Karissa DePena is only 25 years old. She’s only a few years removed from being a standout athlete at Bergen Tech and a matter of months since she graduated from Seton Hall University.
But DePena has been working toward a head coaching job in basketball for a long time now, helping to create the New Jersey Gazelles AAU program with her father, Richard (an active basketball official), mother Denise and sister Jenisse in their native Ridgefield Park.
In fact, DePena has been coaching in the Gazelle’s program, mostly coaching boys, since she was in high school.
“I was very prepared for my first job,” DePena said.
The Gazelle program is year round and features boys’ teams in sixth grade, seventh and eighth grade, junior varsity and varsity. The DePena family raises the funds by doing canning, car washes, candy sales, you name it. It’s a non-profit organization, one that DePena is very proud to be a part.
“We do a lot of basketball,” DePena said. “A lot of basketball.”
However, when the opportunity arose to become a head varsity coach at North Arlington High School, DePena jumped at it.
Rob Lado resigned after two years with the Vikings, opening the door for DePena.
“I was very excited when I got the job,” DePena said. “In fact, I’m still excited. The girls are all eager to learn. They’re attentive. I’m excited to see what comes of this and I hope I have a good first season.”
DePena had a chance to play basketball at the NCAA Division III level at schools like William Paterson or Montclair State, but chose to forego basketball in lieu of an academic scholarship to Seton Hall.
“I always wanted to stay involved in basketball,” DePena said. “I hope to stay involved for a very long time.”
DePena is familiar with the girls at North Arlington, having served as the junior varsity coach the last two years.
“I had some of the girls before and they’re familiar with the system I use and my coaching style,” DePena said. “I think because I’m young, they can relate to me better.”
DePena has already reached out to the youth levels in North Arlington, like the recreation program.
“I’m only looking for our numbers to increase over the years,” DePena said. “If they see my face, they’ll know who I am. It turns out to be a positive for all involved, especially if we want to continue to be successful.”
Leading the way for the Vikings is senior Danielle Krawczyk. The 5-foot-6 Krawczyk is the team’s perimeter threat from the small forward/shooting guard position.
“She’s very good from the outside,” DePena said. “She has the potential to be a great player. I do expect her to be a leader on the team, being the voice on the court.”
Senior Kaitlyn Cappuccino is the team’s 5-foot-3 point guard.
“She plays both the off-guard and the point,” DePena said. “She’s very aggressive and very athletic. She has a winning attitude. She wants to win and wants to please me. I’m excited to see what she brings to the table for us.”
Senior Callie Evanchick is another veteran. The 5-foot-7 Evanchick is the team’s small forward.
“She is amazingly fast and active,” DePena said. “Her speed is just amazing. She pushes the ball from all over the court and outruns everyone.”
Melody Ortiz is a senior forward. She’s 5-foot-7 swing player.
“She’s a lefty,” DePena said. “She’s aggressive. She’s a great rebounder. She boxes out and gets the ball. She’s also a good finisher under the basket.”
Kayley Miller is a 5-foot-10 junior forward/center.
“I expect a lot from her,” DePena said. “I’ve had her since she was a freshman, so she definitely knows my system. She’s going to be one of my go-to players.”
Sam DiPopolo is a sophomore point guard. She’s a 5-foot-4 bundle of energy.
“I expect her to have the ball in her hands,” DePena said. “She will control the floor and the pace of the game. She’s the voice of the team out there. She has great handle of the ball. She can shoot the ball well off the dribble.”
Jen Garcia is a 5-foot-4 sophomore who will be a shooting guard off the bench. Emily Cordova is a 5-foot-3 guard who is a defensive wizard.
“She’s very aggressive and doesn’t care how tall anyone else is,” DePena said. “She’s very good defensively.”
Jordan Nelson is a 5-foot-9 junior forward/center.
“She can rebound well and she posts up and finishes well,” DePena said. “She’s also good at boxing out for rebounds.”
The Vikings open their season Friday at home against Bogota at 4 p.m. The William Ferguson Holiday Tournament will feature Lyndhurst, Mary Help of Christians and DePena’s alma mater, Bergen Tech.
“It should be interesting,” DePena said. “I’m very excited about this chance. I want to see the girls have fun, to smile, to laugh and maybe get some wins.”
Not too much to hope for.
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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.”