The Secaucus High School girls’ basketball team suffered its biggest loss even before the first game was played.
Zoe Pero, who established herself as one of the premier inside players in Hudson County, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team honors, decided to transfer to St. John Vianney in Monmouth County just a few weeks before the season was set to tip off.
“She was our best inside player and she did a lot of good things,” Secaucus head coach John Sterling said of Pero, who would have been a sophomore with the Patriots this season. “It’s a big loss. But I’m not going to let it bother me. I said to the girls that I want to coach the people who want to be here. We have plenty of other good players back. We’ll move on. I still have high expectations.”
Sterling put together a competitive schedule this season, so it may be hard for the Patriots to match the 28-3 record they posted a year ago, losing to Lincoln in overtime in the Hudson County Tournament championship game.
“We’ve upgraded our independent schedule,” Sterling said. “We’re playing Bayonne, Saddle River Day, Montclair, Rancocas Valley, Moore Catholic [of Staten Island] and the Life Center [of Burlington County]. We wanted to get the toughest games that were out there.”
Leading the returnees is junior forward Julia McClure, who has been a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area First Team honoree.
The 5-foot-7 McClure is one of the toughest inside players in the area, averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds per game last year.
“She’s a tireless worker and has a great attitude,” Sterling said. “She hustles all the time. She gives us everything we can ask for.”
Another key returnee is junior point guard Andie Lennon, another two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree. Lennon is a 5-foot-5 point guard who averaged 13 points and six assists per game last year.
“She has great floor awareness,” Sterling said. “She handles the ball well. She’s very unselfish. She’s deceptively quick and fast. She’s a solid player.”
Sophomore Kristina Ulrich is a 5-foot-4 shooting guard who had 24 points in the Patriots’ season-opening win over New Milford.
“She shoots the ball very well,” Sterling said. “She seems like she’s picking it up a little, which will help us. She has good skills. She’s also a very good on-the-ball defender. Her progress has been excellent.”
Junior Kendall Caruso is a 5-foot-7 forward.
“She’s a good athlete and an exceptional shooter,” Sterling said. “She has the best 3-point shot of anyone on the team. She’s also a very smart girl.”
Sophomore Alyson Toman is a 5-foot-11 forward who is benefitting the most from Pero’s departure.
“She’s a good rebounder and has been improving throughout the off-season,” Sterling said. “She has a lot of skill for a big girl. She can finish around the basket. She’s getting better every day.”
Senior Bryonna McClure, Julia’s older sister, is another contributor.
“She’s a very good defender,” Sterling said of the elder McClure, who is a 5-foot-4 guard. “She’s also a good vocal leader. She provides energy. She’s been a part of our program for four years, so she provides stability.”
Senior Chelsea Kessler is a 5-foot-9 forward.
“She’s a good inside player and good on the boards,” Sterling said.
Sophomore Julia Peschetti is a 5-foot-5 guard who is “a tenacious defender,” according to Sterling.
“She’s very quick,” Sterling said. “She played very well in the preseason.”
Sophomore Brielle Mattiello is a 5-foot-5 guard who is offering offense off the bench. Sophomore Colleen Burns is a 5-foot-9 forward who rebounds and provides post defense.
Sterling expects his team to compete for the Hudson County Tournament title once again -- and
in overtime against Lincoln.
“I hope that we can remember our tough losses when that time comes up,” Sterling said. “Maybe we can learn from it. I hope it makes us a little stronger and tougher mentally. We have as good of a shot as anyone. We’ll be able to play pretty well.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.