Looking into the crystal ball, as the Great Hagueini often does throughout the course of a year and has done for many years now, there seems to be a ton of promise in the local sports scene for the coming year. After all, there usually is some light at the end of the tunnel when the calendar turns another page. Even for the teams and the programs that seem to be at the end of their respective ropes.
Once the final clock ticks to 12 midnight and the ball drops on Times Square, the slate is wiped clean and everything seems to change. That's why there's always promise and always hope. Especially in the local sports world.
Every year at this time, the Great Hagueini pulls out the old turban, the crystal ball and the magic wand and travels on a magical journey into the future. The old wide one rubs that crystal ball, looks for the annual spiritual and financial guru guidance from his wise friend, Duncan Chubbie, and comes away with some bold predictions for the coming year.
Some of those peeks into the future a year ago did in fact come true for that mammoth soothsayer, that gargantuan donut.
After making some less-than-accurate predictions a year ago, Hagueini's place has been revoked in the Jeanne Dixon/Kreskin Memorial Turban and Wand Hall of Fame, and like the golfers in the PGA Tour who don't earn enough money to get their tour card and have to qualify all over again, Hagueini's neck is on the line with this year's predictions.
Here's to hoping that a lot of them come true in 2001, as we take a glance at the Year Preview for the Hudson County sports scene.
As the year begins, we find ourselves entrenched in the local basketball season. And it appears to be another exciting one for Hudson County fanatics. There are several teams who could take a run at the HCIAA boys' hoops title, but for some reason, Hagueini likes his alma mater. We're not playing favorites here, but Hagueini sees St. Peter's Prep, with its triple threat of talented seniors, namely Jarett Love, Brian Robinson and Jimmy Supple, wearing the crown come late February. Although the Player of the Year will be North Bergen junior Paul Williams.
In the HCIAA girls' race, it will come down to two teams, namely defending champion St. Dominic Academy and former champion Marist. And in the same fashion that Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier used to slug it out in a battle of heavyweight champions, SDA and Marist will go toe-to-toe in a classic struggle for the title. With that, Hagueini sees Marist, with seniors Tara Walker and Makeda Gleaton, wearing the crown.
Walker will earn First Team All-State honors and will eventually sign a letter of intent to attend Auburn. SDA standout center Sophia Vucetaj will also earn a Division I scholarship.
As for the state playoffs, look for the Friars of St. Anthony to make a solid run at the boys' Parochial B North title this year. The Friars are the real deal. Other boys' teams to watch come playoff time will include St. Peter's Prep in Parochial A, Marist in Parochial B, North Bergen in Group IV and Emerson in Group III In the girls' playoffs, defending state sectional champ Marist holds the best shot in Parochial B.
In college baseball, former Hudson Reporter Baseball Player of the Year Brian Ellerson will be selected in June's Major League Baseball Draft. Ellerson, the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season for NCAA Division III national champion Montclair State, will probably picked in the top 15 rounds by the Atlanta Braves.
In high school baseball, two local pitchers will emerge as the pitchers to watch, not only locally, but also throughout the entire state. They are St. Peter's Prep's Peter Duda and Secaucus' Chris Paciga.
And those pitchers will lead their respective teams to state sectional championships in 2001: Prep in Parochial A North, Secaucus in North Jersey Section 1, Group I.
Hoboken infielder Joe Natale and Weehawken catcher Fernando Fuentes will earn their share of All-State honors.
Marist hurler Crystal Vargas will make national headlines by becoming the first girl to win a high school varsity baseball game as a pitcher.
St. Peter's Prep will win the HCIAA championship, defeating Memorial in the title game, earning its fourth league title in five years.
In softball, North Bergen, led by the play of sophomore pitcher Jodie Hild and power hitter Denise DiPaolo, will recapture the HCIAA championship, defeating Holy Family Academy in the final.
The St. Dominic Academy track and field team will enjoy a super spring, capped by a bunch of championship honors, including a state title in the two-mile relay, led by Danielle Biondo.
The Memorial boys' track team wins the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV honors, led by William Canon, who will earn a collegiate scholarship.
The comeback story of the season will be the successful return of Secaucus' Danny Chaves.
In the fall, the best football team to watch will be St. Peter's Prep, led by running back John Solan and brilliant quarterback Joe Dailey.
Two sleeper players to watch in football will be Secaucus standout lineman Austin Hinton and Weehawken quarterback Alex Montanile.
In professional sports, Jersey City's Roshown McLeod will recover nicely from his recent personal problems and become a force as the starting small forward for the Atlanta Hawks.
Jersey City's John Valentin will fully recover from last season's anterior cruciate ligament surgery and bounce back in fine fashion as the power-hitting third baseman for the Boston Red Sox. Valentin will hit .285 with 24 homers and 90 RBI for the Sox.
Although Bobby Hurley's professional basketball career has come to an end, his career as a thoroughbred racehorse owner explodes in 2001, as two of his acquisitions win major stakes races.
Three local baseball products will find success with their new major league organizations - Secaucus' Mark Lukasiewicz with the Anaheim Angels, Jersey City's Lesli Brea with the Baltimore Orioles and Jersey City's Willie Banks with the Mets.
All in all, the 2001 sports odyssey will not be as bizarre as the movie version. But it will definitely be an exciting one, as it always is, in Hudson County sports. Stay tuned.