Maybe it’s the water in Weehawken. Perhaps it’s the air. Or it could be a new breakfast plan in the school system.
Whatever the case, Weehawken High School is enjoying an epiphany with its sports teams.
In the fall, the football team had its best campaign in over a decade, winning eight games and earning a berth in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I playoffs.
Now, here comes the Indians’ basketball team, which is making noise once again. It has been a while since veteran coach Jake McNish had assembled a championship contender. The Indians were just about a .500 club in each of the last few seasons.
But McNish knew that there was something special about this year’s team before the opening game.
“I thought by the way we played in the summer that we had a chance to be pretty good,” McNish said. “We played in the Passaic Valley league and we participated in the Ironman at Kean. I think the key was having three kids back from last year.”
One of them is perhaps the best all-around athlete in the history of the school.
Senior Damian Corredor, who electrified everyone during a spectacular football career, returned to his starting guard slot on the hardwood.
“Not only is he a great athlete, but he’s a great kid,” McNish said. “He represents the whole school, the entire community, everyone. He’s a very popular kid with the students and the teachers. He makes sure that everyone sticks together. He makes sure they go to the cafeteria together, eat together, laugh together. It’s definitely a close knit bunch. They don’t care who scores and who gets the credit.”
However, most of the time it’s Corredor who commands the spotlight. He recently scored the 1,000th point of his career.
With players like Corredor and fellow senior Dante Cieri, there has definitely been a positive carryover from football to basketball.
“There’s absolutely a carryover from football,” McNish said. “You can feel it in the school. I always believed that football sets the tone for everything else in the school. They’re coming off a great football season and right now, they feel like they can climb the Empire State Building.”
McNish likes the presence that Corredor brings.
“He just takes control of the team on the floor,” McNish said. “He’s really in a comfort zone. He knows it’s his team and he’s carrying himself as a leader. He goes and gets the ball. He gets fouled and makes his free throws.”
Corredor is averaging close to 13 points per game.
“The others know their roles and accept their roles,” Corredor said.
One of those is Cieri, who is an equal to Corredor in terms of scoring. Both players are averaging 13 points per contest.
“Dante is physically strong,” McNish said. “Between Damian and him, they’re my top two rebounders. These kids play like they’re 6-foot-5. Dante just has a nose for the ball.”
The next leading scorer is 6-foot-4 forward David Strandberg, who is averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.
“He’s a great 3-point shooter,” McNish said. “He had a great game rebounding in our win against North Arlington, which has a pretty big team. He’s coming off shoulder surgery.”
Strandberg is also a baseball standout, a pitcher/slugger who commands attention every time he gets on the diamond, is a big-time threat in basketball as well.
Stephen Rodriguez is a 6-foot-1 senior forward who has to be the most unselfish player on the roster.
“He’s our defensive stopper,” McNish said of Rodriguez. “We usually put him on the team’s best offensive player. He gives us hustle all over the place.”
Senior Rafael Totesault is a 6-foot-4 senior post player.
“Rafael is a good rebounder,” McNish said. “When we go zone, we put Rafael at the top of the zone because he has such long arms. He takes away any cross-court passes. He’s also very athletic for his size. He’s definitely our energy guy.”
If McNish needs play from the bench, he can call upon 5-foot-10 J.P. Restrepo or 5-foot-8 senior Jason Scarabaggio for the guard slots or 6-foot junior forward Mike Abad.
The Indians are undefeated in the NJIC Meadowlands Division and own an impressive 9-3 record overall, after defeating previously unbeaten Wood-Ridge Tuesday night, thanks to an astounding 36 points from Cieri and 21 from Totesault. They’re definitely better than anyone could have expected, including the coach.
“They worked hard in preparation,” McNish said. “I didn’t know if we’d be able to score, but I knew our defense was good enough to hold people down from scoring. With the way we’re playing defense, holding good teams in check, I’m not surprised about anything. Maybe the offensive surprises me.”
McNish is very happy with the way his team is playing.
“We’re working hard in practice,” McNish said. “It’s a good group to be around. They’re fun to coach and fun to be around.”
There’s an excitement in Weehawken these days. In years past, it would be the dark, cold days of a winter’s doldrums. Not anymore. These Indians are expressing their new-found winning ways on the hardwood.
The township of Weehawken deserves to have such pride in their athletic teams. After all, it’s been a very long time.