In 2002, the Hudson County sports scene was filled with stories that both excited and elated local fans, but also tugged on the emotional heartstrings.
As always, there was a fair share of athletic success. Championships were won, accolades were achieved. Athletes excelled and reached new heights. Hudson's sports stars were recognized, of course, on the local and state level, but also in the national spectrum. It was a year of pure triumph, like it usually is.
However, there were some sad moments as well. Legends passed on, leaving a legacy of greatness as a permanent reminder. Other stories were downright shocking because of the outcome, which then led to appearances in the court of law.
With that, it's safe to say that 2002 was a year of triumph and tragedy in Hudson County sports.
Here is a look at the Top Ten Sports Stories of 2002. Remember, this is just a list compiled by yours truly, strictly in the opinion of the author. If any achievement or accolade was erroneously omitted from the list, we apologize now, not wishing to hurt anyone's feelings.
1. St. Anthony wins second straight NJSIAA Tournament of Champions title
Maybe the idea that St. Anthony has captured eight NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles in the 13-year history of the tournament diminishes the accomplishment in some people's eyes. You know, people just take it for granted that the fabulous Friars are going to be there every year, considering that no other school in New Jersey has won the title more than once - and the Friars have eight such crowns.
However, there is no way anyone can downplay the accomplishments of the 2001-2002 St. Anthony basketball team, which won 27 games and lost just one. They avenged that lone loss to Neptune with a resounding 20-point victory in the T of C title game, when the Friars were about as flawless as humanly possible.
It's very hard to repeat as champions, because when you're at the top of the heap, everyone is gunning for you. But the Friars handled all comers, playing their best ball down the stretch, led by their three senior guards, All-American Elijah Ingram (who also participated in the McDonald's High School All-American game), Donald Copeland, and Dwayne Lee.
In fact, legendary coach Bob Hurley was so impressed with the Friars' performance in the final game against Neptune that he told his team it was the best single game outing that a St. Anthony team ever had. There's a classic example of saving the best for last.
While many readers voiced displeasure a year ago that the accomplishments of St. Anthony were somewhat overrated in this corner, there is no one who can say a thing this time around. Repeating as overall state champs is nothing to sneeze and earns the nod as the No. 1 local sports story of the year.
2. Joe Coviello dies
Hudson County lost a true legend, a giant of both athletics and academics, when long-time football patriarch Joe Coviello died in February at the age of 88.
Coviello was one of the most successful and storied coaches in the history of New Jersey high school football. His 254 victories, collected at first Memorial (West New York) and then North Bergen, stood as a state record until one of his former players and assistant coaches, Warren Wolf, passed the mark nine years ago. His mark of 254 wins still ranks among the top six coaches in state history.
Coviello was the architect of post-World War II Memorial football program, which compiled some of the greatest seasons in New Jersey high school football history.
Coviello later became the long-time principal at Memorial High School and in his later days, was the executive secretary of the HCIAA, a position he held until his death. The HCIAA's division of larger enrollment schools is named in his honor.
3. North Bergen's Cuevas wins NJSIAA Group IV 3,200-meter title
It had been a quarter-century since a North Bergen athlete won an outdoor track state championship, but that streak ended in June when North Bergen's talented distance runner Javier Cuevas captured the Group IV title in the 3,200-meter run at Egg Harbor Township High School, besting some 170 runners in the state's largest enrollment schools to earn the gold medal.
Cuevas, currently at the University of Rhode Island, prepped for the Group IV state meet by winning both the 1,600 and the 3,200-meter championships at the state sectionals in Clifton. But no one could have ever imagined that Cuevas would actually go on to capture the overall Group IV title a week later, running a 9:32.9 at Egg Harbor, his personal best.
In a year of excellent local track and field accomplishments, Cuevas' state championship run takes top honor.
4. Four local products on MLB Opening Day rosters
Hudson County has always been a hotbed of baseball talent, but there was never a finer moment locally than April 1, when four local products, namely Jersey City natives Willie Banks (Red Sox) and John Valentin (Mets), Secaucus native Mark Lukasiewicz (Angels) and former Marist standout Joe Borowski (Cubs) were all gracing Major League Baseball rosters on Opening Day.
Never before had Hudson County had four major leaguers at the same time, but all four withstood major challenges in spring training just to make the trip north with their respective big league clubs for the Opening Day ceremonies.
It was quite an accomplishment to have four players from the same geographical background all playing in the major leagues as the 2002 season began.
5. St. Peter's College women win MAAC title; third trip to NCAAs in four years
Once again, the queens of the New Jersey college basketball scene were the Peahens of St. Peter's College, who won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship for the third time in four years, making a trip to the NCAA Tournament as a reward.
Led by talented seniors Felicia Harris and Sue Porter, the Peahens rolled to the MAAC title and faced the University of Cincinnati in the opening round of the NCAAs. Incredibly, the Peahens were in prime position to win their first-ever NCAA tourney game, but fell in overtime. It marked the seventh time in legendary coach Mike Granelli's career at SPC that he took the Peahens to the NCAA Tournament.
6. Two Snyder freshman gridders charged with sexual assault
Perhaps the most horrific tale ever involving Hudson County high school athletes occurred in October, when two freshman football players from Snyder High School in Jersey City were charged with sexual assault for allegedly sodomizing a teammate in what the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office believed to be a "locker room hazing prank."
The two students were charged with felony assault, but will be tried in Family Court as juveniles. The incident caused an immediate end to the Snyder freshman football season and caused a swirl of controversy throughout the school.
7. St. Peter's Prep wins fourth straight HCIAA baseball title
In perhaps one of the finest displays of one-sport domination, the Marauders of St. Peter's Prep captured their fourth consecutive HCIAA baseball championship, once again defeating Memorial in the championship game. Senior Anthony Pastore was the winning pitcher in the title game and designated hitter Pat Murphy drove in four runs with a pair of doubles.
Incredibly, veteran coach Joe Urbanovich went the first 25 years of his coaching career without a championship and now has captured six titles in the last seven years. There doesn't seem to be any let-up in sight.
8. Legendary volleyball coach Nolan retires
After a brilliant coaching career that included 540 victories and 16 NJSIAA state championships, including an unprecedented seven straight, Secaucus' legendary volleyball coach Maria Nolan decided to retire in March.
Nolan had carved out an incredible career that included a streak of winning 230 matches and losing just six over a 10-year span. During Nolan's tenure, the Patriots had two winning streaks of over 60 matches and had a home court winning streak of more than 120 matches, dating back some seven years. Nolan was also once the Disney National Coach/Teacher of the Year in 1998 and is a member of both the Hudson County and State Coaches Association's Halls of Fame.
9. Stevens Tech enjoys finest athletic year
Stevens Tech has been a staple of the Hudson County community for more than 100 years, but the Hoboken-based college never had a better athletic year, with the men's baseball team and the women's soccer team both making their first-ever trips to their respective NCAA Division III tournaments.
The baseball team qualified for their first-ever trip to the NCAAs in May, while the women's soccer team made the NCAA tourney in November.
10. Former St. Aloysius star Parker charged with murder
When Novis Parker was a basketball player at St. Aloysius in Jersey City, he was considered to be one of the nicest kids around, according to everyone who knew him. However, his life took a turn for the tragic worse in the course of a fateful April evening when the 19-year-old Parker, a student at Felician College, allegedly strangled his high school sweetheart, 18-year-old Tiffany Bratton, in her Fairleigh Dickinson-Madison dormitory room. Parker had hoped to play basketball at Felician.
The news of Parker's arrest and the tragedy of Bratton's death stunned the close-knit West Side Avenue school, who could never believe that Parker could commit such a crime.
Parker has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial. But prosecutors say that he confessed to killing his former girlfriend of three years during interrogation with investigators from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.
Just missed list
There were other sports stories that earned their share of headlines, but fell a little short of making the Top 10.
In March, Lincoln High School's boys' basketball team came back from virtual obscurity to capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III sectional title. The Lions, who failed to qualify for the HCIAA playoffs, went from the 12th seed all the way to the sectional championship.
Also in March, St. Peter's Prep's Conrad Dudziak, a virtual newcomer to the sport, advanced all the way to the NJSIAA state wrestling quarterfinals at 189 pounds. Dudziak finished the tournament in Atlantic City in the seventh/eighth position, the best finish ever by a Prep wrestler.
In June, the Pershing Field Little League All-Stars captured the District 7 championship, the first-ever district championship in the 30-plus year history of the Jersey City league.
In July, the Sandy Koufax World Series, which had called Jersey City home for the last six years, moved to Secaucus, where it was played to a rousing success. All indications point to the tournament returning to Secaucus again in 2003.