Middlesex County teams address spring sports season being canceled

Scott Jacobs
Old Bridge High School's Baseball team celebrates a big win during a home game against Saint Joseph's Regional High School of Metuchen on May 17. Old Bridge went on to win the game 1-0.

It was the news that most high school spring sports coaches and athletes across the Greater Middlesex Conference expected but didn’t want to hear: on May 4, Gov. Phil Murphy announced that schools in New Jersey would be closed for the rest of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The domino effect of schools not reopening resulted in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) cancelling the spring sports season.

“Following today’s announcement by Gov. Murphy, the NJSIAA has officially canceled New Jersey’s 2020 high school spring sports season,” the committee said in a press release. “This decision was not made lightly and we are disappointed for the thousands of New Jersey student-athletes who will be unable to compete this spring. While we remained hopeful to the end, and left open every possibility, competition simply is not feasible given the circumstances.”

The decision is yet another unfortunate ramification of COVID-19, with athletes missing out on their senior season to teams losing out on a spring that could hve featured state and conference championships.

“The news wasn’t surprising, but didn’t make it hurt less,” said Michael Murray, baseball coach for Saint Joseph Regional High School in Metuchen.

The squad that was scheduled to take the diamond this spring for the Falcons would have featured 15 to 16 senior players.

Murray held a team meeting on Zoom a day after the news broke and said that his players were of course very disappointed, but was impressed by their reactions, especially the seniors.

St. Joe’s was geared up for a great spring with a dominant pair of aces at the top of its rotation in senior right-hander Adam Boucher and sophomore lefty Donovan Zsak, the coach said.

The Falcons went 20-10 last year and made a strong run to the NJSIAA South Jersey, Non-Public A championship game.

Murray felt his team had a chance to make another run at winning a sectional title and be in the running to win the conference tournament.

Feeling nothing but heartache for all his players, especially his seniors for not getting the chance to play out this season, Murray said he will do whatever it takes to give his players some sort of season or game competition this summer if restrictions are lifted.

Murray, who is also the school’s athletic director, has been in contact with other coaches in the state and the conference about setting up a tournament or a round of games this summer.

The team’s annual green and black inter-squad game that is usually played during the preseason is another idea Murray is considering, with the Falcons’ current squad facing off against a team filled with alumni.

A GMC senior all-star game is another possibility, Murray said.

“We’re trying to be as creative as possible to organize some sort of games this summer for the players,” Murray said. “Give the seniors some closure from everything that has happened to them.”

Old Bridge High School baseball player Eddie Nugent is hoping that there will be some sort of games this summer for he and his teammates to participate in.

The senior was hopeful that there would be a season, even though it seemed unlikely that would be the case.

After the announcement by the governor, Nugent admitted it was like losing everything. His team wasn’t going to get the chance to try to repeat as conference champions and compete for a state championship. He was losing out on his senior season and a chance to earn the recognition of being an all-conference player.

He instead will get the opportunity to compete in both football and baseball when he attends Susquehanna University. But before he goes off to college, Nugent wants one more chance in any shape or form to play on the diamond with his Old Bridge teammates, he said.

“Without the guys I played with in high school, I’m not where I am at today,” Nugent said. “These guys are my family. I owe it to them to give it everything I got to play one more game with them and go out the right way.”

Joe Yannone never thought that March 13 would be the last time he would coach his Monroe Township High School boys lacrosse team. The team’s sixth practice ended up being its last of the season.

“It was tough,” Yannone said. “We always assumed we would be back. There was always hope to have some closure to the season. We didn’t really get a chance to say goodbye.”

Monroe will miss out on a shot at a three-peat and its fourth conference championship in five years.

Yannone said he felt really good about his squad during the preseason and believed his team had a chance at a special season.

Monroe’s was fueled by a strong upperclassmen nucleus that was led by senior goalie Josh Estavillo and junior midfielder Matthew Dorian.

Possibilities of any type of games or leagues in the summer have not yet been something Yannone has spoken about with other coaches, and is something the coach said he wouldn’t really look into until restrictions are lifted.

Yannone hopes that there will be a chance for his squad to have a chance to play some other teams from the Greater Middlesex Conference and is definitely a fan of a GMC senior all-star game.

One thing for sure that Yannone hopes people take from this situation is how special all four years of high school sports are to student-athletes.

“You really appreciate something more when it’s taken from you,” Yannone said. “This shows how special each of your four years in high school are.”

Each year is crucial in an athlete’s growth as well, echoed South Brunswick High School girls track and field Coach Stefan Moorhead, who believes underclassmen will be affected in their development by the season being canceled.

Moorhead said he has been stressing to his junior, sophomore and freshman athletes to train as hard as they can on their own this summer so they can reach the level of performance that they would’ve had the opportunity to reach this spring if sports resumed.

As for the seniors on the South Brunswick girls track and field squad, disappointment fills the heart of Moorhead, who said he wishes his 15 senior athletes would’ve gotten a final chance to compete and be with their friends this spring.

Moorhead said he is up to running a meet or two this summer, but those plans have not yet been spoken about.

The team will try to get together during the summer for a mock meet or practice when allowed, Moorhead stated.

The South Brunswick High School athletic department will hold a Virtual Senior Day to honor all its senior student-athletes later this month, he said.

“It will be a nice way to honor them for all their hard work,” Moorhead said. “Our seniors are disappointed and feeling the loss of not being able to compete this spring.”

Follow Steve Bassin on Twitter @SBassin_Sports