In his tenure as the head coach of the Immaculate Heart Academy girls basketball program, Steve Silver has never had a team quite like this. He’s coached the Blue Eagles to tremendous heights, Bergen County titles, state sectional titles, an outright state title and a Tournament of Champions appearance, but this current squad is something different. With his lone experienced player, senior Katie Jones, out with a hamstring injury, Silver sent a group of four freshmen and one sophomore out for the opening tip against Northern Valley/Old Tappan on Monday in the second game of the four-game set at the Joe Poli Holiday Tournament.
So, how does Silver feel about this unique arrangement for a program of this pedigree?
“It really is different, but it has been a blast. I have to admit, I am really enjoying it,” said Silver. “The No. 1 thing is that they are really good kids. They are fun to be around and we are just going with it.”
Make no mistake, however. This group of young players is no rag-tag band that had their uniforms thrown at them in desperation. This is a talented group that, if it stays together and relatively healthy, will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. In fact, maybe it already is.
As is the trademark of any Silver-coached team, these Eagles get after it in its aggressive man-to-man defense, they help, they share the ball and they can score it from inside and outside and also at the foul line. IHA held Old Tappan to three single digit quarters and, other than ties at 2-2 and 4-4, led just about wire-to-wire in a 45-34 victory at Pascack Valley High School. IHA, youthful mistakes and injuries notwithstanding, is off to a 4-1 start with the lone loss coming against an out of state opponent in St. Francis (NY).
One of the freshmen in the starting lineup has already been through a similar situation. Anna Morris, the Eagles starting center, was also the centerpiece of the volleyball team which lost a bunch of talent to graduation but never skipped a beat as it won a state title and got all the way to the Tournament of Champions final. Her conventional 3-point play with 4:48 left in the first quarter gave IHA the lead for good.
“Some of the other starters on this team like Sam Rinaldi and Emma Matesic, I play with them in AAU, so that has made the transition a little easier for all of us. That has really helped me and probably has helped all of us,” said Morris. “The biggest adjustment that I had to make is that the game is so much quicker than in middle school, obviously, and I have to get up and down the court a lot quicker. Also, in middle school I didn’t go against a lot of players that are actually my size. It is different now playing against girls by size, but I am enjoying it. It is a good challenge.”
Morris (13 points) was a perfect 5 of 5 from the free throw line in the game and Herriot (11 points), who made three of her team’s four 3-pointers, was the other Eagle to finish in double digits. Matesic added nine, Graff finished with five and Annie Walsh (4 points) and Victoria Sandner (3 points) rounded out the scoring for IHA.