All Eyes on Prize at Ossining, Somers, Haldane – By Tony Pinciaro
The 2017 season was one of the finest in the history of Northern Westchester/Putnam County region; with three Section 1 champions crowned, including Class AA Ossining, Class A Somers and Class C Haldane. It’ll be hard to top that kind of success, but don’t be surprised when the ladies of the region do so.
OSSINING did last year what it does annually, win the Section 1 Class AA girls’ championship and advance to the state final four.
The seven-time reigning Section 1 champion Pride were shocked, though, in the state final by Baldwin, 73-45, to finish with a 22-6 record, and don’t be surprised to see them meet again this March.
Despite the final result, Ossining had another outstanding season. The Pride welcomed back Andra Espinoza-Hunter for her senior year. Espinoza-Hunter played varsity in seventh and eighth grade before leaving for Blair Academy (N.J.). Espinoza-Hunter, who is playing for UConn, was the New York State Gatorade Player of the Year.
Ossining registered another excellent season without current junior Aubrey Griffin. Griffin, who averaged 25 points and 10 rebounds her freshman year, missed the season with a knee injury.
Griffin is back and ready to resume where she left off freshman year. Senior Kelsey Quain, 11 points per game last year, and classmate Helen Ishmael, five rebounds a game last year, return. Quain is fresh off a successful volleyball season, leading the Pride to the sectional final.
Griffin is joined by fellow juniors Kailah Harris (17 points and 11 rebounds per game in 2016-17) and point guard Jaida Strippoli (7 points and 3.5 assists per game last year). Sophomore Adrianna McFadden is also back.
Julia Iorio, Alyssa Aurora and Brooke Weeks make the step up to varsity, joining this experienced and championship group.
“A strength is our talent level in that we have three to four Division I players and our bench could be a major strength since we were forced to play all spring and summer without Aubrey and Jaida, due to injuries,” said Ossining coach Dan Ricci, who was recently inducted into the Westchester County Sports Hall of Fame. “Alyssa and Brooke got a lot of time versus high-level competition.”
Ricci stacked his schedule with national competition. The Pride travel to Florida in December for the KSA Holiday Tournament. Prior to that, Ossining played in the Art Turner Tournament in Virginia to open the season. The Pride will make its annual December trip to the Westchester County Center for the Slam Dunk Tournament and will face PSAL power Murray Bergtraum in the Up-The-River Showcase.
“Our goal is to win the league and section, first and foremost, then hopefully regionals and states,” Ricci said.
On the subject of tough leagues, Mahopac can identify as the Indians face the Dutchess County circuit – Arlington, John Jay-East Fishkill and R.C. Ketcham – as well as its rival, Carmel, which is improved from last year.
Mahopac’s offense will be triggered by senior forward Claire Felix, who averaged 15 points per game last year. Felix is joined by classmate Siobhan Hynes and the junior trio of Zina McInerney, Katie McDonough and Natalie Scanlon.
These five veterans are adding junior Katrina Klammer and freshmen Caitlyn O’Boyle and Shannon Becker, giving the Indians a nice blend of size, speed and depth this season.
“As always, we want to make the postseason as well as winning the league,” Mahopac Coach Chuck Scozzafava said. “We have good size this year, and it’s just a matter of how fast the girls pick up the offense and defense. They have been working hard in practice and as long as we continue to improve every day I think we can be successful. Every league game is a key matchup for us.”
YORKTOWN is aiming to take another step forward under the guidance of Coach Kevin Clark following a 12-9 record and sectional berth.
The Cornhuskers have an experienced nucleus returning led by junior All-League selection Kathryn Severino (forward), who is one of the top on-ball defenders in the area. She is joined by the senior duo of Emily Metz (forward) and Mackenzie Merson (center) and sophomore guard Jesse Barer.
Clark welcomes four new players to the varsity: junior Sophia Torres (guard), sophomore Tara Lawlor (center) and freshmen Ashley Zeolla (forward) and Olivia Fasce (guard).
“This team has better balance and depth than past years,” Clark said. “We have more players who can assume different roles and play more positions on the floor. They are working very hard in practice and truly like to play together. I hope that this team can continue to build on the momentum and success of last year’s group. By the way they approach practice and how hard they work at each phase of the game, they certainly have the potential to achieve some team goals that they have set.”
The Huskers opened the season with a 44-37 win over Lakeland.
CARMEL Coach Dan O’Hare did not have to waste any time on introductions or going over anything from last year as he has the largest returning group in his tenure.
Ten girls are back for O’Hare, highlighted by seven seniors — Maria Mazzamuto (forward), Annie Pozner (forward), Kate Crawford (guard),
Emily Schidrick (guard), Taylor Smith (guard), Kayla Alexander (forward) and Alex Barry (forward).
Completing the returnees are juniors and guards, Claire Cody, Cassie Barry and Khadijah Johnson. O’Hare is happy to have Cody back after the junior missed last year with an injury.
“With so many returning players who were able to get significant playing time last year, I hope that translates into positive progress and greater competitiveness,” O’Hare said. “Also, with the return of Claire Cody Our leading scorer two years ago, we should be able to put up more points. We have good size and outstanding speed and it is our goal to qualify for the sectionals, which we have missed in the last two years.”
Even with 10 returnees, O’Hare will have four new additions to varsity, junior Hailey Casamassima (forward) and sophomores Gwynne Aull (forward), Caroline McIntyre (guard) and Danielle Bello (guard).
SOMERS had a 2016-17 season that it and the community will never forget. Somers had a list of accomplishments that were unparalleled in program history. The Tuskers won the Section 1 Class A title, the first sectional title for the girls. Somers went on to rack up two more state tourney wins, advancing to the New York State Pubic High School Athletic Association Final Four at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.
Even though Pittsford Mendon (Section 5), at that time the No. 1 Class A team in the state, defeated Somers in the semis, it did not take away from an outstanding season as the Tuskers finished with a program-best 20-6 record.
“In the beginning of last year, we had no idea how good we were and what we were capable of doing,” said senior starter Jackie Penzo. “Making it to the County Center, then continuing our season at Pace and then going to states was a surreal experience that we will never forget.”
Second-year Somers Coach Marc Hattem and his returning nucleus will look to build on the program’s success. However, Somers will do so without Livy Rosenzweig and Faith Anne Ferguson, who graduated.
Somers does return an experienced group, including four starters, led by junior Hannah Angelini, who was the league player of the year and Most Valuable Player of the Section 1 Class A tournament; senior Liv Lipski, an All-Section selection; and classmate Jackie Penzo and sophomore Dani DiCintio.
Hattem also has seniors Tina Heibesein and Dani Cucchariella back, along with juniors Isabella Rukaj and Nikki Fiorino, and sophomores Emily Arena and Pooja Rao.
The new additions to the team are senior Christina Morgante and freshman Taylor Penzo.
“It’s a new year with a new team,” Hattem said. “Our schedule is going to be tough, playing Ossining, Lourdes, Albertus Magnus and also in the Slam Dunk, and our league is very challenging. We just need to get better every game and play our best basketball in February.”
Jackie Penzo and her teammates know every opponent will want to beat Somers because it is the defending Class A champion. As a result, the focus and intensity will be heightened in preparation for the season.
“It’s important for us to be confident, but it’s also important for us to stay humble and focused in every game knowing that teams want to beat us even more this year,” she said.
WALTER PANAS had a memorable 2016-17 season as the Panthers finished with a 17-6 record, but, more importantly, advanced to the final four at the Westchester County Center.
The Panthers defeated Brewster and upset Harrison before a tough loss to Eastchester in a semifinal.
Starters Carlyn Mucci and Melissa Keefe graduated, but Panas returns an experienced core that tasted success and will want a return trip to the final four.
The senior triumvirate of Kristen Kelly, Kellie Brown and Danielle Merante (11 points per game last year) headline the nucleus. Sophomores Katherine Reynoso and Kristen Scrobola, and freshman Kristen Cinquina also return.
Seventh-year Panther Coach Matt Evangelista welcomes four new players to varsity – junior Bleona Rraci, sophomore Julia Petrovich and freshmen Cailen Nolan and Alex Sudol.
“This may be the most skilled team that Panas has had in a long time,” Evangelista said. “This team will rely more on our perimeter play than last year when our size was our big advantage. The team is quick, can handle the ball, and shoots it well. Our goals are to repeat our success from last year and try to improve on it. Integrating the new players and returning players taking on enhanced roles will be the keys to our success.”
Panas will host its annual tournament, Dec. 7 and 9, with Mahopac, Yorktown and R.C. Ketcham completing the field. The Panthers are in a difficult league with intra-district rival Lakeland and defending Section 1 Class A champion, Somers. Panas will also play Tappan Zee, a 2017 Section 1 final four participant.
LAKELAND enters the season learning a new name as coach Miranda (Lustig) Mangan got married during the offseason. The Hornets also welcome assistant coach Shawn Sullivan, the former Panas varsity boys’ coach.
“His knowledge and experience has already made such a positive impact,” Mangan said. “He is a great addition to our program.”
Lakeland continued its progression under Mangan, finishing with a 14-8 record, including a first-round sectional win and trip to the Section 1 Class A quarterfinals.
The Hornets did graduate All-Section player Colleen Walsh and Krista Verrino, however, a sizeable veteran nucleus will take the court for Mangan.
Everything starts with Lakeland’s core four seniors – captain Jessica Ascencao, an all-league pick last year, Kelsey Walsh, Kayla Bugeya and Rose DeMuro.
Juniors Alex Cole and Sarah Carroll, along with sophomore Bri Monte complete the returnees.
Youth will be served among the new varsity players with sophomore Sofia Portante, freshman Amanda Cole and eighth-grader Tyler Hormazabal joining the team.
“Our main goal is to continue to be better than we were the day before,” Mangan said. “We return a core group of players that saw a lot of action last season, mixed with talented youth. We hope to have a balanced scoring attack and use our versatility on defense to make up for our lack of size.”
HEN HUD was sailing along to an excellent 2017 and entered sectional play as a high seed, but the Sailors were upset by Beacon in the first round. Hen Hud finished with a 15-6 record.
Veteran Coach Ken Sherman needed a box of tissues last June as nine seniors, including honorable mention all-section point guard Jaelyn Smith, graduated.
Four players return led by the senior trio of Taylor Prokopiak and the guard tandem of Libby Johnson and Chloe Stewart. Sophomore Caitlin Weimar will patrol the lane, offensively and defensively, after averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game last year.
Junior Thalia Oliveira and freshmen Grace Moretti and Kira Varada move up and figure into the rotation.
“We are a very young team in the midst of “re-building”, but at the same time I am expecting our team to compete every game,” Sherman said. “I would love to see us win about 50 percent of our games, even though we have a tough league schedule (Lourdes, Beacon, Poughkeepsie, and Peekskill). I will know where we stand after a couple of scrimmages against Mahopac and Lakeland.”
BREWSTER and Coach Mike Castaldo will enter the 2017-18 season without a permanent fixture as Julia Borsari graduated in June.
A four-year starter, Borsari was the team most valuable player and an all-conference selection. Borsari is attending Manhattanville College and playing basketball.
Brewster did qualify for sectionals and opened with a victory over Ardsley before a loss to Panas.
Castaldo does return three prime-time players in senior Jess Miele, a combination guard and three-year starter, and juniors Maggie DePaoli and Meagan Beal. DePaoli is also a combination guard and three-year starter and Beal starts at forward.
The experience does not end with this trio as seniors Mary Becker (center) and Taylor Riccardi (guard/forward) are back along with juniors Kristen Stefanick (guard) and Haile Ratajack (guard).
Brewster receives a youth infusion in the trio of freshmen Carly
DeLanoy (guard) and Alexis Mark (forward/center) and eighth-grader Grace Galgano (forward/center).
“We are extremely young, carrying two freshmen and an eighth-grader, but do have great experience at the both guard positions,” Castaldo said. “We are playing in an extremely difficult league. The girls have shown a solid work ethic over the first three weeks of the season. Practice has been great, and all of the girls are competing at an extremely high level.”
Last year, coach Kristi Dini returned to PUTNAM VALLEY, her alma mater, and guided the Tigers to a 15-5 record, a league title and first-round sectional win.
Now that the girls have a year of experience playing for Dini, the Tigers will look to take their game to the next level.
Putnam Valley returns four key players led by junior Dora Rippon (F) and Morgan Winogradoff (F). Sophomore Kelli Venezia (G) and freshman Ariana Stockinger (G).
“Dora is extremely underrated and can shoot and has a strong back-to-the-basket game,” Dini said. “Kelli was a top guard as a freshman last year, is very crafty and shoots the 3 well. Ariana started as an eight-grader, can play all five spots and is potentially our top defender and Morgan is our sleeper that people don’t give enough credit to.
“We have three newcomers from last year’s JV, including a strong guard we pulled up for playoffs last season in Cyera Daughtry and an eighth-grade guard, who is playing very well. We are a small team, but we make up for it with our toughness and defense. We were one point away from the County Center last year. I know the County Center was stripped from Section 1 athletes, which is extremely disappointing, but we still want to get to that Class B final four.”
Even though Putnam Valley is young, this did not dissuade Dini from putting together a difficult schedule to get her team ready for sectionals. Putnam Valley will play Class B powers Irvington and Woodlands, as well as Class AA teams Yorktown, Mahopac and Arlington. The Tigers could also face Mount Vernon in the Yorktown Tournament.”
HALDANE will look to add yet another sectional title to its storied history as the Blue Devils beat Hamilton for the Class C title last year.
Haldane knocked off Section 9 champion Pine Plains in a regional semifinal before a loss to Port Jefferson in the regional final for an 18-6 record. Back in the fold, seeking a fifth-straight gold ball, is senior F Allison Chiera and sophomore G Olivia McDermott, Abbey Stowell and Bela and Livey Monteleone.
“We lost three major starters on the guard end, but we always seem to replace them,” veteran Haldane Coach Tyrone Searight said. “We have another setback in losing Julia Rotando to surgery. I have a young point guard that lifted us in the regional semi-final game that is getting stronger and our center and forwards are back, so we have a strong nucleus. The thing we want to do is to get better every day. Once again, we play a tough schedule, including Irvington, Valhalla and Woodlands. The league is going to be tough and during the Christmas break we are traveling to Albany to play.”