Sports Year in Review: 2019

A state championship for Prep; two titles for UC’s hoop squad; HC’s female grid coach top the year-end list

The St. Peter’s Prep football team captured the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship, earning the No. 1 ranking from the entire state and capturing the No. 1 Sports Story of the Year in the Hudson Reporter for 2019. (Photo courtesy of Mark Wyville)
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The St. Peter’s Prep football team captured the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state championship, earning the No. 1 ranking from the entire state and capturing the No. 1 Sports Story of the Year in the Hudson Reporter for 2019. (Photo courtesy of Mark Wyville)

So what were the top sports stories for 2019?

We watched the county’s best football team take it a step further and earn state glory, becoming the top team in all of New Jersey.

We witnessed a local basketball team win two extraordinary championships on the county and state levels.

We welcomed a female high school football coach breaking the gender barrier in a world previously dominated strictly by men.

We bade farewell to too many memorable sports figures, some too tragically for words.

All in all, we had another year to remember in Hudson County sports, so let’s take a closer look at The Hudson Reporter’s Top 10 Sports Stories for 2019.

1-Prep wins NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 state title; earns final No. 1 ranking in NJ

It was a tremendous football season for the Marauders of St. Peter’s Prep, who captured the school’s fifth state championship with a thrilling 21-14 come-from-behind victory over Don Bosco Prep in the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 title game at MetLife Stadium in December. The win enabled the Marauders to secure the No. 1 ranking in the entire state. Quarterback Tajhamell Bullock was the Hudson Reporter Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player and linebacker Cody Simon, headed to Ohio State in the fall, was the Reporter Defensive Player of the Year.

The Union City boys’ basketball team made history by capturing both the Hudson County Tournament and the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championships in 2019, earning the No. 2 spot in the Reporter Top 10 Stories for 2019.

2-Union City’s boys’ hoops squad wins county and state titles

The Soaring Eagles of Union City High School enjoyed the best boys’ basketball season in the school’s history and perhaps the best-ever in the storied history of Union City basketball by winning the Hudson County Tournament title for the very first time, defeating seven-time defending county champion Hudson Catholic in the semifinals, coming back from 13 points down in the third quarter, then defeating Marist, 64-55 in the finals, and a week later, defeated Hackensack, 58-54, to win the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championship as well. The Soaring Eagles roared back from a 16-point third quarter deficit to win the state trophy. Senior guard Gabe Johnson was named the Hudson Reporter Player of the Year.

Sophia Lewin (center) became the first female football coach in Hudson County history when she took over the special teams and wide receivers at Hudson Catholic, earning the No. 3 Sports Story of the Year for 2019.

3-Hudson Catholic assistant grid coach Lewin breaks gender barrier

Hudson Catholic took a chance and hired Sophia Lewin to be the football team’s special teams and wide receiver coach. Lewin is the first woman to be a football coach in Hudson County history. She helped the Hawks reach the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 2 semifinals.

4-Memorial tries to overcome controversy involving baseball team

The Memorial High School baseball team suffered a gigantic setback, when it was learned that several members of the team were involved in a horrific hazing incident after a practice. The incident led to those players being suspended for a good portion of the season and removed head coach Danny Marroquin from his coaching duties for the season. The suspensions severely hurt the Tigers’ chances to compete in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League. Before the season and the subsequent suspensions, the Tigers were one of the favorites to capture the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament championship. After the suspensions, the Tigers were basically a middle of the pack squad.

5-Hudson Catholic hoop star Sellers battles brain cancer

 At the beginning of last basketball season, Antonio Sellers was a freshman for the Hudson Catholic boys’ squad, believed to be one of the top all-around freshman hoop stars in the state. The 6-foot-5 Sellers, the son of former St. Peter’s University basketball stars Keith Sellers and Felicia Harris Sellers, had a fine freshman campaign, averaging 13 points per game and playing a combination of guard and forward. He had a tremendous future. But at the end of the season, 15-year-old Antonio complained of headaches and subsequently collapsed. It was then learned Antonio was suffering from a malignant brain tumor and underwent a tedious surgery that he is still trying to recover from. It’s a tremendously sad saga, one that young Antonio has to live with on a daily basis.

6-Former Prep grid star Hilliman earns spot with the New York Giants

 Former St. Peter’s Prep standout running back Jonathan Hilliman, the 2013 Hudson Reporter Player of the Year who played at Boston College and Rutgers, signed a free agent contract with the New York Giants in May and after a stint on the Giants’ practice squad, Hilliman earned his way onto the Giants’ 53-man roster when the Giants’ premier back Saquon Barkley was battling a high ankle sprain. Hilliman got to carry the ball 30 times for the Giants for 91 yards in five games. He became the second Prep product in the NFL, joining Pittsburgh Steelers’ fine defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

7-St. Dominic Academy enjoys great track, cross country seasons

It was a great year for the storied St. Dominic Academy track and field and cross country programs. For the second straight year, the Blue Devils captured the NJSIAA Non-Public B state relay championship in indoor track. The Blue Devils then continued on and captured their race at the prestigious Penn Relays, bringing home one of the storied “wheels” from Philadelphia. And it was followed up in November with the third straight win in the Hudson County Track Coaches Association’s cross country championship. That’s a lot of big-time hardware collected by veteran coach John Nagel’s group.

8-Snyder’s Campbell has track year to remember

 Words can’t even begin to describe the kind of junior year that Snyder High School track and field superstar Alicia Campbell enjoyed. During the indoor track and field season, Campbell captured two gold and two silver medals at the Hudson County Track Coaches Association’s championships. A few months later, Campbell went one step – literally – better in the HCTCA outdoor championships, winning gold medals in four events, the long jump, the triple jump, the javelin and discus. Campbell is already one of the most diverse performers in Hudson County history – and she has another year to go to enhance that already jam-packed resume.

9-Hudson Catholic girls’ win first-ever county hoops title

 Nine years ago, Hudson Catholic made the move that helped keep the doors of the school open, allowing girls to enroll. As the decade closes, the athletic program welcomed the school’s first-ever girls’ basketball trophy, as head coach Pete Vincent’s group won the Hudson County Tournament title, defeating defending champion Lincoln, 43-38, in the title game. Haylee Ramirez led the way with 14 points in the championship game.

10-NB’s Pace becomes first-ever girls’ wrestling champion

 Last year, the NJSIAA decided to initiate girls’ wrestling as a varsity sport. So it was only fitting that Hudson County should have a wrestler be crowned as one of the first region champs in state history. Freshman Amanda Pace won the North Region championship at 147 pounds. Pace, who later became a standout pitcher for the North Bergen softball team, attends High Tech High School.

Just missed list

 There are other stories that were certainly newsworthy, but just missed out on the Top 10 Sports Stories of 2019.

After one year at the University of Oregon, Hudson Catholic graduate and former McDonald’s All-American Louis King signed a two-way contract with the Detroit Pistons and has already seen some playing time with the Pistons this season.

Bayonne High School’s baseball team won the Hudson County Tournament in thrilling walk-off fashion against St. Peter’s Prep in eight innings.

McNair Academic’s Christina Keller became the first girl to ever win a gold medal in the pole vault in indoor track.

Secaucus’ Amanda Ulrich eclipsed the school’s all-time scoring record for both boys and girls by going over the 2,000-point mark. Ulrich captured her third straight Hudson Reporter Player of the Year.

Hudson Catholic captured the NJSIAA Non-Public Group 1 state championship in bowling.

Weehawken’s wrestling team came of age, earning a berth in the NJSIAA Group I playoffs, coming in just the second year on their own after being involved in co-operative programs with other schools.

The St. Peter’s Prep 4×400-meter relay team finished sixth in the entire country.

Fairleigh Dickinson University, with North Bergen native Greg Herenda as head coach, won the Northeast Conference tournament title for the third time in six seasons, earning a berth to the NCAA Tournament. And the Knights defeated Prairie View A&M in the first round, earning the school’s first-ever win in March Madness. Herenda was rewarded with a long contract extension.

Snyder’s softball team became relevant for the very first time and won more games in 2019 than the Tigers had won in the last three years combined.

Hoboken senior Tori Bravo broke the gender barrier by being a member of the varsity baseball team instead of playing softball. Bravo is now in the United States Naval Academy preparatory school.

Secaucus won the Hudson County Tournament softball title in thrilling fashion, the first since 2013.

Speaking of Secaucus, the boys’ cross country team captured the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship for the first time since 2005. During the course of the season, veteran head coach Stan Fryczynski captured the 500th victory of his storied career.

Union City’s Brandon Moran amazingly captured seven medals in the wheelchair portion of the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

Jersey City’s Jaylene Joza competed in the Home Run Derby at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

St. Peter’s Prep won their third straight Hudson County Track Coaches Association cross country championship.

Weehawken’s Sal Mendez was named the South Atlantic League Pitcher of the Year for the Down East Wood Ducks after pitching to a 7-2 record. Mendez pitches in the Texas Rangers’ organization.

Jersey City’s Eamonn Matthews signed a professional contract with Rugby ATL in the National Professional Rugby League, becoming the first pro rugby player from Hudson County.

McNair Academic’s Claire Chapeau and St. Peter’s Prep’s Ayir Asante earned The Hudson Reporter Female and Male Athletes of the Year for 2019. Both were involved in track and field, while Asante also played football.

All in all, it was a great year for sports in Hudson County in 2019.