Clarkstown South coach Paul Bacsardi opened his courts to 14 teams from Rockland, Westchester and a few out-of-area opponents on Friday for a preseason scrimmage. Teams played in half-hour blocks, with no score kept, then rotated to the next match. White Plains was unable to attend the event, so the schedule previously posted was not the one that was kept for the day.
The day allowed to get a first-look, in general, at some teams, while for others, it was my first look at them in a game situation. Granted, because it was preseason and a scrimmage, many teams did not play their “A” squad the entire day. (And no, that’s not a Pretty Little Liars reference)
Here’s my video recap of the scrimmage:
I really didn’t want to pay too much attention to Cornwall or Archbishop Molloy, since we don’t cover them, nor are either of them in the section. (Cornwall is a member of Section 9, while Molloy is a member of the Catholic High School Athletic Association)
All in all, I’d have to say that many of the teams were what I expected. Rockland looks like it should be highly competitive, with a lot of balanced talent throughout. None of the upper-ecchelon teams from Westchester/Putnam were there, but some of the second-tier teams like Ossining, Blind Brook and Rye were in attendance.
We’ll start with the home-county Rockland teams.
MY TAKE ON CLARKSTOWN NORTH: I was thrilled to finally get a look at Clarkstown North. A middle-of-the-road team last year, I was expecting the Rams to do some damage this year with some nice star power returning to the court. Coach Ann Metz has seemingly always put a competitive team on the court. This year, I expect the team to be more than just “competitive.”
Even with the loss of 5-foot-10 hitter Rebecca McGinn, the Rams should be just fine on offense. Nikki Petri, a setter-hitter hybrid, should provide excellent experience for her senior year, while fellow seniors Amanda DeStaso and Samantha Weiss contribute to what should be an exceptional Rams offense. Libero Melanie Metz and setter Kiana Whitney will also return for their senior seasons.
Juniors Erin Ryder (6-foot-1) and Katie Lauer (5-foot-10) will give North a bevy of height and power in the middle.
I really think Class AA will be wide-open this year, with no clear-cut runaway like South last year. The Rams could very easily sneak in to the semifinals, and could even find themselves in the championship depending on their bracket and regular season performance. I figured the Rams would be a team to watch in 2013, but wanted to see them in person first before making that call. Now that I have, my notion was confirmed. The Rams should most-definitely be competitors this year.
MY TAKE ON SUFFERN: My colleague Debbie Schechter got a look at Suffern during a camp stop two weeks ago, while I hit a couple of other stops. The Mounties were one of my top teams to watch this year, with Albertus Magnus. The Mounties return a truckload of talent and height from a section-semifinalist squad last year.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to truly see the Suffern I was expecting, with the team battling some injuries to a couple of significant players. Middle hitter Alexis Cohen is still suffering from some back injuries that sidelined her from most of the basketball season this winter, and setter Julia Hrycyk is out with a hip flexor injury, according to coach Sean Barnes.
Barnes said that Hrycyk was not cleared to play on Thursday, and will have to sit out two weeks before she can be reevaluated by a doctor. Barnes added that Cohen is closer to returning to the court than Hrycyk is. The girls are two of the five six-foot-plus players the Mounties have on this year’s roster. Hrycyk is the tallest on the team, checking in at 6-foot-2. Barnes said that senior Beth McDonough will fill-in as the team’s setter for the time being.
While it will be an adjustment to play without these two, Suffern should still be a contender for the Class AA title.
Six-footers Sam Uline, Kaley Clavell and Katie Conway should help make up for any offensive slack between skill and height. For a sport where height is such a crucial benefactor, and when high school girls aren’t typically that tall, Suffern is a huge weapon in its arsenal. As the saying goes, “You can’t teach height.”
Even without Hrycyk and Cohen, I thought Suffern looked slightly better than Albertus Magnus. I would love to see the Mounties up against a strong Class AA opponent like Arlington or John Jay-East Fishkill, but either way, I think the Mounties can easily return to the section final.
MY TAKE ON ALBERTUS MAGNUS: Like Suffern, Magnus returns a ton of talent. I saw them, briefly, in my camp stop two weeks ago, but I was glad to get an in-game look at them. The Falcons went toe-to-toe with Suffern, which wasn’t overly surprising, seeing as how they downed the Mounties in five sets last year.
Seeing the Falcons play ahead-of and equal with many of the Class AA teams only solidifies that Class C is theirs to lose this year. They have the talent, they have the chemistry and they have the determination. All that’s left is the execution.
The only team in Class C that I can see putting up a fight with them would be Blind Brook, which I also got to see, or Croton-Harmon, which I have not seen yet. Westlake could possibly be a finalist threat, but I’ll make that executive decision once I see them in person.
MY TAKE ON CLARKSTOWN SOUTH: Another team I’ve already seen via a camp stop, I was a little surprised by South. I knew they had lost a ton, but that they were still returning a ton. The Vikings definitely displayed the talent I knew they had, but the chemistry didn’t seem to be all there.
The Vikings were without six-footer Nastasia Kapustin, who was nursing a sore ankle she hurt during a scrimmage with Ardsley, according to Bacsardi.
“There was a collision at the net, and she took the brunt of the force, so she’s going to be out a little while,” he said. “It could be week — we’re not really sure. We want to nurse it and don’t want to push it, so we’ll take it day-by-day with her.”
With Nastasia out, Bacsardi put in a bunch of different options, even resting most or all of his starters at points to test his depth. The one player who really stood out to me was outside hitter Jessica Alvarado. She’s got some height and power to her, and looks like there’s only up-side with her game.
I think the Vikings have a decent shot at defending their section crown because, as I said with Suffern and Clarkstown North, Class AA looks wide open. Once (Nastasia) Kapustin is back, it will be a lot easier to judge just how good South will be this year. Whereas most players have top players, Kapustin is one of those players who is indispensable to her team.
North Rockland and Nanuet still look like they’re in rebuilding phases. The Red Raiders look like they have a little more talent, but I think both teams will float around the .500 mark this year. The Golden Knights could be slightly below, but only time will tell.
Crossing the bridge, let’s take a look at the teams from Westchester and Putnam.
I’ll lump Blind Brook and Rye together since not only were they such similar teams last year, but they are also in the same league. Only seems logical, right?
MY TAKE ON BLIND BROOK AND RYE: These teams were actually one of the first matches I saw Saturday, so that was a nice start to the day. While these teams may have had a lot in common last year, they have much less in common this year.
The Garnets will have to get used to a new coach (Mellanie Flowers-McMullin) and a new-look team, while Blind Brook not only has had the same coach for years in Justin Goldstein, but they return 11, yes 11, players from last season’s league-championship squad.
Rye looks like it will have a lot of kinks to work out, while I think Blind Brook can challenge Magnus for the Class C title. Right now I think Magnus is miles ahead of the Trojans, but then again, November is a long time away.
MY TAKE ON OSSINING: I’ll admit it, no team was more surprising than Ossining last year.
Coach Lauren Riccardi did a phenomenal job with this team and will look to do the same this year. I know coach Riccardi is going to hate me again, or post this in the locker room as motivation again, but I just can’t see the Pride making the section semifinals again. Not saying the Pride can’t have a good season, I just think that with Panas, Yorktown, Ursuline, Eastchester and John Jay, it will be a long road.
The Pride lost half of their team to graduation, so they will have a lot of jelling to do in a short amount of time if they want to be successful. Or at least as successful as they were last year…
MY TAKE ON YONKERS: I saw the the Bulldogs a couple of times last year, and the one real standout was middle hitter/blocker Kristella Morina, who was a lanky six-footer at the time. Morina looks like she grew over the summer, but she also looks like she’s put on muscle, as well.
I was watching the Bulldogs with a scout from a distance, who was pointing out not just Morina’s talent, but her potential. The Bulldogs don’t have the complete team they will need to make a deep playoff run, but Morina is definitely a star. If coach Alicia Murray can find a way to give her star middle some more help, they could possibly be a quarterfinal squad in Class A, but nothing further.
Jackie Firsty will give the Bulldogs another offensive weapon, but Yonkers will really need to find a reliable setter to set the stage.
To come… Carmel and Mount Vernon.
Photo credit: Paul Finch for The Journal News