is a standout three-sport athlete (soccer and softball being the other sports Torres competes in) who adds stability to the lineup.

“She’s a very versatile player,” Lado said. “She can score, she rebounds, she plays defense. She’s a good player.”

Senior Philicity Belton is a 6-foot-1 inside presence who came to North Arlington with such promise.

“She’s averaging nine points and seven rebounds per game,” Lado said of Belton, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds in a loss to Pascack Hills Saturday.

Belton also had 18 points against Paterson Charter and eight points and eight rebounds against Trinity Christian, but there are other games that cause Lado to scratch his head in disbelief.

“With that size and her ability to put the ball in the basket, she should do more,” Lado said. “But there are games where she just disappears. She’s a good presence close to the basket.”

Senior Samantha Veloso is a 5-foot-8 senior forward who comes off the bench. Senior Victoria Namnama is a 5-foot- 4 senior guard who can play both guard positions. Callie Evanchick is a 5-foot-7 junior who plays both guard and forward. Kaitlyn Cappuccino is a 5-foot-10 junior forward who rebounds well.

Samantha Dipopolo is a 5-foot-4 freshman guard who has shown some promise.

“She’s fitting in well, but she still has a lot to learn,” Lado said. “She’s listening and learning how to play point guard.”

The record is a disappointment, but Lado remains optimistic that the Vikings can turn things around.

“We have a lot of games left, so there is time,” Lado said. “We just haven’t clicked yet this year like I thought we would.”

Things don’t get much easier for the Vikings, with games scheduled against Hasbrouck Heights and Waldwick this week. The Aviators are currently in second place behind front-running Saddle Brook in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference- Meadowlands Division standings. Saddle Brook is 4-0 in the NJIC-Meadowlands. North Arlington is 1-3. You get the picture. The Vikings need to do something – and in a hurry.

Learn more about the writer ...

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.”