High Hopes at Class B Put Valley, AA Carmel, A Somers
The goal is simple: Survive and advance long enough to be playing between February 27th – March 1st for the Section Final 4 and the subsequent title tilts. There’s been a lot of talk about the coveted gold ball this off-season: Section 1 won’t be supplying them any longer; sponsors will be procured to purchase them; will they or won’t they be handed out at the County Center or Pace University; and Putnam Valley still hasn’t won one despite reaching two Section 1 Class B finals and five Final 4’s in the past six years.
Putnam Valley, Haldane, North Salem and Pawling make up the four-team league with some of the smallest schools in the section.
Sixth-year Coach Mike McDonnell enters the 2018-19 campaign with the kind of built-for-now team he had in December of 2015, a unit that posted a school record 21 wins before losing to Briarcliff in the finals.
The 2018 Tigers fell short of the that number last winter but did secure the top seed and a 17-5 record while falling to No.4 Blind Brook in the sectional semis; a burn that has lingered ever since. With 13 pivotal, experienced seniors returning, along with a key junior and a fresh-faced frosh within the mix, the Tigers are a win-now unit; a program that will find it tough to reach a Final 4 in the winter of 2020 when these seniors are long gone.
What prevented the Tigers from challenging for the gold ball last season was its lack of a true penetrating guard, which has been a point of development since last March. The unit has spent countless hours this off-season working to improve its shortcomings in the hopes of hoisting the first gold ball in program history. Prior to 2012, the Tigers were a veritable doormat for Section 1 outfits looking to pad their numbers and stockpile wins. Ever since, the program has been among the most respected in Class B, despite never winning it all.
Senior F Darnel Shillingford and senior C TJ Brescia are the kind of 1-2 frontcourt punch that stokes the flames of fear in opposing coaches. Go ahead, lock off Shillingford, the 6’3” Brescia will burn you with an assortment of up-and-unders or a series of power moves. When you double-down on Brescia, the dynamic 6’2” Shillingford, who can double as a point guard in a pinch, is sure to take over in an attack mode that few in Class B can match.
The guard play has been steady, but steady won’t butter the bread. The combination of senior guards Austin Fabiano, Charlie Gatewood, Ryan Soto, Brandon Guerra, Reilly Nolan, wing Matt Aviles, and several others, each has a significant role.
But it’s no secret that this team will go as Shillingford and Brescia go. Swingman John Millicker plays a key role as well.
“Darnel and TJ are two of the best players in Class B, legit scoring threats inside and outside,” said PV Coach Mike McDonnell, who enters his sixth season with a record of 83-28, 17-5 last season. “Perimeter starters will rotate between Charlie Gatewood, Ryan Soto and Brandon Guerra. We have a strong rebounding forward in John Millicker and sharpshooting Ivan Caposito, both are key reserves who will also get some starting time.”
Rookies Cole Durocher, a fearless freshman guard, may be a major factor if he can improve defensively. Junior Anthony Williams is a wing player who brings athleticism.
The schedule is loaded with challenges, as the Tigers hope to be better prepared for the rigors of the Class B playoffs after getting manhandled by Blind Brook in last year’s semis.
“We must come out the gate ready to face the toughest schedule in Class B,” McDonnell said. “We are playing primarily Class A and double-A schools as well as Woodlands, Briarcliff, (defending champion) Ardsley, Dobbs Ferry and Blind Brook in Class B.”
The championship drought is burdensome enough; add in the fact that the Tigers are being bandied about as the co-favorites (with Dobbs Ferry), which only adds additional pressure and the proverbial bulls-eye.
“The players are determined to bring Putnam Valley its first sectional championship, and we have the senior leadership to reach that goal,” McDonnell admitted. “All winning programs face high expectations and we embrace them, yet we need to approach each day with humility and a burning desire to improve because favorites sometimes get beat.”
The Tigers should win the league title and settling for anything less than a championship appearance would be a major disappointment, and the obstacles in Class B are always real, including top challengers Woodlands, Dobbs Ferry and Irvington, plus Class B mainstays Croton-Harmon, Ardsley, Briarcliff, and Blind Brook.
CROTON-HARMON could be a fun team to watch with legit shooters returning and a strong off-season behind them. The starting five includes junior (G) Braden Burke, sophomore (G) Ryan Windrum, junior (F/G) Sean Macarchuk, senior (F) Sean Reynolds and senior (F) Theo Curran. The sixth man off the bench is expected to be senior (F/G) Jack Savell.
Macarchuk returns from a season-ending injury last year to provide marksman-like shooting from beyond the arc for the Tigers, who come off an 8-12 season (first round loss to Blind Brook). As is often the case, Briarcliff will be the team to beat in the league this season.
“We just want consistent health this year, I know it sounds corny, but that’s a main goal,” third-year Coach Ben Martucci said. “If we stay healthy we’ll be able to compete.
After going 15-7 and falling in the Class C sectional title to Hamilton last season, Coach Joe Virgadamo enters his 13th season with the usual gritty, hard-nosed team that Blue Devil fans have grown to love.
The backcourt is solid with junior G Matt Champlin (6’4’), who brings great athleticism and length, and junior Alex Kubik (5’10”), who has great court vision and knowledge of the game, according to the coach.
Sophomores Darrin Santos (G), Daniel Santos (G), Doug Donaghy (F), plus junior Mame Diba (G) and seniors Peter Rodriguez (F) and Kyle Sussmeier (G) are all in the mix.
“We had an extremely short preseason due to the length of our football season, but our chemistry has been outstanding,” Virgadamo said. “The team is buying in and communicating well. Our work ethic has been one of a kind, and I’m excited to see this group improve every day. I’m going to attempt to play as many players as possible just as long as they are bringing energy and excitement. I think this can be a fun team to watch if everyone knows their role.”
Tuckahoe is said to be the team to beat in Class C, but reigning champion Hamilton is also a unwavering post-season opponent. Solomon Schechter’s program has improved tremendously, making Class C is a very competitive field.
Five teams comprise the Northern Putnam/Southern Dutchess-based league, including Mahopac, Carmel, John Jay EF, RCK and two-time defending champion Arlington.
Do not sleep on second-year Coach Paul Brennan’s Rams; they are not a herd of jive turkeys, no more. This program was on the come last season, despite its dismal record (3-17), and given its athleticism, experience and work ethic, don’t be surprised if they challenge for the league title this February. In fact, this might be the best team Carmel has had in recent years, provided they apply at both ends of the floor and get back to full health, so it’s entirely possible we get a playoff win from the Rams this season.
If that were to come to fruition, Carmel could, at the very least, be competing for a Final 4 spot, which one would suspect to be the goal.
With rangy Peyton Cayea swinging between the center and forward spot, with sharpshooting swingman Shane McNerney (G/F), an All-Leaguer last year, with a speedy backcourt in Christian Hutra (G) and Tommy Ross (G), and athletic Alex Beuschesne (F) getting up and down the floor, the Rams have a solid starting five.
Major contributors off the bench include, Nick Telesco (F), John Franklin (F), Mike Calcagno (F), Jarid Garcia (G) and Joe Mascetta (F) to start the season.
McNerney is the crunch-time scorer the program has lacked in recent years. After a solid junior season, he has the ability to post 20+ PPG and Cayea, a legit hybrid, can score in transition with his athleticism and defend with his length. Garcia has a great handle off the bench and should provide a legit spark in transition.
“We are very athletic and will have the ability to make teams uncomfortable offensively,” Brennan said. “We also have three or four guys who can really shoot the ball.”
Carmel may not be on anybody’s radar to open the season, and our projections may look silly at first glance, given the Rams didn’t even qualify for the playoffs last year. Call it a gut feeling, but the worm could turn this season.
“We will be a team that can beat anyone in Section 1 on any given night, but also lose to any team on any given night if we do not come to play,” Brennan admitted. “This team has the potential to have a great season if our communication and leadership continue to improve as the season progresses.”
Class AA poses one of the biggest threats in the country in Mount Vernon.
“When we get Mascetta and Garcia back from injury in late December, I would not be surprised if we shock people with a deep postseason run,” the coach said.
Bring your lunch pail and get ready for some low-scoring wars when facing fourth-year Coach Matt Simone’s Indians this season. Mahopac has plenty of size, some legit grit and enough athleticism to challenge for the league crown. Four of its five projected starters are 6’1” or better, including 6’5” senior C Reahl Allen; 6’1”; senior G Mike Argial, 6’1”; senior G Tim Cegielski and 6’3” senior swingman Zach Puckhaber. Senior G Drew Riolo (5’11”) rounds out the unit.
Key Contributors off the bench include Simon Shkoza (F, 6’3”, Sr), Nick Burtt (F, 6’3”, Sr),
Matt McMahon (G, 6’1”, Jr), Vin Bastone (G, 6’2”, soph), Luke Syku (G, 6’, soph), John Cosentino (G, 5’10” Soph), Adam Mitchell (F, 6’2”, Jr), Will Sniffen (G/F, 6’1”, Sr) and Santino Christiano (F, 6’2”, Sr).
Allen, Argila and Cegielski will be counted on to do the bulk of the scoring, and Allen is the team’s best rebounder.
“Our strengths this year will be our toughness, mainly on the defensive end of the floor,” Simone said. “We have an athletic group, filled with multi-sport athletes that have a good understanding of movement and teamwork. The group will come to compete each and every game.”
The bulk of the returnees have some things to work on; most importantly, protecting the paint and denying the second-chance points that killed Mahopac last year when the tribe finished 10-10 and lost to Spring Valley first round of playoffs.
“This year’s team is filled with multi-sport athletes who are not afraid to be physical and will compete each and every day,” Simone said. “It’s a very gritty defensive team who will find success by pressuring opposing teams and forcing turnovers. A key to this season will be seeing who steps up on the offensive end of the floor, but the unselfishness the players have shown will make us a balanced scoring team. We will look to run a fast paced game, and will take pride in the effort we bring each and every game.”
Allen can be the X-factor on both ends of the floor. He is an imposing figure, who simply needs to impose a will to win. He is a diamond in the rough who should post double-doubles at will. Given his size and athleticism, Allen should feast on put-backs.
The league is extremely competitive, but Arlington has risen to the top in recent seasons.
“The best thing about playing in our league is it is always competitive games top to bottom,” Simone said. “Playing the tough teams in our league twice each year will help us in the long run. Arlington is the league favorite until proven otherwise.”
Just four teams make up the modified league, including Ossining, Fox Lane, Port Chester and newcomer White Plains.
Pride Coach Mike Casey, now in his fourth season, is going with a youth movement to open the season after graduating seven seniors off an 11-11 campaign, in which the Pride defeated Yorktown in an out-bracket playoff game before falling to Mamaroneck in the opening round.
With one freshman, Jaedan Carr (5’7″, G), one sophomore, Khy’ leil Hawkins (5’7″, G) and one junior, Mark DeAngelis (5’8″, G), joining seniors Nas Shyllon (6’0″, F) and Maurice Walker (6’3″, F) in the projected starting lineup, the Pride are relatively inexperienced.
Casey expects key contributions from Jordan Smith (Jr.) Caden Hallinan (So.), Nico Levin (So.), Mouhammaed Cisse (Sr.), Zaysean Goodson (Jr.), Jalen Blalock (Jr.), Mateo Marra (Sr.), Thomas Kress (Jr.) and MJ Aurora (Jr.)
Carr is said to be a special talent and his backcourt presence should help the frontcourt games of both Shyllon and Walker, providing Casey a skillful trio of scorers.
Rookies Hawkins, Smith, Levin and Hallinan are additional key prospects that Casey expects to build the program around
“Our defense will be what makes us succeed,” Casey said. “If we can use our speed and athleticism to get out and run, we will be competitive. The Pride will look to rebuild while staying competitive. The team will look to compete and grow from each practice and game. We will continue to look to their quickness and athleticism on defense to help propel the offense. The coaching staff has been sending a strong message about as to how this season is a marathon not a sprint.”
Fox Lane remains one of the league favorites but newcomer White Plains is the wild card. Mount Vernon remains the prohibitive favorites in Class AA.
Seven teams comprise a very balanced bunch of contenders, including Yorktown, Lakeland, Panas, Brewster, Somers, Horace Greeley and John Jay CR
Don’t sleep on fourth-year Coach Steve Fallo’s Hornets, who may not bursting with talent but do possess depth and a solid front court with All-League juniors forwards Joe Vetrano and Jack Kruse working the paint and wings.
“We believe that we will have a very deep bench and all 12 players will contribute throughout the year, either offensively or defensively,” Fallo said.
JP Walsh is also a returning player from last year and the only senior with the rebuild. After going 6-15 last season, securing a No.21 seed and losing to Nyack in the out-bracket round, Lakeland will look to rekindle what was once a formidable reputation as a Class A contender.
Augie Karaqi, Rob Nardelli, Marc Cummins, Mike Arcure, James Barefoot and Marco Lala round out the anticipated primary rotation.
“Joe Vetrano and Jack Kruse have the ability to be All-Section players,” Fallo said. “Joe is tough inside and Jack can shoot from 3 and drive to the basket. Also, I think we have some very good outside shooters in Augie, Marc, Rob and Brian.”
With the exception of Vetrano, Walsh and Kruse, the roster is full of part-time returnees and rookies, who may take some time to adjust to the rigors of varsity ball.
“Augie, Marc and Rob all played on the varsity last year at some point, and they will be a big part of how successful we can be,” Fallo said. “I think we have some very good outside shooters and a big presence inside.
“We will go as far as our outside shooting will take us,” Fallo added. “I think Joe Vetrano will cause some problems down low for teams, which hopefully will open up the outside for us.”
Fallo suspects the Hornets can be in the thick of the of the league title chase with front-runner Horace Greely but anticipates many of the stronger teams in Class A to come from other leagues, including Tappan Zee, Bryam Hills, Poughkeepsie and Rye.
“I think our league is very strong and hopefully we will be right there at the end,” the coach said.
In his 20th season on the Section 1 circuit, Brewster Coach Tom Nelligan’s Bears should be in the hunt for a league title after a 9-11 season whereby the 19th Bears were knocked out of the sectional tournament in an outbracket loss to Albertus Magnus. The good news is that Brewster will have a veteran team with nine players, who logged plenty of minutes, returning to the fold, including snipe-shooting Harrison Dignan, a 5’9” senior G.
Nelligan has other options to work with, including Cameron Hart (6’1”, Sr. F), Pat Nevin (5’9”, Sr. G), Joe Girard (6’1”, Sr. F), Charles Russell (6’1”,Sr. F), John Olszewski (6’2”, Sr. F), Will Peterman (6’, Sr. F), Paul Catalano (5’11”, Jr. G) and Ryan Cabiati (5’10”, Sr. G).
Key newcomers include, Nick Girard (6’3” Jr. C), Zach Salvo (5’9”, Jr. G), Jason Whitehead (6’, Jr. F) and Kobey Hart (5’9”, Soph. G).
“We’ll be led by two-time All-League senior Harrison Dignan and seniors Cameron Hart and Joe Girard who logged major minutes as juniors,” Coach Nelligan said. “This trio will be complemented by a group of six other returning players and four newcomers all looking to contribute to our success. Depth will be a team strength and team spirit has been high during the preseason. Our success will hinge on how well we shoot the ball as a team and how quickly we develop a consistent defensive approach.”
Like the rest of the teams in the league, Brewster will likely be chasing Horace Greeley, which is said to be stout this season. Lakeland is better than it was a year ago, but Panas is believed to be in a rebuilding mode. John Jay will be without one of its top players, injured Dean Ford. Yorktown is coming off a subpar season with a new coach at the head of the bench.
In his 18th season on the varsity circuit, seventh at Somers, Coach Chris DiCintio is among the most seasoned in this neck of the woods, and the key ingredient to this year’s blend of talent is speed and experience, despite losing four starters to graduation. The Tuskers, who were eliminated in the post season by eventual champion Ardsley in the first round, are coming off a solid 13-9 season that went off the rails when senior G Gio Tradito was lost to injury.
“While most people think Somers is in a rebuilding year due to the loss of four starters that played varsity basketball for three seasons together, nothing could be further from the truth,” DiCintio said. “The starting five this year is made up of veteran players that were key contributors last season. Three of the starting five played on the sectional and regional championship soccer team while the other two started on the varsity football team that made it to the semifinal game.”
In other words, the unit is fiercely fit and athletic.
“In addition, this crew, much like the kids before them, played AAU basketball together for many years,” the coach added. “Their speed, strength and chemistry will make a splash early in the season.”
Senior point guard Lucas Fecci (5’9”, captain) enters his third year on the varsity as the best ball handler on the team. “Lucas has extremely quick hands, unbelievable court vision and is very fast,” DiCintio said.
Shooting G Drew Lasher (5’10”, junior) is a two-year varsity player and team’s best on-ball defender. “Drew is very athletic with a motor that doesn’t stop,” the coach said.
F Nick Maestri (6’, senior, captain) is a two-year varsity player with a smooth stroke from the perimeter. DiCintio loves his high basketball IQ and rebounding ability.
Power F Charlie Weissman (6’4”, senior, captain) is tough two-year varsity player with the ability to do a little of everything. “Charlie can shoot from the perimeter, is good around the basket and one of the team’s best rebounders,” DiCintio said.
C Max Germaine (6’5” senior, captain) rounds out a large frontcourt unit and should make a major impact this year as the best rim protector with an uncanny ability to block shots. He’s a solid jump shooter with the ability to knock down 3’s and runs the floor really well, according to the coach, who calls him this year’s X-factor.
“At 6’5 this big man has the tools to play like a guard,” DiCintio said. “He runs the floor exceptionally well, can shoot the rock, finishes around the basket and passes well out of double teams. His football experience as a two-way starter on the varsity football team gives him the toughness and confidence to be an exceptional rim protector and rebounder.”
Those five have the experience a coach needs for success, but the bench is relatively untested against the rigors of varsity ball. Main contributors off the bench include, G Declan Talleur (5’11” senior) and F Henry Gilroy (6’3”, sophomore), the kid brother of athletic Jack Gilroy, plays hard around the rim like his bro’ did. Keep an eye out for rookie G Bennett Leitner (5’8” freshman), who is said to be wise beyond his years.
“He’s strong, quick and has a high basketball IQ,” the coach said of the first freshman to be brought up to the varsity in at least seven seasons.
Joe Grippo (5’11” junior, G), Jalen Wilson (6’ senior, G), Dylan Berliner (6’1” junior, G) and Nate Townsend (6’1” junior, G) round out the unit.
“The team has all the ingredients of a championship-caliber team,” DiCintio said. “They have size, speed, toughness and skill. Their ultimate strength is their chemistry. The team has played together year round for many years now. The bench is loaded with inexperience. While the starting five all played heavy minutes last season, the bench is brand new. Whether or not the players called to enter the game can continue the play of the starting five is yet to be seen.”
The road to the league title figures to run through Chappaqua where Horace Greeley is said to be stocked with potential Final 4 talent. John Jay returns a bunch of veterans coming off a solid year. Lakeland and Brewster will be better than last year while Panas and Yorktown are said to be rebuilding. Greeley, Tappan Zee, Bryan Hills and Poughkeepsie could be the cream of the crop in Class A.
It’s a new era at the Y. First-year Coach Mark Pavella is set to take over for former Coach Kevin Downes, who had the Huskers at the County Center just two years ago in Class AA. Pavella was Downes’ right-hand man for more than a decade, going back to their time together at Mahopac, so the system should be similar. But getting back to a Final 4 in 2019 will be a tall order given the circumstances and the opponents in play.
Someone familiar with that system is three-year varsity G Tommy Weaver (5’9”) and three-year F Joe Sgobbo (6’7”), a pair of tested seniors, who return from a 19th-seeded team that went 7-14 and was bounced in the outbracket of the AA tournament by Ossining.
Joining them as starters is Ben Schumer (6’2” senior, G), Roni Brucaj (6’1″ junior G), and Anthony Ortiz (6’3″ senior F).
The main contributors off the bench include, Brandon Carter, Chris Martz, Nick Buono, Ryan Ferrara, plus key rookies Robert Miller, Sean Vogel and Matthew Mahoney.
“Any player on the team has the ability to contribute to the team’s success this year,” Pavella said. “I look forward to seeing who will step up. Our short-term goal is to get the team prepared and ready to play for their first game of the season on Friday, November 30th. Our long-term goal is to be competitive, and give ourselves a chance to compete in our league.”
The post-Brandon era will be tough for Coach Mike Auerbach’s Panthers to survive, with both Brandon Hodge and Brandon Ramos having graduated and left the cupboard a tad bare after reaching the Class A Final 4 last year with a superb 18-5 mark.
Hen Hud, Peekskill, Poughkeepsie, Lourdes and Beacon will vie to knock the Sailors from the perch of league champions.
Coach Tony Turner’s Red Devils have put in the work this off-season, working at the canteen and getting in serious sessions with players from Putnam Valley, with whom they have developed a bond and open up against later this week. The Red Devils are coming off yet another sub-par season by the standards they once set, having won 10 sectional championships from 1993 to 2009 and five state titles between 1995-2007. Those days are long gone.
After going 6-15 and falling to Pelham in last year’s outbracket, Peekskill would do well to secure a top eight seed in this year’s playoffs while attempting to keep pace with league favorite Poughkeepsie during the regular season. That can be obtained if Shion ‘Splash Master’ Darby averages between 25 and 30 PPG, which is entirely possible. Darby, the 6’ All-Section senior guard, can score from almost anywhere over half court. The offense flows through Darby, who has the potential to drop 40 on any given night.
Junior F Antonio Taylor (6’3”) can do a little bit of everything well, and sophomore G Jayson Tinsley should step up to support Darby to create a formidable 1-2 backcourt punch.
It will take some time for sixth-year Coach Jordan Hirsch’s Sailors (18-5) to get used to life without Mekhi Gray, the star swingman who transferred to ProScholars Athletics prep school after an All-Section junior campaign at Hen Hud.
The loss of star power will force the Sailors to play a team game and get contributions across the board if they are going to resemble anything close to the unit that won a league title and reach the County Center for the program’s first Final Four since 1991, only to lose to eventual champion Ardsley.
Key returnees include Michael Fasolino (Sr., F); Max Popolizio (Sr., G); Connor Gallagher (Sr., F) and Dennis Emanuel (Sr., G).
Key newcomers include Nick Caruso (Sr., C); Tommy Fucheck (Jr., F) and Nick Hiltsley (So., G). The Sailors will get depth from Marcus Lenz (Jr., F); David Goldman (Jr., G); Kyle Gonda (Jr., G); Sincere Golden (Jr., G) and James Cavalieri (Jr., G).
“Our league is very competitive,” Hirsch said. “With the talent they return and the excellent coaching hire they made, in Coach Cody, Poughkeepsie is not only the favorite in our league, but, in my opinion, a favorite in Class A. Peekskill will have the best player on the court in most of the games they play, in Darby; who is a very tough cover. Beacon returns a good crop of their team and Lourdes is always a challenge.
“So our team has a unique challenge in making their own mark within our program the year after some uncommon success,” the coach added. “I don’t think it’s a secret that the majority of our team this year lacks some in-game experience, but they don’t lack any of the same intangible characteristics that some of our more successful teams have had. We expect that they will focus on getting better every day, show toughness in everything they do, and they will take care of each other on and off the court.”
The Sailors will, in all likelihood, come back to the middle of the pack and challenge the bottom third of the 29 teams in Class A vying for the field of 16 tournament teams (after the completion of out-brackets).
“We will find ways to compete and hopefully find ways to win in our league and in our tough out-of-conference games,” Hirsch said.
The loss of talent, athleticism and experience the Sailors had had last year will hit them hard, no doubt about it, but they have made solid runs to the playoffs with similar teams through a work ethic second to none.
“We’ll see how it plays out, either we’re either a Cinderella or we’re not,” Hirsch said.
Ray has 33 years experience covering and photographing local sports in Westchester and Putnam counties, including everything from Little League/Travel Baseball to varsity high school prep sports and collegiate coverage. He has been a sports editor at Examiner Media since its inception in 2007.