It had been 13 long years since anyone else other than St. Dominic Academy won the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League girls’ championship, but North Bergen head coach Elson Smajlaj thought that this was the year to break that streak.
“I knew we had a good chance,” Smajlaj said. “I did a mockup of the race and I knew four teams would be going for the championship.”
Smajlaj was right. There were four teams – North Bergen, St. Dominic, Hudson Catholic and Kearny -- that were very close.
“I knew what we were capable of running,” Smajlaj said. “I knew that if we could spread it out and gain points in most events we had a good chance. If we could even finish among the top three in most events, it should be good enough to win the meet.”
Smajlaj was right. The Bruins didn’t win a single event, but tallied just enough points to topple the 13-time defending champion by a half of a point. The Bruins had 40.5 points compared to 40 points for SDA.
Kearny went into the final event leading, but managed to finish third, two points behind. Hudson Catholic was fourth, but only a shade over two points away from the top spot.
It was that close.
“We finished second a few times and third in others, but we wound up being the county champs,” Smajlaj said. “All the other teams in the equation all won at least two events. But ours was a complete team effort. We were racking up the points and we were lucky enough to get enough to win.”
Smajlaj credited the work of his three team captains -- namely senior Idalis Maldonado, senior Linn Djombo and junior Shayla Morales.
Maldonado was entered in four events and finished second in all four. Djombo ran the anchor leg in the sprint medley relay that was second and ran in the distance medley relay, which also was second. Morales was the anchor in the 4x400-meter relay that was third, ran the 800-meter leg in the distance medley relay and was the 400-meter runner in the sprint medley relay.
“Going into the last two events, we were down by 10 points,” Smajlaj said. “But we made up the difference. We knew that if we beat Kearny by two points in the final race, we could win. And we did exactly that. We were third and they were fifth and that did it.”
Smajlaj was asked when the last time North Bergen won a county relay title.
“I honestly don’t know,” Smajlaj said. “I asked Coach [Ed] Garrison [the long-time North Bergen girls’ coach] and he didn’t know. I knew from John Nagel [the St. Dominic head coach] that they had won it 13 straight years, so I guess we broke their streak.”
Smajlaj was asked what a thrilling victory could do for his program.
“I can only hope it’s a confidence booster for the entire team,” Smajlaj said. “We still have a lot to compete for. I know the girls are starting to believe again.”
The boys’ team title was not as close, as St. Peter’s Prep outdistanced runner-up Union City by 41 points…
Speaking of North Bergen, Mike Guasconi is out as the head football coach at North Bergen after only one season. The Bruins were 5-5 last season in Guasconi’s only year as head coach.
No replacement has been officially named for Guasconi, but it is believed to be someone within the district and someone who has long been interested in becoming the head coach. An official announcement could be made as early as this week…
In girls’ basketball, congrats to Secaucus head coach John Sterling in capturing the 500th victory of his coaching career, first at Bogota and now with the Patriots.
Sterling has the Patriots shining once again, evidenced by their impressive 61-56 victory over New Milford. In that game, Sterling had four players reach double figures in Amanda Ulrich (18), Damaris Rodriguez (15), Lindsey Mack (11) and freshman Natalie Kashian (10)…
St. Anthony is off to a surprising 6-2 start, thanks to the play of Marquashia Brown, who filled up the stat sheet with 23 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and seven steals in the win over University Charter.
Fellow Friar Zyearah Taylor-Gaston had a fine week, first collecting the 1,000th point of her career, then adding 20 points in the win over University Charter…
On the boys’ basketball front, St. Anthony survived two scares against Blair Academy and Ranney Prep to move to 9-0 and win their 41st consecutive game.
The Friars defeated Blair, 52-48 and defeated Ranney by a 51-48 final score. In the game against Ranney, Alexander Rice had 24 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining, giving the Friars the win and keeping the streak alive.
There is a huge test for the Friars this weekend in the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory, when they take on the Patrick School. Both powers are state-ranked so it should be a barnburner…
Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Anthony (9-0). 2. Hudson Catholic (9-2). 3. St. Peter’s Prep (5-3). 4. North Bergen (9-1). 5. Lincoln (8-1).
Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Marist (9-0). 2. Bayonne (7-2). 3. Lincoln (6-2). 4. Secaucus (8-2) 5. Hudson Catholic (6-2). –Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com