HASBROUCK HEIGHTS, NJ - Most high school coaches would sound anxious when talking about their teams if the class make up of their program is 13 freshman, 11 sophomores, one junior and no seniors. Hasbrouck Heights girls basketball head coach Mike Kilgallen, however, has another view.
“I am very excited,“ said Kilgallen. “I have never had a team that has had this level of excitement, of enthusiasm at practice every day. How good we are will depend on how quickly we conquer the learning curve. Being so young, we have a large learning curve, but the team is learning very quickly.”
“The girls are very supportive of each other,” Kilgallen continued. “They are constantly helping each other, rooting for each other. Their attitude it tremendous, and it is infectious.“
The cupboard, despite the youth, is not completely bare. Returning sophomore guards Devon Sonzogni and Paige McGuire were part of the top six all season long a season ago, and experienced solid success on a team that went 14-10.
Sonzogni was second in scoring a season ago, averaging 8.1 points per game, while gathering 3.7 rebounds a game. McGuire averaged 5.2 per game while grabbing 3.6 rebounds a game. McGuire started the season as the Lady Aviators defender on the opponent's best scorer, which took away from her scoring early in the year.
They carry expectations coming into the season, but the pressure of leadership should not bother them. Both are three sport athletes, McGuire an All-League performer in soccer and softball, Sonzogni the Aviators first singles in tennis.
They will be joined in the starting lineup by another sophomore in forward/center Gaby Solis. Solis saw extensive time at the junior varsity level a season ago, while dressing for the varsity games. According to Kilgallen, she worked on her game, playing all summer, and comes back much improved. Her biggest contribution may come on defense, as she has the size to be a dominant rebounder and a good inside defender for the Lady Aviators.
That is what, a week before the season opener, is set. But the lack of set starters does not mean a lack of talent.
Sophomore forwards Kristal Kelly and Victoria Matteo will see plenty of time in the front-court. Who is in the line up depends on what the needs of the team are at the moment. Kelly, a transfer from Secaucus, went through the summer program with the Lady Aviators and provides a more physical, back to the basket presence on the court. Matteo is more of a face-up shooter. They may alternate, they may share the court at times. But the two give Kilgallen a solid option at the forward spot.
The fifth starter is also up in the air. Junior Veronica Legaspi is a tenacious defense who has impressed Kilgallen with her leadership in the court on defense during the scrimmages so far.
Sophomore guard Chiara Alvarez gives the Aviators some more size at the wing position, and has some experience a year ago at the varsity level.
Sophomore Maria Shafik has looked strong so far in the scrimmages playing quarters at the junior varsity level. Her ability to communicate on both sides of the ball has been impressive, and she has a chance to play herself into varsity minutes with strong play at the junior varsity level.
Kilgallen has four freshmen who also have a chance to contribute this year, Samantha Lahuiller, Meghan Stellhorn, Gaea DePass and Jenna O’Malley. Splitting quarters between junior varsity and varsity with all five is a distinct possibility.
Kilgallen is very impressed by the athleticism of this season’s team. A coach who preaches defense-first, is encouraged that this group may allow the Lady Aviators to pressure the ball further down the court.
“With our inexperience, I don’t think we are going to be looking to be running offensive sets for 30-40 seconds,” Kilgallen said. “We are going to need to play an uptempo game on both ends of the court. We have the girls who can allow us to extend out defensive pressure this season.
“ We have a lot to learn,” Kilgallen stated. “The girls are learning very quickly, so I am very encouraged. We have talent. It is just a matter of how quickly we adjust to the speed of the varsity level that determines how we do.
“But I am very happy with what I have seen so far,“ Kilgallen concluded. “But I have never been around a team that has this much enthusiasm at practice every day.“
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