As some of you saw on Twitter last night, here is my Christmas gift to all of you loyal readers — an in-depth look at the 2013 Slam Dunk Tournament at the Westchester County Center, which begins tomorrow and runs through Sunday. I’ve included a special edition of “players to watch” at the end of the feature, as well as a graphic of the full girls schedule. Enjoy the piece, and have a very merry, safe Christmas!
This was supposed to be the year that the Section 1 field evened out.
With Ossining losing stars Saniya Chong (graduation, UConn) and Andra Espinoza-Hunter (transfer, Blair Academy), and Irvington graduating reigning state Class B co-players of the year Lexi Martins and Brittni Lai to the Division I level, it seemed like these two teams in particular would come back down to earth in 2013-14.
Entering the Slam Dunk Tournament, the two are a combined 14-1 and appear poised to defend their respective section titles — if not regional and state crowns, as well. Irvington (8-0) is undefeated, and Ossining is coming off a school-record 114-point performance against Newburgh Free Academy.
“This group of kids are really trained. … I wasn’t sure how they would jell,” said Irvington coach Gina Maher, the section’s all-time winningest coach in girls basketball at 594 wins and counting. “I think playing against players like Lexi and Brittni (in practice every day) makes you better.”
With Irvington in the challenge game and not vying for one of the two Slam Dunk titles, the rest of the well-rounded field will be looking to step out from the massive shadow that Ossining and Irvington have cast over the section during the last four seasons.
Albertus Magnus will have the opportunity to avenge two disappointing losses during the tournament, which is now in its 15th year. The Falcons face Class AA powerhouse Lourdes, which they lost to in their season opener despite leading at halftime.
“We didn’t play smart in the second half,” Albertus Magnus coach Pat Buckley said of the early- season loss to the Warriors. “We need to make every possession count.”
If the Falcons are victorious, it could set up a rematch of last year’s Class A section final against Peekskill in the title game. The Red Devils face New Rochelle in Thursday’s semifinals after Albertus Magnus-Lourdes.
“It’s a great environment,” said Buckley, who is looking to lead the Falcons to their first section title since 2009. “The younger girls need to go in there and play basketball. They can’t be shellshocked.”
New Rochelle will also be seeking some redemption after being held to 26 points by Lourdes at the County Center in last year’s Class AA section semifinals.
North Rockland, the only other local team in the actual tournament (not one of the challenge games), is looking to prove it belongs in the discussion as one of the top Class AA teams in the section.
Playing in a bracket that features Ossining, Class A state Federation champion Long Island Lutheran, and CHSAA Class AA powerhouse Archbishop Molloy, any win would certainly put the Red Raiders in that discussion.
Sleepy Hollow, White Plains and Ardsley will join Irvington in the challenge games, which do not have advancement rounds. The tournament begins on Thursday at 11 a.m.
Players to watch: Most of you know the top players in the tournament — the “standouts” on a team, if you will. Aside from the fact that most of the “players to watch” for the season preview are playing in the this tournament, I wanted to switch it up. These are the players to actually watch — younger players who usually don’t get noticed, but you should definitely keep an eye on in this tournament and the rest of the way. For the out-of-area teams (Long Island Lutheran and Archbishop Molloy), I listed their top players since we don’t see them often. Here you go:
Lauren “Boogie” Brozoski, Long Island Lutheran: The reigning Class A state player of the year has already committed to Michigan as a junior.
Lisana Burnett, Peekskill: After losing her starting position from last year, the sophomore was clutch in the Red Devils’ win at the Tappan Zee Tip-off Tournament last week.
Lauren Chafizadeh, Irvington: With Lai off to Marist, the senior has the stage all to herself. She’s wasting no time, putting up big numbers for the undefeated Bulldogs.
Nicolina Chenard, Ardsley: An aggressive, standout three-sport athlete, the sophomore will be a player to keep an eye on in volleyball, basketball and softball until she graduates.
Kaleigh D’Arcy, White Plains: The Tigers likely won’t make a deep playoff run, but D’Arcy is a talent worth watching at the County Center.
Lindsay Halpin, Irvington: At just 5-foot-4, the freshman won’t get as good a look as some other players, but her play through the first six games this season shows she is the future of Irvington basketball.
Nyrie Holliman, Peekskill: The last time Holliman was at the County Center she led the Red Devils to a section title, scoring 14 points off the bench as an eighth-grader.
Nyasha Irizarry, Archbishop Molloy: The Manhattan-bound senior is one of three Division I recruits for a Stanners team with some serious height.
Madison McGrath, Albertus Magnus: Following a breakout sophomore campaign, the sharp-shooting junior is one of the Falcons’ go-to players when a big shot is needed.
Chloe Mullarkey, North Rockland: If there was a “Sixth Man” award for high school girls basketball, Mullarkey likely would’ve won for Section 1 after averaging double digits off the bench as a freshman.
Vanessa Onwe, Sleepy Hollow: The sophomore can record a double-double in any game. A skilled rebounder, Onwe could lead the Headless Horsemen deep into the Class A section tournament.
Abby Squirrell, Ossining: She doesn’t put up the offensive numbers that some of her teammates do, but the 6-foot-1 junior is at the heart of arguably the best frontcourt in the section.
Abby Weeks, Lourdes: A beast on the boards, the 5-foot-10 freshman makes up the bulk of the height on a quick, run-and-gun Warriors team.
Nicole Ziogas, New Rochelle: The only freshman on Bruce Daniele’s squad, the 5-foot-10 Ziogas can play any position on the court. Ziogas starts on the same Lady Knicks AAU team as Halpin.