The pinnacle of high school ice hockey in New Jersey is the NJSIAA/Devils State Championships held each year in which the best teams battle for either the Public A, Public B, or Non-public crown. The Prudential Center proudly held this event for the fifth time. Inside the arena all year you’ll notice that a hockey jersey from each ice hockey high school in the state hangs on the main concourse, currently a total of 135. This event is truly a fun experience as the energy coming from the high schools’ supporters buzzes through The Rock. The play on the ice is surprisingly extremely physical with more open ice hits than an NHL contest. The skill at this level is an awesome sight with the players ripping great shots from tight spaces and combining for creative passing combinations with their classmates. The young men in these games are playing at the highest level of organized hockey that most of them will ever play and are displaying the result of playing hockey with their friends all their young lives, and if they are playing in this match-up, they have already risen to the top of the state and are playing in a game they will remember all of their lives. It is really a bittersweet magical feeling to watch sports in this setting. There are ecstatic families and school peers cheering on the athletes, parents of opposite teams smiling and shaking each other’s hand after their sons’ games while exchanging compliments and encouragement, and of course explosive celebrations for the winning teams. On this day, the ice on which one of the world’s best pro ice hockey teams plays it’s home games was turned over to New Jersey’s best high school ice hockey clubs.
The first game was the Non-public Championship. Don Bosco Prep worked their way through the bracket to earn their trip to Newark for the chance to topple defending champion Delbarton’s five year reign. Delbarton graduated 14 boys last season and was missing their top point scorer. Don Bosco Prep put up a valiant physical effort, but Delbarton continued to stay unbeaten at The Rock and won the game 4-0. Next was the Public B contest. Morristown came to avenge their loss in the Final last year. This time, they would face a team that they beat three times this season: Chatham. However, after two scoreless periods, Chatham would win a tight game 3-0. Finally the top two Public A teams squared off. Randolph played an all-around sound and dominate game against Bridgewater-Raritan to show that they deserved to be the State Champions with a 4-1 victory.
In basketball, Newark schools got involved in winning state championships. On the girl’s side, the Shabazz High School team with legendary coach Vanessa Watson are ranked number one in the state and won the Group 3 State Championship and didn’t stop there. Now with a 32-1 record, they are in the Tournament of Champions Final which will be played in Trenton on Tuesday. As for the boys, Newark East Side won the Group 3 State Championship while Newark Tech took the Group 2 honors. They had played each other twice this season with Tech taking the first game in overtime and East Side responding with a win a month later. As State Group Champions, they played in the first round of the Tournament of Champions on Wednesday to settle the bragging rights. It was a game of two halves with East Side dominating the first half and a Tech triumph in the second as Newark Tech won 42-39 to move on to the semifinals against Roselle Catholic.
Winter High School Championships can not be mentioned without a nod to perhaps the greatest sports achievement by a New Jersey high school athlete that we’ll see for a very long time. Congratulations to Anthony Ashnault of South Plainfield. This senior wrestler has accomplished what has never been done before in New Jersey, a state with a very enthusiastic wrestling following. Mr. Ashnault has not only won four state championships, but also has never been defeated in his high school wrestling career for an unbelievable record of 170-0. Thanks to this achievement, this sports season will always be a memorable one.