Monthly Archives: December 2012

Hatchett ready to carry on Piscataway legacy

Marcus Hatchett

Marcus Hatchett, right, hands the baton off to a teammate during a race last season. Photo by: Augusto F. Menezes

A year ago, he was part of the “Big Three” for the Piscataway High School boys track team, along with Tim Ball and Lance Weaver. Both of those runners have gone on to NCAA Division I programs, leaving Marcus Hatchett by himself in the distance meets for the Chiefs in 2012-13.

“He’ll have to adjust because of the graduation and not having those guys at practice,” Piscataway head coach Pete Buccino said. “He’ll have to be more of a leader and step up into that role, but he can adapt to any situation.”

In the North 2 Group IV meet last winter, Hatchett placed fourth in the 800-meter race, running a 2:00.63, just three seconds behind Weaver. He was even faster in the Meet of Champions race, shaving nearly two seconds off of his time from the sectionals, coming in at 1:58.36.

In the spring he dropped that time to a blistering 1:54 and also cocked 4:15 in the 1600. But Hatchett knows that with a lot of seniors departing from last season’s cream of the crop, the time is now for him to make the next leap toward the top of the state’s distance runners.

“I hope to do that, yeah. That’s the goal,” Hatchett said. “My goal since I started running is to win groups. I’ve started to go into the weight room instead of playing basketball during open gym time, and I’m just paying more attention to the smaller stuff. I’m trying to get stronger and better every day.”

Ball and Weaver, who are currently running for Notre Dame and Saint Peter’s respectively, helped spearhead the Chiefs attack a year ago. Buccino made it known that Hatchett is one of the hardest workers on his team, and that his work ethic will make up for the loss of the other two members of Piscataway’s “Big Three.”

“I think Marcus is going to work really hard to improve,” Buccino said. “He has a great work ethic and takes his training seriously. He’s an excellent team player and Marcus leads by example. He is always running towards more work and never away from it.”

Hatchett mentioned that the loss of Ball and Weaver cut deeper than just running with them on the track.

“Those guys are like my brothers and we hung out a lot,” Hatchett said. “I had to make an adjustment to my life without them around. I had to change the way that I run in meets and I had to change the way I prepare for things. Even practices are different now without them around.”

Buccino also mentioned that two speedy standouts from the Chiefs football team, Jamaal James and Tyrell Judson are expected to return to the oval following their run in the football playoffs.


Sokolova matures at Old Bridge

Oksana Sokolova

Oksana Sokolova of Old Bridge. Photo by: Doug Hood

During her freshman season, Oksana Sokolova didn’t take track very seriously and her results reflected that. But between her first and second years as a member of the Old Bridge High School girls track and field team, Sokolova realized that she needed to put more time and effort into her craft, and the payoff was a sixth place finish at the Meet of Champions, where she cleared 5-feet 6-inches last June.

She returns for her junior season with renewed confidence and a sense that year three can be the best of them all.

“I became more serious after my freshman year and I realized that I wanted to be great, so I stopped slacking and I did exactly what was asked of me,” Sokolova said. “I would love to jump over my height (5’8’’) and be a state champion. I believe that’s all in reach for this season.”

One of the biggest changes that Sokolova made this year was to join the cross country team at Old Bridge. All of the extra training and team building gained from running all year long should pay off in a big way this winter.

“She’s in the best shape of her life and she’s in good position to be even better as a jumper and as a runner,” Old Bridge head coach Steve Gajewski said. “I expect a huge year from her. We expect her to have a very good season, nothing in track is magic and she won’t instantly be the best, but she’s had a fantastic attitude and she has put in a lot of work.”

Sokolova noted that she didn’t particularly want to join the cross country team, but knew that it was one of those necessary changes she needed to make to be great. After building up strength and coming off of a successful season, Sokolova and her teammates are expected to help carry the load this winter, according to Gajewski.

“I think we’ll have a strong team,” Gajewski said. “The girls are coming in off of a solid cross country season and I think that’ll carry over. Those girls are fresh and they just expect everyone to be accountable and work as hard as everyone else does.”

If only she had joined the cross country team earlier.

“I feel like I should have done it last year, I am so much stronger because of it,” Sokolova said. “We all pushed each other and it helped a lot and I like what its done for me so far.”

Jimerson emerges as top prospect

bilde-1A year ago, the high school track community’s focus in the sprint events was on Fabian Santiago from Oakcrest. This year, Union Catholic’s Jordan Jimerson wants to be the one everyone is talking about.

“I want to be like him [Fabian],” Jimerson said. “He absolutely dominated the 100, 200 and 400-meter races last year. I want to be the one dominating this year.”

But Jimerson isn’t only focusing on being the best sprinter in New Jersey this winter. He wants to run anchor on Union Catholic’s relay teams, especially the ones that he helped lead to such high finishes last season.

At the Non-Public state meet a year ago, Jimerson was part of the second-place team in the 4×200 relay as well as the team that finished second in the 4×400 relay. To go along with those team events Jimerson captured the 100-meter dash in the spring’s Non-Public A championship meet, something that impressed his head coach.

“He has the ability to be one of the top guys in the state,” Union Catholic head coach Mike McCabe said. “With the training in place, he’s going to make a nice big jump for us. He is getting a lot stronger and I think he’s going to be running in some different events this year and he’s going to expand a little more.”

Jimerson expressed that he wants his main event this winter to be the 400-meter race, one that he said he believes he can dominate because of the amount of training he’s been putting in. He was splitting 48 seconds on the relay as a sophomore.

“We’ve been going a lot of strength and we’ve been lifting weights as a team to get stronger,” Jimerson said. “Last year we were geared towards sprinting and this year we’re going to be stronger and it’ll work out in our favor when it comes to the longer races.”

In last year’s 55-meter sprint final at The Meet of Champions, Jimerson finished 13th, but all of the runners except one have graduated, leaving the door open for Jimerson to walk through it and take the reigns as New Jersey’s top sprinter.

“He’s the fastest we have coming back,” McCabe said. “That’s his expectation to be the best and he’s got the physical ability to do it. He’ll do whatever we ask of him. What sets the great ones apart is doing whatever it takes, without cutting corners, and he’s willing to do that. He is one of those kinds of kids and he makes that decision on his own.”

Harvey looking for bright future

bildeThe emphasis is on the task at hand, but for North Hunterdon High School track standout Morgan Harvey, she knows that bigger and better days are ahead of her.

“My focus is more toward winter right now and what I can then accomplish in the spring,” the junior said. “I like to think about how to run the races indoors and use that how to do it outside. I like to take that mentality and figure out how to pace myself outside.”

Harvey, who last spring won the 100-meter hurdles in the Group IV state meet and finished third in the North 2 Group IV 400-meter race, knows that she still has some things to work on going into 2012-13.

“When I’m hurdling, I need to make sure my trail leg is better,” Harvey said. “I also need to train harder and take things more seriously. This year I know it’s more important and I need to pace myself more.”

But Sean Walsh, North Hunterdon’s head coach, knows that with the right amount of training and Harvey’s ability, she has what it takes to take that next step toward greatness.

“I think she is doing all of the right things,” Walsh said. “She trained with the cross country team this summer and we expect her to be a leader and take the next step. Now it’s the winter, she is going to be ready to go for us.”

Like most schools, North Hunterdon plans to use the winter season as a tune-up, with most of their runners warming themselves up for the immense competition that awaits once the snow clears and the temperature warms up.

“We don’t get too crazy with expectations for the indoor season, because we don’t have everyone out there,” Walsh said. “We use the winter season as preparation for the spring.”

Harvey echoed her coaches’ statement about the difference between the two seasons, but knows that the upcoming season is important in its own right even though her best events — the 100 hurdles and 400 hurdles — are not contested.

“We’d like to get ourselves into the Top 10 in our area, and obviously we’d like to do really well in the meets that we compete in,” Harvey said. “We just want to keep getting better and build towards the spring and what awaits us there.”

Strickland a star on both offense, defense for Vikings

Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Dontae Strickland (3) celebrates a touchdown with teammates in the NJSIAA Group V state final against Manalapan. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

PISCATAWAY — Three plays into Saturday night’s NJSIAA Central Group V final, Dontae Strickland got the South Brunswick High School football team off to a fast start.

His 61-yard touchdown run on a sweep to the left got the second-seeded Vikings on the board first against a Manalapan defense that hadn’t allowed more than seven points in any of their last five games.

On the second play of the second quarter, Strickland had another long touchdown, this time catching a T.J. Perkowski pass and going 68 yards down the middle of the field, giving the Vikings a 13-0 lead.

“Coach set that play up for me and he said that the safeties would be coming up,” Strickland said. “He told me to go across the middle and I was wide open. I knew T.J. was going to throw me the ball but I had no clue I was going to catch it and when I saw green I was gone.”

South Brunswick held off a Manalapan rally in the fourth quarter to win 33-22, and secure the school’s first sectional championship.

But Strickland’s assignments weren’t restricted to offense only, as the 6-foot sophomore drew the daunting task of single-covering one of Manalapan’s two dominant wide receivers, either Anthony Firkser or Saeed Blacknall.

Coming into the game, Firkser had caught 38 passes for 883 yards and seven touchdowns and Blacknall had hauled in 35 balls and had amassed 657 yards through the air to go with 10 touchdowns.

“We knew how good their receivers were coming into this game, we knew that they’re going to big schools, so coach moved me to corner so I could line up with those guys,” Strickland said. “I had only played corner in the beginning of the year and I was lock-down the whole season wherever I was on the field. It was really tough out there against them.”

T.J. Taylor, the Vikings’ other cornerback, locked down one side of the field, leaving Strickland one-on-one for a good majority of Manalapan’s offensive snaps.

“I just followed what I had learned in practice and I used it the way that I know how,” Strickland said. “I just took a lot of reps and as a group we did all we could do against them.”

After South Brunswick fumbled away a handoff at their own 37 midway through the second quarter, Manalapan quarterback Mike Isabella found Firkser down the seam for a 43-yard touchdown. That score got the top-seeded Braves on the board for the first time in the game and Strickland was out-leaped by the Firkser on the play.

But Strickland couldn’t have been in better position; he simply couldn’t match the reach of Firkser and the 6-3 senior, who’s headed to Harvard to play both football and basketball, came down with the ball.

But for the remainder of the first half, Strickland wouldn’t get beat on defense, holding his own against the bigger receivers from Manalapan and players that have three and four years of experience, compared to the two that he has.

In the fourth quarter, just three minutes after South Brunswick scored to make it 27-16, Manalapan tried to beat Strickland one more time, and they were successful, but not because the Vikings’ corner was out of position.

Isabella lofted another perfectly thrown ball into the hands of Firkser, again from 43 yards out, just over the outstretched arms of Strickland who was in single-coverage on the play.

All three of Manalapan’s touchdowns came from outside of 40 yards, but none of the three were due to blown assignments in the South Brunswick secondary. Strickland and Taylor, who will play for Rutgers next season, locked down the Braves’ duo of receivers, limiting them to 199 yards on 10 catches, well below their season average.

“We came out here, we knew what we had to do and we did it,” Strickland said. “Everybody put in their best effort and it was enough for us to win this game.”

Yaney was leader for the Panthers

Photo by: Kathy Johnson

Courier News Player of the Year Rachel Yaney. Photo by: Kathy Johnson

Rachel Yaney stood over the ball, waiting for the official’s signal to attempt her penalty stroke in overtime of the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV final against Montgomery.

She thought back to all of the times that she had practiced taking penalty strokes, and with a flick of her wrist, the forward from Bridgewater-Raritan High School sent the ball into the the net, setting off a wild celebration with her teammates over the 2-1 victory by the Panthers.

“It was something that I had prepared for, but I wasn’t expecting to have that moment in a game, especially one as big as the sectional final,” Yaney said. “If I hadn’t made it, our season could possibly have been over. I just took a deep breath and knew that I had to make that shot.”

That goal, one of the 37 that Yaney caged this season, was just one of the highlights that led her to a superb season.

Yaney is the Courier News Field Hockey Player of the Year.

Yaney added 31 assists to finish the season with an area-best 68 points. Only one player in the state recorded more assists than Yaney this season, and just nine players scored more goals.

“I worked hard for this and I made my own path to get to this point,” Yaney said. “Some other people get things and accolades handed to them, but I definitely deserved to be recognized for the season that I had and all I had done to get to this point in my career.”

Bridgewater-Raritan won the Somerset County Tournament crown all four years that Yaney was a member of the team, and the Panthers also made it to the Group IV state final in each of those years. Yaney knew that this year would be no different than any of the past three, in regards to winning and the effort it would take to repeat as champions.

But as the 2012 season began, Yaney knew that she needed to change the way that she played to help the Panthers meet their goals. She said that through her first few years on the team, she didn’t assert herself as much as she probably could have.

“The fact that I was a senior this year made me step up and be a role model to the younger girls,” Yaney said. “When I was younger, I would just look up to them (the upperclassmen) and I would stand to the side. I didn’t think I had to do anything more to succeed. But this year I stepped it up and played my heart out each game.”

Yaney scored at least one goal in all but three games this season as the Panthers finished 23-2, and her 37 goals nearly matched her total from her first three years combined. Yaney totaled 38 goals and 18 assists before this season.

Next fall, Yaney will be starting over again when she heads to Rutgers University .

“It’s going to be different going to Rutgers because I’m going to be a freshman all over again,” she said. “It’s going to be really fun, but I know that it’s going to be hard. ”

DeBonis, Panthers excelled once again

File photo

Bridgewater-Raritan Field Hockey coach Kathie DeBonis. Photo courtesy of Kathie DeBonis.

On a given game day, Bridgewater-Raritan high school field hockey coach Kathie DeBonis can be found pacing the sidelines, preaching to her team to make the right pass or to keep its heads up. Sometimes she reminds them that they need to communicate with each other. But no matter what she says, the message always gets across.

For the fifth straight season, the Panthers captured the Somerset County Tournament title and for the eighth consecutive campaign they reached the final of the NJSIAA North 2 Group IV tournament. DeBonis, who has been there for every single season during of the aforementioned streaks, is the Courier News Field Hockey Coach of the Year.

“It’s a great honor and it’s something that should be shared by me and all of my assistants. They work equally as hard,” DeBonis said.

The Panthers went 23-2 this season and won 17 games in a row at one point.

“The girls really aspired to excel,” DeBonis revealed. “When you have a group that wants to do that, they make your job so much easier. There were a lot of games where the girls played near to perfection and they did everything we asked of them. It was fun to coach.”

Hughes stood out as Tigers met their goals

Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

The Home News Tribune Player of the Year Shannon Hughes. Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Coming into the 2012 season, the South Plainfield High School field hockey team told its coaching staff that they had two goals. One was to win the Greater Middlesex Conference and the other was to play in the NJSIAA North 2 Group III final.

Thanks to the spectacular play of their stars and a deep lineup, the Tigers were able to meet both of those goals, but it was the play of Shannon Hughes that stood out more than anyone’s.

The junior forward scored 23 goals and added 17 assists in helping South Plainfield to a 21-2-1 record with a GMC Tournament title and a berth in the North 2 Group III final along the way.

Hughes is the Home News Tribune Field Hockey Player of the Year.

“It’s just amazing. I love field hockey and I would do anything for this sport,” Hughes said. “It’s such an honor to be recognized like this.”

Hughes refused to take too much credit for the Tigers’ success, instead deflecting some of the credit to her teammates.

“As a team, it was amazing to be able to meet both of our preseason goals,” she said. “It was awesome to be able to do that as a team, especially with the record that we had. I honestly have no words to describe this season with this team.”

In the GMCT final, Hughes scored the Tigers’ first goal of the night, as they would go on to defeat East Brunswick 2-1. Hughes scored 20 of her 23 goals against GMC opponents this season, and when it was all said and done, she was thrilled to have won such a competitive conference.

“It meant to much to be the best team in the GMC this year,” Hughes said. “When we were going into the finals, that’s what we wanted; especially having lost in the conference finals against East Brunswick last year.”

But the Tigers weren’t done at that point, as they had only accomplished half of what they had set out to do.

After defeating Mendham in the quarterfinals of the North 2 Group III tournament, South Plainfield went into overtime against second-seeded Freehold Borough.

Just 1:35 into the extra session, Hughes scored the game-winning goal, setting off a wild celebration with her teammates and with that marker, Hughes knew that she had helped her team reach what it had ultimately set out to do.

“I’ll remember that forever and being able to do that for my team, to help deliver that win was awesome,” she said. “Winning against Freehold to get us into the sectional final was my favorite moment of this year.”

Only a junior, Hughes has one more year left to improve her game, something she said she hopes to do.

“I think there’s always room for improvement, so I’m hoping there’s still room for me to grow and be even better than this year,” Hughes said.

But whether or not she improves her game and puts up even more points next season, it won’t matter much to her because she is the consummate team player.

“I’m so proud of my team and everything that we were able to accomplish this year,” she said. “It was awesome to share all of this with them and I hope to do it again next year.”

So. Plainfield’s Hughes didn’t want season to end

Photo courtesy of: Cheryl Hughes

South Plainfield Field Hockey head coach Cheryl Hughes. Photo courtesy of: Cheryl Hughes

After guiding the South Plainfield High School field hockey team to a 21-2-1 record, collecting the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament title and securing a berth in the NJSIAA North 2 Group III final, Cheryl Hughes is the Home News Tribune Field Hockey Coach of the Year.

“Any time you get recognized it’s special,” Hughes said. “This year was special to me and this was the best team I’ve ever coached. I didn’t want this season to end. I told the girls that I feel blessed to coach them and we knew we had a special team coming back from last year. I knew that it would be a great season with this group.”

South Plainfield took down East Brunswick to win the GMCT in October and made it all the way to the sectional final, something Hughes is particularly proud of.

“At the beginning of the season, we asked the girls what their goals were,” Hughes said. “They said to win the GMC, which we were able to do. They wanted to make it to the sectional final, though. They were able to meet their second goal as well, and it was very satisfying for everyone involved .”

All-Home News Tribune Field Hockey team

Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Photo by: Mark R. Sullivan

Position Player School Year
Offense Shannon Hughes South Plainfield Junior
Offense Danielle Butrico South Plainfield Senior
Offense Lauren Cram East Brunswick Senior
Offense Rachel Huang East Brunswick Junior
Offense Olivia Volpe Metuchen Junior
Defense Sara Acevedo East Brunswick Senior
Defense Allie Wahl South Brunswick Junior
Defense Amanda Salvadore Monroe Senior
Defense Jess Bishop South Plainfield Junior
Defense Rebecca Eustice South Plainfield Senior
Goalkeeper Hannah Isaacs Piscataway Junior