Renewed optimism name of the game for TCA girls basketball
Story by Rich Fisher | Correspondent
The 2016-17 season was uncharacteristic for the Trenton Catholic Academy girls basketball team, a perennial Non-Public South Jersey B title contender, as it finished 13-10 and was bounced from the state tournament in a 49-point first-round loss to St. Rose.
It didn’t take long for the Hamilton-based school to get back on track.
The arrival of a new coach and new player has reverted the Iron Mikes to their old ways as they carry a 12-1 record into their Jan. 27 game with Willingboro.
They are doing so with Bob Fusik in his first year as head coach and senior Jada Queen leading the team in scoring after transferring from Trenton High. The duo has helped make TCA somewhat of a surprise team, which is a role the coach gladly accepts.
“We’re under the radar, nobody really knew who we were, and we like it like that,” Fusik said.
Photo Gallery: TCA girls basketball vs. Burlington
Queen has made a major impact. She leads the team in scoring (13.9 points per game), rebounding (8.4), steals (78) and blocked shots (20). She also adds the main ingredient needed by the young Mikes.
“She brings a lot of leadership,” Fusik said. “She comes in, she’s nonstop energy, super athletic. She just plays 250 percent. I can’t say enough good things about her. She adds a whole other dimension. She’s our leader. As she goes, we go. That’s how it is.”
Queen’s basketball career started in the South, as she moved to Louisiana in 2011 and remained there for two-and-a-half years. She began playing in earnest on a recreation team and said by the time she returned to Trenton, “basketball was just natural.”
Her arrival at TCA coincided with Fusik’s.
“Our kids were working out in the summer; I was here with my AAU team,” the coach said. “Long story short, her dad walked in and said, ‘I want to bring my daughter here,’ and that’s how I met her.”
Queen joined a team with a talented but youthful nucleus. She knew many of the team from playing AAU ball, but had to get used to life at a Catholic school.
On the court, her ability to create turnovers has helped the Iron Mikes turn defense into offense with numerous transition fast-break points.
“You can read the person who has the ball and see where the ball is going,” she said of her ability to get steals. “If there’s an open man, I just go to the girl and see the pass and steal it.”
That attitude is rubbing off on her teammates.
“It’s all about the hard work they put in,” Fusik said. “It’s all them. I’ve never been around a bunch of girls who work so hard on and off the court. They’re all honor students. We preach defense, defense, defense. They bought into it, and they just play hard. We’re not a good foul shooting team or a great jump shooting team, but we’ll get there. Until then, we’ll rely on our defense.”
The team is more than just Queen. Coming off a summer in which she started for the U-16 Puerto Rico National Team, sophomore Giana Boulden averages 12.7 points and 4.2 rebounds, while collecting 24 assists and 27 steals. Senior Kaela Reed leads the team with 53 assists and is second in steals with 50. Sophomore Wisdom Maddox averages 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds, while sophomore Leianya Massenat averages 8.4 points, and senior Breyonne Seymore is second in rebounds with 6.8 per game.
Fusik took over the program with an extensive resume as an assistant. He helped TCA boys coach Fred Falchi for three years before moving on to the Rutgers Prep women’s program for seven. He rejoined Falchi in 2015 before taking his first head coaching job this year.
His hopes for this kind of success were not high.
“We needed a lot of work,” he said. “Credit to the girls, they’re all willing to work. If we say three-hour practices seven days a week, they would be in the gym seven days a week, three hours a day. Not that we do that. But if we say be here at 9 o’clock to go through a walk-through, they’re all here. It’s a great group of kids.”
Queen also was uncertain of what to expect, but quickly began to feel optimistic.
“I heard last year they weren’t really that good, but I had to feel with our coaches that we would pick it up this year,” she said. “They don’t play around. We take our practices and our games seriously. And we got some other people from other teams. I didn’t think it’d be this good, but I’m happy it’s going like this.”