2002 reasons for a new sports season A peek into what to expect in the world of local athletics

It’s safe to say that after the events of the last 365 days, including the horrors of Sept. 11, Hudson County residents – including sports fans – are anxious for a new beginning in 2002.

This sojourn will take us through the coming year in the small world known as Hudson County sports.

Looking into the crystal ball, as the Great Hagueini often does throughout the course of a year and like he has for many years now, there does seem to be a ton of promise – much needed promise at that – in the local sports scene for the coming year. After all, there usually always is some light at the end of the tunnel when the calendar turns another page.

Even for the teams and the programs that seem to be on the end of their respective ropes. Once the final clock ticks to 12 midnight and the ball drops on Times Square, the slate is wiped clean and everything seems to change. There’s always promise and always hope.

And in 2002, perhaps that promise and hope is needed more than ever. Just like all Americans need promise and hope for a bright future, sports fans need to know that their major diversion to life’s common woes, namely the lively recreational world of sports, can offer similar promise and hope during a trying time.

Every year at this time, the Great Hagueini pulls out the old turban, the crystal ball and the magic wand and travels on a magical journey into the future. The old wide one rubs that crystal ball, looks for the annual spiritual and financial guru guidance from his wise friend, Duncan Chubbie, and comes away with some bold predictions for the coming year.

From time to time, the Great Hagueini has clearer views of the future than others. The predictions for last year were a little better than most and will be reviewed in next week’s column.

So what can we expect from the sports world in 2002? It’s time for the gargantuan donut to gaze into the year to come.

As the year begins, we find ourselves entrenched in the local basketball season. And it appears to be another exciting one for Hudson County fanatics, especially in both HCIAA races.

In the boys’ basketball race, there are at least a half dozen teams that can make a legitimate claim for the title, but for some reason, Hagueini sees an image of maroon and gold. The image sees Dickinson as the surprising HCIAA champion, with head coach Bill "Red" Drennan getting his second county crown in three years.

Although the Player of the Year will be Hudson Catholic’s brilliant forward Darlington Okerulu.

In perhaps the most wide-open HCIAA girls’ race in history, Hagueini sees Bayonne winning the county title, but not without a great challenge from North Bergen and the Bruins’ talented sharpshooter, Betty Mendieta.

And the Girls’ Player of the Year will be Vanessa Vargas of Emerson.

St. Anthony’s fabulous Friars will not sneak up on anyone this season and will capture their second straight Tournament of Champions title, led by the play of their three brilliant senior guards Elijah Ingram, Dwayne Lee and Donald Copeland.

In fact, the Friars will not lose a single game throughout the course of the season and will challenge for the school’s third national championship, joining the legendary teams of 1989 and 1996.

Ingram will earn All-State honors and will also participate in the McDonald’s All-American game in Madison Square Garden in March.

In women’s college basketball, the Peahens of St. Peter’s College will capture the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship and head to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last seven years. Felicia Harris will be named the MAAC Player of the Year.

On the collegiate wrestling scene, North Bergen native Steve Mocco, now wrestling for the University of Iowa, will qualify for the NCAA Championships as a freshman and earn All-American honors, finishing among the top eight in the nation.

Another North Bergen native, Rick Apodaca, will lead the Hofstra University basketball team in scoring and lead the Pride to the NCAA Tournament.

When the spring comes around, the baseball season will feature several different storylines, including the transformation of St. Peter’s Prep pitcher Peter Duda, who will be one of the nation’s most scouted and coveted players. Although Duda has already signed a letter of intent to attend Stanford, the professional scouts will come out in droves and watch Duda’s every move all season.

Duda’s senior season will be one to remember, ranking among the best in Hudson County history. And Duda’s performance will lead to a high draft in the major league baseball amateur selection process in June.

Duda will also lead the Marauders to their fifth league championship in six years, but the real star of the future will be freshman outfielder Mike Brown.

Memorial’s Mercy Nunez will earn accolades as being one of the first females to win a game on the varsity baseball level as a pitcher.

Two local products, namely former Hudson Catholic standout Brian Ellerson and former Secaucus pitcher Chris Paciga, will lead Montclair State to the NCAA Division III World Series.

The HCIAA softball season will feature the brilliance of North Bergen pitcher Jodie Hild, but Holy Family Academy of Bayonne will repeat as county champs.

In track and field, Memorial sprinter Bryan Durango will cap a great senior year with a trip to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

And the up-and-coming track athlete to watch is St. Dominic Academy’s fabulous freshman Christine Capetola.

In the fall, the St. Peter’s Prep football team will look to become a three-time HCIAA champion, only this time, the Marauders, led by Joe Dailey, Richie Hansen and Adam San Miguel, will win the new overall one-division HCIAA title. The Marauders will also capture the NJSIAA Parochial Group 4 championship, the school’s first in eight years.

The Secaucus girls’ volleyball team will make it eight straight Group I state titles, but then long-time coach Maria Nolan will retire from coaching.

On the professional level, Willie Banks will establish himself as a solid member of the Boston Red Sox’ bullpen as a setup man.

Rashard Casey of Hoboken resurfaces as a player in the Arena Football League.

Frank Winters of Union City retires after a brilliant career with the Green Bay Packers.

Figure skater Kyoko Ina of Guttenberg and her partner Jason Zimmerman earn a medal in the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

And Hudson County continues to recover, never forgetting the events of Sept. 11, but learning to live life as best as possible, including in the sports world.

Enjoy the New Year in sports.

How did Hagueini do? A look at last year’s predictions

A year ago, the Great Hagueini made several predictions that the Old Wide One thought would take place in 2001. Let’s take a closer look at what Hagueini saw in his crystal ball and whether those images became crystal clear.

There are several teams who could take a run at the HCIAA boys’ hoops title, but for some reason, Hagueini likes his alma mater. We’re not playing favorites here, but Hagueini sees St. Peter’s Prep, with its triple threat of talented seniors, namely Jarett Love, Brian Robinson and Jimmy Supple, wearing the crown come late February.

Bingo. Right on the mark. The Marauders won the school’s first HCIAA title since 1965.

In the HCIAA girls’ race, it will come down to two teams, namely defending champion St. Dominic Academy and former champion Marist. And in the same fashion that Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier used to slug it out in a battle of heavyweight champions, SDA and Marist will go toe-to-toe in a classic struggle for the title. With that, Hagueini sees Marist, with seniors Tara Walker and Makeda Gleaton, wearing the crown.

Another correct one, although Marist defeated North Bergen for the HCIAA title.

Tara Walker will earn First Team All-State honors and will eventually sign a letter of intent to attend Auburn.

Well, close enough. Walker was named First Team All-State, but signed her letter to attend Fordham instead. Another New Jersey First Team All-State selection, Nicole Louden of Paterson Eastside, went to Auburn.

As for the state playoffs, look for the Friars of St. Anthony to make a solid run at the boys’ Parochial B North title this year. The Friars are the real deal.

Guess it was somewhat correct, but actually a gross understatement. Not only did the Friars win the Parochial B North title, but they also went on to capture the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions crown, the seventh in school’s history.

In the girls’ playoffs, defending state sectional champ Marist holds the best shot in Parochial B.

Sure enough. Marist not only held the best shot in Parochial B, but the Lady Knights won the state title, becoming the first Hudson County team to win a girls’ basketball state crown since 1984.

In college baseball, former Hudson Reporter Baseball Player of the Year Brian Ellerson will be selected in June’s Major League Baseball Draft. Ellerson, the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season for NCAA Division III national champion Montclair State, will probably picked in the top 15 rounds by the Atlanta Braves.

Ellerson had a fine season for Montclair State and was on the way to getting drafted, but he suffered a torn ACL in his knee in the NCAA Regionals, ending his season and his chances of getting drafted. Ellerson has since recovered from the knee injury and will return to MSU in 2002 with another chance at professional baseball.

In high school baseball, two local pitchers will emerge as the pitchers to watch, not only locally, but also throughout the entire state. They are St. Peter’s Prep’s Peter Duda and Secaucus’ Chris Paciga.

And those pitchers will lead their respective teams to state sectional championships in 2001: Prep in Parochial A North, Secaucus in North Jersey Section 1, Group I.

Not exactly. Although Duda and Paciga both had phenomenal seasons, earning All-State recognition, their teams failed to win the state sectionals as predicted.

Hoboken infielder Joe Natale and Weehawken catcher Fernando Fuentes will earn their share of All-State honors.

Natale had a fine senior year at Hoboken before heading on to the University of Maryland, but only Fuentes, who was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 36th round, was able to earn All-State honors.

St. Peter’s Prep will win the HCIAA championship, defeating Memorial in the title game, earning its fourth league title in five years.

Bingo. Right on the money. The Marauders did knock off the Tigers in the HCIAA baseball championship game.

In softball, North Bergen, led by the play of sophomore pitcher Jodie Hild and power hitter Denise DiPaolo, will recapture the HCIAA championship, defeating Holy Family Academy in the final.

Not quite. North Bergen went to the HCIAA championship game, but lost to Holy Family. And DiPaolo didn’t play softball, choosing to run track instead, where she earned her share of honors, including a scholarship to the University of Massachusetts.

In the fall, the best football team to watch will be St. Peter’s Prep, led by running back John Solan and brilliant quarterback Joe Dailey.

Correct again. The Marauders were the premier football team in Hudson County in 2001, with Solan and Dailey leading the way. St. Peter’s won its second straight HCIAA National Conference title in 2001.

In professional sports, Jersey City’s Roshown McLeod will recover nicely from his recent personal problems and become a force as the starting small forward for the Atlanta Hawks.

Not close. McLeod was traded first by the Hawks to the Philadelphia 76ers, then to the Boston Celtics, where he has not yet played.

Jersey City’s John Valentin will fully recover from last season’s anterior cruciate ligament surgery and bounce back in fine fashion as the power-hitting third baseman for the Boston Red Sox. Valentin will hit .285 with 24 homers and 90 RBI for the Sox.

Again, another clunker. Valentin’s physical woes continued and he played only sporadically. He has since been released of his contract from the Red Sox and is now a free agent without a contract.

Although Bobby Hurley’s professional basketball career has come to an end, his career as a thoroughbred racehorse owner explodes in 2001, as two of his acquisitions win major stakes races.

Bingo. Hurley’s horse, Songandaprayer, won both the Florida and Santa Anita Derbies and ran in the Kentucky Derby. His other thoroughbred, Shooter, won a juvenile stakes race as well.

Three local baseball products will find success with their new major league organizations _ Secaucus’ Mark Lukasiewicz with the Anaheim Angels, Jersey City’s Lesli Brea with the Baltimore Orioles and Jersey City’s Willie Banks with the Mets.

Well, somewhat right. Lukasiewicz found success with the Angels and made his major league debut. Brea struggled with the Orioles and has since been taken off the team’s 40-man roster. Banks found success, but with the Red Sox, not the Mets.

All in all, it’s safe to say Hagueini gets a B-plus for his predictions, most correct and some a little off-center. – Jim Hague


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