A year ago, before the 2011-12 high school basketball season tipped off, the Lincoln High School girls’ basketball team was believed to be just another solid team among a field of hopefuls from Hudson County.
However, when the season ended and the dust cleared, that wasn’t the case at all, as the Lions roared to a 26-4 record, capturing Lincoln’s first-ever Hudson County Tournament title and winning three rounds in the NJSIAA North 2, Group II playoffs before losing to eventual champion Shabazz in the sectional title game.
Suddenly, it’s the Lions who are wearing the bulls’ eye this time around.
“Yeah, and it’s bigger than ever,” said veteran head coach Tommy Best, who was the Hudson Reporter Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year last season. “It’s definitely a different feel this year. We have to be considered the favorites and the girls have to embrace that. It’s definitely a new area for me. I never had this before, so I don’t know what to expect.”
Added Best, “But we know we have the bulls’ eye on from the beginning of the season. We have to be ready to see the best from our opponents. By being the defending champs, everyone is going to want to come after us. We can’t live on what we did last year. It’s a new year and we have to try to win again.”
Best is pleased by the arrival of four talented freshmen who will join the lineup right away. He only lost point guard Timiah Calamito from last year’s championship squad. Calamito, who earned Second Team All-Hudson Reporter honors last season, was a four-year member of the Lincoln varsity.
“We’re trying to find the missing pieces to the puzzle,” Best said. “The freshmen have helped in that. It’s definitely the most talented freshman class I’ve had since I’ve been coaching.”
Zhane Williams, whose sister Ziera was a standout for the Lions, is a 5-foot-3 guard.
“She’s a good ball handlers and can score,” Best said.
Natalie Cortez is a 5-foot-4 guard.
“She might get the chance to start at point guard right away,” Best said of Cortez.
Penelope Gonzalez and Maviel Gonzalez are freshmen who are also cousins.
“They both play guard and they will play right away,” Best said. “It’s a talented group of freshmen.”
While Best is high on his freshmen, he’s a little disappointed with the county’s top returning player.
Senior Breana Bey, who averaged 22 points and nine rebounds per game last year as a junior, earning Hudson Reporter Player of the Year honors, has not improved the way Best had hoped.
“It’s very disappointing, because she didn’t put in a lot of work in the offseason,” Best said. “She had to want to get better to get the colleges to look at her. I thought she would make the other girls better, but that hasn’t happened.”
If Bey can see the light and realize her importance to the team and to her future, then the Lions should be in tremendous shape, because the rest of the team has improved.
Shanya Swann and Shekinia Suber are two returning players who enjoyed the summer playing AAU basketball and improving.
“They definitely got better by playing a lot over the summer,” Best said. “There’s always time to get better.”
Sophomore center Kiante Johnson, a 6-foot power down low, had some bright moments last season. Johnson was selected to the All-Hudson Reporter Third Team last season.
“She came up big for us last year,” Best said. “She has some good skill sets and is able to do some good things.”
Junior Jadela Gaston, who was the first player off the bench last year, is a guard who adds depth to the Lions attack. The same can be said for senior Ineisha Johnson, junior Pamela Lorocco and sophomore Crystal Miller.
The Lions are in the smaller division of the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League this year, playing teams like Marist, St. Dominic Academy, Hoboken and St. Anthony.
They open their defense of their county title Dec. 14 against Holy Family.
“We don’t need to remind them that they’re the defending county champs,” Best said. “I think they all expect the same thing from last year. We have a good team back. We want to keep the winning tradition we established last year.”…
Former Marist girls’ basketball standout Ashley Vazquez has made a nice start in her new surroundings at New Jersey City University. Vazquez torched the nets for 22 points in a recent Gothic Knights’ loss to Rutgers-Newark, enabling her to be selected as the NJCU Athlete of the Week…
And now, it’s time for the last installment of the high school pigskin prognostications from the old wide one, the Great Hagueini.
The sorcerer’s crystal ball has worked wonders this year, as Hagueini unfortunately picked all five games last weekend correctly, running his record this season to an astounding 13-2 overall.
So here goes, the last pick for 2012, and remember, don’t use this selection for any wagering purposes, unless it’s for an Italian hero on crispy bread (with mozzarella, of course) and a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. We’re going all out this week.
Roselle Park vs. Hoboken, North 2, Group I championship game, MetLife Stadium: While the Roselle Park story is an uplifting one, playing for the school’s first state title since 1993, they have no idea what they’re running into.
Without question, this is one of the fastest Hoboken teams in a long time, led by the electric Donte Carter. Carter has elevated himself to the status of the Red Wing elite back, like the Bates brothers, Dwayne Peterson, Ravon Anderson, Keeon Walker and even Tyrell Dortch. Did we just say that?
Carter has produced like the others, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards and scoring an astounding 27 touchdowns, 15 of which have come since the last weekend of October.
But it’s not all Carter. There’s Rahmein Herron, Daquan Peterson and the sizzling passing attack of Dante Bass-to-Kane Dunham. Hoboken hasn’t seen that kind of a passing connection since the turn of the century.
It’s time for a victory parade down Washington Street. Hoboken 35, Roselle Park 14.
We’ll have more on the Hoboken game if the Red Wings win, plus All-Area football next week…--Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.