Some of the area's baseball and softball fields have been frozen solid with the extended winter, so it has made preseason practices and scrimmages a little more than treacherous.
As the seasons begin, it looks as if the usual contenders will remain the same in both baseball and softball.
First, in the HCIAA Coviello, look for Memorial and defending champion St. Peter's Prep to be the teams to beat once again, although the Marauders were ravaged by graduation, losing most of their pitching staff as well as two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area backstop Nick Criaris, who is now playing baseball at the University of Cincinnati.
However, Prep veteran coach Joe Urbanovich has some talented players returning, especially shortstop Gabe Torres, who batted .550 last year in earning All-Area honors. The slick fielding Torres could very well be the best performer in the Coviello this season.
The Marauders also welcome back third baseman Ryan Cunningham, outfielder Andrew Booth (the football hero) and pitcher Mark Dolaghan, so the well hasn't totally run dry.
Memorial, which had a great season a year ago get wiped away with an upset loss in the HCIAA Coviello semifinals to North Bergen, has two of the division's top performers in pitcher/shortstop Jesus Castano, who was the 2005 Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player, and second baseman Ramon Feliz, who earned All-Area honors a year ago.
The Tigers are always tough under long-time coach Tony Ferrainolo, having won at least 20 games in every season since 1991. That's some level of consistency.
Hudson Catholic has a new head coach in Dan Olear and the Hawks have a handful of talented performers, including two-time All-Area selection Rubiel Mercado, hard-throwing righty Damien Seguen and fiery infielder Jack Montanile.
The Hawks should be in the playoff hunt, along with North Bergen, which welcomes back slugger Gabe Ramirez, the All-Area designated hitter a year ago, and Bayonne, which has a host of young, promising pitchers for veteran coach Phil Baccarella.
Emerson and head coach Frank Clark made some major strides last season and although the Bulldogs lost a ton of talent to graduation, you can count on the hard-working Clark to have his team primed for a playoff run.
Dickinson welcomes a new head coach in former St. Anthony standout Angel Zayas. Union Hill also has a new coach in Chipper Benway, but the Hillers are more than likely a year away. Ferris has a very young team, but the dedicated Mike Hogan knows how to get the most out of his players.
In the HCIAA Seglio, look for Hoboken to be the frontrunner. Veteran coach Buddy Matthews, in his 21st season as the Red Wings' mentor, welcomes back All-Area performers Ryan Fitzpatrick and Danny Arocho. Fitzpatrick was perhaps Hudson County's best hurler at the close of the 2005 campaign and Arocho, a second baseman/shortstop, has all the tools to be a great performer.
County Prep, the division's most dominant team over the last five seasons, took a major hit in terms of graduation. But young coach Mike Zadroga Jr. will lean on his grizzled father and assistant coach to get the Hurricanes back into title contention this season.
St. Mary's of Jersey City, under the tutelage of Pat Laguerre, should make a playoff run in the Seglio, along with St. Joseph of the Palisades.
The Seglio Division welcomes two new coaches - Ron Hayward, the former Marist and William Paterson standout outfielder, who returns to coach his alma mater, and Jose "Bumper" Gonzalez returns to his baseball roots to take over the coaching responsibilities at High Tech.
As for the girls' softball races, it appears to be a two-team race in the HCIAA Coviello, namely three-time defending champion St. Dominic Academy and the team it defeated in the Coviello title game a year ago, North Bergen.
The Blue Devils of SDA lost four key players to graduation, but welcome back All-Area outfielder Sherry Rosenberg to the team.
North Bergen is always a threat as long as junior pitcher Tiara Smith is on the mound. Smith, a two-time All-Area selection, won 20 games last year and struck out 220 batters. She is a dominant hurler who could very well become the county's premier pitcher this season.
If there's a team that can make life miserable for the two frontrunners, it's Holy Family Academy. Veteran coach Joe Troncoso welcomes back pitcher/slugger Grace Keller to the fold and Keller looks poised to have a dominant season after earning All-Area honors last year as a freshman.
There should be some interesting times in the HCIAA Seglio race, especially with the coaching changes that took place in the off-season.
Ravon Anderson, who earned Hudson Reporter Softball Coach of the Year honors last year, leading Hoboken to the Seglio title for the first time ever, moves over to coach rival High Tech, which welcomes back All-Area standouts pitcher April Jacob and shortstop Lauren DeGrushe, both of whom have shots to become four-time All-Area selections this season.
Carmine Ronga, who was the long-time coach at Hoboken, returns to the Red Wings and inherits a team that will look to repeat as champions, with All-Area pitcher Natalie Lugo returning and standout infielder Jessica Albuja anchoring the Red Wings' defense.
County Prep should be a playoff contender, thanks to returning All-Area hurler Danielle Gaffey.
Outside of the HCIAA, look for Secaucus to seriously contend for BCSL National and state Group I honors this season. The Patriots welcome back slugging third baseman Cory Roesing and standout jack-of-all-trades Nicole Degenhardt, both of whom earned All-Area honors last season.
All in all, it shapes up to be an excellent spring season of baseball and softball action. Now, if only Mother Nature cooperates and puts a little warmth in the sun.
- Jim Hague