Well, I said that the Panther Invitational would be a defining moment in the rankings.
With half of my top 10 among the competing teams, we were able to see how some of the teams — both in and out of the top 10 — stack up against one another. With so much comparison and analysis, it was very tough to try and truly gauge where everyone belongs. As a reminder, records do not mean everything when it comes to rankings — these are the top teams (at least in my opinion); meaning these are the best 10 teams in the section (again, in my opinion).
Here goes nothing; my weekly LoHud rankings for October 13 are as follows:
1. Panas (8-3) — Love them or hate them, the Panthers have now placed in the top five in all four tournaments they have played in this year — Yorktown (1st of 9), Clarkstown South (2nd of 32), Garden State Challenge (5th of 15), Panther Invitational (1st of 25). Going forward into the postseason, it’s probably a helpful attribute to have the ability to win a do-or-die game or match. I’m not ignoring the sweep to John Jay, which coach Joe Felipe called a “flat” and “emotionless” performance. Entering Saturday, I had Panas out of the top three. After winning the tournament, including a convincing 25-10 win over Yorktown in the final, mixed with the season it has had this year, Panas deserves to be here. As Kennedy coach Ellen Casey said on Saturday, “Anyone in this top 10 can beat each other on any given night.” Casey is absolutely right; I am by no means saying Panas is untouchable, I’m simply saying I think they are the best around. (You sang the rest of the song, didn’t you?) With middle blocker Shaina Campbell back in the lineup, the Panthers will have added height and blocking support at the net, in addition to taking some of the offensive burden off of Brigitte Burcescu, who has handled the bulk of Panas’ offensive responsibilities. With two D-1 recruits now in its starting lineup, Panas will only get more dangerous as the rust comes off of Campbell.
2. John Jay (11-2) — This year’s Class A section tournament will likely be one of the most exciting in recent years, with about five or six legitimate contenders for the title. John Jay notched three massive wins this week — Hen Hud, Panas, Fox Lane, including a sweep of the reigning champs. The Indians have a balanced offensive attack and a superb, well-rounded defense that should carry them very deep into the tournament. Based on these rankings, yes, I’m expecting a Panas-John Jay final, but there’s still a lot of volleyball to be played.
3. Yorktown (11-1) — Pretty much picking up from where I left off with John Jay, the Huskers are another team that should vie for the title and are, in my opinion, the last true threat. Now having seen most of the top-end teams, I really don’t think anyone other than these three will win, but then again, it will all come down to seeding and schedule. Yorktown has beaten both Panas and John Jay, which bodes very well for its section hopes; but after dropping now four consecutive games to the Panthers in tournament play, the Huskers will need to prove they can win when it’s on the line. One of these teams, which, believe me, all could very well win the Class A title, will be eliminated in the semifinals. The question is, who will draw the short straw?
4. Kennedy (14-1) — The fall from No. 1 to No. 4 comes off as harsh, but as I stated above, this top five is virtually interchangeable. Any given week these five could be thrown around into different spots. I probably should have had the Gaels out of the No. 1 seed last week, but they are still very much worthy of a top-five spot. I’ve said it a million times, but it’s so hard to judge the Gaels when they face weaker competition in the CHSAA than it would in Section 1. Would Kennedy be 14-1 against an all-Section 1 schedule? Kennedy took third at the Panther Invitational on Saturday, falling to Yorktown in the semifinals. The Gaels also survived a five-game, three-hour match against Molloy earlier this week that had, if I recall, three extra-point games. Kennedy should roll to a CHSAA title, it’s just too bad there’s no Federation tournament for volleyball, because Kennedy, which was a Class C team in Section 1 last year, will be a Class AA team in the CHSAA last year because of the way they “rank” teams. Kennedy would beat any Class C team in the section, and I know it would definitely hold its own against the likes of Class AA teams like John Jay-East Fishkill, Arlington, Suffern, Clarkstown South, Fox Lane, etc.
5. John Jay-East Fishkill (12-1) — A similar boat at Kennedy, the Patriots play against weaker competition up north, so it’s hard to tell just how good they are. I’ve seen them a few times to know they are definitely loaded with talent, but without constant challenges from the competition, I don’t know if John Jay-EF is really that good, or if it is just a big fish in a small pond. From what I have seen and from what the regular season schedule has shown, the Patriots are right around the same skill level as everyone listed above. I don’t think anyone in this top five is far-and-wide better than anyone else, but I think the drop-off outside of the top five is significant.
6. Ardsley (11-0) — The undefeated Panthers were humanized on Saturday, getting swept by Clarkstown South in their opening match of pool play and then falling in the quarterfinals to Yorktown. Of course the losses don’t count against their regular season records, but it puts into perspective how competitive the section is this year. At one point in Saturday’s quarterfinal at Panas, the Panthers trailed 22-13 before making it a game at 24-22. After the decisive point fell for the Huskers, Panthers junior Hayley Kmetz, who made a diving attempt at the ball, slammed the hardwood in frustration. The comeback not only proves that Ardsley can hang with the best teams, but it has fight. The Panthers could’ve easily given up and died (figuratively, of course), but the fact that it clawed back says a lot.
7. Arlington (9-4) — Saddle up, Arlington. The remainder of the season could catapult the Admirals into the top five or knock them out of the rankings. Arlington has to know that these final three matches — John Jay, John Jay-East Fishkill and Panas; all home — are vital to its section tournament seeding. The Admirals have the talent, the have the experience and they have the coaching; now is crunch time, and it’s time to get the job done. A record of 12-4 for Arlington, with the schedule it faced, could mean a No. 3 seed in Class AA. However, a 9-5 record could put the Admirals in the middle of the pack, with perhaps a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. I’ll try and draft up a section tournament preview for you all before the seeds come out.
8. Pelham (9-3) — After dropping a five-game heartbreaker to Arlington last week, the Pelicans weren’t going far. They weren’t leaping Ardsley — win or loss — and they weren’t falling beyond this spot. The Pelicans have rematches against Scarsdale and Ardsley this week, and will conclude the rest of their season at home. Assuming that Ardsley does not lose before it meets Pelham again, and that Pelham doesn’t lose to Scarsdale, it will set up a storyline match for Friday — regardless of who wins. If Pelham wins, obviously it will end Ardsley’s undefeated season and really make a case in pursuing its third consecutive section title. However, if Ardsley wins, it will end Pelham’s winning streak at home, which has been active since Oct. 23, 2009. The drama is certainly rising around the section as the regular season comes to a close.
9. Suffern (10-3) — The Mounties were two points away from advancing to the gold bracket at the Panther Invitational, needing Westlake to beat Horace Greeley in just one of its games. The Wildcats dropped the first game, 25-23, before being blown out in the second. Suffern battled in the silver bracket to make the championship match, where it fell to Section 9 powerhouse Monroe-Woodbury. The Mounties earned three wins this week — Warwick, Mahopac and North Rockland — the middle of which, a five-game thriller, has now sparked a full-blown Twitter war between the two. Despite what anyone thinks, I don’t root for any team in the section; I “root” for good matches, preferably ones that are done within 90 minutes (hey, I have deadlines to hit). But I would love to see Suffern-Mahopac in the section tournament — for the entertainment, if nothing else.
10. Byram Hills (10-3) — I see you, Byram Hills. I’ve been hearing that the Bobcats have “a good little squad” from some around the section, so it shouldn’t be overly surprising that they made it to the quarterfinals of the Panther Invitational before falling to eventual champions Panas. Now riding an eight-match winning streak, coach Jared Christian’s squad possesses exceptional teamwork. The Bobcats will have John Jay on Tuesday, but will end their season with very winnable matches against Eastchester, Pearl River and Pleasantville, respectively. Byram Hills could very well contend for the No. 2 seed, as well as the section title in Class B. Also, the Bobcats are young, with seven juniors on the roster; so don’t think they aren’t going anywhere soon.
Photo credit: Vincent DiSalvio/The Journal News