No, your calendars aren’t wrong. It’s September 9.
No, your eyes aren’t wrong, either. I’m making my final four predictions for this year’s Section 1 volleyball tournament before the regular season even gets going. My goal is to go 15-of-20, hoping I’m off maybe one team per class; but my real goal is to go 5-for-5 in the championship matches.
Last year, technically I correctly predicted four of the five eventual section champions (Clarkstown South, Panas, Pelham and Haldane), although I still like to count Kennedy in my mind. I picked Albertus Magnus, thinking Kennedy was still in Class B; when I found out the Gaels moved down, I hopped on the bandwagon.
In any case, let’s have some fun as I break out my crystal ball and do my best Ms. Cleo impression for this year’s official preseason section tournament predictions.
My final four: Arlington, Clarkstown South, John Jay-East Fishkill, Suffern
My championship: John Jay-East Fishkill over Suffern, 3-2
Why? John Jay-East Fishkill and Suffern are my only confident picks for the final four, hence why I also have them in my championship. In what would be a rematch of last year’s Class AA semifinal, these two have looked like the most consistent teams through the preseason, and have plenty of playoff experience between them. Also, both should chomping at the bit to make it back to the section final after disappointing finishes last season — the Patriots (right) lost in the title match, while Suffern snapped a streak of seven consecutive section finals appearances.
Arlington should definitely be a final four team this season, if not further. At times, they have appeared to be a section-title contender, such as when they they took eventual champs Clarkstown South to five sets in last year’s semifinal, then there’s the team that lost to John Jay last year and was swept by John Jay-East Fishkill, handily, in this year’s season opener. Depending on which Arlington team shows up, the Admirals could be out in the quarterfinals, or hoisting a section title. They’re range in the section is almost limitless.
Speaking of hit-or-miss teams, I truly can’t gauge Clarkstown South this year. A team loaded with talent, the Vikings seem to have a difficult time adjusting to their new team this season. There’s no doubt that South has the talent, height and experience to make for a nightmare for section opponents, but without chemistry, talent is all-but useless. South’s success will be solely based on how well they jell as a team; plain and simple.
My “sleeper” teams: Clarkstown North and Scarsdale
I was expecting the Rams to have a big year this season; that hasn’t changed. As I’ve said a million times, Class AA is so wide-open, I wouldn’t be surprised if any one of these six teams were in the section final. After putting a competitive squad on the court through a few rebuilding years, coach Ann Metz may finally have the team that is ready to make a very deep section run again, despite a still-very young team.
While I’m on North, apologies for the incorrect names in the South preseason tournament post — with over 70 teams and about 15 players on each team, it’s tough to keep track of everyone sometimes. With that out of the way, Metz said she is starting three sophomores this year, which is just scary for next season. Don’t be surprised if the Rams head-butt their way into the section final four.
Scarsdale was my “sleeper” team last year. After sweeping, of all teams, Clarkstown North in the first round of sections last year, the Raiders were upended by Suffern in the quarterfinals. The Raiders return an experienced squad from a .500-plus team last year, so maybe this is their “sleeper” year? We’ll find out in October.
My final four: Eastchester, Panas, Ursuline, Yorktown
My championship: Panas over Yorktown, 3-1
Why? Panas won the section and region last year, then returned most of its team last year; you’d have to be crazy to pick against them this year — Harrison coach Candy Light taught me that lesson in my first year when I picked Ursuline over them in the section final.
Aside from the fact that the Panthers (right) are reigning section and region champs, they are also the best team in the section, at least in my opinion. However, despite returning several players from that championship team, repeating this year should only be more difficult.
For one, without Shaina Campbell (3) in the middle for most, if not all of the regular season, Panas will get into a specific rhythm without her. When the Iona commit returns to the lineup, it could throw the balance out of whack. Then there’s the fact that Class A appears to be stronger than it was last year.
Eastchester should adjust to Class A life fine, and Yorktown is solid. Ursuline looks like it is still working out some kinks, but after getting her team to the section final in each of the last two seasons, coach Gigi Kemp could surely work them out in the time before sections.
My “sleeper” teams: Horace Greeley, John Jay, Ossining
Unlike my “sleepers” in Class AA, these sleepers are teams who I could see making a deep run, but not winning. If Panas were to lose in the section tournament, it will be to one of the three teams listed above; take that to the bank. I still think the title is theirs to lose, but weirder things have happened. (Again, look at the Harrison-Ursuline final two years ago).
Love it or hate it, two boys are on Horace Greeley’s roster, and admit it or not, they will have a significant impact on the team this year. From what I’ve seen in the preseason, the Quakers really need to work on communication in order to function better as a team. Boys on a girls team will only help so much.
John Jay and Ossining are two teams who could easily have mediocre seasons, or very good seasons. I think the Indians have the better roster, but they loaded up their schedule, which could affect their section seed if things don’t fall into place the way they hoped. Ossining coach Lauren Riccardi told me today that her team is a little banged up and will have to wait a bit until their full starting roster is on the court.
My final four: Ardsley, Hen Hud, Pelham, Sleepy Hollow
My championship: Ardsley over Pelham, 3-2
Why? I am all-in on Ardsley this year. Call it intuition, call it a gamble, call it what you want, but I’m going with Dave Ponterio’s Panthers to hoist the crown in late October. With Class B going through a makeover of sorts, and Ardsley (right) returning a group of talented young players, I think this could be the first of two section titles for the Panthers.
Ardsley will first have to fill the void of two very important positions — setter and libero — before they do anything. A large part of why Ardsley was so successful last year (15-5, lost in semifinals) was because they had a great setter and an even better libero.
With Toni Pilla, the virtual swiss army knife of Ardsley’s program, and Arielle Misrok off to college, the Panthers will have to find two players to fill these Krusty the Clown-like shoes this season. Still, Ardsley’s offensive firepower is undeniable.
I go with Pelham because, as Arielle’s own father pointed out (see below), it’s very hard to bet against Mark Finegan’s Pelicans, the two-time reigning Class B section and region champions.
@Zacchio_LoHud Interesting. Hard to bet against the Pelicans given their recent history, but I hope you’re right about Ardsley.
— Rick Misrok (@Rickrok) September 5, 2013
I may be “all-in” on Ardsley, but I’m not stupid; if and when it meets Pelham in the final, don’t think for a second that the Pelicans are just going to hand over the title in a sweep. I think it will be a terrific contest if it does indeed come to fruition.
I bet against Pelham just because it lost so much from last year that I think, despite the incredibly deep bench and roster it has, things are falling into place for Ardsley. Pelham three-peating would, in no way, be a surprise; the Pelicans are still extremely talented, and very well-coached. I say a five-set match because I truly believe either team can win it.
Hen Hud is very young, and rebuilding; still coach Diane Swertfager seems to find a way to get deep into the section tournament. Every team goes through a rebuilding phase at some point — some are a season or two, some are longer, and some never recover. Bottom line: You don’t get to 16 of the last 18 section finals without great coaching and talent.
Finally we come to Sleepy Hollow, my Cinderella team this year. Returning most of its undefeated league-championship team, and playing under a coach younger than myself — who was a former standout player herself — there’s so many awesome storylines for the Headless Horsemen should they make the final four, finals, or dare I say (with Dr. Evil finger), win it all?
The Headless Horsemen need to find something to put on their shoulders if they want to wear that tiara. (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist).
My “sleeper” teams: None
I don’t like sugarcoating things, so I won’t — this is a four-team race.
My final four: Albertus Magnus, Blind Brook, Croton-Harmon, Westlake
My championship: Albertus Magnus over Blind Brook, 3-0
Why? As I mentioned above, I had Albertus Magnus winning Class C last year, but that was before I found out Kennedy was bumped down from Class B. Even with Kennedy in the field, I still thought the Falcons had a decent shot.
With Kennedy out, and virtually everyone from Magnus (right) back this year, this is the year for the Falcons to win their first section title. All the pieces are in place, they just need to execute. The Falcons caught a very raw deal during last year’s section tournament after Hurricane Sandy rescheduled the quarterfinals and semifinals to where certain teams — Magnus included — would have to play twice in the same day.
Magnus won the quarterfinal, but lost in five sets to Croton-Harmon. From talks with her, I know that match is still very fresh in coach Valerie McFadden’s mind, and I’m sure her teammates feel the same way. So, barring another actual natural disaster and/or critical injury, Magnus should soar to a title, easily.
Blind Brook is returning nearly a dozen players from last year’s league-championship squad, but I don’t think they will match up to Magnus, who can hold its own against some of the larger teams in the section. Croton-Harmon was last year’s Cinderella as the No. 7 seed, so there’s no reason to doubt that they can do it again.
On paper, Westlake didn’t perform all-that-great at Hen Hud’s tournament this weekend, going 1-7 in pool play with a -45 point differential, but they also had two Class AA teams and Ursuline in their pool. For most small Class C schools like Westlake, you’re really looking to just hang tough in big tournaments like that. Class C is weak, as it usually is, so a semifinal appearance is certainly not out of the question. Depending on who they draw, the Wildcats could even find themselves in the championship.
My “sleeper” teams: None
I would be floored if Albertus Magnus lost — to anyone. I would be just as surprised if any teams, other than these four, were in the championship.
My final four: Keio, Haldane, Hamilton, Tuckahoe
My championship: Haldane over Keio, 3-0
Why? The regular season, and even the section tournament has merely become a formality for Haldane, which has won the last 10 — count ’em — 10 Class D section titles. The Blue Devils are a virtual lock to make the state tournament each year, and after back-to-back state finals appearances under coach Melissa Rossano, it looks to be the same this year.
Even with the loss of players like Becky Garrison, Claudia Percacciolo, Gabby Carnabucci and current Tulane setter Lauren Etta, the Blue Devils are still far-and-wide the best Class D team in the section. Junior outside hitter Kelly Vahos (right), who is now up to 6-foot-2, will look to follow up a phenomenal sophomore campaign that earned her second-team all-state honors.
The Blue Devils have a major chip on their shoulder after losing in the state final last year, despite returning most of the team from a state-champion team the season before. I doubt any player or coach would admit it, but Haldane is already looking towards the regional tournament.
Keio has done well in Class C, so when it moved down to Class D last year, I knew they’d be a lock to meet Haldane in the section final. Because Haldane plays a much tougher schedule than any other team in the class, it was the No. 2 seed behind Keio last year. The top teams in Class D are very scarce, so I’m penning Keio into my section final again this year. Be it No. 1 or No. 2, seed will be meaningless.
My “sleeper” teams: None
Haldane could compete for the section title in any class, and would win or be a finalist in many of them. They say, “There’s no such thing as a sure-thing,” but the past decade begs to differ.
Featured photo credit: Paul Finch for The Journal News
John Jay-East Fishkill photo credit: The Poughkeepsie Journal
Ardsley photo credit: Matthew Brown/The Journal News
Albertus Magnus photo credit: John Meore/The Journal News
Haldane photo credit: Paul Finch for The Journal News