RUTHERFORD, N.J. – When Emerson High School won the New Jersey Group 1 state baseball championship on June 6 in Toms River, they were guided by a young, first-year head coach in Chris Sommerhalter.
Sommerhalter, 31, is a 2006 graduate of Felician College. Among the many influences on his coaching philosophy was someone who, not long ago, was in the same situation in which Sommerhalter found himself in 2015 -- current Felician head coach Chris Langan.
"Coach Langan was a very young head coach (age 28) when he took over the Felician program for my junior season," Sommerhalter said. "Being a first-year coach, regardless of age, is always tough. You have to get the players to 'buy in' to you, your philosophies, and your goals. Coach Langan was able to do all of that. Remembering how he handled himself was something I thought about on a regular basis this season."
Sommerhalter looks back on his time at Felician with fondness. As a freshman in 2002 under coach Steve Svenson, he was a part of a Golden Falcon squad that won the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) regular-season title in just the third year of the program's existence. Completing a four-year playing career and earning a BA in special education and history helped lay the foundation for what he hopes will be a long career in coaching.
"Being a member of the baseball team at Felician allowed me to meet some of my best friends that I still keep in touch with today," Sommerhalter said. "I was coached by outstanding, knowledgeable coaches who taught the game the way it is supposed to be played. They instilled in me that being a positive, energetic coach helps breed success into a program. I also incorporate many of the fundamentals and drills that we did at Felician into my practices at Emerson."
Emerson's run to the state title contained other ties to Felician. Two of his opponents during the seasons also had former Golden Falcons on the coaching staff. St. Mary of Rutherford is led by Dennis Hulse '05 and assisted by Sommerhalter's Felician roommate, Joe McCloskey '04. Meanwhile, Justin Soccol '06 is an assistant at Midland Park High.
Furthermore, the Cavos claimed the championship by defeating Middlesex High, 3-1, in the final. Middlesex is the alma mater of one of Langan's current standouts, two-time all-CACC selection Brennan Price.
The connections don't end there. Before this season, the last state title for Emerson came in 2001, when Bob Carcich was the head coach and Sommerhalter was a senior. To win that crown, the Cavos defeated a Keyport High squad on which the top pitcher was Brian Langan, younger brother of Chris, and the starting catcher was Chris Flynn, a future Felician teammate of Sommerhalter's.
Sommerhalter was an assistant under Carcich for seven seasons before replacing him for 2015. In addition to his coaching duties, he teaches a self-contained seventh- and eighth-grade special education class at Ridgefield Park Junior/Senior High.
"When I was awarded the head coaching position, I knew I had big shoes to fill," Sommerhalter said. "It's impossible to replace a guy like Bob Carcich. But I was also excited because I knew we had great seniors who were outstanding leaders, and underclassmen that played hard and tough. My guys played so great together; they were the embodiment of a team."