MyCentralJersey.com sports writer Greg Tufaro, a 1985 graduate of Saint Joseph who has covered scholastic sports in Middlesex County for nearly three decades, ranks the 15 most defining eras or teams in the high school athletics program’s history.
1. “DECADE OF DOMINANCE”
The Saint Joseph swimming program commenced an unprecedented “Decade of Dominance” in 1980, winning the first of 12 consecutive state titles. From that era, All-Americans Laurens C. Bloch (’85), John Kennedy (’89), James Lutz (’86), and Zoltan Szabo (’80) are members of the Saint Joseph Athletics Hall of Fame, as are former coaches John Scheirman (’72) and Br. Aldric Smith, S.C. The 1986-87 team attained a No. 5 national ranking, and the 1996-97 squad became the second in school history to finish undefeated. Last year, the Falcons won their 40th consecutive Middlesex County or Greater Middlesex Conference championship, a streak that commenced a year before the “Decade of Dominance” began.
The 2013-14 basketball team, which won the program’s only Tournament of Champions title and an unprecedented fifth consecutive Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament crown, became the first in Middlesex County history to win 30 games in a season. The team featured future NBA first-round draft picks Karl-Anthony Towns and Wade Baldwin, as well as current college stars Breein Tyree (Ole Miss) and Marques Townes, who led Loyola-Chicago to the 2018 NCAA Final Four.
3. THE LONG RUN
The cross country program won 15 consecutive Middlesex County championships from 1964 through 1978. The founder of the school’s program, Br. Richard Leven, S.C., is a member of the Saint Joseph Athletics Hall of Fame. He coached the first team athletic event in the high school’s history, leading the freshman cross country squad in a meet at Warinanco Park in 1961.
4. NATIONAL RANKING
The 1997-98 basketball team, which won sectional and Greater Middlesex Conference tournament titles, was among the Top 10 teams in the country, according to USA Today’s national rankings. The squad featured Saint Joseph Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Jay Williams, who earned National College Player of the Year honors at Duke University and was a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls, and its coach was Mark Taylor (’83), another Hall of Fame member.
5. CLEAN SWEEP
The Saint Joseph 1971-72 cross country and track & field teams, featuring Saint Joseph Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Gary Trojanowski (‘72), were among the most dominant in Middlesex County history, claiming all five county championships that academic year. Nine members of that team, who also contributed to an indoor state relays title and a share of the outdoor state championship, went on to run at Division I colleges.
6. FORTY-THREE STRAIGHT
On the way to claiming the 2008 state volleyball championship, Saint Joseph rebounded from a season-opening loss to East Brunswick to win 43 consecutive matches, the longest single-season winning streak in New Jersey history for any high school sports team.
7. ACHIEVING GOALS
The 1988 soccer team, featuring captain Carmine Pascarella, who set multiple school records, is the only squad in program history to win state and county or conference tournament titles in the same season. The Falcons went on to win three more Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championships in succession. The program has produced several outstanding players including Saint Joseph High School Athletics Hall of Fame inductees Martin Costello (’81) and Tim Mulqueen (’83), as well as the Allen brothers, RJ and Brandon, who went on to play professionally.
8. LACROSSE T OF C FINAL
The 2010 lacrosse team, featuring Eddy Lubowicki, who tallied 417 career points, won a state title and advanced to the prestigious Tournament of Champions final, where the Falcons endured their only in-state loss that season, falling to perennial power Summit. St. Joseph’s has a rich tradition in the sport, developing players such as Athletics Hall of Fame inductees Adam Mueller (’84) and Reid E. Jackson (’90). The Falcons won five consecutive Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championships from 2008-12 and won a total of nine such titles from 2002-14.
9. SKATING SUCCESS
Brian Coelho scored four goals while leading the 2016-17 ice hockey team to a 4-1 win over Monroe for the program’s sixth consecutive Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championship as the Falcons claimed the Kolodney Cup, named after former head coach Pete Kolodney, who founded the sport at Saint Joseph 33 years ago and is a member of the high school’s Athletics Hall of Fame. The Falcons have made 24 state tournament appearances, and 42 percent of the ice hockey program’s graduates have gone on to play college hockey, eight at the Division I level.
10. FALCON FOOTBALL
Saint Joseph played its first football game in September 2009 and its first varsity football game two years later. The fledgling Falcons have since posted a 50-28 record – including a 25-5 mark the past three seasons – and won four Greater Middlesex Conference division titles. In less than a decade, Saint Joseph has groomed nearly a dozen scholarship players, most notably John Olmstead, among the nation’s most coveted recruits who is headed to the University of Notre Dame.
11. TOUCHING BASE
The baseball program has claimed four Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament titles and one sectional championship in the last decade while developing a bevy of Division I players including Brandon Bielak and James Ziemba, who are currently pitching in affiliated ball with MLB clubs.
12. TEEING OFF
The golf team, under the direction of veteran mentor Ryan Lechner, won four consecutive Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament championships from 2010-13.
The bowling team entered this season as three-time defending sectional champions, having commenced a title run during the 2015-16 campaign.
14. VAULTING TO TITLES
Saint Joseph’s gymnastics team (the sport is no longer offered in New Jersey) won consecutive state titles in 1992 and 1993.
15. WRESTLING RETURNS
Following a 26-year hiatus, Saint Joseph made its return to the mat, as the newly resurrected wrestling program debuted last month with Anthony Bistany winning the team’s first bout at the Hopatcong Invitational. The fledgling Falcons practice and compete in a newly constructed 80-foot by 50-foot wrestling room, formerly known as Woodburn Hall. Craig Belunes (‘77), believed to be the highest state placewinner (third) in school history, set the standard for Saint Joseph grapplers. Belunes holds career (76) and single-season (34) school records for wins. He was a three-time district champion, two-time region champion, and one-time Middlesex County champion who went on to wrestle at Rutgers University.