Hitting the ground running

Seventh, eighth graders go undefeated, ready for high school ball

There were certainly some scary moments in the Weehawken Lady Indians’ season, whether you’re referring to starter Sophie Chong’s broken humerus or St. Francis’ 3-point shot with seconds left that cut Weehawken’s lead a bit too close for comfort.
But despite injuries, close calls and overly-aggressive opponents, the township’s seventh and eighth grade recreational girls’ basketball team recently finished the season a perfect 14-0, beating the St. Nicholas Blue Jays of Jersey City 26-21 in the championship.
“You know, we just learned how to get the win,” said one of the team’s few sixth graders, Nicole Molano. “There were a lot of close calls.”
Although Weehawken High School houses seventh and eighth graders, its sports programs are often not available to them, so usually the township’s Recreation Department steps in and forms a team.
According to Coach Robert Lentini, the program can only spell good tidings for the high school’s girls’ teams.

“We just learned how to get the win.” – Nicole Molano
“There’s experience, and there’s inexperience. Everything changes with age, but these girls will be ready to play at the high school level,” he said. “A lot of them have a very good chance of playing varsity right out of the gate, and the rest probably won’t spend long on JV.”
Sophie and her twin sister, Samantha, who made up the core of the team’s eighth grade contingent along with Jennifer Acosta-Gutierrez, said that they’re simultaneously excited and nervous to move up to the high school, but prepared nonetheless.
“In our first few years we were learning stuff but it took a while for us to be able to do it in a game,” said Samantha. “Now we have that instinct, which I think will probably help in high school.”

A perfect season

It didn’t take long for the Lady Indians to clinch the top spot in the league, which they did during a tough stretch of four games in one week. Only needing two more wins to clinch, they won the first two, and Lentini became concerned that, having won, the team would lose focus.
“So the goal became going undefeated,” he said. “We didn’t want to lose steam.”
According to the girls, it wasn’t something they’d considered previously, following the script of all great athletes on the cusp of making history. But in reality, the thought of a perfect season entrenched itself in the back of their minds as soon as winning became second-nature.
“After we clinched we really started thinking like, ‘We can’t slow down, we have to finish this,’ ” said Samantha.
But it was a hard road, perhaps even harder than the road to clinch first place.
“A lot of those games we’d have a seven or nine point lead going into the final minutes, but some of these more experienced teams would come back and make it pretty uncomfortable for us,” said Lentini.
The game against St. Francis was one particular instance, when with only several seconds left, a long 3-point shot tied the game. But fortunately for Weehawken, the injured Sophie had only just returned after breaking her arm. In a storybook ending, she buried a 3-pointer of her own.
“It was great,” she said. “It was awesome because it was my first game back.”
With St. Francis, one of the team’s toughest opponents, behind them, the road to glory was paved.
“We never really got down on ourselves during games. There were some times I made some bad passes or something, but you can’t let it get to you, because that’s what loses games,” said Acosta-Gutierrez. “We just didn’t let those little things get to us.”
Lentini said that the team’s successes wouldn’t have been possible without the help of his assistant coaches Argenis Chong, Ildefonso Acosta, Chris Verdon, and Chris Kalani. He also thanked the Recreation Department, Mayor Richard Turner, and the Township Council for their support.

Dean DeChiaro may be reached at deand@hudsonreporter.com

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