Soaring Eagles ready to contend from start this year

A year ago, the Union City High School boys’ basketball team started off with a pedestrian 3-3 record, falling to the middle of the pack in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League and NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV standings.
But something changed in an instant with the Soaring Eagles. They became a dominant force almost overnight.
The Soaring Eagles won 13 of their last 15 games, losing only to Hudson Catholic in the Hudson County Tournament semifinals – a tournament won by the Hawks – and to Paterson Eastside, the eventual state sectional champion, in the North 1, Section IV state playoffs.
“From mid-January on, we became a really good team,” said veteran head coach Drew Morano.
Now, almost a full year later, many of the members of that very good Soaring Eagles squad have returned for another go-round.
“We definitely have high hopes,” Morano said. “We’re very optimistic. We don’t have a lot of height and that might come back and hurt us, but we’re not worried about that right now. We’re just looking forward to the next game. I think we’re a high level team. Our guards can play with anyone. We’re not going to take a back seat to too many teams.”
Leading the returnees is senior point guard Anthony Gomez. The 5-foot-10 Gomez averaged close to 15 points per game last year.
“He does everything for us,” Morano said. “I simply can’t afford to lose him. He’s started varsity since his freshman year. He’s a good shooter. He’s lightning quick. He’s a good defender. He’s just a phenomenal player. He’s a quarterback on the court and he’s a coach’s dream.”
Gomez had 14 points, six assists, and six steals in the Soaring Eagles’ blowout win over Memorial to tip off the new season last Friday night.
Another key returnee is senior guard Abraham Feliz. The 6-foot-1 Feliz scored 21 points in the win over Memorial.
“He reminds me a lot of [former Emerson High School standout] Jairo Cruz,” Morano said. “He’s strong. He’s quick. He’s just a classic two guard [shooting guard]. He’s an efficient scorer who can score on anyone.”
Kenneth Aviles is a 6-foot-2 senior forward. He’s also a returning starter from a year ago.
“He’s a very smooth shooter and a good rebounder,” Morano said. “He’s also a very smart player with a nice athletic long body. He plays more on the perimeter and gets more outside looks from there. He’s a very versatile player who can shoot.”
Steven Sanchez is another returnee who has been playing varsity basketball since he was a freshman. The 6-foot-2 Sanchez is also a fine football player for the Soaring Eagles.
“He’s been with me since he was young and was earmarked for greatness since he was in eighth grade,” Morano said. “He’s a real smart player. He’s a good defender with a nice, soft touch. Since the first day of practice, he’s been all in. His focus has been incredible.”
Junior Christopher Felix is the last starter. Felix was on junior varsity last year. Notice that Abraham’s last name is Feliz and Christopher is Felix. So they’re obviously not related. The 6-foot-2 Felix is a power forward.
“He bought in from the beginning,” Morano said of Felix. “I think I saw it during the summer league. He was playing with his long arms and his Phil Jackson-like shoulders.”
Felix’s body resembles the current New York Knicks’ president who was known for his wide, broad shoulders during his playing days.
“He’s embraced the role of being the hard worker, getting rebounds, playing defense,” Morano said. “He’s also a good finisher around the basket.”
Senior Adrian Diaz is a 5-foot-8 point guard who will back up Gomez at the point.
“He’s a good energy kid, the kind of guy who you want coming off your bench,” Morano said.
Rob Jimenez is a 6-foot senior forward.
“He’s just pure energy,” Morano said. “He’s beautiful to have coming off the bench, because he has that non-stop energy. I love what he does.”
Raul Fernandez, the Hudson Reporter All-Area football honoree at tight end, is a fine basketball player as well.
“He played major minutes last year,” Morano said of the 6-foot-3 Fernandez, who is an inside player, a power forward or center.
Anthony Ojeda is a 5-foot-11 junior guard.
“He adds a lot of firepower off the bench,” Morano said. “He’s a talented scorer.”
Morano loves the makeup of the Soaring Eagles’ roster.
“It’s the most depth I’ve ever had as a coach,” Morano said. “This team had a very busy summer, playing in some of the best summer leagues. It’s an accomplished team.”
Morano said that the Soaring Eagles remind him of the Emerson team he coached in 2000 that won an NJSIAA state sectional title.
“We’re in the same mix,” Morano said. “I think we have a very good team. We have a bunch of guys who can do different jobs. The only thing we’re missing is that 6-foot-6 guy, so that makes coaching hard, but I’m into this team 100 percent. I like this team a lot. We have a great group. I know that some of them have been waiting for this chance since junior high.”
Well, this is the Soaring Eagles’ year. The experience and talent is certainly there.
The Soaring Eagles are hosting their own holiday tournament with local teams like Memorial, Lincoln and Bayonne joining Passaic Valley, Orange, Clifton and Randolph in the tourney field. It’s definitely one of the best holiday tournament fields around – and the Soaring Eagles are ready for the challenge.
“I think we’re ready,” Morano said. “I think this is a good team.”
The Soaring Eagles are good – maybe even good enough to challenge Hudson Catholic for the Hudson County Tourney title.

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