The holiday tournament week has been a successful one for The Observer Area basketball teams. Three local programs, the North Arlington girls team and the Belleville and Kearny boys teams each were the champions in the holiday tournaments they competed in. For each, it’s the latest example of the progress they have made early on this basketball season.
North Arlington girls snap skid in William Ferguson Tournament
North Arlington head coach Brendan Queenan noticed his team might have seen its confidence shaken just a touch when the Vikings entered the holiday break with consecutive losses to Rutherford and Lyndhurst.
But at its own annual William Ferguson Holiday Tournament, North Arlington shook off any lingering doubts and emerged as champions in the event for the first time since 2014.
First, the Vikings overwhelmed University Academy Charter of Jersey City, 66-6 on Tuesday. Then, the next day North Arlington held off Bergen Tech, 36-32 in the final.
“I think we were a little discouraged after (losing to) Lyndhurst and Rutherford last week,” Queenan said.” I think this just shows that when we play hard, smart and together, we can compete with just about anybody.
“It was big on a number of fronts. Bergen Tech was a team that we played in the summer league that really manhandled us. They’re a group 4 school and we’re a small group 1 so this was a real measuring stick game for us and we answered the bell.”
Junior guard Sophie Veloso was named Tournament MVP after recording 12 points, 10 rebounds, two assists and two steals in the title. Veloso also scored 17 points in the first round, but her impact went far beyond that.
“There’s so many things that she does that don’t show up on stat sheets,” said Queenan. “She really leads by example out there and just made some clutch plays.”
Teammates Skyla Acosta (14 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, two assists and two steals vs. Bergen Tech and Lia Cruz (13 points over two games) joined Veloso on the All-Tournament Team.
“They’re starting to see the things we’ve talked about actually coming to fruition in front of them. Now they can lay claim to winning a championship,” Queenan said. “Granted it is a Christmas tournament, but the other three teams didn’t do it, but we did.”
Belleville takes charge, defeats North Arlington for title
After graduating virtually the entire rotation from last season’s 18-9 team, Belleville head coach Jim Catalano has made it clear that this season’s group will need to excel on the defensive end if it hopes to compete. In particular, that means getting on the floor, taking charges and forcing turnovers.
“Defensively, we do a lot of different things, but everything is based on taking the charge,” said Catalano. “The one good thing so far with this group is that they’ve really bought into what we’re doing. We took seven and eight charges and that really changed the tempo in the game.”
That combined with some timely outside shooting allowed the young Bucs, who play as many as four sophomores on the court at any given time, a 43-31 victory over host North Arlington in the William Ferguson Holiday Tournament.
Tournament MVP Connor Cook made four 3-pointers to finish with a game-high 13 points for Belleville which won without top shooter and defender Anthony Valdez. Valdez scored 12 points in the Buccaneers’ 55-38 win over Bergen Tech in the first round.
Cook (19 points in two games) was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Eli Hannon (24 points, 15 rebounds) and Andrey Laquindanum (10 points). Elijah Pickering added 21 points over the two wins and took four charges in the final.
“They’re starting to see that what I said at the beginning of the year is coming to fruition,” Catalano said. “Even in the games that we lost to better teams, we kept the score close because of our defense. They’re locked into that (defensive mindset) for sure.
“They see that when we play defense, we’re going to limit teams.”
For North Arlington, senior Daniel Janosek (13 points, 13 rebounds in two games) and Justin Bunnell (nine points, nine steals, seven assists) earned spots on the All-Tournament Team. The Vikings, who defeated University Charter, 70-24 in the first round, have already matched last season’s win total this season.
Kearny offense comes alive
After an up-and-down start to the season, Kearny’s up-tempo offense was running all cylinders this week during its Kearny Holiday Tournament.
On Wednesday, the Kardinals overwhelmed Marion P. Thomas Charter, 76-66, in the first round. Then, the next day, Kearny blew out Abundant Life, 68-43, in the title game.
Each victory followed a similar script for Kearny as it used a balanced attack on offense to build an early lead and never look back. In each game, the Kardinals had four players score in double figures and five finish with eight or more points.
Point guard Shamar Bailey, who scored 17 points over the two games, was named Tournament MVP. Bailey was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Matheus Mullins (30 points in the two games) and Jose Escalante (22 points). In addition, Jayden Figuereo scored 28 points in the tournament and Luis Rodriguez had 23
Nutley, which lost to Abundant Life in the opener, bounced back with a 66-40 win over Marion P. Thomas Charter in the consolation game to earn its first victory of the season. Anthony Pinal led the way with 18 points.
Kearny, Nutley girls set for finals showdown
The Kearny and Nutley girls were set to square off in the final of the William Masopust Jr. Holiday Classic in Lodi this past Friday evening, after our deadline for this week.
Kearny, winners of five straight, overwhelmed Harrison, 59-14, in the first round on Tuesday, then defeated Indian Hills, 56-34, in the semifinals on Wednesday. Maci Covello has posted back-to-back double-doubles, totalling 34 points and 22 rebounds in the wins, while Ava Hyams has 41 points, 12 rebounds and eight steals in the tournament.
Nutley defeated Memorial of West New York, 49-17, in the first round, then held off Saddle Brook in the semifinals, 53-43. Sophomore Isabel Riccardi had 14 points and seven rebounds in the opener. In the semifinals, the Maroon Raiders relied on a balanced offensive effort as Riley Sebastiano scored 15 points, Grace Christie had 12 and Lauren Minichini added 10.
Also, while I don’t have a championship photo, here’s a team shot of Kearny from earlier this season.
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)