Belleville HS girls basketball team looks to contend with strong returning nucleus

BELLEVILLE — The Belleville High School girls basketball team, under head coach Chris Cantarella, features a good returning nucleus this season.

The Bucs are off to a 2-1 start. After crushing Cristo Rey, 46-5, in the season opener Dec. 20, the team went 1-1 in the North Arlington tournament, losing to Bergen Tech, 49-27, Dec. 26 in the first round and beating Dickinson, 46-31, in the consolation the next day.

The returning varsity players are senior guards Fiorella Samaniego, Jaylynn Pinto and Jazalis Gual; senior forwards Jaylyanna Bratcher and Nathalie Marin and junior guard April Lopez.

Gual made first team all-Super Essex Conference last season. She also is a talented performer on stage.

“Jazalis has been recognized for her signing by several organizations and is a talented performer in the many productions performed at Belleville High School,” Cantarella said.

The key newcomers are senior forward Shakira Hernandez, sophomore guard Taian Carrasquillo and sophomore forwards Daliana Estevez and Yarelis Saez.

Cantarella has praised the seniors’ leadership.

“Our seniors have been outstanding leaders and excellent mentors to the younger girls,” he said. “They have been involved since the fall with our conditioning and now in how we run our practices.”

The team’s guards will lead the way for the Bucs.

“Our strengths, as well as our key to success, will be our guard play – Fiorella, Jaylynn, Jazalis and April all played substantial varsity minutes last year and are very experienced. They will be leaned on to score and defend on the perimeter. With our inexperience in the post, defending and ball pressure on the perimeter is critical if we want to be successful.

“Another key to our success will be the development of our younger players. How quickly they adapt to the varsity game and provide depth will help our season be a good one.”

With that in mind, the Bucs hope to contend in the SEC-Freedom Division.

“With our change in division — we are now in the Freedom Division — our expectations are to be competitive towards the top of the division,” Cantarella said. “As mentioned before, our guard play will be key. We lost six or seven close games last year and the girls learned a great deal from those experiences. We beat Montclair in an exciting preliminary game in the counties and would like to experience that again, as well as play more competitively in a state tournament game.”

This year’s staff  includes Neal DiNapoli as the freshman coach and Joe Coffaro on the junior varsity. “They both have put it a great deal of time so far and helped all the girls in the program,” said Cantarella, noting the team graduated eight players from last year’s team, including all-SEC performers Jehann Dabon and Janelle Ramirez.

Cantarella also noted that academically, the six seniors are in the top 5 percent of the class, including two in the National Honor Society. as well as four   involved in some sort of student government.

Marin and Bratcher were all-SEC in softball in 2019 and Fiorella was all-SEC in volleyball this past season. Cantarella also is the head Belleville HS softball coach.