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Jumping Into Track Prominence

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

 

Slater Photo -Titre-Barnor

Reggie Titre-Barnor gave up baseall to concentrate on track.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH SCELIA

Reggie Titre-Barnor is in his fifth year of running track for Brewster High School, and the 5-foot, 11-inch, 160-pound senior is good at it.  Good enough to anchor strong relay teams and to participate in hurdles. And, as he puts it, “Good enough to make the State qualifiers but never to make the States.”Slater’s Slant-Titre-Barnor-cs

That could very well change shortly—because of something he and coach Joe Scelia added to the outdoor season of his junior year. “He was always solid. Reggie wanted to see if there was a way he could excel more,” said Scelia, a veteran mentor in his 14th year of coaching Brewster track.  “So we decided to try him at jumping—the long jump and the triple jump.” “I’d never done any jumping before,” Titre-Barnor said.  “But it was a great feeling being up in the air.” And almost instantly, the results were great, too.  The tall youngster was a natural.

The Brewster team won its league championship.  At the end of this January, Reggie won the Northern County Championships triple jump at 43 feet, 1 inch and the long jump at 20-06.5, more than a foot ahead of teammate Kenny Arias who was second at 18-11.  Reggie’s personal best in the triple is an even 44 feet, and close to that should send him to States in the upcoming qualifiers.  He also has a shot at going in the long jump.  “Getting to States would be a dream,” he said.

“And don’t forget he’s a good runner,” said Scelia.  “If he were totally rested, totally fresh, I think he could do a 51-second anchor on the 4×400 relay.” (His mother, Almirel, ran the 100 and 200 in high school.)

Reggie gave up baseball and then this fall dropped out of cross-country to work on improving his jumping.  “We’ve worked a lot with weights the last two years and that’s helped,” Scelia said. “He’s a really good kid,” the coach added.  “He’s got a lot of charisma and leadership qualities.  People are drawn to him.”

And Reggie’s a gamer.  The bigger the meet, the better he comes through. “Could he compete in college?  Definitely.” So college, perhaps even a scholarship for his jumping, may be in the future. “That would be awesome,” said Reggie Titre-Barnor.

 

February 22, 2017 |

Wrestling’s All in the Family for These Brothers

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

Pleasantville’s league-champion wrestling squad, which headed into the post-season with a lone-team loss on its resume, has a pair of young brothers representing it at the sport’s two lowest weights. Mike Balducci, an 8th grader, mans its 99-pound slot.  Freshman Len Balducci III fills the role at 106 pounds.  And both fill their roles very well.  At this writing, Mike is 26-8 and Len is 29-1.

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Mike (left) and Len Balducci III got an early intro to the mat sport.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LEN BALDUCCI JR.

 “They’ve got a good background,” explains Bob Bernarducci, the veteran coach in his 28th year with Pleasantville.  “They come from a wrestling family.” That they do.  The boys’ uncle, Chris Balducci, was a state wrestling champion.  Their father, Len Balducci Jr., was sectional champ at Irvington High where, coincidentally, he was then coached by Bernarducci; the two have remained good friends.

So the boys both had an early start in the mat sport  (they also play football at Pleasantville). “I remember getting Len involved in the first grade,” the father said.  But the introduction actually came earlier. “Dad would take me to see older kids wrestle when I was in kindergarten,” the son said.  “A coach asked me if I wanted to try it and I said, ‘Yes, I would love to.’” “And,” Len III added, “I loved it at once.  It’s a physical sport (as is football).  It’s just you and the other guy on the mat.  There’s no one to back you up.”

“I was around the program because of my family,” said Mike, who is 13 while his big brother is 15.  “But mainly I got into it in the first or second grade when they brought me to the wrestle room.  What do I like about the sport?  It’s physical.”

“Michael,” said the father, “is very young, but if he really works at it, he has the potential to truly excel.”  The youngster is already ranked second at 99 pounds in Division 2.

“They are pretty experienced, particularly for their age,” said Bernarducci.  And Len III entered the post-season as the top-rated 106-pounder in Division 2. “Maybe it’s because his father started working with him so young, but Len definitely has a plan when he’s out there,” the coach said, “and he doesn’t panic if things don’t go right at the start.  He’s got very good technique and he’s a very strong kid for his size.”

Which is why — the older brother’s superior strength — neither coach nor father generally has the brothers face off against each other in practice. Come match time, and it’s their opponents who have that dubious pleasure.

 

 

February 15, 2017 |

It All Starts With the Goalie

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

A year ago, Mamaroneck High’s hockey team had a magical season.  It finished the regular schedule undefeated, then won its section and regional championship and the Division I State title, the first of Westchester’s skaters to do so.   Then came graduation and what must have been a painful time for veteran coach Mike Chiapparelli. He shook hands with 15 departing cap-and-gowners.

So this was the season when reality set in, right? Not quite. At this writing, with the start of the playoffs a little over a week removed, the Tigers are undefeated again.  After a recent 10-0 rout of Carmel, the record was 16-0-1.  And if you ask Chiapparelli why, he has a succinct answer. “The goalies,” he says.

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Tommy Spero started out as a forward.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TOMMY SPERO

The goalies are senior Tommy Spero and junior Andrew Gargiulo.  The compact (5-foot, 8-inch) Spero is nominally the first stringer, with a 11-0-1 mark and a 0.95 goals-against average. The rangier (5-foot, 11-inch) Gargiulo has won his five starts while allowing just 0.71 goals per game.  Incidentally, that lone tie was against the section’s other top goalie, Scarsdale’s Sam Seltzer.

“He’s a better goalie,” Chiapparelli says of Spero, “but the other guy is right on his tail.  It’s a very nice problem to have.” “I really love the game,” said Spero, who started playing at six years old and was a forward for a couple of years before finding his permanent niche in the nets.  “I like that I’m the last line of defense and the team can depend on me,” he added. He would also like to play goal in college after a year of prep school.  His favorite pro?  The Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvkist, naturally.

“I just cherish the opportunity,” Gargiulo says of his time in the Tigers’ goal.  “I’ve learned a lot (a lot from Spero) over the years.” The junior also plays outside goal for the strong Brewster Bulldogs.   And what does he like best about the sport he has pursued since he was seven?  “The competition, the teamwork and the friends I make,” he said.

Chiapparelli, in his 29th year coaching Mamaroneck hockey, will have another unhappy graduation day this June.  His team has 16 seniors. “We’re not quite as strong as last year,” he said, “but we do particularly well as a team.  The kids’ composure is awesome.  We don’t panic hardly ever. We don’t have one big scorer.” But they do have two big goalies.

February 8, 2017 |

Ossining’s Super-Scoring Superstar

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

 

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Andra Espinoza-Hunter wanted to be close to her grandmother.
PHOTO COURTESY OF PHIL M. PHOTOGRAPHY

In high school basketball, an individual scoring 50 points in one game is rare and, invariably, that big point-maker is a boy. So how does one explain Ossining senior Andra Espinoza-Hunter?  She hit the 50-point threshold in three consecutive games—and she more than hit it.  She had 51, 52 and 53 points. “And,” adds Ossining coach Dan Ricci, “she also owns a fourth 50-point game this season.” And this season, her overall average is 40 points per game.

Indeed, it has to be this season.  The versatile 6-foot senior spent the previous three seasons at Blair Academy in Blairstown, N.J., after playing—and starring—for Ricci in the seventh and eighth grade.  And next season, she will be on scholarship to the University of Connecticut’s incomparable women’s basketball program.

Why she returned for her final high school year is a little-known fact, and one that speaks well for the young woman she is. “My grandmother was diagnosed with ALS,”  Espinoza-Hunter said.  “I wanted to be as close to her as I could before I’m away at college.” So how is grandma doing?  “Very well, thank you.  And thanks for asking.”

Andra has already passed the 1,000-point mark in her limited time at Ossining—in the 8th grade she was the second-leading scorer to superstar Saniya Chong.  Counting her time in New Jersey, she is over 2,000 points.  In January she picked up a McDonald’s All American game nomination.

“I love the game,” she said of basketball.  “I love the competitiveness and the pace, particularly at Ossining.  And yes, I hope to play after college.”

Ricci learned by phone last July that the superstar 6-footer would be joining the Pride this year and along with young Aubrey Griffin, also a superstar, together they could have made Ossining as good as any girls high school team in the country and Ricci scheduled outside games accordingly.  But in preseason practice, Griffin went up for a rebound, came down funny and tore her ACL.  Her season was over before it started.

The Pride has lost three outside games to national powers, but the team in big Class AA, is still far and away the class of Section 1 and probably the state.  When it virtually tripled Horace Greeley’s score recently, it was the school’s 92nd straight victory in Section 1.  It is a strong favorite in the upcoming tournament play.

And Espinoza-Hunter, who like the graduating Chong will be a guard at UConn, is the biggest reason. “Is she better than in the 8th grade?  Yes, much so,” Ricci said.  “She left a straight shooter; now she handles the ball, can play point guard and plays much better defense.  And she’s very coachable. “She really grew up a lot while she was gone.”

February 1, 2017 |

Ursuline’s Super-Relay Squad

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By Chuck Slater

 

It’s not widely known yet, but the Ursuline School has a standout girls track team.  And the little private school in New Rochelle has a particularly strong relay squad, which will be a lot more widely realized after the 4 x 800 relay at the Millrose Games on Feb. 11.

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Lily Flynn is called “very talented” by her coach.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAN MITCHELL

The relay team—which also excels in the 4 x 1500—is comprised of six virtually interchangeable individuals for its foursome, four of them, interestingly, pairs of twins.  The girls are senior Keira Tobia, sophomore Lily Sheahan, freshman twins Hayley and Caitlin McClean and second-year twins Sarah and Lily Flynn.  In the 4 x 800 relay in early January at the Hispanic Games, Hayley McLean, Sarah Flynn, Tobia and Lily Flynn won in a walk in the superb early-season time of 9:26.9—especially impressive in that they had 9:30 as a goal and went unchallenged.  “We were really happy about it,” Tobia said.

The girls of course compete in other events throughout the indoor season, usually multiple events, wherever veteran coach Jan Mitchell most needs them.  “The next time they’ll run fresh is the Millrose Games,” Mitchell said.

The McLean twins are identical and the coach is still struggling with identification.  Not so the Flynns; Sarah is tall; Lily, diminutive.  But little Lily is the big runner of the crew, anchoring the relays.  Though still getting over a hip injury and running well ahead, she spun her 800 in a brisk 2:14—and she had done it in 2:10 last season.

“Last season as a 9th grader she had the best time in the U.S. in four events,” Mitchell said.  “She’s very talented.” She is also a standout in her first love, soccer, starting at sweeper on the varsity. “Lily is very athletic,” noted Tobia.  “She puts a lot of heart and dedication into her running.”

The 15-year-old Flynn sisters were introduced to running in the fourth grade.  “My dad, Tim, started us in the CYO program,” Sarah said.  “Running teaches you that you can work at something every day and eventually your goals will come in.” “It’s very focusing,” her twin says of running. “And I really like the girls I run with, too.”

That Lily is a little better doesn’t bother either of them. “It’s more we help each other,” Sarah said.  “Lily definitely helps me and pushes me along.” “It’s actually a benefit,” Lily said.  “It pushes us to do better.  We’re not really competitive with each other.”

Sarah

Sarah Flynn and her twin started running in the 4th grade.
PHOTO COURTESY OF JAN MITCHELL

The Ursuline girls are, collectively, very competitive with other teams. “The best times I’ve ever had this early in the season,” said Mitchell, who has coached Iona Prep for 43 years and Ursuline for 27.

“We definitely have a lot of potential,” said Tobia.  “We were very, very good last year (when the Flynn twins’ older sister, Anna, now performing for Boston College, was on the relay), but we can be just as good.”

January 25, 2017 |

From Mahopac to Hockey’s Big League

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

He’s only 21, but after his first full week in the National Hockey League, Mahopac native Steve Santini figures to be there for a long time.

Boston Bruins v New Jersey Devils

Steve Santni has reached the NHL before his 22nd birthday.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDY MARLIN/NEW JERSEY DEVILS

“It was pretty cool,” the New Jersey Devils’ newest defenseman said of his week in the bigs (he played a lone game with the Devils at the end of last season).  “I really didn’t know what to expect.  The players here are so talented.  But my teammates and coaches helped me so much so I felt confident.”

Pretty much a stay-at-home defenseman, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 207-pound backliner even picked up a point in his first game up, a shutout of the Boston Bruins early in the new year.  He got an assist on a teammate’s goal after his own shot was blocked.  (He also added an assist in his fourth game.) “I don’t really know how to explain it other than it was pretty cool,” Santini said.  “It was pretty awesome.”

A couple of days later in his second game, a victory over Carolina, Santini racked up seven hits.  “We’ve never had anyone get that many hits before,” said a Devils official. Also impressed with the right-hand shooting defenseman was John Hynes, the Devils’ coach.  “He was poised, defensively sound,” the coach said of his newcomer’s early play.  “He made some good decisions with the puck.  He brings an energy and character to our team.  That’s the type of person he is.”

And Santini, a tremendous plus-5 in the four early games of his first full pro season, won’t be 22 until the end of March. “It’s a little bit different up here,” he said.  “But my time in the minors helped prepare me.” Prepared for a long stay?  “I try not to think about that,” he said.  “One game, one day, at a time.”

Santini, who left Kennedy High School for the U.S. Olympic Development team after his sophomore season, has always been surrounded by hockey.  His father, Steve Sr., also played the sport, is the owner and business manager of the Brewster Ice Arena, and coached his son at JFK.

Santini, who first starred for the Brewster Bulldogs and N.Y. Apple Corps, was named New York State’s co-player of the year in Division II after his second season with Kennedy/Putnam Valley, as his 45 goals led his dad’s team to the section semifinals. Then he was “nervous and excited” though he had to move to Michigan to join the U.S. program. He helped earn silver medals with the 17-and-under, then the 18-and-over club.    Next came three seasons skating for Boston College, in the last of which he had 18 assists while being named Hockey East’s best defenseman.

After being drafted in the second round, Santini spent the majority of this season in the minor leagues with the Albany Devils before his new year call-up.  Bet he’ll never see the minor leagues again.

“Steven is positionally sound,” said Hynes of the Mahopac native.  “He’s always in the right spot. Steven is a guy you want to play with as a defensive partner.”

 

 

 

 

January 18, 2017 |

This Wrestling Star is Different

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

 

The John Jay-Cross River high school wrestling team is uncontrovertibly the area’s best.  Coach Bill Swertfager’s Indians were 10-0 at the holiday break.  They have won the Patriot Tournament, the Greeley Duals event, the Clarkstown North championship and, most telling, the Section 1 title in a runaway.  Expect much more at the upcoming New York State Invitational where the Indians are the section’s lone invitee.

Yes, the John Jay boys are pretty tough on the mat — whoops, make that boys and a girl. Competing at 99 pounds and more than holding her own among her male teammates is freshman Juliana Duva.  Her record at the break was 16-4 and included an individual title at the Patriot Tournament.  This, of course, is almost exclusively against boys — in girls tournaments, she is a frequent titlist.

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Juliana Duva exhibits superior technique.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL SWERTFAGER

“She’s very technically sound,” says Chris Cook, who should know.  He’s the Indians’ 106-pound starter, has won two major titles, sports a 15-4 record and faces Duva regularly in practice.  “Her technique is better than a lot of guys on the team.” But does grappling with a girl bother him?  “Not really.  It might bother some opponents,” Cook said, “but we’ve been wrestling each other for years.  We’re good friends.”

Good is a word one hears a lot with this 5-foot female wrestler who has been at the sport since the fourth grade. “She started in my fourth-grade junior program,” said Swertfager, whose dedication to early coaching has played in his team’s success.  “You could see quickly she was very, very good.  “Her technique is beyond wrestlers her age.  Then there’s her flexibility and athleticism — and she’s incredibly composed.  And incredibly competitive.”

Some of it, the coach says, comes from “growing up in that atmosphere.” Duva’s dad, Jason, is a former wrestler and now coaches at the Iowa Style Wrestling Club.  Younger brother, Luca, 11 years old, is in the sport and may be a future champion.  Sometimes at home, dad has them face each other.

With John Jay, Swertfager’s son John, an assistant coach, spends a lot of time with the 99-pounder, as she acknowledges gratefully.  She is one of the Indians going to the New York Invitational, perhaps as the only girl there.

“I like the feeling of it,” the lady wrestler says of her sport, “and beating people who don’t think you can beat them.  And wrestling helps me in my other sports (soccer and lacrosse).” It even figures in her private life.  “Yes, I’m dating a wrestler,” she says, “but not one on my team.”

And how does Juliana Duva take her rare defeats? “Not very well,” said Swertfager.  “Not very well at all.”

 

January 11, 2017 |
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