Year in Review: JSZ’s Top 20 of 2020

The year 2020 was made up of 12 unforgettable months. That sentiment especially rings true for New Jersey’s high school sports community. Jersey Sports Zone’s team of MMJ’s gathered for a year-in-review roundtable, discussing the Top 20 stories we covered this year.

Thank you to our loyal audience who followed along with us through one of the most trying years we’ll remember. Happy New Year, and here’s to a happy and healthy 2021!

JSZ Top 20 of 2020 Pt. 1

JSZ Top 20 of 2020 Pt. 2

No. 20: The Final Game Before COVID-19 Shutdown

Bergen Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep. These two were among the top basketball teams in New Jersey last season, and delivered a double-overtime showdown in the last game JSZ covered in the 2020 winter season. It signaled the near end of the basketball season and the beginning of a long statewide shutdown.

No. 19: Gill St. Bernard’s Rules NJ Soccer Scene

2020 was a year to remember for the Knights of Gill St. Bernard’s. All-state striker Micaah Garnette, who delivered 21 goals and 14 assists, was the main catalyst to a 13-0-1 squad that went on to win a Central West Non-Public sectional final against Skyland rival Pingry. The Knights were undoubtedly the top team at the end of the line.

No. 18: Leon Jones’ Inspiring Comeback

It was a year in which many would have to overcome tough circumstances. For Notre Dame’s Leon Jones, his journey to redemption began before COVID-19. Following a collision against St. Peter’s Prep in a playoff football game, Jones was left paralyzed for almost 48 hours. After regaining feeling in both of his legs, doctors were still unsure if he would be able to walk normally, let alone play sports again. However, midway through the basketball season, Leon Jones not only started his first game as a senior, but Jersey Sports Zone was there to watch him lead his team to victory.

No. 17: South Jersey’s Ware & Watson Earn Top Basketball Honors

There was no shortage of talent on the high school basketball court last winter, but Camden’s Lance Ware and Mainland’s Kylee Watson proved to be the best of the best. Ware, a Kentucky commit, was the senior leader for a Panthers team that finished the season on a 25-game winning streak. Watson, an Oregon commit, surpassed 2,000 career points in a decorated career for the Mustangs. Ware and Watson earned the JSZ Mr. and Ms. Hoop Zone awards, as the top players in the Garden State.

No. 16: Camden Basketball Reigns Supreme in Garden State Hoops Scene

It was the most anticipated season for The High in a generation, and the Panthers did not disappoint. Led by fabulous freshman D.J. Wagner, Kentucky commit Lance Ware, and South Carolina commit TaQuan Woodley, Camden went (29-1). The High was without a home gym for the 2019/2020 season, but Panthers fans followed the team all over the state and beyond to watch this special journey. Camden was in great position to win its first state title since 2000, before the coronavirus pandemic put a halt to the postseason.

No. 15: Delbarton Wrestling Delivers Historic Year on the Mat

When wrestling fans in Morristown – and across the state – look back on the 2019-2020 season, they’ll remember the incredible effort Delbarton put forth to cement themselves as the No. 1 program in New Jersey. It all started with a 42-15 victory over Bergen Catholic in the Non-Public A North semifinals where the Green Wave ended the Crusaders’ 96-match win streak against NJSIAA competition. That began a run of postseason excellence ending in Delbarton’s first state title since 2011.

No. 14: CBA, Donohoe are Kings of NJ Ice

The Gordon Conference is home to the elite New Jersey hockey programs, yet it was the private school from Monmouth County that slayed numerous Bergen County teams en route to attaining gold at the end of the road. The Colts, who won 20 games, the Gordon Cup and the Non-Public State Final, were led all year long by sophomore goalie John Donohoe. Donohoe went on to win JSZ’s 2020 Player of the Year after making 501 saves in electric fashion.

No. 13: Jewel Gonzalez Sets the Standard

A pioneer to Stateliner and New Jersey wrestling, Jewel Gonzalez was the face of girls wrestling in New Jersey during her high school career. Coming from one of the most storied and successful wrestling programs in the Garden State in Phillipsburg, Gonzalez won back-to-back girls state wrestling championships in Boardwalk Hall. During her two seasons, Gonzalez amassed an undefeated 30-0 record as she pinned her way through the state tournament as a senior. Gonzalez capped off her state championship the same way many other Stateliners had done before her, by jumping into the ocean.

No. 12: JSZ’s “One Shining Moment”

As the world shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, JSZ set out to commemorate the best of the 2019-20 high school basketball season. With the blessing of the song’s composer, David Barrett, JSZ was able to produce a unique version of the March Madness staple, “One Shining Moment.”

No. 11: Scottie Lewis Leads off the Court

Rounding out Part 1 of our look back at 2020 is a story that transcended sports. Ranney-alumni Scottie Lewis returned home to Asbury Park to lead a peaceful protest over the summer. It was a day that few would forget as organizers, protesters, and police officers joined together to rally against racial injustice and inequality.

No. 10: Abrupt Cancellations of Two High-Profile Games

Postponements and cancellations were common during the 2020 football season. The timing of a pair of cancellations stood out late in the season though, as Bergen Catholic-Delbarton was called off just before kickoff, and Williamstown-Ocean City was abandoned at halftime.

No. 9: Morristown-Beard Girls Hockey Makes History

Girls sports in the Garden State took another important step forward in 2020 with the inaugural state ice hockey championship. Morristown-Beard skated to victory at the Prudential Center in Newark.

No. 8: Bosco and Seton Hall Prep Earn Signature Wins

It felt like Bergen Catholic would face St. Peter’s with the state’s #1 ranking on the line to close out the year. Don Bosco and Seton Hall Prep had other ideas. The Ironmen stunned the Crusaders, while the Pirates topped the Marauders down the stretch of the season.

No. 7: A SportsCenter Top 10 Moment for Manasquan

Chris Farinacci beat the buzzer with a sensational goal to lift Manasquan over St. John Vianney. The highlight went national, making the rounds on ESPN.

No. 6: Shore Conference and WJFL Pod Playoffs

The 2020 football season didn’t feature the traditional playoff format. The Shore Conference and the West Jersey Football League still made it a memorable “postseason” for a handful of top teams, with the creation of playoff pods. Wall and Holy Spirit battled their way to 2020 bragging rights.

No. 5: Howard and Peterson Electrify in Atlantic City

Robert Howard and Dean Peterson both travelled down to Atlantic City on a mission. The standouts from Bergen Catholic and St. John Vianney captured state titles in impressive fashion at Boardwalk Hall.

No. 4: Estime Wins Zoneman & Commits to Irish

Audric Estime ran roughshod over opponents in 2020. The St. Joe’s (Montvale) senior earned JSZ’s top football honor, the Zoneman award, and flipped his commitment from Michigan State to Notre Dame. It was an eventful day for Estime, and JSZ was on hand to capture it.

No. 3: A JSZ All-Access Unlike Any Other

Football teams had extra time to gear up for a unique season, and JSZ tagged along with a handful of squads leading up to opening night. We were able to tell unique stories from the practice fields at Bergen Catholic, Notre Dame, Ocean City and Rumson-Fair Haven, as the teams laid the groundwork on how to play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No. 2: Spring Athletes Were Truly Jersey Strong

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the entire spring sports schedule in 2020. It was devastating to thousands of athletes, but especially to the seniors. A handful of those seniors delivered a powerful message as they reflected on their high school careers.

No 1: The Last Dance Brought Closure and Hope

Although it wasn’t an official NJSIAA event, The Last Dance baseball tournament gave over 200 teams a chance to finally take the field after the cancellation of the spring season. It was a memorable month of July, as Cranford won the title, and all of the teams provided a blueprint on how high school sports could move forward during the darkest of times.