Marist girls look to take next step Veteran coach DeFazio looks to see experienced team move up the ladder

It’s safe to say that the last two seasons have been somewhat of a disappointment in the eyes of Bill DeFazio. The veteran Marist girls’ basketball coach has watched his season end early, in the semifinals of the HCIAA playoffs (to Bayonne) and in the semifinals of NJSIAA Parochial B North playoffs (to Paterson Catholic). DeFazio knows that it was much to early for the Lady Knights to pack their bags and go home.

“It’s been a negative thing, sitting in the pit of my stomach, for the last two years,” said DeFazio, who begins his 25th season as a girls’ basketball coach, the last 13 with Marist. “I think it’s important for our team to realize that whatever happens in the regular season doesn’t matter when the playoffs begin. We were 10-1 in the league (the HCIAA Coviello) last year and were the co-champs in the regular season, but it didn’t mean a thing. We have to look at it that way this year. We need to win when it counts. There are no excuses this year.”

The Lady Knights were 17-6 a year ago, and DeFazio knows that they have to improve those numbers this time around, mainly because the Knights basically return their entire roster from a year ago.

Leading the returnees is senior forward Angela Fitzgerald. The 5-9 Fitzgerald, a Jersey City native two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree, averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game last season.

“The way I look at it, she can average the same that she did last year,” DeFazio said. “We need the other kids to step it up a little. Angela is our best inside player. She’s pretty strong inside and is a very good rebounder. She gets a lot of her points on put backs. She’s also a very unselfish player, so that really helps us.”

Another key returnee is sophomore forward Christina Smith. The 5-10 Smith, also a product of Jersey City, collected nine points and eight rebounds per game last season.

“She’s very strong defensively inside,” DeFazio said. “She’s also very athletic.”

Janelle Biamonte, a 5-9 sophomore off-guard from Secaucus, is also back for another season. She averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game last year.

“She’s one of the best 3-point shooters around,” DeFazio said. “Just give her some room and she’ll make the shot. She’s now beginning to take people off the dribble and has been doing a fine job for us.”

Junior Renee Vales is the team’s starting point guard. The 5-3 Vales, a native of Jersey City, averaged eight points and five assists per game last year and is “the team’s quarterback,” according to DeFazio.

“She’s the key,” DeFazio said of Vales. “She’s the one who runs the offense and gets us going. She’s much stronger as a player than she was a year ago. She was just coming off knee surgery last year and she still played well. Renee’s totally healthy now and looking very strong.”

Senior Catherine Mariano is the last returning starter. The 5-8 Mariano plays the small forward role well, but also goes down low close to the basket to help Fitzgerald and Smith.

“Catherine has improved so much on her defense,” DeFazio said. “We’re not looking for offense so much from her. She’s just a steady player who has improved her game a lot.”

DeFazio has a solid bench that will also help the Lady Knights as the season progresses. Sophomore Jazmyn Hinton is a solid rebounder with a lot of potential.

“She actually reminds me a lot of Angela [Fitzgerald],” DeFazio said of Hinton.

Senior point guard Kim Reid, who made the game-winning shot as a freshman to give the Lady Knights the HCIAA championship three years ago, has returned to the team after a year’s absence. Called “Webster” because of her uncanny resemblance to Emmanuel Lewis, who played the role on television, Reid will back up Vales and gives the team leadership, quickness and ball handling skills off the bench.

Sophomore Tamara Wilkins is a good perimeter shooter who has improved her all-around game. DeFazio is very high on 5-3 freshman guard Carol Raa, who hails from Union City.

“Carol is a good guard who will eventually be in the mix,” DeFazio said. “She’s going to help us.”

DeFazio likes the fact that he has a veteran team.

“This whole team has been through the wars,” DeFazio said. “They know what it takes. If they have the mental toughness to work through the tough times, they should be fine. There’s also chemistry this year. Last year, it was different, because we started two freshmen and another player was coming back from injury. Our motto is defense, rebound and share the ball. If we do that, we can be right there.”

And ready to get over the hump come playoff time. – Jim Hague


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