Secaucus girls look to defend county crown with different roster

It’s hard to avoid the obvious, but the Secaucus girls’ basketball team has a different look and feel to it as a new season begins this weekend.
That’s because the team is missing five seniors, three of whom were starters, on the team that finished with a 27-1 record, the best in school history, and the first-ever Hudson County Tournament championship.
Those seniors, which included 1,000-point scorers Julia McClure (the 2014-15 Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year now playing at Wagner) and Andie Lennon (now playing at Caldwell University), led the Patriots to unprecedented heights.
“They were part of the best senior class in the history of the school,” said veteran head coach John Sterling. “They scored more than 4,000 points. They really did some great things here. Those two were once-in-a-lifetime players. It’s very hard to try to replace that.”
So practices have been noticeably different recently. There’s no Lennon bouncing the ball or McClure diving on the floor.
“I’ve spent so much time explaining things,” Sterling said. “It hurts our pace. I have to slow things down in order to teach. I’ve had to worry about our conditioning, which I never did before. We’re basically starting over with a new group. We’ve changed the roles of some of our returning people. I understand that’s part of coaching, getting a new group. We have to move on.”
Sterling is blessed to have returning starter Kristina Ulrich back. The 5-foot-5 Ulrich averaged close to 10 points per game last season.
“We’re lucky to have Kristina back,” Sterling said. “Now, she’s someone we are asking to take over the leadership role. We’re putting the ball in her hands. I have a lot of faith in her. She’s totally unguardable. She’s a very good athlete and an exceptional ball handler. She’s also added quite a bit of range to her perimeter game. She takes the right shots, but she’s always team first.”
Another key returnee is soccer standout Julia Peschetti. The 5-foot-4 Peschetti is also going to have to make up for some of the scoring slack left by the massive graduation.
“She has tremendous quickness,” Sterling said of Peschetti, who can play either guard slot. “She also has exceptional stamina. She never gets tired at all. She doesn’t want to shoot the ball, but we’re telling her that she has to.”
The rest of the team is very youthful, but talented.
“We’re extremely young and extremely small,” Sterling said. “We were small last year, but we’re small again and with such a new team with new girls, it’s really hard. As a coach, it puts more pressure on me to have the team play to the best of our ability. It would be nice to have a little more experience, because right now, we’re making so many mistakes. It’s a bit frustrating.”
Freshman Amanda Ulrich, Kristina’s younger but not little sister, leads the newcomers. The 5-foot-8 Ulrich is going to be a standout like her sister.
“She has a lot of potential,” Sterling said. “She was a really good player on the lower levels, but now this is a huge jump up in competition to varsity basketball. It’s much quicker and stronger. She’s going to develop into a special player because she works very hard.”
Sophomore Lindsey Mack returns. The 5-foot-10 Mack is a solid inside player, but she plays like a guard, which causes matchup problems for opponents. Her father, Ken, was a center for St. Peter’s College in the early 1990s when the Peacocks made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
“She’s our best outside shooter and best 3-point shooter,” Sterling said. “She made a lot of threes for us last year. She plays basketball all year round, so she has definitely improved. She’s developed more strength so she could play inside.”
Freshman Payton Intindola is a 5-foot-8 forward who will also play inside for the Patriots.
“We need her to be a great rebounder,” Sterling said. “She also can score a little. She can make the open jumper. She’s going to play a lot and develop into a good player.”
Amanda Dehnert is a 5-foot-7 sophomore who is the resident jack-of-all-trades for the Patriots.
“She brings a lot of energy and plays physical,” Sterling said. “She adds a little size and toughness and throws her body around.”
Junior Dy’Avion Gonzalez is a 5-foot-3 guard who has never played organized basketball before.
“She’s quick and a good ball handler,” Sterling said. “She’s also a pretty good offensive player.”
Lanay Lopez is a 5-foot-9 sophomore forward.
“She’s a strong girl who rebounds pretty well,” Lopez said.
The Patriots opened their season over the weekend against Dwight-Englewood. On Sunday, they will take part in the Autism Awareness Tournament at Northern Valley/Old Tappan, where they will face Dumont. It’s safe to say that Sterling will get to know what his team is capable of right away.
During the Christmas holidays, the Patriots will once again go to the Joe Poli Tournament in Hackensack, a tourney that they somehow managed to win last year. The reward for being the defending champ? They get paired with state power Immaculate Heart Academy in the first round of the highly regarded tourney this time.
“Our out of league schedule is very tough,” Sterling said. “In our league, there are enough teams to compete with. Then, if you’re still in the running, you can build for the county tournament.”
Needless to say, the Patriots are in it for the long haul and if you’re a team that wants to take away their county championship, you’re going to have to earn it.
“We’re not going anywhere,” Sterling said.
No, they’re not. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached at

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