Four state qualifiers, two finalists, one champion. It was an incredible, unforgettable year. Here are my final volleyball rankings of the 2014 season:
1. Ardsley (Class B state semifinalists): I feared that some people would give me a hard time for picking Ardsley as my No. 1 heading in my last rankings, given that it had not played Suffern, had been beaten handily in tournaments by both Yorktown and Panas.
The Panthers, who posted a 22-0 record in match play this season, fell one point shy of the state finals. Ardsley finished pool play with a +12 point differential, while Williamsville South, the eventual state champ, finished at +13 to grab an automatic bid into the finals. Ardsley still had a chance to make the finals, facing John Glenn in a one-game playoff, which it lost, 25-22, after leading 13-8 at the turn.
I genuinely feel that if Ardsley and John Glenn play that match over, Ardsley wins the majority of the time; if you start over from the turn, Ardsley will win almost every time; heck, even if you did the entire pool play round over again, Ardsley gets through to the finals.
I know that you can’t really apply the, “What if?” philosophy to life, or high school sports, but Ardsley was sensational this year. It had beaten two of the other three state qualifiers from Section 1 and, again, was one point away from the state finals. With an automatic bid to the finals, who knows what could have happened. You can make the arguments against Ardsley for No. 1, but I feel that the arguments for Ardsley outweigh them.
2. Suffern (Class AA state champions): The only thing I held against Suffern during the regular season (rankings-wise, that is) was that I never really got to see its full potential since it didn’t play too many Westchester/Putnam teams, so it was tough to gauge its actual talent level. I knew it pushed John Jay to the wire, even if it lost, but when I saw it at the four-team scrimmage with John Jay, Ardsley and Haldane, then at the state tournament, the Mounties’ true colors showed.
Fitting with the cliché, Suffern saved its best performance for last — the state final against Penfield. The Mounties performed magnificently against a competitive Class AA pool, which also featured Massapequa and Shenendehowa (albeit, without its starting setter). There are about 70 programs in Section 1, which, if you multiply by 24 — the number of years the NYSPHSAA record books go back — gives you a total of more than 1,600 teams. Out of those teams, only 14 have been a state champion, including Suffern. It’s a daunting task to win states, particularly in Class AA, which was never won by a local team until Suffern did it.
The record (22-1) speaks for itself, and the state championship speaks for itself; but more importantly, Suffern’s talent speaks for itself.
3. John Jay (Class A state semifinalists): It was pretty much known throughout the Civic Center and state that Pittsford-Sutherland and Burnt Hills would make the final and likely sweep their opponents in state pool play.
John Jay beat Suffern during the regular season, yes, but it was a five-game match and it was one match. Suffern could finish the sweep if they met again or John Jay could win in three, four, or five; we’ll never know. They split at the scrimmage, which, also isn’t the greatest indicator of anything. I think that the season’s top four — Ardsley, Suffern, John Jay and (spoiler alert) Yorktown — were about as even as you can get. If Yorktown wins that section final, it likely does exactly what John Jay did the rest of the way. The level of volleyball in our area is so well-rounded and talented that it makes things like local rankings tough. And if you don’t believe that Section 1 has some of the best volleyball in the state, the fact that it has sent four of five teams to states in two of the last three years should say everything.
Coach Tom Rizzotti switched to a 5-1 system before the postseason, using Amanda Flayhan as the team’s setter and moving junior Taylor McCarthy to outside — a change that you could argue was the difference maker in the outcome of the Indians’ season. The field it played to end its season — Panas, Yorktown, Horseheads, Cornwall, Pittsford-Sutherland, Kings Park, Burnt Hills — was the cream of the Class A crop throughout the state and the Indians came out on top in the majority of those matches.
Yes, the field in Class A at states was much more competitive than in Class AA, but Suffern did play tremendously. If you throw John Jay or Ardsley in Class AA, it probably wins states, and if you throw any of them in Class A, they all leave empty-handed. Suffern gets the nod over John Jay by the slightest of margins.
4. Yorktown (Class A section finalists): As I just mentioned above, had Yorktown won the section final against John Jay, I think it would have had the same outcome in the state tournament that the Indians did. Personally, I would have loved to see a Yorktown-Cornwall rematch.
Coach Katy Sherwood and her girls turned a lot of heads this year, mine included. I don’t think anyone (myself included) expected the Huskers to compete for a section title once their seniors graduated last year, much less become a favorite at parts of the season. If that section final is played 10 times over, I think the two would split the matches; again, that’s just how good these teams are. It’s not a cop-out response, it’s the honest truth.
5. Panas (Class A section semifinalists): Now is where things get interesting with the rankings. I think the overall impression of Panas’ season this year was that it was expecting to compete for a section title and hoping to win one, with the sense of, “It’s OK if it doesn’t happen this year.”
John Jay and Yorktown were two sharks everyone in the section knew was lurking in the water, but Panas still jumped in and held its own all season, both in match play and at tournaments. This season was a good — and scary — indication of “what could be” for Panas volleyball in the near future.
6. Haldane (Class D state finalists): Even if Haldane had closed out the final point of the state championship, I would still have it here; so the state title would have no affect on its ranking.
The state final was a thrill to watch and Haldane showed why it has become a fixture there over the past few seasons. The Blue Devils have one of the best defenses in the state, which makes up for their lack of height outside of 6-foot-2 middle Kelly Vahos.
The one play at Glens Falls that I thought summed up Haldane in a nutshell was when Portville attempted a kill early in the fourth game of the final, leading 6-5 in the game and 2-1 in the match. Two Blue Devils players made nice saves to keep the ball up and junior libero Melissa Tringali made another nice play to pop it over the net, landing right next to a Portville squad that had already begun celebrating what they thought was another point.
Haldane tied the game 6-6, then it won the game 25-13.
Honestly, at that point, I thought the match was in Haldane’s favor. The Blue Devils had the momentum of a Game 4 win, and it was a dominating win, and it was what should’ve been a spirit-breaking loss for Portville. Haldane having match point, 24-22, is not so much a “choke” by Haldane, as much as it is the incredibly relentlessness by Portville.
7. Clarkstown South (Class AA section finalists): It’s a shame that the Vikings team I saw in the section final was not the team I got to see most of the year. During the latter portion of the season, Clarkstown South had developed into the team I knew — and was expecting — it could be, battling with eventual state champs Suffern in the final.
I think some people would overlook that fact — Clarkstown South was taking it to the state champions for the first two games of the section final. I give Haldane the nod over the Vikings only because I felt that Haldane was more consistent throughout the year. Next season will be an adjustment for the Clarkstown South, but with the level of volleyball it has put out over the last four years, I don’t expect the rebuilding process to take very long.
8. Hen Hud (Class B section semifinalists): I’m actually upset that Hen Hud didn’t make the section final. Not because I like Hen Hud, or because I wanted to see an Ardsley-Hen Hud rematch (OK, I did, but that’s not why I wanted it in the final), but simply put, it deserved to be there. The Sailors were the second-best team in the section and I think everyone knew it.
No disrespect to Nanuet — the Golden Knights were incredibly talented and earned every single thing they accomplished this year — but (and this is where my opinions ruffle some feathers) Nanuet is not the better team. Hen Hud played a tougher schedule and, as a result, drew a lower seed. If Hen Hud played Nanuet in a best of five, Hen Hud would probably win nine times out of 10. Again, that’s not because I don’t like Nanuet, or because I do like Hen Hud; those are just the facts.
Hen Hud drew the short end of the stick at sections this year. I still don’t think it would’ve beaten Ardsley in the final, but I do think it deserved to be there. (See Kelsea, I don’t hate you girls.)
9. Mahopac (Class AA section finalists): Really, hats off to coach James Melville and the Indians; this was a tremendous season. Mahopac earned its No. 2 seed this year and has earned its No. 9 rank in the final Lohud rankings of the season.
I have no idea what the Indians will look like next year with twin towers Niamh (which I just found out Saturday is pronounced “Nieve”) Dodd (below, 1) and Alayne Felix graduating, but the Indians have been competitive the last couple of seasons and should be in the mix in some capacity.
10. Scarsdale (Class AA section semifinalists): And last but not least, we have the Raiders of Scarsdale filling out this year’s final rankings list. Much like Hen Hud, had Scarsdale not drawn such a low seed, I definitely think it could have made the section finals, only with a much tougher time.
Hen Hud should beat both Nanuet and Pelham with moderate ease, but Scarsdale going up against Clarkstown South or Mahopac would have been a different story. Even now — Nov. 23 — I still see think that there was so much potential with this Scarsdale team that it just couldn’t put it all together for the run I was expecting it to make.
The Raiders will have a killer hitting combo returning next year in Tatiana Tiangco (left, 3), who set a new single-season program kills record this year (307), and Kristine Fink, who finished with the best hitting percentage on the team, although the loss of setter Michelle Li will be a massive blow. I’m expecting big things from the Raiders next year, but for now, it’s basketball season.
For those of you who play (or have daughters who play) basketball, I’ll see you back out on the courts the next few months. My preseason 2015 rankings should be up later tonight. Once the all-state teams and Lohud all-stars are announced — early December — the blog will slow down significantly. I will try to get a couple of posts up per month until next year rolls around so that you have some blog chow to feast on.
If you (or your daughter) commits to a college for next season — even if she is not playing volleyball — please let me know with an email at email@example.com. Thank you for an incredible season. You guys are the best.