Sussex County Sports Blog

By Dan Cleary

3/2/2015 - Lions Ready For Run

   It didn’t take Pope John boys basketball coach Jason Hasson very long to realize that something was off.
   In fact, it took only about six seconds for the excitable coach to call a timeout after Hackettstown took an early 2-0 lead in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex championship game.
   “I could tell in our warm-ups we were flat,” said the fourth-year head coach.  “I really don’t know why but I could tell.  So I knew we had to do something so we called a timeout about six seconds into the game and we went on a 15-0 run after that so that really set the tone.”
   It certainly did as the Lions raced out to a 15-2 lead and never looked back Friday night en route to a convincing 76-47 victory over the Tigers, the top seed from Hunterdon/Warren, at Vernon Township High School.
   It was the Lions’ fourth straight tourney title under Hasson as he has guided PJ (24-3) to the crown every year he has been at the school since coming over from St. Anthony as a former assistant to the legend, Bob Hurley.
   Moustapha Diagne was named the tourney MVP after an 18-point, 14-rebound effort.  Matt Zignorski, the Lions’ splendid shooting guard, also finished with 18 points with four 3-pointers. 
   The Fordham-bound sniper, who was the MVP last year, has been a major part of the four titles since getting playing time his freshman year.
   Jeromy Rodriguez added 10 points and 14 boards, while Ray Montilus did a marvelous job running the point. James Scott and Damien Rance turned in their usual outstanding efforts in the big win as well.
   “It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said Zignorski, one of the top sixth man in the state if not the best.   “We expected to be here from the beginning of the year.
   “The great thing about basketball is that you get out of this game what you put into it,” he added.  “We’ve had 43 practices this year and we showed up everyday and worked hard.”
   There is an saying that Vernon AD Bill Edelman puts at the end of all of his email correspondences and it rings true in my view--”Hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard.”
   This Pope John team works very hard and the residue of that hard work played a huge factor in its  62-61 road win against Linden, the top public school in the state and top 5 team overall.
   The Lions have accomplished things this season that no other boys basketball team has ever done in county history.  They have played a nationally-ranked non-league schedule and their only losses this season have comes to teams which do not compete in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association state tournament.
   PJ’s only setbacks are to St. Edward of Ohio (57-43), St. Benedict’s (75-51) and Blair Academy (56-51), which the Lions topped on opening night 75-61. 
   Pretty impressive.
   And give Hasson a lot of credit for not taking anything for granted.  Would have the Lions still beaten Hackettstown if he didn’t call the quick TO?  The answer is, yes, but he didn’t want the team to be complacent, and that is one of the marks of the great teams, never being satisfied.
   Hasson also has a great staff in veteran Dennis Rogers as well as Nick Sires and Kevin Houston.  Rogers is a terrific guy to have on the bench and Hasson wisely goes to him for advice.
   The Lions have the attitude of worrying more about the name on their jerseys than their opponents.  They respect all and fear none and have the mindset that if they do the things they are capable of doing the winning will take care of itself.
   And so far that has worked all season but now the biggest test of the campaign  awaits the Lions--the state tournament.
   The Lions will play in one of the toughest sections in the state as the No. 2 seed in Non-Public North A.  Seton Hall Prep, which PJ finally beat last year, is the top seed, while the section also houses the top team from Bergen County in recent Bergen Jamboree winner Bergen Catholic.
   Don Bosco, which ousted PJ last year, is also back in the tourney as well as a battle-tested St. Joseph of Montvale.
   PJ starts the tourney Thursday when it hosts No. 7 Paramus Catholic at 8 p.m. after the PJ girls host DePaul at 6.
   “We have a great group of seniors and we really want to go out on top,” said Hasson.  “I think this is our year.  Every year we talk about this at this time…We just want to go one game further than last year and see what happens.”
   Zignorski has played a big role in the Lions going from a regional power to a state power during his outstanding career and he can’t wait for the playoffs to start.
   “We’re very excited going in,” said Zignorski.  “We have such high expectations for this year.  We think we are really capable of taking it all the way and if we work hard enough I think we will.”
   If the Lions win Thursday they will host the winner of Don Bosco and Delbarton on Saturday.  The winner of that game will play in the section final at the RAC on the campus of Rutgers University March 11 at 6 p.m.
   Pope John has never reached a section final in boys hoops.  The 1999 girls team made a memorable run to the then Parochial A final under its great coach Bonnie Lewis before losing to St. John Vianney.
   Sussex County has had only one school reach the state final in boys hoops and it was the Jon Deeb-led Sparta Spartans in 1989--the year after Chris Jent graduated.
   The Spartans, who didn’t even win the Sussex County Interscholastic League that season, fell to Eastern in the Group 3 final.
   That is the last time a boys team from the area has even won a section crown.  We have had several schools get to the section championship, most notably Newton five straight seasons in the 1990s, but not one team has brought home the hardware.
   It is about time.
   I know the PJ haters out there are cringing at this blog and they have a right to their opinion.  I know the team only has one local kid on it in Jefferson resident Zignorski that is a very big contributor.
   I get it.  When Sparta had their great teams in the late 1980s they were all Sparta kids and that  makes what they did very special and still very special to this day.
   But I like watching good basketball and the Lions play a brand of hoops that hasn’t been seen up here and they do play for a school in the county so I don’t think it would be a crime for the fans of county basketball to get behind the Lions as they prepare to make their run at history.
   You can go back to hating them when you have to lace’em  up next season.  And in a way if PJ does win the title, all the local teams that played PJ will be part of history too.
   The girls basketball teams in the area have given us great success with Sparta winning three crowns and the recent runs Newton and Jefferson put together.
   Now its time for the boys and Pope John gives the area its best hope since 1989.

   That’s it for now see you on the sidelines. 

3/2/2015
Lions Ready For Run


2/24/2015
Spartans Deliver District Title


2/19/2015
Chiefs Find A Way To Win


2/6/2015
Politicians Should Stay Out Of High School Sports


1/30/2015
Gallagher Named HP Softball Coach


1/24/2015
H/W/S, Morris Tourneys To Begin


1/16/2015
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1/9/2015
PJ's Brown Playing For National Title


1/2/2015
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12/23/2014
Banquets Great Success


12/19/2014
Hoops Opens Tonight


12/8/2014
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12/1/2014
Transfer Rule Voted Down


11/21/2014
NJSIAA Does Right Thing In Not Moving Soccer Finals


11/14/2014
Pats Bring Back Soccer Glory


11/5/2014
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10/29/2014
Hazing At Eldred Cancels Game At Sussex Tech


10/24/2014
Newton Gets Tops Seed In Field Hockey


10/21/2014
Classy Smolyn Wins 300th


10/13/2014
High Point Battles Into Semis


10/6/2014
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9/29/2014
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9/19/2014
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9/14/2014
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9/11/2014
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9/9/2014
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9/1/2014
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8/20/2014
Sussex Hall of Fame Inductees Announced


8/15/2014
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8/8/2014
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8/1/2014
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7/26/2014
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7/18/2014
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7/11/2014
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7/7/2014
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6/26/2014
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6/19/2014
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6/13/2014
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6/9/2014
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6/4/2014
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5/26/2014
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5/19/2014
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5/12/2014
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5/12/2014
Lacrosse State Pairings


5/5/2014
HWS Lacrosse To Get Under Way


4/28/2014
Morville Goes Out A Winner


4/16/2014
Weather Could Wreak Havoc on H/W/S


4/10/2014
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4/7/2014
Lenape's LaBell Named Scholar Athlete


3/31/2014
NJAC Adds Boys Lacrosse


3/24/2014
Super Season For Hoops


3/17/2014
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3/6/2014
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2/27/2014
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2/20/2014
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2/13/2014
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2/7/2014
Teamwork, Seniors Boost Sparta


1/31/2014
Jefferson Boys Hoops Snubbed


1/26/2014
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1/17/2014
Proposal Takes Aim At Transfers


1/10/2014
Round One Goes To PJ


1/8/2014
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1/3/2014
Sussex Cup Great Idea


12/27/2013
Green A Class Act


12/20/2013
Hoops Season Is Here


12/12/2013
Special Season For Spartans


12/5/2013
Football Plan Rejected Again


11/27/2013
Many Thanks!


11/25/2013
Football Finals Schedule


11/21/2013
Cronin, Braves Just Golden


11/14/2013
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11/7/2013
Braves To Host State Football Game


11/1/2013
Newton Eyes H/W/S Sweep


10/24/2013
Great Fall For Lenape Valley


10/17/2013
Wallkill's Corti Captures H/W/S


10/9/2013
PJ-Sparta Rivalry Runs Deep


10/2/2013
H/W/S Goes To Power Points


9/23/2013
PJ's Izzo Picks Florida State


9/19/2013
What's Good, Bad About H.S. Sports


9/12/2013
Brown Makes County Proud


9/11/2013
We Should Never Forget


9/6/2013
NJAC Faces Changes


9/3/2013
Fall Broadcast Schedule


8/28/2013
Taunting Rule Tough To Enforce


8/21/2013
Humbled By Hall Honor


8/14/2013
School Choice Athletes Must Sit


8/7/2013
SUCO Hall Announces Candidates


7/31/2013
Team Sweeney Wins Sparta League


7/24/2013
Clarification


7/23/2013
Spartans Tap Connors For Boys Soccer Job


7/18/2013
McCarney Eyes Big Season, NFL


7/10/2013
Aiken Leaves Pope John


7/2/2013
Lenape Valley Looking For New AD Again


6/26/2013
Lowery Steps Down At Sparta


6/19/2013
Jefferson Names MacDermid New Girls Hoops Coach


6/17/2013
All-NJAC American Baseball


6/17/2013
All-NJAC American, Freedom Softball


6/17/2013
All-NJAC Freedom Baseball


6/6/2013
Tommy Martino A True Inspiration


5/29/2013
Delaney Takes Wallkill Football Job


5/23/2013
Canning, Lions Capture Crown


5/16/2013
Pope John Takes Aim At Softball Title


5/9/2013
Wildcats Look to Repeat


5/4/2013
Spartans Eye HWS Lax Crowns


4/27/2013
A Tribute To My Dad


4/3/2013
Firing Rice A Good Start


4/1/2013
Spring Broadcast Schedule


3/25/2013
Soccer Coaches Will Be Missed


3/18/2013
Hoops Season Review


3/13/2013
O'Connor Goes Out A Winner


2/21/2013
High Point Eyes H/W/S Crown


2/20/2013
PJ-Sparta III


2/18/2013
Wildcats Bounce Back To Win State Title


2/5/2013
Wynne, Lions Continue to Roar


2/4/2013
Girls Hoops Power Points


2/4/2013
Boys Hoops Power Points


1/29/2013
H/W/S Boys Hoops Preview


1/27/2013
H/W/S Girls Hoops Preview


1/18/2013
Jones Steps Down As Wallkill Football Coach


1/10/2013
How Are Good Are the Lions?


1/2/2013
2013 Comes in With A Bang; Pretty in Pink Saturday


12/27/2012
Winter Broadcast Schedule


12/12/2012
NJAC Football All-Stars Freedom


12/12/2012
NJAC Football All-Stars American -2


12/11/2012
NJAC Girls Soccer All-Stars


12/10/2012
NJAC Football All-Stars American


12/9/2012
NJAC Girls Tennis All-Stars


12/8/2012
NJAC Boys Soccer All-Stars


12/3/2012
Newton Win Worthy Of Parade


11/27/2012
Pats Making History


11/11/2012
State Football Pairings


11/5/2012
Sandy Wreaks Havoc


10/24/2012
SUCO Hall Has New Look


10/17/2012
Pope John Soccer Eyes History


10/3/2012
H/W/S Soccer Set To Start


9/27/2012
H/W/S Field Hockey Starts; State Makes Right Call


9/20/2012
NJSIAA Comes Up Snake Eyes


9/12/2012
Fall Broadcast Schedule


9/11/2012
We Should Never Forget


9/7/2012
Academies Not The Right Way To Go


8/17/2012
Football Group Classifications


8/7/2012
Horse Show Trots On


7/31/2012
Turf Field Great For Newton


7/24/2012
Martinek, Big Blue Good Fit


7/9/2012
BBCOR Bats Right Move


6/27/2012
NJAC Baseball, Softball Stars


6/20/2012
(Mugs Media Exclusive) Van Orden Takes High Point Job


6/17/2012
Wildcats Win Thriller


6/7/2012
High Point Continues Magical Ride


5/30/2012
Tech Caps Record Season


5/21/2012
Wildcats Capture Crown


5/16/2012
State Should Break Lax Tourney Into Sections


5/8/2012
Spartans Eye H/W/S Title


5/1/2012
Girls Lacrosse Tourney Set To Start


4/22/2012
Wildcats Eye Tourney Title


4/13/2012
Games of the Week Back on The Air !


4/6/2012
Scholar-Athlete Dinner Great Event


3/27/2012
Lipscomb Perfect Fit For SCCC


3/20/2012
Geffken Leaves Lasting Legacy


3/5/2012
Mugs Media Will Survive


2/20/2012
Lawrence Makes Big Splash With PJ


1/30/2012
Paternostro Passes Away


1/24/2012
(Mugs Media Exclusive) Falcons Hire DeGennaro


1/23/2012
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1/19/2012
Vikes Hit Rough Seas


1/15/2012
NJAC Races Heating Up


1/7/2012
Martinek Wraps Fine Career


12/14/2011
NJAC Should Push Back Starting Date


12/6/2011
Football Plan Rejected


11/27/2011
Magical Season For Braves


11/15/2011
Wayne Hills Misses Opportunity


11/8/2011
Vikings Back in The Big Dance


10/31/2011
Christensen, Wildcats Roar


10/25/2011
NJAC Makes Changes


10/13/2011
DiSomma Brings Home Title


10/4/2011
H/W/S Soccer To Start


9/27/2011
Mustangs, Leach Make History


9/19/2011
Lions Bounce Back For Carlson


9/11/2011
We Should Never Forget


9/8/2011
Wildcats Show Fight


8/21/2011
Are You Ready For Some Football?


8/12/2011
SUCO Hall of Fame Class Stellar


8/3/2011
PJ's Moore Picks BC


7/24/2011
Ungerman Classic Great For Hoops Fans


7/14/2011
Vernon Drops To Group 3


7/8/2011
Kelly, Dugan To Lead Braves


7/2/2011
Sussex Stars Shine


6/21/2011
High Point Finds Solution With Percey


6/13/2011
What A Ride For Sparta


6/4/2011
Historic Blasts For PJ, Sparta


5/23/2011
Judgment Day for Lions, Vikes


5/15/2011
Ruban Steps Down At Wallkill Valley


5/9/2011
Boys Lax Tourney Should Be Good One


5/6/2011
Vernon Girls Favorite To Win H/WS


4/29/2011
Pope John Names New Basketball Coach


4/23/2011
H/W/S Tourneys To Start


4/10/2011
GIrls Hoops NJAC Stars


4/2/2011
History Made At Pope John


4/1/2011
Pope John Names Football Coach


3/25/2011
Local Boys Hoops Stars Honored


3/20/2011
Hopatcong's Rey Wins National Title


3/16/2011
Lions Saga Continues


3/9/2011
(Mugs Media Exclusive) Paternostro Steps Down


3/5/2011
Great Run For High Point Girls


2/17/2011
Hats Off To Cats


2/12/2011
American Division Up For Grabs


2/3/2011
A Look At H/W/S Girls Hoops Tourney


1/25/2011
H/W/S Boys Hoops Preview


1/18/2011
More Females Join Coaching Ranks


1/9/2011
Pretty In Pink Classic Great Success


1/2/2011
Wildcats Look To Make History


12/21/2010
Skyhawks May Fly The Coop


12/14/2010
Alumni Game Fun


12/6/2010
NJAC Girls Soccer Honors


11/30/2010
NJAC Field Hockey Honors


11/18/2010
Local Boys Soccer Players Honored


11/11/2010
Rangers Return To Playoffs


11/6/2010
Vikings Make History


10/28/2010
Tourney Time Brings Questions


10/20/2010
Power Point Presentation


10/14/2010
North Warren Football On The Rise


10/7/2010
H/W/S Tourney Under Way


9/30/2010
Stop The Insanity


9/22/2010
Tough Break For Chiefs


9/11/2010
We Should Never Forget


9/8/2010
NJSIAA Moving In Right Direction


8/17/2010
Activity Fees New Reality


8/10/2010
Zabriskie Makes County Proud


8/2/2010
PJ Soccer Family Rallies For Good Cause


7/24/2010
Is Cheerleading A Sport?


7/15/2010
Marchiano Named Sparta Coach


7/7/2010
Change Good For Vikings


6/27/2010
Up And Down Year For NJAC


6/15/2010
New Sparta Coach Has Big Shoes To Fill


6/8/2010
Shea Steps Down At Sparta


6/1/2010
TOC On Chopping Block


5/20/2010
Beatty Cup Great Idea


5/3/2010
Spartans Gain Top Seed


5/1/2010
Local NJAC Standings


4/23/2010
Bello, Lions Ready To Roar


4/18/2010
Mustangs Ready For H/W/S


4/17/2010
Local NJAC Standings


4/11/2010
Local NJAC Standings


4/5/2010
Girls Lacrosse Has New Look


3/22/2010
Sports Programs In Doubt


3/15/2010
NJSIAA In Fight For Its Life


3/8/2010
No 'Rocky' Ending For Orr


3/1/2010
What We Learned At H/W/S


2/28/2010
Local NJAC Hoops Standings


2/19/2010
Wrestling Needs A TOC


2/12/2010
H/W/S Tourney To Tip Off


2/10/2010
Local NJAC Hoops Standings


2/8/2010
Clearing Up Tourney Questions


2/6/2010
Local NJAC Hoops Standings


2/1/2010
(Exclusive to Mugs Media) Levens, Falcons Part Ways


1/31/2010
Local NJAC Hoops Standings


1/20/2010
Great Night For Wrestling


1/18/2010
Local NJAC Basketball Standings


1/11/2010
Geffken Makes Right Choice


1/3/2010
Top Teams Of The Decade


12/27/2009
O'Connor Hits Magic Mark


12/15/2009
Sports-Specific Way to Go


12/3/2009
NJAC Makes Changes


11/23/2009
Geary, Spartans Play Instant Classic


11/16/2009
NJAC Should Look At Football


11/8/2009
Sussex Football Puts On Show


10/29/2009
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10/22/2009
Expanded Brackets Good Idea


10/13/2009
New Tourney Set To Kick Off


10/7/2009
Classy Chernati wins 300th Game


9/29/2009
Tough Start For ex-SCIL Teams


9/11/2009
We Should Never Forget


9/8/2009
NJAC Era Begins


9/1/2009
Parzero Perfect For Pats


8/23/2009
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8/9/2009
Fun At The Fair


8/2/2009
Fond Memories of Dick Stoltenborg


7/24/2009
Hall Nominees All Deserving


7/14/2009
Opening Day Will Be Tough


6/28/2009
SCIL Show Special


6/2/2009
Newton Makes Disque Proud


5/19/2009
Tri-County Tourney Great Idea


5/12/2009
NJSIAA Hits Grand Slam


5/1/2009
How About A Lacrosse Tourney?


4/19/2009
Levens Keeps On Winning


4/11/2009
Everyone's Favorite Uncle Mo'


4/2/2009
Morris Will Be Missed


3/21/2009
SCIL Athletes Talk Of The Town


3/12/2009
Wrestlebacks Not For The Meek


3/3/2009
Kuntz Built SCCC Into Winner


2/25/2009
Festival Goes Out In Style


2/17/2009
SCIL Swim Festival First Class


2/11/2009
Heartbreak For Wildcats


2/4/2009
Expanded Brackets A Home Run


1/27/2009
Coaches Sit On Hot Seat


1/20/2009
NJAC Releases Schedules (Part 2)


1/13/2009
NJAC Releases Schedules (Part 1)


1/5/2009
I'm One Lucky Guy


12/21/2008
Tough Break For Sisco


12/7/2008
Nice Guys Finish First


11/28/2008
Back To The Future For Falcons


11/20/2008
Sussex Perfect For Runners


11/14/2008
Fitting End For SCIL Football


11/8/2008
Other Side of Cinderella


10/31/2008
Edelman, Vikes Make Good Point


10/23/2008
Rangers Riding High


10/16/2008
Old Lion Still Roaring


10/9/2008
State Plays 52-Pickup


10/3/2008
SCIL Soccer Plan Perfect


9/25/2008
NJSIAA Lacks Direction


9/17/2008
High Point's Keur Happy To Be Back


9/11/2008
We Should Never Forget


9/1/2008
Football Deaths Sobering Reminder


8/25/2008
State Plan Needs Second Look


8/14/2008
Realingment Plan Disbands SCIL (Exclusive to MugsMedia.Com)


8/11/2008
Martinek Gives Me Knight Fever


8/6/2008
Remembering Ryan Olsen


7/30/2008
No Place Like Home For Crespi


7/21/2008
Trudgeon, Braves Had Great Run


7/13/2008
Safety First For Little Leaguers


7/6/2008
Wolf, Nottle Find Winning Ways


6/29/2008
Are You Ready For The Summer?


6/22/2008
Lanier Right Man For Skyhawks


6/15/2008
A Special Thanks to Dad


6/7/2008
Defense Never Rests


5/30/2008
Kittatinny Crew Saves the Day


5/23/2008
Bello makes right call


5/16/2008
Great to be back at Festival


5/9/2008
Softball Should Have Tourney


4/25/2008
Realignment Could Be Done Deal


4/18/2008
SCIL Teams Born to Score Runs


4/11/2008
SCIL Home to Top Hurlers


4/4/2008
Lacrosse Teams Riding the Wave


3/28/2008
Wallkill's VanZile Set to Retire (Exclusive to MugsMedia.com)


3/21/2008
A Little "Mercy" for Football Teams


3/14/2008
Valenti's Title Caps Banner Year for SCIL Wrestling


3/7/2008
Taking a Hard Look at the New Transfer Rules


2/29/2008
Giving SCIL Basketball a Boost


2/22/2008
Rasslin' to the Top... Finally


2/15/2008
Handicapping the Festival


2/8/2008
The Power of Power Points


1/31/2008
SCIL Adopts Innovative Soccer Plan (Exclusive to MugsMedia.com)


1/25/2008
On the Track to an Elite Program


1/18/2008
Adding Up the Numbers


1/11/2008
Dominating the Paint


1/3/2008
Bowling with the Knights


12/27/2007
Playing Games Over the Holidays


12/20/2007
The Mitchell Report Hits Home


12/13/2007
Are You Ready for the Winter?


12/6/2007
Reform Comes Slowly to New Jersey High School Sports


11/28/2007
Handing Out the Golden Statues


11/21/2007
Time for Change in NJ High School Sports


11/14/2007
Going a Little Extra


11/7/2007
The Single-Sport Athlete Dilemma


10/31/2007
Friday Night Lights


10/23/2007
Kicking Around Re-alignment


10/1/2007
I'm baaaack...


3/17/204
Great Run For Braves