UNION, NJ — If all went according to plan after press time, then the Union Farmers finally found themselves involved in a real game before 2021 turned into 2022.
Hit with COVID-19 to start the season, the Union girls basketball team was scheduled to play its first game on Wednesday, Dec. 29, against Montclair in the Keith Benovengo Memorial Tournament at Scotch Plains, a tournament that had been reduced to just three teams: Montclair, Union and host Scotch Plains.
The revised schedule had Scotch Plains playing Montclair on Tuesday, Dec. 28, and then Union playing Montclair on Wednesday, Dec. 29.
“We were excited when the season started, and then we got hit with everything,” said Union second-year head coach Omar Wright.
“Everything” includes the fact that the Farmers will not be able to play a home game for a while because of the condition Union’s gym is in after the devastating effects of Tropical Storm Ida.
“It’s been a rocky start to the season,” Wright said on Sunday, Dec. 26. “We just want to get our first game in and take it from there.”
Union was able to play only one scrimmage, which was at Monroe.
Other scrimmages, against Irvington and Hillside, had to be canceled. Union also scrimmaged at Monroe last year.
“We did better against Monroe this time,” Wright said.
Wright has three returning starters from last year’s much-improved 9-4 squad, which competed in the Valley Division of the Union County Conference. Union played much better against eventual division champion Dayton the second time around, falling by a score of only 34-29 at home on Friday, Feb. 26.
Union had dropped down to the Valley Division after going 0-10 in the Mountain Division two years ago. The Farmers are in the Valley Division again this year, along with the same other six schools: defending champion Dayton, Brearley, Linden, Rahway, Roselle and Roselle Park.
Dayton was the only team in the division Union did not defeat last year. The Farmers split with Roselle and Rahway and swept Brearley and Roselle Park. Union went 1-0 vs. Linden, playing the Tigers only once.
Union also played Irvington twice and beat the Blue Knights both times, on Wednesday, Jan. 27, and Monday, Feb. 22.
Union closed its season on a two-game winning streak, beating Linden, 35-13, on the road on Monday, March 1, and then Rahway, 45-27, at home on Wednesday, March 3.
Union lost to Rahway by just 1 point on Wednesday, Feb. 10, and Roselle by just 4 on the road on Friday, Feb. 12, before rebounding to beat both at home by double digits.
“We were able to build some type of chemistry,” Wright said. “It took the girls a few games for them to begin to learn from us.”
Returning starters include senior point guard Paris Jones, fellow senior guard Inayah Muhammad and senior center Mikayla Taunisma.
“Paris is our captain and we’re looking for a little more scoring from her this year,” Wright said. “Inayah is one of roughly four guards we have in our rotation. Mikayla, who is a four-year varsity player, started about half of our games last year.”
First-time starters include senior guard Siani Garcia and junior guard Karesha Joseph, who both played on the varsity team a year ago.
Off-the-bench players include senior Nacheca Joseph, sophomore Samantha Turner, senior Kimora Stowe and junior Isabella Posada.
Turner played freshman/junior varsity last year, while Stowe came off the varsity bench to play at center. Joseph also played on the varsity last season.
“Toward the end of the year, the girls had a better understanding of what was expected of them,” Wright said. “This year, they kind of have an identity. We’re going to try to build on that.”