I told you we weren’t going to overlook Clarkstown South for its performance this year. Nancy Haggerty has been working on a feature that highlights the incredible season the Vikings boys and girls have had thus far — posting a 35-1 combined record entering the Section 1 tournament. Nancy’s feature will run in Friday’s Journal News print edition, but here it is online:
By Nancy Haggerty
His group may have played 18 games, but Clarkstown South boys basketball coach Matt Backs has vivid recall of individual plays, including several last-second heroics by senior guard Joe Zayer.
There was, for instance, that perfectly hurled overtime pass to Stephen Callamore, whose buzzer-beating layup upset New Rochelle and gave Callamore his only points of the game.
And there were Zayer’s last-second winning buckets against Pearl River, Suffern and Spring Valley.
“I love it. I actually do,” Zayer said of having the ball in his hands with the game on the line.
The truth is, though, while Backs may prefer to go to Zayer — “He’s done it multiple times in multiple ways. It’s just fun to turn him loose” — he seems confident in the ability of all 15 of his guys to make plays.
That depth has helped his squad to a 17-1 record.
Not too shabby.
But not as good as Clarkstown South’s girls basketball team.
On the doorstep of postseason play, the girls are 18-0 and undefeated in league play for a third straight year.
The boys’ only blemish was a close loss to Spring Valley, which they avenged during their second meeting and left them with a share of the league title.
“I can’t recall a year when North or South had an equally powerful program in any sport. You’re lucky enough to have one,” athletic director Chris Serra said.
Serra likes the kids’ character and the multiple coaches involved in various stages of their development, including the district’s modified, middle-school feeder program, which he cites as key to later success.
Banks, meanwhile, likes his team’s grit — its mental toughness.
“We’re really turned a corner in that regard. … We’ve had some moments where, in the past, we would have lost,” he said.
Zayer said his squad and the girls team share a mindset.
“We just want to win every game,” he said. “We play like every game is our last and give it our all.”
And players are buddies.
“We pick each other up. … We love playing with each other,” Zayer said. “We’re great friends on and off the court.’’
Four-year varsity player Laura Castaldo (pictured right), the Vikings’ top scoring threat (27.2 points per game) and inside force (11.2 rebounds per game) who’s heading for D-I University of Maryland-Baltimore County, explained, “We play team basketball. We’re very close. Chemistry is huge. Without chemistry on the court, you have nothing.”
“Eleven playing as one,” echoed first-year girls coach Brian Metcalf, who credits incumbent assistant coach Becky Miller with much of their squad’s success. “We’re a basketball family and we promote that.”
Still, as Backs often turns to Zayer, Mecalf isn’t afraid to put the game in the hands of the 5-foot-9 Castaldo, who’ll switch from forward to guard in college.
“She has the determination to win a game and take over a game. What’s great is she can also recognize if she’s overplayed or (double-) teamed and find the open player,” he said.
While reciting the one-game-at-a-time mantra, both teams head to the playoffs seeking a County Center appearance and maybe beyond.
“We’re definitely confident going in,” Castaldo said.
“With effort and determination, anything is possible,” Metcalf added. “I think we can play with the best.”
Photo credit: The Journal News