FINAL: Ossining tops St. John Vianney 106-100 in three overtimes to improve to 11-3. More info to follow. For more reading about the game, I contributed to the Asbury Park Press’ girls hoops blog about this game and their reporter Josh Newman did a fabulous job previewing it. You can find more info by clicking here and browswing through the recent posts.
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I’m sure many of waiting you have been waiting on the edge of your seats waiting to see some power rankings out of us for this season, but we wanted to let time settle before prematurely sorting the teams.
Over the last two weeks or so, Phil Terrigno and I have been brainstorming, crunching numbers, and debating on what teams should make up our “top 10” for the season. For the most part, we were on the same page as to which teams should be in our top 10, but as for where they should fall… that was more debatable. So, we decided to make two separate rankings. I’ll break the ice and post mine first, and Phil will post his later on tonight. Enjoy.
We did not rank teams out of our coverage area (Beacon, John Jay-East Fishkill, Lourdes, etc.) because we have not seen them and did not want to unfairly rank them. We will add them to our updated power rankings once we see them at section tournament in mid-February. We apologize for any inconvenience. (All stats and state rankings are as of Jan. 26)
Mike Zacchio’s Top 10:
1. Ossining Pride (10-3): I think there’s little doubt that the Pride have the No. 1 spot. They are the only team to be undefeated against Section 1 competition. All three of the Pride’s losses came at the Nike Tournament of Champions in December, and all three teams were highly-ranked in the nation. Not to mention, neither team hailed from the Empire State. Senior guard Saniya Chong (pictured right) is the obvious catalyst to this team, but even when she is not on the floor, Ossining has a bevy of role players (Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Jalay Knowles, etc.) that can make opponents rip their hair out. Ossining is the top ranked Class AA team in the state by the NYSSWA, so the odds of them bringing home some state hardware is very good. The Pride has overwhelmed teams with speed and offense, averaging more than 80 points per game, a number that could very well be higher if the Pride did not out their starters after three quarters, sometimes sooner. Over the next couple of weeks we will find out if Chong has been selected to participate in the McDonald’s and Women’s Basketball Coaches Association All-American Games, which will both be held in early April. Chong is also a candidate for USA Today’s Gatorade Girls Basketball Player of the Year award for the state of New York. We will find out that end result in mid-March.
2. Irvington Bulldogs (12-1): Backed by two D-1 bound players in Lexi Martins and Brittni Lai, the Bulldogs have displayed dominance on both offense and defense. Averaging just shy of 70 points per game, coach Gina Maher and the Bulldogs obviously have no problem putting points up on the board. Martins (pictured right, shooting) is a double-double machine, putting up a 32-point, 28-rebound game earlier this season. Like Ossining, because Irvington is often out to a lengthy lead, starters are sometimes pulled to stop the bleeding of its opponents. A huge reason for Irvington’s success has been its defense, which allows just 47.8 points per game, among tops in the section. Irvington, which is the top-ranked teams in the state out of Class B by the NYSSWA, has lost only to Ossining, and they held their own, losing by just six points in the championship game of the Slam Dunk tournament at the County Center. The two will square-off in a rematch to end the season on Feb. 8. Very appropriate ending to the year for both teams.
3. Hamilton Red Raiders (13-1): I’m sorry, but I can’t help but notice the similarities between Hamilton and the movie, “Coach Carter.” Richmond (the team in the movie) was led by coach Ken Carter, while Hamilton is led by coach Ben Carter. In the movie, coach Carter owned his own sporting goods store. In real life, coach Ben Carter runs his own athletic company. In the movie, coach Carter turned around a struggling basketball program into champions, focusing on defense, hard work, and most importantly, academics. In the four years since coach Ben Carter took over, Hamilton has made the section final all four seasons, winning it all last year. Carter is also very adamant about his players succeeding in the classroom, and not just on the court. In the movie, Richmond lost in the first-round of the state tournament. Last year, Hamilton lost in the regional semifinals but they are the top ranked team in the state out of Class C by the NYSSWA, so defending the Section 1 title and at least getting to the state tournament this year is a very good possibility. (I smell a possible feature story in here). Like Irvington, Hamilton’s only loss came to Ossining, and like Irvington, Hamilton played them very close. The Red Raiders may have lost by seven, but they led or were within a field goal the majority of the game. Chong (see above) scored 43 points for the Pride, including 24 in the fourth quarter when the Pride pulled away. Led by Sacred Heart transfer Tiffany Corselli and standout Maia Hood (pictured above), who is approaching her 1,000th career rebound, the Red Raiders have proven to be a competitor, but may run into trouble with a short-staffed roster of just nine girls.
4. Pearl River Lady Pirates (11-2): Once we got out of the “Big Three” the real debate in ranks started. While the No. 4 spot was slightly more debatable than No. 2-3, I think Pearl River is a pretty solid No. 4 team. Irvington has undoubtably the best defense in Westchester, and likely the section, while Pearl River has locked down the top defense in Rockland. The Lady Pirates have a better statistical defense (allowing just north of 45 points per game), but have not played the quality of competition that Irvington has. For what it’s worth, when they faced each other, Irvington won 65-49. Many people thought the reigning Section 1 Class A would be gutted after losing three-time Journal News player of the year Christa Scognamiglio to graduation, but the young Pirates have more than prevailed. Their only two losses this season have come to Irvington and Oneonta (11-0), and both teams are ranked in the state top three for Class B by the NYSSWA (Pearl River is ranked No. 20 in Class A). Christa’s younger sister, Missy (pictured left), does an exceptional job of running the point and commanding the floor as the team’s captain. I think absence next year will really hurt the Lady Pirates, now that both Scogs sisters will be gone, but coach Lorraine Moylan’s patented press defense has kept Pearl River a winner for years. Not for nothing, but both Maher and Moylan have the top two defenses around, and between them they have more than 1,000 wins (500-plus each). Take notice young coaches, defense wins championships.
5. Sleepy Hollow Headless Horsemen (14-1): After an impressive 16-5 campaign last season, hopes were high for coach Nick Romeo and his roster, which contained three returning starters. In addition to their metaphorical horse, Sleepy Hollow is also riding a nice 12-game winning streak, which should only improve as they close out the season. With a good amount of experience coming back, Sleepy Hollow should be better prepared for the section tournament this time around, but with Pearl River still around, winning it all won’t be easy. As talented as they were last year, and appear to be this year, Sleepy Hollow should only improve next year, as they have just one senior (Daniella Carissimo) on the roster. Sleepy Hollow hasn’t really been challenged all that much this year, as they win by an average of approximately 15 points per game, but they have showed weakness, especially against Rockland teams. Sleepy’s only loss this year came to Clarkstown South (10-4, see below), and had it not been for a half-court miracle buzzer-beater by junior Jessica Tucci (pictured right), they would have lost to Nyack (the shot forced overtime, where Sleepy won, 62-59). I don’t think anyone would doubt Sleepy’s skill, but the strength of its schedule could use a few hours in the gym. Sleepy will likely grab a No. 2 seed behind Pearl River in the Class A bracket, and will also likely meet the Lady Pirates in the finale. Regardless of how this season ends, will an all-but-full roster returning next year, this team will be fun to watch for awhile.
6. North Rockland Red Raiders (10-4): The Red Raiders finally achieved a state rank in Class AA after a terrific start to the season, coming in at No. 27 in the most recent rankings released on Wednesday. Coach Kevin Metcalf has completely turned around this program ever since taking over, but the Red Raiders have yet to really make a splash (although I’m sure having Ossining in the class doesn’t help any). A ridiculously young team, the Red Raiders are one of the most prolific scoring teams around, but it’s their inconsistent defense that may hold them back in the sectional tournament. In addition to senior captain Alex Bertolino (pictured right, shooting), the Red Raiders have a “big three” of sophomores in Ciera Rivera, Olivia Burden, and Alyssa Williams, that should keep them successful for years to come. The biggest problem for North Rockland has been defending in the paint. The curse with having so many talented young players is that, more often than not, they have not fully matured physically. Only one player on the roster is taller than 5-foot-8, and the majority of them are 5-foot-6 or shorter, so they are almost always at a height disadvantage. Since they will likely not be able to handle the “big men” of other teams, the Red Raiders will have to really strengthen their perimeter defense and make sure opponents can’t get the ball in the paint. Even if this isn’t North Rockland’s year, the future is very bright. But make no mistake about it, this team is a contender in Class AA; not to win of course (I think Ossining has this won with a bow on it), but to make a deep run? Definitely.
7. Clarkstown South Lady Vikings (11-4): This team has one of fastest rising stocks in my book, and I really don’t think they’ve gotten enough credit than they deserve this year. An up-tempo team that focuses on limiting the scoring of its opponents, Clarkstown South has the weapons on both offense and defense to really hurt a team (on the scoreboard, not physically, of course). Led by standout junior forward Laura Castaldo (pictured right), the Lady Vikings have quality wins this season over Sleepy Hollow, North Rockland, Hackley, and Horace Greeley, and have lost to quality opponents. Tappan Zee (6-6) handed them their first loss, but that was also a game in which the Dutchies drilled 11 3-pointers. Also, a two-point loss to Albertus Magnus is more than easy to forgive. South’s other two losses were blowouts, but were also to state-ranked competition. South lost to Monroe-Woodbury (No. 29 Class AA) and Pearl River (No. 20 Class A) by 15- and 16-point deficits, respectively. South has a solid defense, and is well-coached by Jennifer Chiera-Frank, but I think the offense has to be more spread out in order for them to make a deep run in the section tournament. Most teams know that Castaldo is their best player, and if they don’t, they quickly figure it out. With role players Allison Haugh and Maddy Downes who can put up double-digit scoring numbers, the Lady Vikings should take more risks from outside of the paint in order to throw off the balance of Castaldo’s scoring down low. Granted, if you’re facing a team like North Rockland, who has been notoriously weak against powerful forwards/centers, by all means, stuff it to her every possession (Castaldo’s 40 points against the Red Raiders were a huge factor in South’s win). But, if you’re facing a team like Pearl River or Tappan Zee, that has a more balanced defense, try and mix it up from both the perimeter and the paint. I’m not a coach obviously, but I think it’s something that could help South go further in the section tournament.
8. Blind Brook Trojans (13-2): I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Blind Brook this year… until I saw them in person. The Trojans have a dynamic starting five that can shoot, rebound, defend, steal — you name it. They have more than one person who can handle the ball above average, they have more than one person who can post-up, and they have more than one person who can make clutch shots when needed; you get the point. The versatile Ally Silfen (pictured left, rebounding) can play any number of positions for the Trojans, and shoots the ball incredibly well for a big man. Fellow towering forward Jackie Lavitt (4, pictured left) adds even more of a defensive prowess to the Trojans’ arsenal. For those of you following me during the Tappan Zee-Blind Brook game Friday, I mentioned senior guard Lea Saliba and her incredible ball-handling skills, which were a major factor in breaking Tappan Zee’s press yesterday. These “big three” can lead Blind Brook very far into the Class B tournament, and I have no idea why they are ranked as low as they are (tied-No. 25) in the state rankings. Granted, I know nothing about the out-of-section schools, but to have Kennedy (see below) ranked at No. 4 and to have Blind Brook more than 20 spots behind them is ludicrous. I would probably take Blind Brook to beat Kennedy in a head-to-head game, let alone just hang around. The Trojans will end their season with back-to-back games against Ossining and Hamilton on Feb. 6-7, respectively, so they’ll likely fall out of the NYSSWA rankings after two probable losses, although I think wins and losses should be judged on quality, not quantity. Like Class A, the Class B bracket should be relatively wide-open for one of the spots in the finals with Blind Brook, Kennedy, Ardsley, Pleasantville, etc. in the mix so it’ll be a fun fight to the end. I don’t mention Irvington because they probably have their gold ball on layaway as we speak.
9. Kennedy Catholic Gaels (13-2): Piggybacking off of Blind Brook, there has to be a flaw somewhere in the state ranks, because there is no way Kennedy and Blind Brook are 20 spots away from each other. Either Kennedy is ranked too high at No. 4, or Blind Brook is ranked too low at No. 25 (tied). For the record, I’m going with the latter of the two. Gaels coach Lance DeMarzo has done an exceptional job in his first year at the helm of a girls program. Before coming to Kennedy, DeMarzo was a longtime boys coach at Mahopac. Kennedy has displayed one of the better defenses around, allowing just 33.4 points per game, but have not face the same level of competition that other top defenses such as Irvington and Pearl River have. Not taking anything away from the Gaels — your schedule is your schedule and to allow just over eight points a quarter makes things a lot easier for your offense. Backed by the stellar play of Kiera Hennessy (pictured left, dribbling) and Shayna Gaskins, the Gaels are looking to make a big splash onto the Class B tournament scene in February. I would absolutely love to see a match between them and Blind Brook at sections.
10. New Rochelle Huguenots (12-2): This team was a little bit harder to gauge. When guard Amirror Dixon went down with a knee injury, many thought the Huguenots’ season was over before it ever really began. New Ro responded with quite the contrary, winning 10-consecutive games following a season-opening loss to Irvington. With Dixon now back in the lineup, the Huguenots are adjusting to a different starting five, so a few kinks will understandably have to be worked out the next game or two. If they can find a nice groove with Dixon, the Huguenots can be very dangerous in Class AA. With a plethora of players who can score, adding Dixon to the mix only makes them that much more lethal. Again, nobody will come close to Ossining, so it’s really just a fight to make it to the final. Dixon, and fellow juniors Sidney Pinn and Aaliya Hayes (pictured left, dribbling) should keep New Ro a team to watch next year as well.
ON THE BUBBLE: Ardsley, Hackley, Mount Vernon, Pleasantville, Scarsdale, Ursuline.
Phil’s Rankings: (Due to Mike’s expansive job above, I’ve condensed my team summaries to include just the main points and places where we differ)
1. Ossining (11-3): The gold standard of girls basketball in New York State and a program that will continue to thrive after Saniya Chong graduates.
2. Irvington (12-1): Most high school teams would be fortunate to have one Division I player – this squad has two. Lai and Martins lead an attack that has gotten contributions from it’s other starters. The Bulldogs are the winners of three straight Class B state titles.
3. Hamilton (13-1): Staying within 20 points of Hamilton will be a chore for any other Section 1 Class C team this season. Ben Carter’s squad of five senior starters is energetic, hungry and talented. It’s a dangerous combination.
4. Pearl River (11-2): Fitness, hustle and discipline can take a team with these traits a long way at the high school level. They also happen to be the M.O. of Lorraine Moylan’s squad.
5. North Rockland (10-4): The Red Raiders have put up big offensive numbers this year – averaging over 70 points per game at one point. They’ll need that scoring firepower once Sectional play rolls around.
6. New Rochelle (12-2): Before the season started, I didn’t hear a great deal about the Huguenots. Then Bruce Daniele’s squad started rolling – all without the services of standout junior guard Amirror Dixon. The Huguenots have had some marquee wins and I like their makeup.
7. Sleepy Hollow (14-1): They’ll be set up nicely in the Class A tournament after winning so many games. That’s when the real test of their mettle will begin.
8. Kennedy (13-2): Just like in the NBA Playoffs, defense and rebounding win. Gaskins and Hennessey are two of the area’s most talented frontcourt players and I expect that to cause enormous match up problems for many Class B teams.
9. Blind Brook (13-2): Talented ball handlers and shooters, including Silfen and Saliba that play well together under Manny Martinez. The Trojans weren’t given enough respect with a 25th ranking in Class B.
10.Pleasantville: Credit must be given to the Panthers for rolling through the regular season but their depth will be tested in a few week’s time.
ON THE BUBBLE: Ardsley, Scarsdale, Pleasantville, Ursuline, Mount Vernon, Clarkstown South