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New Jersey's best teams of the decade: From the Nets to St. Anthony

jeter102809_optBY MIKE VORKUNOV

It's been a prolific decade for New Jersey in producing some talented and remarkably successful teams. And most impressively it was at all levels.

Don Bosco Prep produced the best high school football team in the country; Rutgers women's basketball made a championship run and three local teams won a title. It seems like no matter which team you rooted for in the area, you had a good decade.

Unless you're a Mets fan.

Best Teams of the Decade

10. 2002-03 New Jersey Nets – This was the ultimate "where did you come from?" team. Thanks to a trade for Jason Kidd, the Nets made a run to the NBA Finals before being swept by the Los Angeles Lakers. Kidd was an MVP candidate and one of the top five players in the league. His play turned the franchise around and gave it a presence. This team won out over the next year's team because they did it first and did it with the better version of Kidd. Still, they go no higher on this list because they did not win the championship and because they advanced to the Finals thanks to a historically bad Eastern Conference that season.

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The best of the decade in New Jersey college football

The best of the decade in New Jersey college basketball

9. 2006-07 Rutgers women's basketball – The regular season did not go as hoped with the team losing its locker room privileges midway through the year ... but it gelled in March. The Knights won the Big East Tournament, knocking off Connecticut along the way to give coach C. Vivian Stringer her first tournament title. The NCAA Tournament run that followed was at times unnerving and miraculous, but always exciting. A last-second victory over No. 1 seed Duke in the Sweet Sixteen was as captivating as it gets with the best player in the country, Lindsey Harding, missing two free throws for Duke with 0.1 seconds remaining. Two straight blowout victories followed before Rutgers ran into a buzzsaw from Tennessee. Having three of the best players of the decade in college basketball in Matee Ajavon, Essence Carson and Kia Vaughn at their peak helps their case but ultimately they cannot go any higher because they did not win the title.

8. 2008 Philadelphia Phillies – The Phillies had a memorable run to the city's first championship, barely sneaking by the Mets once again to make the playoffs then beating the Brewers and Dodgers to reach the World Series. There they took care of the Devil Rays in five games, including a two-night Game Five at Citizen's Bank Park that clinched it. The Phillies boasted a dangerous lineup of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley and rode Cole Hamels' left arm. But the Phillies are hamstrung on this list because they never faced a truly dominant team and were in a weak National League.

7. 2004 Christian Brothers Academy cross country – It's difficult to pick a best team but the 2004 group was probably the best, setting the all-time fastest average time at Holmdel Park at the Meet of Champions. But really the Lincroft school makes the list because of its decade-long dominance. CBA owns the nation's long dual-meet win streak at 302, dating back to September 1974, and won eight straight Group championships. For the majority of the decade when it came to New Jersey cross-country, Thomas Heath's team was its face.

6. Eastern High School field hockey – Eastern's control over New Jersey field hockey has few parallels. The school was unbeaten in 153 straight games, a national record, and finished off the decade with two straight titles.

mbrodeur_opt5. 2000 New Jersey Devils – The first of their two Stanley Cup-winning teams this decade, this was also the better squad. Martin Brodeur was at his peak, with a vaunted defense in front of him led by future Hall-of-Famers Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens. But what sets this team apart from its successor was its offense. It had the still unmatched "A" line of Jason Arnott, Petr Sykora and Patrick Elias. This Devils team could win both ways. What makes this team memorable is their comeback from a 3-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals against the rival Philadelphia Flyers and Stevens' concussion-inducing hit on Eric Lindros. Oh, and usurping the Dallas Stats, the defending Cup champs. What prevents this team from being higher on the list is that their 103 points weren't good even enough to win the division and the team's status was so tenuous that coach Robbie Ftorek was fired just weeks before the postseason.

4. 2009 Don Bosco High School football – The Ramsey school's latest season just may be the greatest ever in N.J. HS football history. Bosco became the first ever N.J. school to finsh at the top of the USA Today national poll. The Ironmen went 12-0, easily defeating national power De La Salle of California and Prattville on the road in Alabama. The season-ending victory over St. Peter's Prep in the Group IV Championship was just a fitting end for a truly remarkable season.

3. 2007 New York Giants – The Giants went on perhaps the most improbable run in NFL history. After an unassuming 10-6 regular season the Giants were expected to once again be one and done in the playoffs. But they won on the road at Tampa and at top NFC seed Dallas. Then, they played in the latter day Ice Bowl at Green Bay, winning in OT. But the coup de gras was the greatest upset since the 1969 Jets. With the aid of an Angels-in-the-Outfield type play from David Tyree - like Christopher Lloyd himself was propping him up - the Giants beat the 18-0 New England Patriots. It spawned countless montages and perhaps the largest bandwagon of fans ever, but all deserved. The only reason the Giants can't be higher was their mediocrity in the regular season.

2. 2009 New York Yankees – The 2009 Yankees were good – very good. They won 103 games, the AL East and most importantly the World Series. Derek Jeter, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, and Mariano Rivera were all arguably the best at their position. Alex Rodriguez finally broke through in October, carrying them at points. They dispatched, almost casually, a very good Phillies team in the World Series. In ending a nine-year "drought" the Yankees proved that the best team money could buy could also be the best team period.

1. 2007-08 St. Anthony High School boys basketball – Dominance is what the Friars personified that year. They cruised through their schedule and topped USA Today's season ending poll, even more impressive considering intra-state rivals St. Benedicts was No. 2 and St. Patrick was also top-10. What sets St. Anthony apart is that they could go down as one of the greatest high school teams ever assembled. Bob Hurley's team featured six Division-I seniors in Mike Rosario (Rutgers), Jio Fontan (Fordham before transferring to USC), Travon Woodall (Pittsburgh), Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas), A.J. Rodgers (St. Joseph's) and Alberto Estwick (Fordham). Ultimately its Tournament of Champions victory was a question of when, not if – a crowning for an undisputed king.

Honorable Mention: 2000 Yankees, 2000 Giants, 2001 Yankees, 2003 Devils, 2004 Eagles, 2006 Rutgers football, Moorestown girl's lacrosse, Delbarton boy's lacrosse, Blair Academy wrestling.

Comments (3)
3 Wednesday, 17 February 2010 23:51
It will be great to watch New Jersey Devils, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.
2 Thursday, 31 December 2009 16:47
Hmm. I don't believe either the Phillies or the Yankees played any games in New Jersey this decade.
1 Thursday, 31 December 2009 13:43
Bravo to a well-rounded look at the top teams of the decade. You did a comprehensive job in putting together a great list -- certainly much better than the Star-Ledger's HS list which omitted the Friars (how on earth did that happen?).

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