Saturday, June 24, 2017
By Richie 'Ballgame' Barton
NJS.com Staff Writer
Male Athlete of the Season:
Ja’Quaye James, Teaneck Basketball
With standout guard Leondre Washington transferring back to Teaneck after a year at Roselle Catholic it was not a question of how good Teaneck would be but more if the established Washington and the emerging James could co-exist in the backcourt. With the familiarity between the two lightning-quick guards, there was no adjustment period with James showing he was as dangerous as they come in New Jersey with the ball in his hands.
James played much bigger than his slight 5-foot-8 frame. The junior was always a top-notch guard going to the basket, but he became nearly unguardable on the high school level by developing a more consistent shot from beyond the 3-point arc.
He started off the season on fire by scoring at least 21 points in 14 of the Highwaymen’s first 16 games. That included three 40-plus point efforts in which he combined to hit an eye-popping 27 three-pointers.
The dynamic James thrived when the pressure was on in tournament play. Although the Highwaymen lost to Bergen Catholic in the Bergen County Jamboree semifinals, James pumped in a game-high 34 points. Then, in the state tournament, he was a major factor in helping his team repeat as Group 3 state champions.
James’ basket gave Teaneck its first lead of the night early in the fourth quarter. He closed out a perfect 13-for-13 night from the foul line by hitting six free-throws down the stretch in a come-from-behind 74-68 victory over Ewing in the Group 3 final.
He was not done, however, and put on another show in a first-round Tournament of Champions game against West Side. He hit an off-balance 3-pointer to end the third quarter and another to start overtime that gave the Highwaymen the lead for good in a 70-62 triumph.
With an outstanding season in which he averaged over 24 points per game, James brought Teaneck to new heights and has attracted a bevy of Division 1 suitors as a result of his hard work off the court and his production on it.
Runner-Up: Eric Chakonis
Don Bosco Prep Wrestling
When Eric Chakonis had his hand raised to end his junior year the feeling was one of more relief as he joined his brother Zack (now wrestling at Northwestern University) as a state champion. Going into his senior year, the pressure was lifted and he could just go out and wrestle. That spelled trouble for his opponents as Chakonis showed his development by ripping through the heavyweight division with both his athleticism and his hand control.
Chakonis suffered his only defeat in a one-point loss at the nationally-renowned Beast of the East Tournament. From that point on Chakonis was on a mission to show that his 2016 state title was no fluke.
He dominated virtually every opponent he faced all the way through his final high school match against Alexander LoGrippo in the state final.
Chakonis took the massive LoGrippo down early and hit him with a cradle for the pin in 52 seconds to win his second straight state title. He finished the year 36-1 with a North Jersey-best 28 pins.
R.J. Cole, St. Anthony’s Basketball
Marcellus Earlington, Don Bosco Prep Basketball
Shane Griffith, Bergen Catholic Wrestling
Chauncey Hawkins, St. Joseph Regional
Kyle Cochran, Paramus Wrestling
Jahvon Quinerly, Hudson Catholic Basketball
Mickey Burns, Don Bosco Prep Hockey
Leondre Washington, Teaneck Basketball
John Burger, New Milford Wrestling
Michael O’Malley, Hasbrouck Heights Wrestling
Gabriele Stefanini, Bergen Catholic Basketball
Dallas Hoffman, Hawthorne Basketball
Girls’ Athlete of the Season:
Michelle Sidor, Saddle River Day Basketball
As a freshman Sidor burst onto the scene in a major way by being able to score from virtually anywhere once she crossed half-court. She also had the backing of a supporting cast with plenty of big-game experience and senior leadership. Saddle River Day trotted out a talented, but much younger lineup for the 2016-2017 season. Sidor relished being more of a vocal leader, but it was her play that did most of the talking for her.
Sidor started off the year on fire by scoring at least 20 points in the Rebels’ first 15 games, including five games with 30 points or more before taking over the Bergen County Tournament.
Against a tough Ramapo squad in the BCT quarterfinals, Sidor was dominant with a game-high 36 points. After adding 23 in the semis against IHA, she set her sights on a rematch with Immaculate Conception with the county title at stake. Not matter what defense was thrown at her, Sidor remained patient and eventually got hers. The sophomore point guard led all scorers with 28 points as Saddle River Day came from the No. 3 seed to win its second straight Bergen County title.
In the state tournament, Sidor came up with her two best scoring outputs of the season. She nailed a career-high nine 3s in a 45-point outburst in the first round of Non-Public B North against Newark Academy. The semis provided more of the same against Hudson County finalist Marist. She nailed eight 8-pointers on her way to 40 points.
Despite constant attention from two or three defenders, Sidor fought through and finished second in the state in points per game with 27.8 along with five assists and three steals per game. With over 1,500 career points and still two years left to play, Sidor is on pace to become the all-time leading scorer in Bergen County history.
Breyenne Bellerand, Immaculate Conception Basketball
It is an extremely rare player that comes along and not only improves in each of her four years of high school, but also develops into a player who can score from or guard any of the five positions on the floor. Bellerand was one of those players and proved that with a great senior season in which she impacted games in a variety of ways.
Despite often being the best player on the floor, even against top competition, Bellerand did not have to have a huge game scoring the ball in order for her team to win. Whatever it took to get the job done, Bellerand would do with a mixture of poise and aggression.
As many good games as she had throughout the regular season that led her team to victory, her best game came in a losing effort against Saddle River Day in the Bergen County Tournament final. She was everywhere coming up with loose balls and rebounds to single-handedly keep the Blue Wolves in the game until late. They lost the game but Bellerand left her mark with 25 points and a game-high 17 rebounds.
She will continue playing basketball next year at James Madison University.
Samantha McClutchy, Westwood Basketball
Brianna Wong, Pascack Valley Basketball
Breyanna Frazier, Marist Basketball
Erin McQuillen, Cresskill Basketball
Emily Calabrese, Ramapo Basketball
Lindsey Mack, Secaucus Basketball
Jenna Jordan, Saddle River Day Basketball
Bionca Chambers, New Milford Basketball
Hailey Reynolds, Ramsey Basketball
Boys’ Team of the Season:
Don Bosco Prep Basketball
Head coach Kevin Diverio knew his team had the potential to be something special this season, but maybe not even he could have imagined just how impressive the Ironmen would be from start to finish. It started innocently with a blowout win over Paramus Catholic. Although the season ended with a loss to the Patrick School in the Tournament of Champions final, the Ironmen were the last team standing in North Jersey, which included a Bergen County title along the way.
Diverio scheduled the toughest competition he could possibly find and was rewarded when it came time for the county and state tournaments. The Ironmen even went out of state several times against top teams and came out victorious in each of those games.
For all of the victories, it was a loss to archrival Bergen Catholic that galvanized the team and made it work harder to reach its lofty goals. Led by the Marcellus Earlington inside, Chris Paul, and Ronald Harper, the Ironmen also had plenty of depth with Charlie Bagin, Manley Dorme, and Chris Lovisolo providing stability in an already talented lineup.
They got revenge on Bergen Catholic in the regular season, but it was in Bergen County Jamboree final where they made big plays down the stretch before Earlington’s free-throw with six seconds left gave Don Bosco a 60-59 victory and it first Jambo title in nine years.
That was just a warm-up for the state tournament where the Ironmen won three straight close games to win the Non-Public A state title and reach the Tournament of Champions for the first time in school history. In a rematch of last year’s Non-Public A state final that they lost by 33 points, the Ironmen reversed that by taking control early and never trailing before holding on late for a 69-66 win.
Don Bosco was not just happy with making the T of C, this team wanted to hoist the trophy. The Ironmen came up a win short of doing so but posted wins over Verona and Linden to get to the final and finished with a school-record 30 wins on the season.
HEAD COACH JEROME SMART
The Highwaymen took on anybody and everybody this past season. Led by the state’s best backcourt of Ja’Quaye James and Leondre Washington, Teaneck had quality wins and some tough losses along the way. But it merely was a tune-up for the real prize, defending their Group 3 title.
After cruising by River Dell in the North 1, Group 3 title game, they held off a challenge from Barringer in the Group 3 semis before facing Ewing in the state final. They were down by as many as 13, but the Highwaymen clawed their way back before once again sealing the game late from the foul line to repeat as Group 3 state champions.
Glen Rock Hockey
Don Bosco Prep Hockey
Bergen Catholic Wrestling
Passaic Tech Wrestling
Girls’ Team of the Season:
Pascack Valley Basketball
GROUP 3 STATE CHAMPS
Under head coach Jeff Jasper the Indians have always been a unit, five players on the court and all of those in the long gold line on the bench working as one. As many great teams as Jasper has had the pleasure to coach, few of them have been as dominant as this year’s team was.
The Indians shot the lights out consistently and broke the will of opposing teams with smothering defense right from the start of the season. They won their first 16 games by an astounding average of 29 points per victory. That all came to a screeching halt when, as the No. 2 seed in the Bergen County Tournament, the Indians suffered an upset loss to Northern Valley/Old Tappan. What could have been a soul-crushing loss turned into a speed bump on the road to a bigger goal.
Led by sharpshooters Brianna Wong and Kelly Smith along with do-everything guard Kelly Petro, the Indians got right back on the winning trail.
The Indians once again ripped through the remainder of the regular season and carried that over into the state tournament. As fate would have it, they got another shot at Old Tappan in the North 1, Group 3 final. This one was no contest as Pascack Valley jumped out early and never looked back in a 70-42 win.
After a win over Somerville in the Group 3 semifinals the Indians met their match in the state final against Ocean City. In only their second close game of the season the Indians dug deep and pulled it out in the end with a 48-45 win to advance to the Tournament of Champions.
Their season ended with a first-round loss to Franklin, but the Indians can take some solace in the fact that Franklin went on to win the T of C. The Indians’ season ended with a record of 30-2.
Saddle River Day Basketball
BERGEN COUNTY CHAMPS
Two-time Barton’s Best Athlete of the Season Michelle Sidor led the way for the Rebels. She was not a one-girl show though as several players emerged throughout the season to become reliable players in big games.
Sophomore Jenna Jordan grew from a role player into a double-double machine who could take over in the paint at a moment’s notice. Jackie Wolak showed off her defensive wizardry by averaging over nine steals per game. Maggie Kuntz, Michaela McMahon, and Carolyn Carrera all were outside threats that hit threes if Sidor was double-teamed. Jaayden Lafontant came on late in the season to provide depth, scoring inside and an extra rebounder, who could pull them down in bunches. The heart and soul of the team though was senior Cassy Cruz. A player who thrived on doing the dirty work that did not necessarily show up in the box score.
Head coach Danny Brown had the Rebels playing the toughest teams from all over the Tri-State area. With a relatively young squad having only two seniors in the rotation, this time had to learn how to win against bigger, tougher foes. The Rebels did just that and showed their best in defense of their Bergen County Tournament title.
They raced out to early leads in all four of their BCT games and were never threatened in any of them to repeat as Bergen County champions.
Queen of Peace Basketball
Immaculate Conception Basketball