After three straight girls’ basketball Hudson County Tournament championships, the Lions of Lincoln High School suffered a setback to first-time champion Secaucus last February.
The Lions posted a 24-4 record last season, but fell to the Patriots in the title game, as Secaucus was in the midst of an undefeated run at that point.
“After a while, we knew it was going to have to end sooner or later,” said veteran Lincoln head coach Tommy Best. “It’s not a good thing that we lost, but in a way, it was a relief, because there was a lot of pressure winning three in a row.”
Gone from the team is the three-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree and two-time Player of the Year Kiante Johnson, now playing at State Fair Community College in Kansas.
“She had one of the best high school careers anyone could have,” Best said of Johnson, who is the second leading scorer for State Fair, which has a 17-1 record. “There was a lot of pressure on her. But we had a tough time tearing that Lincoln jersey off her.”
Leading the way now for the Lions is 5-foot-6 senior guard Zhan’e Williams, who was a Second Team Hudson Reporter All-Area selection last year.
“She’s a four-year starter,” said Best of Williams, who averaged close to 12 points per game last year. “I think she’s the most complete guard in the county. She can play the point and the score. She’s a tough guard. She’s been through all the good years and she doesn’t want to let it go during her senior year. I expect her to have a great senior year.”
Destiny Shuler is a 5-foot-9 junior guard.
“She’s a powerful shooting guard,” Best said. “She has worked hard to get better as a player. She’s ready to take that next step to a higher echelon among county players. She gives us a nice 1-2 punch with Zhan’e.”
Since Johnson has graduated, the Lions have changed their approach.
“We don’t have all the big girls anymore, so we’re going small ball and playing all guards,” Best said. “We have four girls who can handle the ball pretty well. We’re going up-tempo and trying to get mismatches with the defenses.”
A pair of Gonzalez seniors is next for the Lions in 5-foot-9 Penelope Gonzalez and 5-foot-7 Maviel Gonzalez (the two are cousins).
“The two are interchangeable,” Best said. “They can run the floor or go down to the post. Nothing is new to them. Penelope is probably our most versatile defender. Maviel is a very good shooter.”
Junior Fato Sow is another who will see considerable time. The 5-foot-10 Sow is up from the junior varsity squad.
“She’s our most improved player,” Best said of Sow. “She’s a JV [junior varsity] player who worked hard over the summer and will play with us. She’s able to score around the basket and she’s become a better defender.”
Freshman Alaisha Mumford has also joined the Lincoln fold.
“She’s very athletic and physical,” Best said of the 5-foot-6 Mumford. “She has a great upside. She’s come on quickly during our summer league and she’s getting better every day.”
Daniya Darby is a 6-foot freshman who also runs track, but never played competitive basketball before.
“She’s improving every day,” Best said. “She’s going to be a good player. She can put the ball in the basket.”
The Lions won easily in their season opener against St. Anthony, with Williams scoring 23 points.
They were slated to face Kearny before hosting their own Christmas Tournament, with a fine field on tap, including Newark Tech, Bloomfield Tech, Teaneck, Saddle River Day, New Providence and Trenton Central all coming to Jersey City on Dec. 29-30.
“It should be a good tournament,” Best said.
But in all honesty, this is Lincoln’s year to return to glory.
“I can’t see why not,” Best said. “I’d like to think we can.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.