It was the final time that the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association was holding a “Super Saturday” basketball championship bonanza, so maybe it was only fitting that the last two league championships in girls’ basketball should be captured by the school that has won the most titles and the school that went the longest without one.
And as it is, the two schools just happen to reside in the same town: Bayonne.
Last weekend, Bayonne High School captured the HCIAA Coviello Division championship by defeating Lincoln of Jersey City, 49-40, at Yanitelli Center on the campus of St. Peter’s College. This gave the Bees their first title since the memorable 2006 campaign, and the 21st overall in the history of the league, easily the highest total.
It was the first county crown won by coach James Turner, who replaced the legendary Jeff Stabile last season. Stabile was the coach when the Bees won an unprecedented seven straight league titles in the late 1980s through early 1990s. He also was the architect for 16 of the HCIAA titles won by the league’s premier girls’ basketball dynasty.
Holy Family Academy defeated St. Mary’s of Jersey City, 49-29, to capture the HCIAA Seglio Division championship. Holy Family, which was just shifted to the Seglio Division this season from the Coviello due to enrollment totals, won an HCIAA title for the very first time.
For many seasons, HFA competed in the North Jersey Girls’ Catholic League, but then joined the HCIAA in the early 1980s. The Falcons reached the HCIAA title game several times over the years, but never earned a championship until this one.
Coach Turner said that his team’s chances were bolstered by the return of senior captain Lindia Fischer, who missed most of the last six weeks with a knee injury. Fischer just received clearance to return to action from her doctor last week and she played sparingly in the Bees’ playoff semifinal victory over St. Dominic Academy last Wednesday.
“We had to wait to get Lindia back,” Turner said. “She’s a real tough girl and she wanted to play. She said that she felt fine, but I told her she was not going to get her month back in one game, one shot. The best thing she could do was break the game down into three-minute segments.”
Just how big was it for the Bees to get Fischer back?
“It was like we jumped on a rocket ship,” Turner said. “It was that much of a shot of adrenalin. Lindia is the heart and soul of this team. Getting her back was a huge lift for us. She was a freshman on the last team to win a county title, so she knew what it was like.”
Fischer had 10 points and had eight rebounds for the Bees in the title game, earning Most Valuable Player honors.
But the Bees’ real MVP is freshman Lisa Rovatsos, who had a game-high 18 points and added seven rebounds. Rovatsos is a multi-talented athlete who also plays soccer and softball. It’s believed that Rovatsos might be a better soccer player than a basketball player. After what she’s done this year on the hardwood, it’s hard to believe she could be better in another sport.
“Lisa just gets the ball and goes,” Turner said. “We’re just scratching the surface with what she can do.”
Junior Samantha Maggio has been brilliant as the team’s point guard.
“She controls the flow of the game,” Turner said. “I told her that we go the way she goes.”
Maggio had 15 assists and just four turnovers in the county playoffs.
Juniors Kerri Kosakowski and Connie Hayes developed into solid performers.
What also helps is that the Bees’ roster is filled with girls who play other sports. Maggio is a standout softball player. Rovatsos goes all year round.
“It helps with the team’s competitive edge,” Turner said. “It keeps them athletic throughout the year. I encourage them to play other sports.”
Meanwhile, Holy Family Academy had several chances over the years to claim the school’s first-ever HCIAA title.
“We were right there a few times,” said veteran HFA head coach Pat Longo. “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Three times in the late 1980s, the Falcons reached the championship game – only to lose to eventual champion Bayonne and its dynasty.
A little over a year ago, it was announced that the all-girls Catholic school at the southern tip of Bayonne was going to close because of shrinking enrollment.
But thanks to a unified effort by parents and alumni called “I Believe in HFA,” the school has remained open and there are currently no plans for its closing.
However, things didn’t look exactly rosy for the basketball program this season. The Falcons lost their top three scorers, Grace Keller, Danielle Dundas and Caitlin Veverka, to graduation.
“A lot of people thought we would be down, even after we dropped to the Seglio Division [the smaller division for schools with lower enrollments],” Longo said. “I thought we might have a tough time just being competitive. But these kids have been so great. They work well together and they’re so unselfish. They pass the ball so well. It really makes the game beautiful. They make three, four, maybe five passes before they shoot. It’s really a thing to watch.”
The Falcons are blessed with a lot of height. Sophomore Diane Forker stands 6-feet even. So does sophomore Christina Gill.
“It gives us a ‘Twin Tower’ look,” Longo said. “I expected Diane to be a force down low. She did some nice things for us last year. Christina is quicker and more of a finisher.”
Forker had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the championship game, earning Most Valuable Player honors.
Guards Sam Sysak, Kim Ballance and Kelly Folger rounded out the top players for the Falcons, who went undefeated in league play this season.
“It’s a tremendous feeling,” Longo said. “This group made history in being the first to win the county title. They were very focused and worked very hard. Winning this championship and being undefeated in the league were the furthest things from my mind. It wasn’t even a thought.”
So the final HCIAA girls’ basketball champions were crowned – and they were both from Bayonne.
“It’s very fitting that we got the last one,” Turner said. “Twenty years from now, people are not going to remember who lost the last HCIAA title game, but they’ll never forget who won.”
“I’m just glad we got one,” Longo said. “We waited a long time for this one.”
One for the history books.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.