Led by Walker, Gleaton, Lady Knights loom as HCIAA favorite
The 1999-2000 basketball season was definitely a bizarre one for the Marist girls’ program and veteran head coach Bill DeFazio.
"It was a real roller coaster ride," DeFazio said. "We returned all five starters and we were very optimistic. But we never really got going. We would play well for two games, then play poorly and go back to square one. Up and down all year."
Until the final three weeks of the season, when the Lady Knights went on one last tremendous upswing. After getting eliminated in the HCIAA playoffs, Marist set its sights on the NJSIAA Parochial B North title. The Lady Knights climbed upon the back of their junior standout Tara Walker, who almost single-handedly carried them to the state sectional championship.
Walker averaged 26 points and 15 rebounds in the five-game stretch of the state playoffs.
"She was very impressive in the state tournament," DeFazio said of the 5-9 senior, who averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds during the regular season, earning Hudson Reporter Player of the Year honors for the third consecutive season. "I think I can expect her to be Tara Walker again this year."
Walker is considering collegiate offers from Auburn, Seton Hall and UCLA, but will need to improve her SAT scores to become eligible as a college freshman.
Another fine senior, 5-5 center Makeda Gleaton, also returns for her final season with the Knights. Between them, Walker and Gleaton have combined to score nearly 2,900 points over the last three seasons. Gleaton averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game last season.
"Makeda is our blue-collar worker," DeFazio said. "She just straps on the hard hat and goes to work. It’s been my pleasure to coach both of them."
Having two senior leaders like Walker and Gleaton has to give the Lady Knights the edge on the other girls’ teams in the HCIAA.
But the Knights are not simply those two standout performers. Junior Jennifer Lewandowski returns as well.
"She’s our best three-point shooter and can play the point against zone defenses," DeFazio said.
Sophomore Tiffany McQueary has been a solid player in the preseason. The 5-7 McQueary has been a diligent worker on defense and rebounding.
DeFazio has also been blessed with an influx of three promising freshmen, namely 5-0 guard Kim Reid and forwards Angela Fitzgerald and Kathleen Mariano. All three youngsters will have an immediate impact on the Knights this season.
"They’re all very good players and mix well with the seniors," said DeFazio, who begins his 22nd season overall and 10th at Marist, needing just two victories to earn the 400 plateau in coaching wins. "I think it’s a very good mix."
Marist opens this weekend with a tough game against one of New York’s top teams, namely Martin Luther King. They will also host their annual Christmas tournament, with appearances from state powers East Brunswick and Paterson Kennedy and its top player Nicole Loudon on tap.
"I think we won the state championship last year because of the schedule we play," DeFazio said. "Playing the best teams will only make us better down the stretch."
DeFazio expects a dogfight for top honors in the HCIAA, with defending champion St. Dominic looking very strong again, as well as perennial favorite Bayonne, and upstarts Emerson and North Bergen.
"I think we’re right there in the mix," DeFazio said.
For now, the Knights are a little ahead of the mix, thanks to the return of Walker and Gleaton.