Belleville girls get off to solid early start

The Belleville High School girls’ basketball team won 12 games last season in Chris Cantarella’s first season as the head girls’ basketball coach and the veteran Belleville softball coach is hopeful that his dedication to his alma mater will carry over to the hardwood this winter.

“I’m a Belleville guy,” Cantarella said. “I’m a Belleville High School graduate and I’ve been there teaching and coaching for 22 years. I think the girls all know how important Belleville is to me. They understand what I want and what they’re supposed to do.”

The Buccaneers lost Imani Hill and Sydney Gomez to graduation, two major cogs to their attack, especially power forward Hill, who averaged 13 points and grabbed 11 rebounds per game last season.

“Hill got us a double-double every game and Gomez did all the little things,” Cantarella said. “I think the advantage I have of being back for another year of basketball is that they know what expectations I have of them and they have of me. I don’t have to explain myself and I don’t have to explain every little thing. They know where to go and what to do. I don’t have to worry about that and it’s made things easier.”

The Lady Bucs have started the new season strong, posting a 3-1 record in the early going.

Senior Jehann Dabon returns for her final season as the Bucs’ point guard. The 5-foot-2 Dabon is an electric performer.

“She’s definitely a high energy girl,” Cantarella said. “We’re going to rely on her to score a little more this year.”

Dabon has been a solid scorer thus far, leading the Lady Bucs to three wins in the first four games.

Dabon scored 11 points in a solid win over Paterson Charter and had 10 in a win over Science Park.

“She can shoot the 3-pointer and drive to the basket,” Cantarella said of Dabon. “She’s going to have more on her shoulders this year. But we need her to be a little more offensive this year.”

Dabon averaged 11 points and seven assists per game last year.

Junior Fiorella Samaniego is also back from last year. The 5-foot Samaniego averaged six points per game last season.

“She’s more of a distributor,” Cantarella said. “She gets the ball in other people’s hands, but we need her to shoot a little more this year. I think we need her and Jehann to be on the floor at the same time and they will share who handles the ball. She’s a feisty player. ”

Junior Jazailis Gaul is a 5-foot-3 guard.

“She came off the bench last year,” Cantarella said. “She’s offensive minded and a very tough kid. She doesn’t back down to anyone. She also works hard on the defensive end.”

Junior forward Nathalie Marin is another key contributor. The 5-foot-9 Marin scored six points in the win over Montclair Kimberley Academy to start the season.

“She’s going to play more this year,” Cantarella said. “She was a JV (junior varsity) player last year, but she’s really improved. She has a nice mid-range jump shot. She’s also a good defender. We need her to get rebounds for us.”

Janelle Ramirez is the key inside player. The 6-foot-1 senior will fill the void left by Hill’s graduation.

“She’s always around the basketball,” Cantarella said. “She has a nice jump shot. She needs to have more confidence.”
Ramirez is coming off a solid soccer season, where she served as the Buccaneers’ goalkeeper.

“She’s the one who keeps everyone in check,” Cantarella said. “She is such a nice girl. She doesn’t have a nasty bone in her body.”

Jennifer Garrido is a 5-foot-7 senior forward.

“She’s a good defender in the paint,” Cantarella said. “She’s a hard-nosed kid who would run through a wall for you.”

Christina Gibson is a 5-foot-7 senior forward.

“She’s the smartest player we have,” Cantarella said. “She knows every single position on the floor and what that player is supposed to do. She’s also battled through some illnesses to get back on the floor. She’s just a phenomenal kid.”

Elly Barbosa is a 5-foot-7 senior who plays more of a guard role for the Bucs.

“She’s more of a perimeter player,” Cantarella said. “She can come off the bench and play anywhere. She can go down low if needed. She has a nice mid-range shot.”

Jaylynn Pinto is a 4-foot-9 whirlwind backup to Dabon at point guard. Pinto is a junior who had 10 points in the win over Paterson Charter.

“She’s a good ball handler who can shoot the ball,” Cantarella said. “If I want to go small and super fast, then Jaylynn plays a bigger role.”

Jaylyanna Bratcher is a 5-foot-7 junior who is very athletic and plays good defense. Angela Diaz is 6-foot-1 inside presence who will spell Ramirez from time to time. Melony McCormick is a 5-foot-5 freshman who has a ton of promise. April Lopez is a 5-foot-5 sophomore guard who gives the Bucs some quality depth and can score off the bench. Taina Carrasquillo is another dependable bench player.

Needless to say, Cantarella feels good about his team’s chances.

“I’m optimistic,” Cantarella said. “We’re very similar to a lot of teams in our league. But I like our group. We may take some time to develop into a cohesive unit. But we can do as well as we did last year. In fact, I’m optimistic that we can do better than last year.”

Cantarella wants to make sure that his players relish the idea that they’re from Belleville.

“A lot of them have a belief of what Belleville is all about,” Cantarella said. “The kids want to know that Belleville is always a place to call home. It’s a place that they should always be proud of.”

Cantarella makes sure that’s true during the softball season and he’s doing the same in basketball season as well.




The Belleville girls’ basketball team will look to its senior leaders for inspiration this season. Front row, from left, are Jennifer Garrido and Jehann Dabon.  Back row, from left, are Christina Gibson, Janelle Ramirez and head coach Chris Cantarella. 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.”