Kearny’s Osorio named Observer Female Athlete of the Year; Soccer, basketball star becomes 8th Kardinal to receive year-end award

Samantha Osorio can best be described as the reluctant athlete.

The recent Kearny High School graduate first didn’t want to play soccer, only deciding to join the sport at age eight after watching her younger sister Natalie play.

And the elder Osorio never even picked up a basketball until her freshman year at Kearny High, never showing an interest to play.

So how does Osorio become The Observer Female Athlete of the Year for 2019-2020?

Call it a strong combination of natural athleticism with solid determination and drive.

Osorio became the eighth Kearny High graduate to receive the year-end award from The Observer dating back to 2005. She joins Allison Dyl (2007-2008), Janitza Aquino (2010-2011), Stefanie Gomes (2011-2012), Nicole Kelly (2013-2014), Amber Crispin (2015-2016), Lily Durning (2016-2017) and Meagan McClelland (2017-2018) as recipients of the award that is given to the top senior female multi-sport athlete in the Observer circulation area.

Kearny has now produced the top female athlete in the area in four of the last five years.

Osorio admits that she was not intended to be an athlete at all.

“I knew I didn’t want to play soccer,” Osorio said. “I didn’t like it much. I actually found it to be pretty boring. My little sister started playing before me. But I went to watch her and I got so excited that it made me come out to play.”

At that time, Natalie Osorio was playing for the famed Kearny Thistle youth soccer program on a team coached by Stefanee Pace Kivlehan, the best girls’ soccer player in the history of Kearny High. Kivlehan later became the head varsity coach at Kearny High.

“We got Natalie on board young, but Sam was a late starter,” Kivlehan said. “We had to find a spot for Sam. But she was extremely coachable and athletic. Sam did whatever we asked her to do. She had the ability to read the game so well. She was a natural. And she is so athletic. She was able to put it all together.”

Osorio eventually became a starter for Kivlehan’s Kardinals, playing solid defender. In 2019, Osorio scored one goal and had seven assists.

“She’s just a great listener,” Kivlehan said. “She has great vision. Her size definitely played a factor with her being successful. The goal she scored was off her head. We moved her up on set pieces because of her size and her ability to jump.”

Osorio said that she truly enjoyed her role as being a defender from the outset.

“I was pretty quick,” Osorio said. “And I wasn’t much of a goal scorer. I guess I was just naturally athletic. It was just something I was naturally better at and I stuck with it.”

Osorio then became a solid part of the Kardinal girls’ soccer team that captured four straight Hudson County Tournament championships – an amazing streak that now stands at 10 and counting.

Osorio soon found out that her true love was basketball, but never really tried the sport until she was already enrolled at Kearny High.

“My freshman year, Coach (Cindy) Dupree met me in the hallway of the school and told me that she was looking for freshman basketball players,” Osorio recalled. “And Coach (Jody) Hill saw me and said, ‘I’m going to turn you into a star.’ She knew that I had a lot of potential.”

Hill was actually quite prophetic.

“I remember saying that,” Hill said. “I could tell that she was athletic by the way she could jump. You don’t see that often. When kids have that ability, you want to take advantage of it. It’s such a crucial asset to the game. I put her at the block (close to the basket) and that gave her an advantage over others. The truth is that I remember thinking if I could get my hands on this girl and work with her, she could become a player. She had to put her mind to it.”

From the minute she picked up a basketball, Osorio was determined to become a better player.

“Once I started, I loved it,” Osorio said. “I just fell in love with it. I had to tell myself to never give up.”

Osorio asked her parents to put a basketball hoop in the family yard. She said that she plays with her two sisters, Natalie and Isabella, on occasions.

“There are certain times for each,” Osorio said. “I knew that’s how you develop. I knew I couldn’t stop. I had to keep going.”

Osorio played on the freshman team and then junior varsity as a sophomore, both of which were non-descript years. Osorio then played a lot as a junior, averaging 11.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.

But her biggest development came between her junior and senior years, when she played AAU basketball for the Lady Legends, based out of Summit.

“I became very friendly with Ava Hyams and we played together on that team,” Osorio said of the soon-to-be sophomore guard. “We traveled a lot together to play.”

Osorio’s improvement was incredible. She became one of the top players in Hudson County, averaging 19.3 points, 13 rebounds and five steals per game.

“Sometimes, I would do things and say, ‘Wow, did I really do that?’” Osorio said. “I think it motivated me to do it more. It was a lot of hard work. I think playing last summer was a big confidence thing for me. I knew that I was gifted. It was good to know that other people felt that way.”

“One-hundred percent of the credit goes to her,” Hill said. “She had the potential to be great. A lot of times, you see kids with potential and they don’t put the time and effort in. Sam did. And she turned out to be tremendous. She had good hands. She could catch the ball. She was comfortable around the basket. We worked on her getting a quicker release on her shot. She had a better understanding of what it took. I think her inexperience was what held her back early. It took her a while to catch her up to speed.”

Osorio became a good student of the game.

“She wasn’t afraid to ask if she didn’t understand something,” Hill said. “She would say, ‘Show me again.’ That willingness to learn went a long way to making her better. She’s a smart kid.”

Hill was asked if she ever had a player to show such a rapid rise to ascent.

“It’s very unique,” Hill said. “I can’t think of a kid who showed that kind of improvement. She became so smooth. It was the most beautiful thing to watch her take a rebound and go the length of the floor.”

Here’s something that will shock most readers. Osorio said that she used The Observer Female Athlete of the Year award as motivation to become a better player.

“It was something I always wanted,” Osorio said. “To me, it means everything. I can’t stop smiling. I never thought that’s what it would come to.”

Osorio also wanted to become a college basketball player and she’s about to become that, heading to Moravian College in the fall to study health sciences and eventually become a physical therapist.

“I couldn’t have done it alone,” Osorio said. “I have to thank my friends, teammates, coaches, parents (mother Lupe and father David). I learned that I could accomplish a lot of things if I put my mind to it.”

Kivlehan, who has since stepped down as Kearny’s girls’ soccer coach as she is expecting her second child, sang Osorio’s praises.

“She’s just a great kid all around,” Kivlehan said. “I think she has a great support system. Her parents are tremendous. I think Sam is smart and mature. She’s going to do well in college.”

Hill agrees.

“I’m just so proud of her,” Hill said. “There’s something special about what Sam has become, the growth she made, her wanting to be the best. She reached her potential in high school. So yes, it’s a very proud moment. When you see that smile, it feels good.”

Osorio is ready to head to Moravian.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better four years,” Osorio said. “I’m ready to turn the page and start a new chapter to reach more goals.”

And leave a legacy for her two sisters, especially Natalie, who will be a sophomore at Kearny in the fall.

“She knows that I always have her back,” Osorio said. “She has some pretty big shoes to fill, but I told her that she can do it.”

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.”