On the evening of Nov. 10, Ell Hall was abuzz with the chatter of former classmates and teammates reminiscing about their athletic careers and awaiting their induction into the Northeastern Athletics Hall of Fame.
The 2022 honorees included JJ Barea, men’s basketball; Jason Guerriero, men’s ice hockey; Keri Irwin, women’s soccer; Chris Mehan, men’s rowing; Denise Nasca, field hockey; Carlos Peña, baseball; and the 1963 football team.
JJ Barea ranked in the top 10 nationally for both scoring and assists in 2005 and was named the 2006 CAA Player of the Year. Jason Guerriero, the current assistant coach to the Northeastern men’s hockey team, led Hockey East in scoring in his senior season with 48 points and received All-American honors for the feat. Keri Irwin played in the first two varsity seasons of women’s soccer at Northeastern and is tied for first in single-season goals, 14, and most goals in a game, 3. Chris Meehan, the current president of the Northeastern University Rowing Association, helped lead Northeastern to a second place finish in the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in 1973 after an undefeated dual racing season. Denise Nasca was named America East Player of the Year for field hockey in 1995 after leading the team to the NCAA Final Four, the third NCAA tournament appearance of her career. Carlos Peña scored 24 home runs during his two seasons with the Huskies and was named to the America East All-Tournament Team two years in a row. The 1963 football team was undefeated in the regular season, a first in program history; its season included three shutouts and the team’s first trip to the Eastern Bowl.
“It’s surreal because I have to think about the trajectory of how I came here,” Peña told The News.
Peña was 14 years old when he moved from the Dominican Republic to the United States to pursue baseball and his education. He came to Northeastern as a transfer student after spending his freshman year at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. A walk-on to the team, Peña played two seasons with the Huskies before his 10th overall selection in the 1998 MLB draft initiated his professional career.
“I’m humbled by a moment like this, like, deeply humbled by it just because if I were to tell that story, it would sound like a fairy tale,” Peña said.
The first baseman stepped out onto the minor league fields for the Texas Rangers after signing with the team immediately post-draft. He then began working his way up the ranks, debuting in the major leagues in 2001, where he bounced from team to team for the next 14 years. He did some of his most notable work with the Tampa Bay Rays, where he spent five years, including the 2007 season where he was first in at bats per home run in the league and was named Comeback Player of the Year.
“So many people helped me; so many people did everything they could to open doors for me,” Peña said.
Back at Northeastern this fall, Peña was able to reconnect with some of those people. The Hall of Fame event included not just an award ceremony but also a reception where honorees and their families could reflect together on their time at Northeastern and beyond.
“I don’t think I’d be here without those guys that I played with,” Guerriero told The News. “I’m just grateful for the players and coaches that helped me get here.”
Guerriero spent all four years of his collegiate career at Northeastern after being named Most Valuable Player in the North American Hockey League during his time with the Texas Tornado and returned to Northeastern as an assistant coach for the men’s hockey team this fall after coaching at the College of the Holy Cross, Yale University and Brown University.
The 13th all-time in career scoring at Northeastern, Guerriero tallied 147 points in his collegiate career and was named captain his senior year. After the conclusion of his senior season, he immediately signed with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and spent the following six seasons with various American Hockey League and European teams.
“Being back here, it just feels like I never left,” Guerriero said.
Guerriero is not the only former Husky with coaching aspirations.
Barea said he will “stay involved with basketball,” looking at connections with teams in Puerto Rico and the Dallas Maverickshis former team.
Barea, who still holds Northeastern’s record for three-point field goals, spent 14 years in the NBA, signing with both the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves throughout his time in the league. He helped the Mavericks to secure the team’s first and only championship title in 2011.
“I still think about how it happened,” Barea told The News. “But the biggest reason was four years here.”
With his name decorating the record books for both points and assists, Barea is one of the most notable basketball players in Husky history and said he still enjoys coming back to visit.
“It’s always good memories every time I land in Boston and walk to Huntington Avenue,” Barea said.
Although he left Northeastern a few classes short of a degree, Barea said the school provided him with the background he needed to be successful in his NBA career.
“Everything was like the perfect setup for somebody to go to school and to get better at what they want to do,” Barea said.
Peña started his professional career in a similar fashion but returned to Northeastern after his retirement and earned his degree in 2018. With his daughter now applying to Northeastern to follow in his footsteps and the university partnering with the MLB for their Continuing Education Program in 2017, Peña is a trailblazer on multiple fronts.
“The best way to say thank you is to actually respond with hard work, discipline, making sure that ‘hey, your effort is not going to be in vain, your belief in me [is] going to matter.’ And I took that seriously,” Peña said.
Each athlete inducted during the ceremony was selected for their combined athletic abilities, academic integrity and overall contributions to Northeastern athletics.
The inductees join Reggie Lewis, Adam Ottavino and dozens more as eternal honorees in the Northeastern Athletics Hall of Fame.
“That’s a huge responsibility, a huge privilege and honor,” Peña said. “I don’t take it lightly whatever.”