If the Hudson Catholic High School boys’ basketball team saw its sensational and historic streak of Hudson County Tournament championships come to an end recently after capturing seven straight titles, then it was time for the school’s girls’ team to step forward and make a little history of their own.
The Hudson Catholic girls had never won a county title before this season. Given the fact that the school only started to accept female students a decade ago after being an all-male institution since its inception in the 1960s, the idea of the school winning a girls’ basketball title was perhaps somewhat still fledgling.
But head coach Pete Vincent recognized that his team had a solid chance of breaking through this season.
“From the start of the season, our goal was to win the county tournament,” Vincent said. “We had an opportunity this year.”
The Hawks got to the title game by first defeating a good Hoboken team, and then knocked off the top-seed Bayonne in convincing fashion to take on defending champion Lincoln in the title game.
There was a little bit of an obstacle there. Not only were the Lions the defending county champs, but the Hawks defeated them twice in the regular season. There’s an old adage that says it is very difficult to defeat the same team three times during the course of a season. Vincent was aware of the old tale, but didn’t want to pay too much attention to it.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Vincent said. “It was going to be a dogfight.”
Plus, the Lions have two players, namely Daniya Darby and Alaisha Mumford, who were named to the Hudson Reporter All-Area team last season. Darby is a two-time First Team honoree. Mumford was a Second Team selection. They both came up big last year in the county championship game against Secaucus.
“Our game plan was to put pressure on Darby,” Vincent said about defending the powerful senior power forward. “The first two games we played them, we didn’t play her well. We had to step it up and be more aggressive.”
Hudson Catholic senior forward Ineysiah Surrell knew that she had to come up big against Darby. Surrell transferred to Hudson Catholic when St. Anthony High School closed in the summer of 2017. Needing a basketball home in her Jersey City backyard, Surrell elected to go to Hudson Catholic to make a difference in big games like a county title game.
“We knew that they had some great players,” Surrell said. “We also knew that it’s tough to beat a team three times. We knew all of that. But we just had to prove some people wrong.”
Surrell took some grief from her friends when she decided to go to Hudson Catholic after the demise of St. Anthony and not followed her friends, who all went to Marist.
“The majority of my friends went to Marist,” Surrell said. “They didn’t like the fact that I didn’t go with them. But I think I made the right choice.”
Vincent is happy that Surrell elected to go to Hudson Catholic, especially to match up against Darby.
While Darby scored 13 points in the county title game, it was Surrell and her teammates that emerged victorious, grabbing a 43-38 win to topple the defending champion and earn the first-ever girls’ basketball county title at the school.
“It’s a great feeling to know that I’m part of history and I’ll always be part of that team that was the first to win,” said Surrell, who scored six points and grabbed six rebounds in the victory.
The Hawks’ other senior, Haylee Ramirez, led the way with 14 points.
Vincent was proud of the way his team responded to all of the challenges they faced.
“I think there was a mental battle that we never beat Lincoln before this year,” Vincent said. “That was haunting. When we finally beat them that was the first hurdle. Then we won again, so that really helped. This time, we fell behind by six in the fourth quarter and then went on a 12-0 run to decide it. It was a true team effort. Being down never really bothered us. We have a very resilient team.”
When the final horn sounded and the Hawks had the win, Vincent felt a wide range of emotions.
“I felt like, ‘Wow, we finally did it,’” Vincent said. “And I didn’t know what was happening next.”
The powers-that-be in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League decided to rename the championship trophies this year in honor of long-time coaches who have passed on. The boys’ championship trophy has been renamed as the Bill “Red” Drennan Memorial Trophy in honor of the long-time Marist and Dickinson boys’ head coach who passed away a few years ago.
The girls’ championship trophy has been renamed the Bill DeFazio Memorial Trophy, in honor of the late St. Anthony and Marist head girls’ basketball coach, the all-time leader in coaching victories in Hudson County girls’ basketball.
Vincent grew up in the same parish and grade school, St. Paul’s of Greenville, where DeFazio was a staple, coaching football and basketball, before moving on to the high school ranks. DeFazio died seven years ago after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
“I didn’t know they renamed the trophy after Bill until I saw Stacy and Missy [DeFazio’s two daughters] standing there,” Vincent said.
Incredibly, Vincent got his start in coaching high school girls’ basketball as an assistant to DeFazio’s widow, Alice, who became the head coach at Marist after her husband passed away. Alice DeFazio is now an assistant coach at the University of Michigan under Kim Barnes Arico.
“It’s all just a Greenville thing, a St. Paul’s thing,” Vincent said. “Alice did so much for me growing up as a coach. It was a great bonus to realize the trophy is named after Bill. It’s a great feeling to know that we got it.”
And it’s a championship that will be forever remembered in the annals of Hudson Catholic. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com