RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Felician University's most decorated coach and its first dominant women's team joined standout performers in baseball, women's cross-country and men's basketball in being presented for induction into the Felician Athletics Hall of Fame at the group's seventh annual banquet and induction ceremony on Friday, October 11, at The Holiday Inn in Hasbrouck Heights.
In her opening remarks, Felician president Dr. Anne M. Prisco offered a welcome and congratulations to the honorees. She delivered an uplifting message of student-athletes and coaches being aware of the growth that comes with working through struggles and spoke of her pride in the Golden Falcons' accomplishments off the fields of play as well as on.
After dinner, it was apt that Bob Symons began the speaking program. Felician's first director of athletics, first cross-country coach and inaugural Hall-of-Famer, Symons was on hand to present John Brennan of Clark. Brennan succeeded Symons as the Golden Falcons' head coach of women's and men's cross-country. He won seven Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) men's championships and was named CACC Men's Coach of the Year six times from 2002-14.
"It's ironic to me that in athletics, you're always told about your team," Brennan said. "As an individual, you put yourself aside and do what's best for your team. Then, on a night like tonight, you stand up here alone." Brennan then asked his longtime Felician assistant coach, Sebastian Powell, to join him at the podium before continuing. He concluded, "It is my honor to accept this award and to dedicate it to the team and the family that was created here at Felician."
Brennan remained at the dais to present the night's next awardee, Sarah Root '11. The only four-time all-CACC performer in the history of Felician women's cross-country, Root, of Old Bridge, was honored in absentia. Root graduated with a 3.93 cumulative grade-point average while majoring in elementary education and history and was the 2010-11 Felician Female Senior Student-Athlete of the Year.
"Coach Powell and Coach Brennan were always laughing," Root said via pre-recorded video. "They gave me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a successful and fulfilling life. I would not be here if it weren't for their faith in me. When I think back to the memories I made with my coaches and teammates, it fills my heart with great joy."
The induction of Dennis Hulse '05 culminated a year of success in the game of baseball for the former Golden Falcon infielder. Last spring, Hulse, the head coach of St. Mary High of Rutherford, led the Gaels to the NJSIAA Non-Public B championship and was named the state coach of the year by NJ.com. But at the Felician Hall of Fame banquet, he was honored for a three-year Golden Falcon career which saw him hit .393 (still the school record) with a .468 on-base percentage and strike out only 19 times.
Hulse, a native of Kearny now living in Egg Harbor, was a three-time all-CACC selection and a 2002 honorable-mention NAIA All-American. He was presented for induction by Golden Falcon teammate Justin Soccol '06.
"What little notes I have are based on coaches and teammates," Hulse told the assembled throng of more than 125 faculty, staff, alumni, family and friends. "Coach [Ed] Ward was Felician's first coach and he wanted Felician baseball to excel from the get-go. He honored the scholarship he had offered me out of high school a year and a half later when I was looking to transfer, and I'm up here because of him. Coach (Chris) Langan let me be me. He was the kind of coach that always looked out for his players. The teammates that are here tonight are some of my best friends today, and for me to write a speech and look down, would not be real to them."
For the third time in four years, Felician men's basketball coach Ivan Lewis '04 took a turn presenting a teammate or former player. On this night, it was for Antoine Obery '13, the program's all-time leading rebounder who became the Hall's youngest member at age 29. Obery, still in the top five at Felician in five career categories, was an all-region selection as a fifth-year senior in 2012-13, and a true sophomore shooting guard on the Golden Falcons' CACC Championship squad three years earlier.
Obery, who was raised in Roselle and now resides in Dover, gave an emotional acceptance speech thanking a multitude of coaches, family members and other influential people. He caught the audience's attention most poignantly, however, when he spoke of and directly to his father, Antoine Obery Sr.
"When Mom died, you had to take both roles," the younger Obery said. "That was my senior year (of high school), and Pops did everything. I didn't want to go to school, but Pops pushed me… for him to even allow me to play basketball was a big thing. My dad is a pastor. We grew up in the church. For him to allow me the time to develop my skills, and guide me through all the adversity… I would have given this up a long time ago without him."
The night's final honoree was the 2001 Women's Soccer Team, the first Felician women's squad to capture a CACC regular-season title. The Golden Falcons were 14-3-2 overall and 8-0-2 in league play. Their 14 wins, eight consecutive wins, and 12-game unbeaten streak are still school women's soccer records.
Felician director of athletics Ben DiNallo Jr. was the head coach of that squad, and his presentation brought the crowd further back in time to his recruitment of several key players on the team. Tri-captain Valerie Esposito Santana '03, herself a Felician Hall of Famer, was chosen to deliver the acceptance speech on behalf of the other two captains, Leah Maurin Barone '03 and Stacy Settembrino Tulloch '03.
"This team was one of a kind," Santana said. "We were fiercely competitive, and if you were going to beat us, you were going to earn it. We persevered game after game and we loved every second of it. We were the true definition of a team – we ate together, hung out together and studied together. Thank you to our teammates for the wins, the memories, and a few more years of playing competitive soccer."
In early September, Felician began its 24th season of varsity intercollegiate athletics.