The Hudson Catholic softball program created a little history last season when the Hawks won the Hudson County Tournament championship for the first time ever.
Hudson Catholic used to be a boys’ only institution until 2008, when the school’s administration was faced with the decision of closing its doors forever or allowing female students to enroll.
The move turned out to be a windfall for the school, as Hudson Catholic has blossomed as a co-educational school. Enrollment at the school continues to grow and there’s no longer the danger of the school closing anytime soon.
So that’s the main reason why the school never won a county softball championship, because there have only been female students at the school for the past decade.
Two years ago, the school’s administrators decided to hire Shawn Stacevicz to be the new head softball coach and last year, under the leadership of Hudson Reporter Pitcher of the Year and Most Valuable Player Miyoksi Suarez, the Hawks defeated Kearny in the title game to create a little slice of history.
Suarez had a senior year to remember, posting a 15-6 record with a 1.17 earned run average and 91 strikeouts. At the plate, Suarez batted .476 with 39 hits, 32 runs, three homers and 30 RBI. Those are the numbers of a pitcher of the year and MVP.
Soon after the victory, Stacevicz, the 2017 Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year, decided to take the North Bergen head coaching position left open after the retirement of long-time softball coach and legend Tom Eagleson.
It meant that there was now an opening with the defending county champions.
Enter Eric Lopez, who ironically has been a resident of North Bergen for the past decade and whose daughter was a standout catcher with the Bruins.
Lopez had been a youth softball coach in northern New Jersey for several years. When Stacevicz left for North Bergen, Lopez decided to see if Hudson Catholic would be interested in securing his services.
“I wanted to give it a shot,” Lopez said. “I was very blessed to be able to get the job. I’m thankful to the Hudson Catholic administration for giving me the opportunity.”
Let’s see, a rookie head coach coming in to take over a program that just recently won the county title for the first time. It’s certainly not the easiest of situations for Lopez, who says he’s ready for the challenge.
“I feel no pressure at all,” Lopez said. “I’m up to the task. I have three returning seniors and I feel ready to mold the others into winners.”
Lopez said that he received a warm welcome from the entire team and the school’s administration.
“The response has been very positive from everyone from the administration down to the players and their parents,” Lopez said. “The players are buying into my philosophy.”
One of the biggest hurdles that Lopez and the Hawks had to soar over was replacing Suarez on the mound. Suarez was a fixture toeing the rubber for the Hawks for the better part of the last four years, enduring the good times and the bad and engineering the pinnacle last spring, winning the county crown.
So who can replace Suarez? It’s not an easy decision.
Lopez said that he will go with four different pitchers during the early stages of the season.
One of those is senior Jillian Ward, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last year as a shortstop. Ward has already signed her national letter of intent to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University, so her future has already been sealed. Ward is the first-ever Division I female athlete in the school’s history.
Ward has battled shoulder problems the last two seasons, but decided to give it a go as a pitcher to see if it could help the team. Ward was once a pitcher before enduring the shoulder injuries.
“She rehabbed the injury and has been medically cleared to pitch,” Lopez said. “We’re going to monitor her and make sure she doesn’t re-injure herself. Jill has been a major leader on this team. We’ve been blessed, but Ward has to lead this team. She’s been a great leader. She told me she wants to lead this team.”
The other possible pitchers are senior Kimberly Flores, sophomore Angelina Sikora and freshman Gabrielle Cortez.
“The depth we have at pitcher is going to give Jill sufficient rest and have her ready for key games,” Lopez said.
The catcher is senior Gianna Flores, who has moved from the outfield to behind the plate.
Not only are the Flores girls related, but they have a very unique relation. You see, Kimberly is Gianna’s aunt. And Gianna is six months older. You certainly don’t find a family situation like that every day. But that family closeness is a major plus for the Hawks.
“Their relationship is incredible,” Lopez said of the younger aunt and her older niece. “They act more like sisters. Gianna has proven so far that she can handle being the catcher. I’m very happy with Kimberly and what she’s done as a leader.”
Cortez is the Hawks’ starter at second base.
“She has a very powerful bat,” Lopez said of his freshman sensation. “I’m also impressed with her positive attitude. She really has impressed me as a freshman.”
Ward will return at shortstop. When the affable Ward is on the mound, then freshman Cheyenn Fulton will play shortstop.
“So far she’s handling the position very well,” Lopez said. “I think she’s going to have a positive impact on the team.”
Junior Aliyah Rivera will return to her starting position at third base.
The outfield is still a work in progress. Sikora is in the mix, along with junior Savannah Martinez and sophomore Tatianna Lopez.
“We’re still feeling out the positions,” said coach Lopez. “The freshmen have really impressed me. We know we’re in a rebuilding year. But they’ve shown me that they’re willing to put the work in. I can see them improving as the season moves on. I’m very happy with the support I’ve received from everyone.”
The Hawks open their 2018 season with a showdown against NJSIAA Non-Public A North rival Paramus Catholic on Saturday, March 31 at 10 a.m. Hopefully, the snow will have melted in Paramus by then, but don’t count on anything…
St. Peter’s University needs a new women’s basketball coach. Pat Coyle resigned her position last week after five tough years at the school. Coyle, the former head coach of the New York Liberty before she came to St. Peter’s, leaves the school after posting a hideous 19-132 record over her five seasons. That’s no misprint.
Coyle’s teams were 3-27, 5-26, 4-26, 3-27 and 4-26 this past season. They lost 24 of their last 25 games this season. You can’t make that up. Those numbers are so scary that there is no mention of Coyle’s career record anywhere. One had to scroll year-by-year and do the math necessary to figure out Coyle’s record at St. Peter’s.
In its press release announcing Coyle’s “resignation” to “pursue other employment opportunities,” it announced that there would be an immediate nationwide search to find Coyle’s replacement. It shouldn’t be hard to find someone who would be better.
There was a time when the legendary Mike Granelli coached the St. Peter’s women that the Peahens were dominant.
Under Hoboken native Granelli’s tutelage, the Peahens won 10 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championships and made seven trips to the NCAA Tournament.
Granelli spent 32 years and posted a 607-249 record as the head women’s coach at St. Peter’s. At the time, Granelli became only the third coach in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history to win 600 games at one school. The others were the late Pat Summitt at Tennessee and Jody Conradt at Texas. Both Summit and Conradt are in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Plain and simple, Granelli belongs there as well.
But since Granelli retired in 2004, the Peahens (now Peacocks like the men as one of the intrinsic changes made by the powers-that-be at Harvard-on-the-Boulevard) have not made a NCAA appearance and posted a 130-176 record in the years prior to Coyle taking the job, then posted that ludicrous 19-132 mark with Coyle. It means that St. Peter’s has lost 308 games since Granelli retired 14 years ago, far more than Granelli lost during his entire career.
St. Peter’s needs to find a young, energetic and enthusiastic head coach who is willing to recruit until the cows come home and then some. It’s not going to be an easy rebuild for whoever takes the job. But obviously it can be done, because Granelli won there year after year – and he did so as a part-time employee. Now that’s illegal, as all Division I coaches have to be full-time employees…
Speaking about local coaches, Jersey City native Dan Hurley found himself in the middle of a brutally tough decision last week. The current coach at the University of Rhode Island was in discussions with both Pittsburgh and the University of Connecticut, both schools who obviously can offer more money than Rhode Island.
In fact, Pitt has reportedly offered Hurley a contract with an annual salary of $3 million per year, which is three times more than what Hurley currently makes. So before the middle of this week, Hurley has to choose between Pitt’s money, UConn’s money or the incredible loyalty he feels toward the Rhode Island program he helped build. One way or another, Hurley makes out well, but it’s still a very tough decision to make… – Jim Hague.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.