Girls basketball team captains talk about this Covid year

They honed their “hustle” and boosted the team.

| 29 Jan 2022 | 11:03

By Josh Lashley

Having four members of a high school sports team chosen as team captains is unusual and special. That’s the scenario for the West Milford High School girls basketball program for the 2021-2022 season. Samantha Araujo, Olivia Arciniega, Rachel Chandler and Rebeca DeTuro, all seniors, are captains for the Highlanders this winter.

“They have all been in the program for four years and are very good players, excellent students and even better young ladies,’’ West Milford head coach Ray LaCroix said. “They set a great example every day for the rest of the program both on and off the court. They represent us and the school very well.

“All of them have improved this season. The biggest thing is that they have become more vocal leaders on the court. We are a team that has great chemistry and a lot of enthusiasm. They lead the way in that regard. They lead by example and compete, even when the times get tough. Other than the four of them, we are a young team with not a great deal of experience. The younger girls really look up to them. All four girls will go on to college in the fall.’’

Arciniega started playing competitively in the recreational league in fourth grade and began traveling with an Amateur Athletic Union team as a sixth grader.

“My mom grew up playing basketball and she’s been my inspiration from the start,’’ Arciniega said. “She’s originally the reason I began to play, but the competitive nature and friends I made along the way kept me attracted to the sport. Definitely my parents, coaches and teammates [have been positive influences]. They’ve all supported and contributed to the player and person I am today. However, I think the person who has had the greatest positive influence in my career has been my younger sister. She’s constantly challenging me to be a better player and has shown support for me since the beginning. Now, even as my teammate, she continues to inspire and positively influence me.

“I am very passionate, on and off the court. I think it especially shows in my defense on the court, as well as my hustle. Off the court, I love encouraging and supporting my teammates, which I think makes us stronger and able to compete better. Personally I want to be recognized again on the Conference level. Last year I got Honorable Mention All-Conference, and this year I want to be recognized again for that award or on a higher level. I’d like to see this team earn a home county game, and not only reach New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association States for the ninth consecutive year, but advance to the next round. A home state game wouldn’t be bad either.’’

Arciniega has maintained a strong attitude through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I’ve been lucky enough to continue with all my sports throughout the pandemic, but it definitely has taken a mental toll,’’ Arciniega said. “Last year, it was initially hard to balance the new virtual learning style and playing sports, but this year I’ve been able to balance school, my mental health and athletics. I plan to continue to find time to focus on my happiness by finding time for myself and doing things I enjoy.’’

Araujo is a relative newcomer to the sport, having begun playing in the eighth grade. She had friends who played basketball and wanted to try a sport for the winter season.

“As a competitor, I would say my strengths would be being an aggressive and tough player,’’ Araugo said. “My main focus would be on rebounding and staying tough in the paint. I would improve my shooting skills if I had more time left in my basketball career.

“My goals are to just have a fun and healthy season and to make the most of the time I have with my amazing team and coaches-and to have a lot of rebounds.’’

Araujo found that Covid made competing in athletics difficult, but she has a strong support system in place.