by Andrew Garda

You can’t get off to a better start to a season than Immaculate Conceptions’ girls basketball team did on Friday, when the Lions obliterated Barringer in the opener by a score of 81-14. They blanked the Blue Bears in the second and fourth quarters, and scored 32 points in the second.

They followed it up with a 68-27 clobbering of Irvington on Tuesday. That means the Lions outscored their opponents 149-41 in the first two games.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

This wasn’t a tremendous surprise to head coach Anne Lauterhahn-Brown.

“Preseason went pretty well,” she said the day before the opener. “We played some tough competition, like Newark Tech, and West Orange and we did pretty well with both of them. So we’re pretty optimistic” about the season.

Beating Barringer isn’t anything to get too excited about, though, given their 1-19 record last season. It’s a good start, but the team still has some hurdles to clear.

Like a shallow bench.

“Depth is one of our biggest weaknesses,” Lauterhahn-Brown said. “We only play about six to seven girls a game, so that hurts us.”

Luckily for the Lions, the six players they play most are incredibly talented.

The Lions will rely on several new players, including Amaya Santiago, who transferred from Queen of Peace when it closed, and Tony Renee Blanford, who came from Bloomfield.

Blanford is hurt right now while fellow transfer Jordan Hill has to sit out due to transfer rules, but Santiago — who didn’t because QoP closed — was key in the victory over both Barringer and Irvington, totaling 55 points over the two games.

Lauterhahn-Brown’s top two guards — Nasira Williams and Jailyn Lucas — also scored early and often in both wins, with both totaling 36 over the course of both games.

In both cases, the Lions won the same way they always aim to, with a lot of run and gun on offense, and heavy pressure defense. Lauterhahn-Brown wants her team to set a fast pace, and when they get that going, they can wear teams down.

That lack of bench depth can get them into trouble, though.

“It limits us as far as pressing and putting pressure on the ball,” Lauterhahn-Brown said. “When we get into foul trouble we can’t pressure the way we’d like to.”

That means the opposition can take their time and set up their shots, which allows them to get higher quality chances on offense while also slowing the Lions’ attack down.

Endurance is also an issue with a smaller roster. It’s all well and good to set a fast pace if you can, but if you wear yourself down as a team, you can fade late in a game.

That’s especially true, according to Lauterhahn-Brown, going from the small court at IC, where they practice, to the larger courts they play on. Immaculate doesn’t play home games at their school, due to the small size of the court. Instead they play home games most of the time at Caldwell University, and see regular-size courts when they’re on the road.

Lauterhahn-Brown isn’t about to let them use the size of a court as an excuse, and she pushes them hard in practice to improve their endurance.

“We make them play through it,” she said. “Run more and push them harder in practice.”

More than anything, Lauterhahn-Brown is pleased with how the team is coming together right now. With multiple new faces, one would expect hiccups but that hasn’t been the case for IC.

“I think they’re jelling pretty well,” she said. “Through our first scrimmage to the last one, they’ve grown a whole lot as a team.”

Which is critical given the schedule ahead of them.

In next week’s Holiday Tournamant in Paterson, “we’re playing some of the best teams in the state,” Lauterhahn-Brown said. “We have Morristown, Saddle River Day and Immaculate of Lodi.  For this season’s out-of-conference, we’re playing Lincoln and Sinai Christian.”

Looking at the conference schedule, Lauterhahn-Brown was confident.

“We’re looking to run the table in conference,” she said.