While we’re still getting our feet wet into the regular season, here are the league alignments for this season, along with my projected winners in each conference.
LEAGUE 1-A — Beacon, John Jay-East Fishkill, Lourdes, Poughkeepsie, Ketcham
Projected champ — JOHN JAY-EAST FISHKILL: Whether or not the Patriots win the Class AA section title or not will be one thing, but winning the league should be an all-but guarantee. Megan Theiller, an absolute monster in her own right, will led a team that fell in the section final last year. This will be one of the easier league projections. Put it in the books now.
LEAGUE 1-B — Brewster, Carmel, Lakeland, Mahopac, Yorktown
Projected champ — YORKTOWN: The Huskers looked very good over the summer in the Lower Hudson Volleyball Association’s summer league, and return a decent number of players from last year. Mahopac should give them a run for their money, but I think Yorktown ultimately takes it by a match or two. Carmel will be adjusting to a new coach, I don’t think Lakeland will be strong enough to compete against squads like Yorktown or Mahopac, and Brewster was manhandled by Tappan Zee in the season opener, 25-7, 25-6, 25-13.
LEAGUE 1-C — Arlington, Haldane, Hen Hud, John Jay, Panas
Projected champ — PANAS: In what is, in my opinion, the most competitive league in the section, I think the reigning Class A section and regional champs take it home. Not for nothing, but any league where John Jay is the “weakest” team in the field won’t be a cake walk. Arlington looked very strong in the preseason, so it should be the top contender next to the Panthers. The Admirals took Panas to five sets early in the season last year. I haven’t seen a single serve from any of the other three teams, but knowing what each of them lost, what Panas returned, and having seen the Panthers for double confirmation; I don’t see anyone else winning this league. Haldane, despite being a Class D school can always hang against the best in Class AA or A, which shouldn’t change all that much, despite the loss of hitter/setter hybrid Lauren Etta. Hen Hud’s reputation speaks for itself — three state titles, 16 section finals in the last 18 years — don’t ever count the Sailors (below) out, no matter how much talent they lose. These are probably the two teams I’m most excited to get a look at. Just as I think Panas would beat John Jay in the section tournament, I think it would win in the league, as well. Only stands to reason, right? Not taking anything away from coach Tom Rizzotti’s squad, Panas is just the better team this year.
LEAGUE 1-D — North Salem, Pawling, Peekskill, Putnam Valley
Projected champ — PEEKSKILL: I’m going with the lesser of four evils here in picking the Red Devils. A squad that posted a modest 8-11 record last year, Peekskill only lost three seniors to graduation, so they should be in good shape for the season and great shape for the league. Pawling was 8-8 last year, but I know nothing about them other than that. North Salem and Putnam Valley were a combined 3-27 last year.
LEAGUE 2-A — Palisade Prep, Solomon Schechter, Tuckahoe, Woodlands, Yonkers Montessori
Projected champ — TUCKAHOE: The Tigers have been a threat for the Class C title in recent years, and had a modest 8-7 campaign last year. Woodlands, which was just under the .500 mark last year, returns a bulk of last year’s team and should compete for the league crown.
LEAGUE 2-B — Dobbs Ferry, Edgemont, Hastings, Irvington, Mamaroneck, Mount Vernon, Sleepy Hollow, White Plains
Projected champ — SLEEPY HOLLOW: Don’t let the fact that 2-B is the largest league in the section (eight teams) fool you — this is a runaway for Sleepy Hollow, or at least it should be. The Headless Horsemen, under the guidance of former Haldane standout Rachel Flaherty, return all but four players from last year’s undefeated league-champion squad. Dobbs Ferry should be the only other team that puts up a fight.
LEAGUE 2-C — Ardsley, Eastchester, New Rochelle, Pelham, Scarsdale, Ursuline
Projected champ — ARDSLEY: Another one of the section’s top leagues, Ardsley should take it after watching Pelham run roughshod on the league, conference, section and region the last two seasons. Far from a runaway, both Eastchester and Ursuline should vie for the league title. Heck, even with losing most of its team, Pelham is far from out of it. The Eagles will be adjusting to the new class (A), the Koalas will be looking for more offensive firepower, and the Pelicans will simply be looking to jell as a new team. I thought Scarsdale was going to have a huge year last season, which backfired. New Rochelle is still a few years away from rising to the top of a league like this. The Panthers are one of the most talented teams in the section for their age; I’m ready to lock them up as my 2014 Class B section champs right now. Coach Dave Ponterio has been, no doubt, itching to get back to the head of the class (pardon the pun), and I think this is the first of two very big seasons he should enjoy at Ardsley.
LEAGUE 2-D — Early College (Roosevelt), Gorton, Lincoln, Riverside, Saunders, Yonkers
Projected champ — YONKERS: A team in the midst of the most controversial story of the season last year with Jenson Daniel’s appeal to play with the girls varsity team, the Bulldogs go into this season distraction free. Yonkers (below) was talented last year, even without Daniel, and return most of their top players this year — mainly middle Kristella Morina. With the help of a scout, Morina’s talents really shine brighter than most middles in the section. I believe she was registered at 6-foot-1 last year, or right around there, but in any case, it looks like she grew even more. Jackie Firsty should aid Morina, taking some of the pressure off of her with both opposing defense and team offense.
LEAGUE 3-A — Briarcliff, Croton-Harmon, Keio, Ossining, Port Chester, Rye
Projected champ — OSSINING: Definitely no clear-cut winner here, as almost every team in this league has a decent shot to win it all. Croton-Harmon returns a lot from last year’s Class C-finalist squad, even with the loss of Ashley Latimer. Rye and Briarcliff will be adjusting to new coaches, so chemistry may be an issue there. Port Chester is the only real long shot in this bunch, in my opinion. As for the Pride, they were probably the biggest under-the-radar team last year, marching into the Class A semifinals before falling to Ursuline. Head coach Lauren Riccardi has done a virtual 180 to this program in just over one year at the helm, and appears very confident in her squad again this year. I don’t think the Pride return to the section semifinals, but a league title is most-certainly attainable.
LEAGUE 3-B — Hamilton, Byram Hills, Pleasantville, Valhalla, Westlake
Projected champ — WESTLAKE: With a spot in the Class C section final now wide open after Kennedy’s departure for the CHSAA, I think the Wildcats could be a sleeper team to sneak in there. There is no excuse for Albertus Magnus to miss at least the section final, if not the section title, meaning there will realistically be one spot up for grabs. Westlake lost seniors Christina Sialiano and Samantha November to graduation, but should have a good-enough squad to take this title. As for any hopes at a deep section run, that’s in Westlake’s hands.
LEAGUE 3-C — Blind Brook, Fox Lane, Harrison, Horace Greeley, Rye Neck
Projected champ — BLIND BROOK: When you go 13-4, win the league, and then return nearly a dozen players the next season, you kind of earn the right to be projected to win the league again that year. Granted, I haven’t seen some of the other schools, but I do know that Harrison was in a very young rebuilding year last season and likely won’t be a section-title threat for a couple years. Horace Greeley is the only oddball; they have talent, but no communication. Right now, I say Blind Brook takes it. If the Quakers can find a way to work as a cohesive unit, they could definitely swoop in and steal it.
LEAGUE 4-American — Clarkstown North, Clarkstown South, North Rockland, Ramapo, Suffern
Projected champ — SUFFERN: It’s hard to believe that a team with 6-foot-1 twins in the middle of its lineup isn’t even the tallest team in its own league. The Mounties boast five six-footers on this year’s roster, but will be without 6-foot-2 setter Julia Hrycyk until she is medically cleared by doctors, which will be at least another week. How soon or late Suffern gets her back will play a major factor in the team’s success. Personally, I think the Mounties will be successful regardless — they have height, experience and chemistry, all great assets to a winning program. However, with Hrycyk, Suffern adds an incredible piece to its puzzle. I am a little concerned about Clarkstown South’s consistency out of the gate. The Vikings, who are without of their twin towers (I know, I’m a pun machine today) in Nastasia Kapustin, will be the perfect match for Suffern. I haven’t seen either team with a full starting squad, but I know they are the top two in the league. I can’t wait to see these two battle it out on the court this year. Something tells me they will be playing a game of leapfrog all year in my rankings. Right now I have the Mounties ranked fifth overall, Vikings in seventh and Magnus sandwiched in between them. Definitely subject to change once one or both star players return.
LEAGUE 4-National — Albertus Magnus, Nanuet, Nyack, Pearl River, Tappan Zee
Projected champ — ALBERTUS MAGNUS: There’s no way to put it lightly — the Falcons got hosed in last year’s section tournament. Returning almost the entire squad, mixed with Kennedy’s departure in Class C and last year’s premature exit from sections should make the Falcons a very hungry bunch. Tappan Zee’s Meghan Smith said her team is the “sleeping giant” of this season, and after that thrashing of Brewster in the Dutchies’ season opener, maybe she’s right. Looks like I’ll have to pen-down a Tappan Zee match this year.
Photo credit of Swertfager: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News
Photo credit of Yonkers: Submitted photo