Erika Thompson has begun her third season as the head girls’ basketball coach at Harrison High School and the former standout player at High Tech during her playing days believes that she has the nucleus of a solid squad this season.
“But I’m still teaching a lot of fundamentals,” said Thompson, who earned All-Hudson County honors for three seasons at High Tech. “I coach AAU (the Rising Stars of Edison) and there it’s coaching kids with a background in basketball. Here, I’m teaching fundamentals and we’re learning as we’re going. Every practice, they get better. They’re so much better now than when we started this year.”
Thompson had an idea what she was heading into when she took the job.
“Going in, I knew what I was going to get,” Thompson said. “It’s a different type of teaching with different roles. Each kid has a different way of doing things.”
The Blue Tide lost their leading scorer, Cynthia Ferreira, to graduation from last year’s team that finished 14-11.
“We really relied a lot on Cynthia,” Thompson said. “Now, we’re a defensive team. We have to create some offense out of our defense. We don’t play a lot of man-to-man defense, so we have to do other things to create offense out of our defense.”
Leading the returnees is 5-foot-5 senior guard Kierrah Lucas.
“Everything goes through her,” Thompson said. “She’s our sparkplug. She gets a whole lot of steals. She penetrates and makes plays. She’s also a very good free throw shooter. She shoots about 70 percent in free throws. When I started with her, she shot about 30 percent, so she’s really improved a lot.”
In the season opener Friday against Bergen Charter, Lucas connected on nine-of-12 from the line and scored 15 points.
Senior guard Jailyn Montilla was the Blue Tide’s leading scorer with 20 points. The 5-foot-7 Montilla has emerged as the team’s leading scorer.
“Jailyn’s game has changed a little,” Thompson said. “She needs to do the same thing every game. She can penetrate and dish, but she can also play in the post. She’s so strong and needs to take advantage of that.”
Montilla also connected on three 3-pointers in the win over Bergen Charter, so that might be an aspect of her game to watch.
Jordalis Liranzo is a 5-foot-6 sophomore center.
“She plays so big,” Thompson said. “When she first heard that she was playing center, she said, ‘Oh, I can’t do that. I’m not a big kid.’ But she’s played so well in the post. She boxes out and rebounds well. She also can hit the three (3-point shot) consistently.”
Liranzo hit one trey in the win Friday.
Kayla Lucas is a 5-foot-8 sophomore forward. She’s the cousin of Kierrah and the daughter of Harrison legend Ray Lucas, the former New York Jets quarterback and current SNY and Big 10 Network football analyst.
“She’s not an offensive player,” Thompson said of Kayla Lucas. “But she can play defense. She’s long and quick. She gets a lot of steals. She’s out there for her defense. She does a great job up front and uses her arm length to her advantage.”
Jeralyne Montalvo is a 5-foot-6 sophomore forward.
“She is a very good shooter,” Thompson said. “She can hit the three and also does a good job down low as a rebounder. She gives us another solid body down low.”
Kasey Vasquez is a 5-foot-4 sophomore guard.
“She’s unbelievably fast,” Thompson said. “Her speed is phenomenal. She’s improved so much from last year.”
But the Blue Tide suffered a big blow before the season opener when Vasquez suffered a knee injury. The extent of the injury is still not known.
“We’re hoping that it’s not a long time,” Thompson said of Vasquez’s injury. “It’s a huge loss for us. We don’t want to lose her.”
Chelssy Silverio is a 5-foot-6 sophomore swing player.
“She’s quick and can run the floor well,” Thompson said. “She also can rebound. We need her to get a little stronger, because the main thing we need from her is rebounding.”
Jamileth Morales is a 5-foot-4 senior who can play either guard or forward, depending on the Blue Tide’s lineup.
“She’s a soccer player, so she’s very quick,” Thompson said. “We use her when I need someone with speed to play defense. She didn’t know anything about basketball when she came out. Now, she can hit a shot. But she’s out there primarily because of her quick feet.”
Brianna Guinn is a 5-foot-5 sophomore who also plays either guard or forward.
“She didn’t play for us last year,” Thompson said. “But she’s improved so much from the first practice this year. Every time there’s a loose ball on the floor, she’s on top of it. She’s learning the sport very quickly.”
Haley O’Donnell is a 5-foot-2 freshman guard. She’s also the younger sister of 2016-2017 Observer Male Athlete of the Year Mike O’Donnell.
“She never played basketball before,” Thompson said. “She fell through the cracks a little early on and missed out on a lot. She’s still learning the game, but she’s very quick like her siblings. Her biggest thing right now is her energy.”
Kathleen de Sousa is a 5-foot-6 freshman forward.
“She’s very feisty,” Thompson said. “She is not afraid to go up against anyone. She goes up and pulls the ball out of the opponent’s hands. She’s primarily a defensive player. She follows the ball very well.”
The Blue Tide has a tough slate in front of them, with games this week against Ridgefield, then the home opener against Dwight-Englewood Friday.
The Blue Tide has a young roster with eight sophomores playing.
“But they’re all getting better and better each day,” Thompson said. “Give them a few weeks and they’ll be fine. I know the seniors will step up and lead this team. I have so much confidence in these girls. And they have confidence in me. They give me 100 percent and that’s what is important.”
The Harrison High School girls’ basketball team is off to a solid start after the Blue Tide’s impressive win over Bergen Charter. From left are Jailyn Montilla, head coach Erika Thompson and Kierrah Lucas. Photo by Jim Hague
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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.”