The Top 10 sports stories in 2019 are a mix of amateur, local, collegiate and professional athletes and teams emphasizing the highs and lows of the sports teams Newark residents care most about.
In no particular order …
Newark High football: The Yellowjackets finished the season with three straight wins, which is a streak that hasn’t happened during any part of a season since 2014. The three wins gave the Yellowjackets a 5-5 record, the first time they’ve finished .500 or better since 2015. Playing in the Flight B conference for the first time in school history was a definite plus for first-year coach Jody Russell.
Newark High fall sports teams: The football team wasn’t the only squad that benefited from the move to Flight B. The boys soccer team was crowned Flight B champions and, along with the girls volleyball team, made the state tournament. The field hockey team finished with five wins, four more than a year ago. All five victories were against Flight B opponents.
Blue Hen football: Meanwhile, the UD football team took a step backward. After qualifying for the postseason last year for the first time since 2010, the 2019 version of the Blue Hens lost four of their last five games to finish with a disappointing 5-7 record. The new chair-back seats in the refurbished stadium won’t suffer a lot of wear and tear if the Hens don’t get back to winning ways soon.
Phillies also take a step back: The Phillies were one of the favorites to win it all with a few offseason signings highlighted by their biggest “get” in recent years, Bryce Harper. The results: no playoffs, a fired manager, and a lot of disappointed diehard baseball fans.
Blue Rocks win championship: It’s not quite the same as going to a parade in Philadelphia, but the Wilmington Blue Rocks thrilled the local fans with their first Carolina League Championship since 1999.
UD loses key hoops player: In last year’s “2019 Sports Stories to Watch” article, I mentioned freshman star Ithiel Horton and how I hoped that unlike the previous two freshman sensations, he would stay put and not transfer to so-called greener pastures. But he did just that. Horton now attends the University of Pittsburgh and is sitting out the season per transfer rules.
Transfers key UD hoops early success: Delaware’s men’s basketball program may have lost one transfer but it gained two when Nate Darling (University of Alabama-Birmingham) and Justyn Mutts (High Point) took the floor for the Hens to open the 2019/20 season. Darling briefly led the nation in scoring, and Mutts is chipping in around 14 points per game. The newcomers helped lead the Hens to a school-record 9-0 start.
Newark Charter fall teams sweep: All four of the Patriots’ fall teams – volleyball, Unified flag football, boys soccer, field hockey – qualified for their respective state tournaments, and the cross-country programs also were successful in the conference, county and state championship meets. I predicted a few years ago that it wouldn’t be long before Newark Charter became the best high school sports program in our area. It’s safe to say they’ve achieved that status in the fall sports.
Other Philadelphia teams: The Eagles have fallen victim to the injury bug but are reaping the benefits of playing in what is without a doubt this season’s worst division. The Flyers might be known for more than just a Gritty mascot this year, while the Sixers’ grade so far would have to be a “C” comparing outcome to expectations.
Delaware Stadium renovations: At one point, depending on who you believed, the renovations were two months behind schedule. While it didn’t necessarily affect the atmosphere inside the stadium, it sure was depressing walking up to and around the complex on Saturday afternoon game days. UD has said it will all be done before kickoff of the 2020 season. But when I look out my window in the Field House and still see nothing but beams, I can’t help but think that while the bulldozers might be gone, I won’t be riding an elevator up to the press box for the opening game. I hope I’m wrong.
I’m sure I missed a few stories, but that’s what happens when you create a Top 10 list of anything.