RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The baseball teams at Emerson High School and St. Mary High of Rutherford have more in common than their location in Bergen County and their 2019 NJSIAA group championships. Both title-winning squads are coached by graduates of Felician University.
Felician, New Jersey's only Franciscan university, began sponsoring intercollegiate baseball in 2000. Two of the Golden Falcons' early cornerstones were Chris Sommerhalter, who played from 2002-05, and Dennis Hulse, who transferred from William Paterson University to join Sommerhalter from 2002-04. Both were Felician players during the school's reclassification from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.
On June 8, Sommerhalter led the Emerson Cavos to the Group 1 state championship, their second in the last five years, Two days earlier, Hulse had guided the St. Mary Gaels to their first Non-Public B crown since 1998.
Chris Langan was a Felician assistant to Steve Svenson in 2002 and 2003 and has been the Golden Falcons' head baseball coach for the last 16 years. The exploits of his two former players have not taken him by surprise.
"Dennis and Sommer, even then, had great baseball minds," Langan said. "You could almost see this coming. We're extremely proud of the way they represent Felician. "
Trailing, 5-0, after six innings of the Group 1 finals, Emerson exploded for eight runs in the top of the seventh and hung on to defeat Glassboro High, 8-5. The Cavos (23-7) also won the state championship in 2015, Sommerhalter's first season as head coach, and were the Group 1 runners-up in 2017.
"Every year is different," Sommerhalter said. "Our 2015 group was as close-knit as a team could be, and just clicked at the right time and played unselfishly. This year, we had a solid 1-2 pitching rotation, and if they were on, we knew we had a good chance to win and advance. Both teams, however, kept grinding and fighting for their goal of being state champions."
The last time St. Mary captured a state crown, Hulse was a junior shortstop. This year, he was running the team from the dugout as the Gaels went 21-9, defeated Gill-St. Bernard's, 2-1, in the Non-Public B North sectional final, then topped Gloucester Catholic, 4-3, in the state championship game.
On Wednesday, Hulse was named the 2019 NJ.com Baseball Coach of the Year.
Hulse, who concluded his collegiate career during Langan's first season at the helm of the Golden Falcons, agreed that his coaching instincts were developed at Felician.
"Coach Svenson and I got along extremely well – he always called me his 'coach on the field,'" Hulse said. "He was an intense guy, but when coach Langan took over, he was more laid back. I took a little from both of them."
Sommerhalter and Hulse join Dave Drew of Point Pleasant Boro and Joe Jordan of West Milford High as Felician alumni currently coaching New Jersey high school baseball. Drew nearly gave the Golden Falcons three state title winners, as his Panthers lost, 2-0, to Pascack Hills in the Group 2 finals. Jordan led West Milford to the 2019 Group 3 North 1 quarterfinals. All four men were recruited to Felician by the Golden Falcons' first head coach, Ed Ward, who guided the team to Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference playoff berths in 2000 and 2001.
"Coach Ward originally recruited me," Hulse said. "So when things didn't work out for me at William Paterson, Felician still honored my original scholarship offer. That made it an easy decision for me and said a lot about the program and the school."
Sommerhalter also expressed his joy in being part of the Felician alumni coaching "club."
"I can't thank coach Ward enough for giving me the opportunity to play college baseball," he said. "It's great to see how well-represented Felician is throughout the state. It's also really awesome to see the success the current program is having under the direction of Chris Langan. He's put Felician on the map. I'm proud to say I was a Felician baseball player."
Felician University engages more than 2,400 undergraduate, graduate, and adult students through programs in Arts & Sciences, Business, Nursing, and Education. Universal Franciscan values of respect, social justice, and compassion form an inclusive foundation for transforming the lives of tomorrow's leaders. Felician University was ranked 3rd-best return on investment for private colleges in New Jersey in 2018 by the PayScale.com College ROI Report and is ranked the No. 1 safest college campus in the state by niche.com. Felician University also sponsors 14 varsity intercollegiate sports that compete at the NCAA Division II level. To learn more about Felician University please visit www.felician.edu.