ATHLETE OF THE WEEK — Kearny’s Ruiz: A picture perfect example of consistency

When the 2021 high school basketball season began in January, veteran Kearny High School head girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill was hopeful that her senior guard Esmeralda Ruiz could step into the role of being the Kardinals’ leader.

It wasn’t going to be an easy role to fill, considering that the responsibilities used to lie upon the head of Samantha Osorio, the Observer Female Athlete of the Year last year.

“Losing Sam was a big loss,” Ruiz said. “She did a lot for us.”

“Essie played in the shadows of Sam,” Hill said. “She really never had the chance to be the go-to girl. I think she took it upon herself to be the team’s leader. She just waited for her opportunity.”

That was also the way of the world in the Ruiz home, where Esmeralda was right smack in the middle of 12 children, one of whom is her current teammate Magdalena.

“Having my sister there always motivates me,” Esmeralda Ruiz said. “We always played together in every sport, but she was mostly my competition. I always wanted to be ahead of her. It was always a good thing having company.”

It also helped having two older brothers, Omar and Esteban, who were athletes at Kearny High as well (playing basketball and football), around as well.

“We always grew up around sports and grew to love sports,” Esmeralda Ruiz said. “It’s just something we always did. We went outside and chose pick-up games. It was a big motivation for me to be there with my brothers. I always got to practice with my siblings. It was a great thing for me.”

So when the current season began, and Osorio was off playing college basketball at Moravian College, Ruiz had to take command of the situation if the Kards were going to continue their winning ways.

“I liked the responsibility,” Ruiz said. “I saw that it was my year to step up. I felt like I improved my game. I knew I could do anything and everything to help my team win. My confidence was really boosted up coming into this season as the team captain and leader. I wanted my teammates to know that I was always there for them.”

Hill knew that Ruiz had the personality to be the leader.

“She’s always had this toughness in her,” Hill said. “I knew that the Ruiz sisters were tough, growing up with all those brothers. But Essie is like our best 3-point shooter. She’s tough to guard because she makes shots.”
Hill wanted Ruiz to become more diverse in her game.

“I thought she was too one dimensional,” Hill said. “She was just shooting the three. She didn’t have the mid-range jump shot. So she had to drive, get to the lane, perhaps get fouled. Now, she’s doing that and she’s become three dimensional.”

And Ruiz has become extremely consistent in doing so.

Ruiz has reached double figures in scoring in eight of the nine Kardinal games this season. Her seasonal best was 23 in a clutch performance against defending Hudson County Tournament champion Bayonne on Feb. 19. Three days earlier, Ruiz tallied 20 points in a win over Ferris.

In recent games, her consistency is astounding. She had 15 points in a win over Snyder, 15 in a loss to Union City, 15 in a win over St. Dominic Academy of Jersey City and 13 in a win over Hoboken.

Her seasonal average? You guessed it, it’s 15.6 per game.

And for her efforts, Ruiz has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Hill likes the way Ruiz has become a complete player.

“She is also one of our top defenders,” Hill said. “She picks up charges, at least two a game. And she bounces right back up to her feet. She has a knack of doing it. She’s willing to sacrifice her body. When she picks up a charge, the team gets fired up. She has quick feet as well. She’s come a long way to become a totally complete player. There’s nothing she can’t do. She’s a very unselfish player. She makes the good pass when she could have shot the ball.”

Hill also likes the attitude that Ruiz brings.

“She has that swag in her,” Hill said. “There’s nothing she is afraid of. She has that bounce about her. She’s always been about her teammates first. She waited her time and now she’s coming of age. She’s the kind of kid who thrives on the pressure. When she gets hot, we have to get her the ball.”

Ruiz would love to play college basketball and she has some schools interested in securing her services. When Ruiz makes her decision, she would like to major in physical education so she could become a gym teacher and eventually a coach.

For now, Ruiz will do her best as the leader of the Kardinals, a team that is enjoying a 7-2 campaign thus far.



Kearny senior guard Esmeralda Ruiz. 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.”