NORTH CALDWELL, NJ — As the 2019-2020 season approaches, the West Essex girls basketball team is looking to parlay skills and experience into a successful season.
Knights head coach Maria Cirello said she is looking forward to seeing the girls “come together and dominate” because she thinks they “have the ability to do that with the versatility of [their] personnel.”
“I really think that we can dominate because we have so many different strengths,” said Cirello.
The West Essex squad starts the 2019-20 season with perhaps its most experienced unit in several years.
Having a solid run in the state and county tournaments last year, the Lady Knights remain experienced, but hungry for more.
“I think we can make another good run in the state tournament,” the coach said. “The girls got a good taste as to how far we can really go, so I’m looking forward to it.”
West Essex will boast a roster of six seniors, one junior, four sophomores and a freshman this season. Due to their size and skills, the Knights pose a threat to any opponent in a multitude of ways.
“We have a very versatile group,” said Cirello. “We have guards who can shoot and post up, we have forwards, returners, a few new girls…I think our lineup is going to depend on our opponent and the matchup—we can go with a big lineup, and we can go with a small lineup.”
Senior captain Jessica Coia will lead West Essex this season. Coia is a presence at the power forward position in any game, collecting an average of 10 points and seven rebounds per game last season. She is a leader for the squad both on the court and in the classroom as a scholar athlete.
“[Coia] is somebody who really leads by example,” her coach said. “All the girls really look up to her…She’s positive with the girls, [and] for someone who is such a great athlete, as a student she is really humble. The girls love to play with her because she has such a post presence but also a vision for the court.”
The second captain for West Essex is Grace Weiss, a senior guard who is a consummate team player and will do anything for the squad. According to Cirello, Weiss is the classic vocal leader on the court.
“[Weiss] is more of the vocal leader on the team,” said Cirello. “She is someone who is an extremely hard worker; she is the heart of the team, she is tireless, she works extremely hard and wants what’s best for the team and everyone.”
Rounding out the senior class of varsity veterans is Dana Stelter, who took over a number of games last year in multiple ways. Whether scoring or rebounding, the senior forward was impressive in keeping the Knights in all of their games.
“[Stelter] is another person who is extremely hard working,” said Cirello. “When she’s on the basketball court, she brings a ton of energy. She loves to compete [and] she’s an extremely hard worker. Whether she starts or comes off the bench, she’s kind of a spark player.”
Joining the trio of seniors is sophomore standout Halle Aschenbach, who plays the point guard position well in advance of her years with exceptional shooting and ball-handling ability.
“[Aschenbach] is someone who is a natural point guard,” said Cirello. “She sees the court, she can handle the ball, and she can shoot the three. This year, she started driving to the basket, which has added a whole other level to her game—because how do you defend against someone that can shoot and drive?”
In the days leading up to Friday’s opening game, Cirello had the Knights working on a number of things in hopes that they can come together after a shortened preseason.
“Defense is definitely a big point of emphasis,” the coach said. “As much as it’s important to put the ball in the net, it’s equally as important to stop teams; but [we’re also] working on gelling and coming together.”
The Kights will open the season on Friday against Payne Tech, looking to build upon where they left off last season.