Once the snow finally passes, we will eventually have the Section 1 girls basketball tournament. Defending champions Ossining, Peekskill and Irvington all look good to repeat this year, but with stiffer competition throughout the brackets, it won’t be easy.
Here’s everything you need to know about this year’s tournament, which is scheduled to begin on Friday:
Favorites: Ossining. Even without Saniya Chong (UConn) and Andra Espinoza-Hunter (Blair Academy), the Pride (16-2) still have the best team in Section 1, and arguably the state. Ossining is the top-ranked public school in the state for Class AA and has not lost to a Section 1 opponent since Feb. 4, 2011. The Pride (featured image) have shown vulnerability, edging Rye and beating Horace Greeley after trailing through three quarters. With six-footers Jalay Knowles, Shadeen Samuels, Abby Squirrel and Madison Strippoli, the Pride have height that is unmatched by any other team in the bracket.
Challengers: Clarkstown South and Lourdes. The Vikings have a chance to complete quiet the resume: undefeated season, section title, snap Ossining’s streak. Anchored by arguably the top player in Section 1, senior forward Laura Castaldo (pictured right), Clarkstown South (18-0) is ranked ninth in the state, three spots behind Ossining. The Warriors (15-3), last year’s finalist and winners of 20 total gold balls (none in Class AA), are incredibly balanced inside and out and should not be overlooked.
Sleeper: Horace Greeley. If it wasn’t for a 26-point, fourth-quarter scoring eruption by Ossining sophomore Shadeen Samuels earlier this year, the Quakers could have handed the Pride its first Section 1 loss in two years. The Quakers have shown the ability to play with top competition, such as Ossining and Rye, but have also shown vulnerability in a loss to Harrison.
Best first-round game: No. 9 North Rockland at No. 8 New Rochelle. This is, hands down, the best first-round game of the tournament. The Red Raiders returned almost every player from last year and fell by just seven points to Class AA powerhouse Long Island Lutheran. The Huguenots are balanced and talented, but have had trouble closing out games this year.
Upset special: No. 11 Suffern at No. 6 Arlington. The Mounties boast one of the best defenses in the league and posted a .500 record under first-year coach Rich Burger after a 6-13 campaign last year. If you have to pick a possible first-round upset, this is your best bet.
X-factor: The bracket. Unlike past years, when Ossining would run away with the title, regardless of seed, this year’s tournament heavily favors the No. 1 seed. With Ossining, Lourdes and Clarkstown South all putting up impressive seasons, the top seed would only have to face one of the other opponents, if they all advance that far. With the top spot, Ossining is at a significant advantage for this year.
County Center-bound: Clarkstown South, Lourdes, Ossining, Ursuline.
Championship: Ossining over Lourdes.
MVP candidates: Laura Castaldo, Clarkstown South; Paige Decker, Lourdes; Jalay Knowles, Ossining (pictured below); Anna Savino, Ursuline.
Favorites: Beacon. The Bulldogs (16-2), who almost every player from last year’s squad, have been the most consistent team in an extremely competitive Class A field. Talah Hughes is dominant in the paint, while guards Leandra Echi, Brooke Dennin and Lauren Schetter provide exceptional perimeter shooting.
Challengers: Albertus Magnus, Peekskill and Rye. In what many coaches are calling “the most competitive bracket they’ve ever seen,” there are about a dozen legitimate contenders to win the gold ball; these are just the frontrunners of the pack. Albertus Magnus lost last year’s final to Peekskill, who returns every single player from its championship roster, including last year’s tournament MVP Lanay Rodney (pictured right), and Rye has notched quality wins against Horace Greeley and Irvington. Each squad has the balance that will prep it for a long postseason run; now it’s all a matter of execution. Peekskill has not shown the consistency that Beacon and Rye have, but are both still loaded with talent.
Sleepers: Ardsley, Hen Hud, Nanuet, Pearl River, Sleepy Hollow, Somers and Tappan Zee. An eclectic field that features high-scoring offenses and lockdown defenses, every one of these teams can pull off a major upset. Sleepy Hollow and Tappan Zee have the top offenses, with Pearl River right behind it. Somers has the top defense, with Hen Hud, Nanuet and Pearl River also in the mix. Knocking off either one of the four projected semifinalists will be tough, but doable. Hen Hud has already beaten Peekskill this year; the top three seeds have not lost to a Section 1 Class A opponent.
Best first-round game: No. 11 Hen Hud or No. 22 Brewster at No. 6 Sleepy Hollow. The Sailors should win their outbracket game, which will set up a road contest at Sleepy Hollow. The Horsemen (16-2) were bumped in the first round last year to 15th-seeded Pelham. If coach Nick Romeo and Co. don’t want another early exit, they will have to scave off a talented Hen Hud team that upended the defending champions, Peekskill.
Upset special: No. 23 Nyack at No. 11 Lakeland. The Hornets were also in my “upset special” last year as a No. 3 seed, and wound up losing to No. 14 Rye. Nyack has an extremely young and talented team that can easily pull this upset off. Even with its top three players missing the entire season to injury, coach Darren Sheppard’s squad has more than exceeded expectations.
X-factor: Defense. Whoever continues to win the battle of boards will likely continue to win games. The majority of teams in contention get a bulk of their points from the perimeter; if the opposing defense can either limit opportunities or force bad shots, it will likely advance.
County Center-bound: Albertus Magnus, Beacon, Peekskill and Rye.
Championship: Peekskill over Albertus Magnus.
MVP candidates: Alexa Amalbert, Nanuet; Cassidy Boyle, Hen Hud; Grace Carr, Sleepy Hollow; Emma Daly, Pearl River; Maddie Eck, Rye; Kelly Guarino, Albertus Magnus; Talah Hughes, Beacon; Kristen McLaughlin, Tappan Zee; Caite Opfer, Somers; Lanay Rodney, Peekskill.
Favorites: Irvington. Since its section final loss in 2009, the Bulldogs have lost to just one Section 1 Class B team — that being Dobbs Ferry on Feb. 4. Winners of the last four state championships, Irvington (16-2) sat atop the state rankings in Class B all season and carried an undefeated streak through 13 games this season before falling to Rye on Jan. 19.
Challengers: Briarcliff and Dobbs Ferry. A senior-less roster, led by freshman standout Carly Fanelli, the Bears could do some serious damage in this bracket. A potential rematch with Blind Brook would be an exceptional semifinal game. The Eagles have already proven they can beat the Bulldogs, so confidence shouldn’t be an issue. After getting mopped at the County Center in last year’s semifinals, a chance to serve a double dose of revenge to Irvington will surely be at the top of Dobbs Ferry’s priority list.
Sleepers: Blind Brook, Westlake and Woodlands. Blind Brook could be this year’s Cinderella, with realistic odds to make the County Center. The Trojans have the experience of playing at “Westchester’s Most Famous Arena” and would probably like to avenge last year’s championship loss. Westlake can shoot extremely well from beyond the arc and Woodlands fell to Irvington by one point earlier this year, thanks to an incredible performance (45 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists) by Georgia Tech-commit Imani Tilford.
Best first-round game: No. 10 Blind Brook at No. 7 Woodlands. I think whoever wins this game, goes all the way to the County Center, and possibly the championship. Woodlands has the best player, but Blind Brook appears to have the more complete team. Either way, this is a top-notch first-round game.
Upset alert: No. 12 Croton-Harmon at No. 5 North Salem. Neither team scores a whole lot, so whoever is having the better shooting day will likely win this contest. This is the best chance at a big upset, and Croton-Harmon has a decent chance to pull it off.
X-factor: Managing fouls. Most of the top-contending teams have suffered a loss that was greatly impacted by foul trouble — Irvington played without its starting point guard Lauren Chafizadeh for the final six minutes of regulation and all of overtime against Rye, Dobbs Ferry coach Erik Bartell received two technical fouls against Irvington and Blind Brook lost in the closing seconds to Briarcliff after a careless foul.
County County-bound: Blind Brook, Briarcliff, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington..
Championship: Irvington over Blind Brook.
MVP candidates: Molly Altholz, Dobbs Ferry; Lauren Chafizadeh, Irvington; Alyssa Chipelo, Dobbs Ferry; Laurilyn Gelardi, Irvington (pictured below); Imani Tilford, Woodlands.
Favorites: Haldane. Lisikatos sisters Samantha (senior) and Missy (freshman) return from last year’s squad, which fell in the championship game. With Hamilton in rebuilding mode and Keio’s second-half struggles, the top-seeded Blue Devils should be this year’s favorites.
Challenger: Keio. The Unicorns were state-ranked most of the season, and then hit a rough patch when their players returned from Japan after the holidays.
Sleepers: Hamilton and Tuckahoe. It’s hard to completely count out the two-time defending champs, but coach Benjamin Carter has a very young squad with little experience. Tuckahoe
X-factor: Consistency. The most consistent team throughout this tournament will likely win it all; plain and simple.
County County-bound: Haldane, Hamilton, Keio and Tuckahoe.
Championship: Haldane over Keio.
MVP candidates: Nina Gill, Hamilton; Samantha Lisikatos, Haldane; Allie Monteleone, Haldane (pictured above); Sae Toyomura, Keio.
All photos were taken by The Journal News