- The bravery of Memorial’s Cabeza
In June, we were introduced to the exploits of Memorial High School softball superstar Nikole Cabeza, who bravely told her story of being a transgender athlete. Cabeza, who was the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year for posting a season where she batted .646 with 10 homers, 42 hits, 43 RBI, 39 runs scored, and 44 stolen bases, opened up to The Hudson Reporter about her discomfort with being Nikolas Cabeza, which she first realized when she was just five years old.
“I knew that I wasn’t just a feminine boy,” Cabeza said. “I didn’t know what a transgender was. At that age, I already knew I was a female, and I didn’t want to be a boy.”
Cabeza has been in the process of transitioning to a woman and will eventually have the surgery to become transsexual. In the meantime, she is the first-ever transgender athlete in Hudson County history.
Cabeza plans on playing softball at William Paterson University in the spring.
- Hudson Catholic wins seventh straight Hudson County hoops title
The Hudson Catholic boys’ basketball team continued its incredible streak in February when the Hawks defeated St. Peter’s Prep to capture a record seventh straight Hudson County championship.
Led by two-time Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Jahvon Quinerly (currently at Villanova), who had a game-high 24 points and fellow guard Luther Muhammad (currently at Ohio State), who had nine points, the Hawks overcame a sluggish start to win 62-52.
It was incredible because the school went 37 years from its first title in 1975 to 2012, when the current streak began, and because the school almost closed a decade ago due to financial difficulties. But now, Hudson County has never seen a basketball program so dominant as the high-flying Hawks, who will make “Eight is Great” as the 2019 slogan.
- Hudson Catholic’s Quinerly and King earn McDonald’s All-America honors
It was a great year all around for the Hawks, as Quinerly and fellow senior Louis King were honored as McDonald’s All-America honorees in January.
It marked the first time in Hudson County history that two players from the same team earned the prestigious honor, and the first time ever for Hudson Catholic. Representatives from McDonald’s came to the school in January to present the players with their All-America jerseys in front of an entire school assembly.
Quinerly first gave a verbal commitment to Arizona, then reneged on the offer after an assistant coach from Arizona was thought to be giving players illegal payouts to come to the school. Quinerly was implicated by the Arizona Republic but was never named in the indictment and decided to go to Villanova instead. King is now at the University of Oregon, recovering from knee surgery.
- Hurley brothers both head to March Madness
The First Family of Hudson County basketball, the Hurley brothers, Bobby and Dan, are now highly successful head college basketball coaches, who took their teams to the NCAA’s March Madness.
Bobby Hurley guided the Arizona State Sun Devils to the tournament for the first time since 2014, facing Syracuse in the first round. Dan took the Rams of Rhode Island to their second straight NCAA Tournament, a year after advancing to the Sweet 16. This year, the Rams defeated Oklahoma in the first round, but fell to Duke, brother Bobby’s alma mater, in the second round.
After that game, it was announced that Dan was going to leave Rhode Island to take the job at the University of Connecticut, where he recently began his first season. Bobby is in his fourth season at Arizona State.
Their father, Naismith Hall of Fame coach Bob, endured his first season in 50 years without a team. Bob bided his time coaching youngsters in the St. Anthony High School court that bears his name. The Hurley Family Foundation clinics helped some 250 kids learn the game.
- Former Prep grid star Fitzpatrick drafted in 1st round by Miami Dolphins
In April, St. Peter’s Prep football standout Minkah Fitzpatrick, the heralded University of Alabama defensive back, named last year as the top defensive player in the nation, was selected in the first round of the National Football League Draft by the Miami Dolphins (No. 11 overall). Fitzpatrick became the first Hudson County player ever to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft and has now become a staple of the Dolphins’ defense. He returned an interception for a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings Dec. 16.
- St. Dominic Academy wins NJSIAA Non-Public B indoor track title
In January, the St. Dominic Academy track and field team headed to the Bennett Center in Toms River. The Blue Devils, under coach John Nagel, won the NJSIAA Non-Public B indoor relays championship, in a tight battle with neighboring Hudson Catholic.
Thanks to senior Jessica Wisowaty and up-and-comers like Milani Bethel and Kayla Sullivan, the Blue Devils became the first team in Hudson County history to win an indoor relays state championship.
- McNair Academic wins boys and girls NJSIAA cross country sectional titles on same day
McNair Academic’s stupendous Matt Hogan coaches the school’s track and field and cross country teams. The Cougars had a day to remember in late October, when the boys, headed by overall champion Hamza Barkouch, and the girls, guided by the remarkable Claire Chapeau, won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I cross country championships at Greystone Park in Morris Plains. Barkouch and Chapeau were individual champions; the McNair boys and girls both won team titles. Chapeau’s improvement in one year is more than extraordinary.
- Weehawken’s Kato wins World Jiu-Jitsu championship
In July, Weehawken resident and physical therapist Tomokazu “Shawn” Kato was crowned as the national jujitsu champion in the 125-pounds-or-less class. Kato, a doctor of physical therapy at Hudson Premier Physical Therapy and Sports in Union City, steamrolled through the bracket undefeated to win the gold medal in his first attempt against world-class competitors. Kato became the first-ever Hudson County world champion in jujitsu.
- NJCU’s Toney earns national recognition for perseverance
New Jersey City University sophomore forward Sam Toney bounced from one foster home to another and lived in his car for awhile, yet became the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Year for 2018. His story went national after he earned the East Coast Athletic Conference North Division Player of the Year.
- North Bergen softball coach Stacevicz earns second county title with two different schools
In June, North Bergen head softball coach Shawn Stacevicz won the Hudson County Tournament championship in his first season with the Bruins. Stacevicz won the county championship in 2017 with Hudson Catholic, becoming the first coach in Hudson County history to win consecutive county titles with two different schools. Stacevicz can’t make it a “three-peat” because he has elected to remain at North Bergen in 2019.
There were other stories that were certainly memorable, but just not noteworthy enough to make the Top 10. But they are worthy of mention in the just missed category.
The Union City boys’ soccer team, thanks to the exploits of high-scoring striker Erick Chicas, won the Hudson County Tournament title for the very first time. Chicas had a brilliant season, scoring 33 goals, a new school record.
The Lincoln High School girls’ basketball team won the Hudson County Tournament title, thanks to brilliant play from point guard Alaisha Mumford, who had 23 points in the county title game against Secaucus.
Both New Jersey City University and St. Peter’s University welcomed new athletic directors – namely Shawn Tucker at NJCU and Bryan Felt at St. Peter’s. St. Peter’s also welcomed new men’s and women’s basketball coaches in New Jersey schoolboy legend Shaheen Holloway with the Peacock men and Marc Mitchell with the women. Former St. Peter’s head men’s coach John Dunne moved on to Marist College after 12 years with the Peacocks.
Aretha Edwards of Lincoln High School won two gold medals in the NJSIAA Group II championships, winning the 100 and 200-meter dashes.
St. Peter’s Prep won the Hudson County Baseball Tournament, the fourth in the last six years for coach Pat Laguerre and the Marauders. Pitcher Jack Carey, headed for Duke University, was the county Most Valuable Player and Pitcher of the Year.
The North Bergen girls’ track and field team won their third straight Hudson County Track Coaches Association championship. Head coach Elson Smajlaj has constructed a dynasty, thanks last season to athletes like Shayla Morales and Iria Paz.
St. Peter’s Prep had a great outdoor track season and followed that up with a season to remember in cross country, one of the finest years in the history of the school. Edwin Klanke, only a sophomore, has a chance to be one of the greatest runners in the history of Grand and Warren.
North Bergen native and former St. Anthony All-American Kyle Anderson finally got his long-awaited payday in the NBA, signing a four-year, $37.2 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Weehawken native Lola Possick won her third straight national fencing title – and she’s just become a teenager. Lola spent the summer touring the globe and competing, with her sights on future Olympic Games.
From a novelty standpoint, the St. Dominic Academy softball team featured four sets of sisters in 2018.
Nyasia Mixon of Hoboken was the Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year while Shayne Simon of St. Peter’s Prep was the Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year.
Former St. Anthony basketball standout Ike Williams started a youth football program called the Hudson County Dolphins and in only the third year of operations, Williams took his three teams to compete in the AAU Youth Nationals in Orlando in December.
From a health standpoint, we watched the amazing recovery of Hunter Pein of Secaucus (major elbow and arm reconstruction), Lanay Lopez of Secaucus (kidney transplant from her father) and North Bergen native and head men’s basketball coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University Greg Herenda (major life-threatening blood clots).
On the sad note, we bid farewell to some major sports personalities like Bill Macchi of Jersey City, super fan of St. Anthony and high school sports Manny Fernandez, former Weehawken baseball coach and high school principal Tony Colasurdo, former Jersey City athlete and Jersey City Recreation employee Brian Doyle, Lori Sorrentino Hennessey, a teacher at P.S. 28 and wife of former Marist and Snyder coach Mark Hennessey, former Hudson Catholic two-sport athlete Jessica Hill, who died tragically at the age of 21, and former Emerson baseball standout Jeison Camilo, who also died too soon at age 29.
There was also Bayonne sports fan and follower “Baby” John Goasewski, but the biggest loss was legendary Ferris basketball coach and Jersey City Education Association president Tom Favia. May they all rest in peace.
All in all, it was a great year in Hudson County sports. Here’s to hoping that we have more such stories to report and write about in 2019.