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Concentration is Han’s Forte


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



His grandmother introduced Nathan Han to golf. (PHOTO COURTESY OF LEIGH FIORITO)

In this space a week ago, one read about a local golfer who won the girls’ state high school championship as a junior, Carmel’s Lauren Peter. Well, a day later, a local golfer won the boys’ state high school championship as a sophomore. And second-year student Nathan Han of Somers had to work overtime to do so. He needed a three-hole playoff to edge Adam Xiao of Manhasset over two rounds at the famed and challenging Robert Trent Jones Golf Course in Ithaca. And whereas Peter had been second as a freshman and sophomore, Han had tied for second as a freshman.

Peter, whose family did not play golf, picked up the sport at a Centennial Golf Club camp. Han, who also plays at Centennial, was introduced to the game by his golf-playing grandma and his whole family usually travels to tournaments with him.

While Peter is known for her icy dedication to thinking golf all the time, Han is cited for his icy concentration when playing the sport. “Nathan is as good a golfer as anyone I’ve ever had,” said Somers golf coach Leigh Fiorito, a coach for 39 years. “He has extraordinary concentration, exceptionally focused on each shot. This is part of what makes him so good. Whatever happens, he just keeps working for the next shot. He’s young — he doesn’t hit a long ball. But as I said, he cuts out the noise. In States, he was in the rough a lot but he didn’t let it faze him.”

“I managed to scramble pretty well,” said Han, who also is an exceptional student scholastically. After the first round at States, the Somers sophomore was in third place, two shots back of Xiao. He closed with a 72 of his own the next day and seemed to have won outright until Xiao birdied the par-5 18th. Han had to scramble on the first and third extra holes after dropping his drive in a fairway bunker. But, as is his wont, he recovered both times and the second time he won the event by holing a 10-foot par putt.

“I felt a huge shock of relief,” said Han, who was engulfed by teammates after the winning putt. “The pressure escaped me and I showed a lot of happy emotions.” Han praised his teammates for their “great support,” but now it is on to another shot, another tournament.

“He’s been playing in a lot of tournaments,” said Fiorito, who will have her champion for two more seasons. “To him, States is just another tournament. He’s on to the next tournament.”


June 28, 2017 |

From Just for Fun to Just for Forever


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



Lauren Peter improved on two second-place finishes.    (PHOTO COURTESY OF LAUREN PETER)



Nine years ago, Carmel junior Lauren Peter enrolled in a Centennial Golf Club camp to pick up a new sport, “just for fun.” Now she is the New York State girls high school champion, having beaten three-time defending champion Lindsay May of Auburn by two strokes over two rounds at the famed Bethpage Yellow Course recently in Bethpage State Park after two seasons as the runner-up. And this coming week she will be one of the elite contestants in the five-day Polo Junior Invitational for the best young female golfers in the world.

And it all started as a lark nine years ago in a game neither of her parents played. “But I just loved it from the start,” Peter said. “Golf is great fun and challenging all the time.” And now there is a putting green in the family garage. “I don’t think my game has any particular weakness,” Peter said, “but putting is the strongest part of it.”

“She is a phenomenal putter,” praised Carmel golf coach Matt Murphy, whose Peter-led girls team finished 13-0, then won its sectional championship. Then Peter won something even bigger at Bethpage. She entered the second round with a two-stroke lead following a stunning 68 and closed with an even-par 72 but encountered a challenge in that final round. When she bogeyed the par-5 10th hole, she fell into a tie with May. But she notched two birdies and went bogey-free on the final eight holes to win by two strokes. A welcome change from the previous two finishes. “She’s improved tremendously,” said Murphy, “especially mentally.”

Lauren Peter has hardly treated the game she took up as a lark in lark-like fashion. “She’s as hard-working an athlete as I’ve ever had,” said Murphy, a veteran coach. “How dedicated? She was even swinging a golf club in her prom dress!”

“She’s just very devoted to the game,” said Amanda Tully, another of the four crack Carmel golfers who made it to the state tournament. “A very hard worker. She always wants to get better. I’m a junior, too. We’ve gone to a lot of tournaments together and I’ve been fortunate to be her friend for a long time.” “She’s always thinking golf,” said freshman sister Caitlin Tully, who also went to States.

The talented junior is thinking about college golf, too. Peter has made a verbal commitment to Ohio State. And after Polo she will spend her summer in AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) tournaments.

And afterward, would a professional career interest her? “Yes, sure,” Lauren Peter said with enthusiasm.

June 21, 2017 |

The Lefty Who Keeps North Salem Right


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



Connor Mahoney has always been a pitcher. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CONNOR MAHONEY)

Senior left-handed ace Connor Mahoney is a big reason — the biggest — that North Salem High School made it to Binghamton to play for the Class C State championship that it won a season ago. Not only did he average double figures in strikeouts with his sharp breaking ball but he also was the winning pitcher in seven of the Tigers’ 16 victories that got them to Binghamton. He had the opposition hurting all season.

But his most heroic performance came in a game in which he was truly hurting. It was the Section 1, Class C playoff final against top-seeded Tuckahoe in Dutchess Stadium at the end of May. Mahoney spent all morning sick with a stomach bug, so sick that Coach Rob Gilchrist was set to start his number 3 pitcher Will Baumler in the big game. “He was throwing up before the game,” shortstop Adam Concadoro, the team’s top hitter, said of Mahoney. “I was sick,” Mahoney acknowledged. “I did what I could.”

What he did was start — ill and all — pitching into the sixth inning, allowing just two hits and striking out 13 in a 7-2 title victory. “Once Connor decided to go, we were at ease,” Gilchrist said. “He’s been our ace all season.”

And he continued being the ace in the Regionals. In the 3-2 semifinal victory over Section 9’s Pine Plains, Mahoney relieved J.B. Healy and saved the game in the seventh inning on June 1. Then two days later, the lefty went the distance with 12 strikeouts to edge Long Island champion Southold, 2-1. He finished the game with a 0.65 earned run average for the season.

“He’s the best lefty I’ve ever had,” said Gilchrist, a veteran coach. “I’ve always been a pitcher,” said Mahoney, “since C ball at around ten.”

A year ago, the Tigers surprised even their coach with their first section title since 1967 before winning the state crown. “No, this time I was not surprised at all,” said Gilchrist. “We had seven returning seniors. We had the experience.”

Concadoro, who played injured in the playoffs, led the way with a .407 batting average, 11 RBI and 22 runs scored with 15 walks and just 5 strikeouts. Mahoney, who played left field when not pitching and will be at Quinnipiac next year, batted .355. Newcomer Rian Balbino, a sophomore, played a strong center field and batted .315 with two hits against Pine Plains. Veteran catcher Nathaniel Carminucci also had two hits, and two RBI, against Pine Plains. Healy, a hard-throwing right-hander, amassed five wins on the way to Binghamton with an ERA a little over 2.00. Balbino, who finished for the ailing Mahoney against Tuckahoe, provided effective southpaw relief all season.

“Hey, pitching wins games,” said Gilchrist.

June 14, 2017 |

The Five-Event Star of the Pentathlon


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



The 110-meter high hurdles, when you are trying to skim over them faster than any competitor yet not trip over the obstacles, can be a most challenging track and field event. Nor is it easy high-jumping near or above your own height in competition. Ditto seeing the distance you can stay airborne in the long jump.

Mike Panzarino’s shot put could be improved. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE PANZARINO)

And, if you think it’s simple throwing a heavy metal ball at distances over 30 feet, just try the shot put. Plus, to really test your speed and stamina, go for a 1,500-meter run — the so-called “metric mile” — against others. Each one can tax to the max. Yet in the pentathlon, one athlete does all these events, sometimes in a span of only a few hours, and finishes up with that demanding long run when already tired. Whew!

And the area’s best pentathlete is Somers senior Michael Panzarino. He’s not particularly big — 5-feet, 11-inches and 165 pounds — yet Panzarino comes up very big in those combined events. Just ask Mike Sokolofsky. He has been coaching track at Somers for 17 years, the last four as the head coach. “We have had pentathlon athletes before,” he said, “but none nearly as successful as Mike has been.”

How successful? At the recent Loucks Games, which attracts top athletes from all over the East and sometimes nationwide, Panzarino took second in the pentathlon behind a standout from Staten Island. He won its 1,500 in 4:24.87. No, it wasn’t a personal best, but PBs are rare when you are tackling five varied events, one after the other.

Yet a week later, in the Westchester County championships at Byram Hills High School, Panzarino not only won his second county pentathlon but also, incredibly, achieved personal bests in all five events. He took the hurdles in 15.78 seconds, the high jump at 5-feet, 11 ¾-inches, the long jump at 18-10, the shot put at 32 feet and the 1,500 in 4:20. Of course his point total of 3,225 was also a PB. And a week afterward, he notched the sectional pentathlon title, albeit without PBs because of the rain-hampered conditions.

Weighing just 165 pounds, Panzarino is understandably weakest at the shot put. He could compete for state honors at 3,400 points if he could get it up to 34 feet. “I’m working on it. Hard,” he said. “He’s like an iron man for me,” Sokolofsky says of his versatile star. “He’ll go in any event I need him.   He’s even added the pole vault — and he’s pretty good at it.”

And next year this solid student will be multiple-event performing for SUNY Brockport. The hurdles and 1,500 are Panzarino’s best events. But how does one get so accomplished in five disciplines? “A lot of work, a lot of training,” Mike Panzarino says. “I do what the coaches say. “That’s all I can say.” The pentathlon marks say a lot more.  

June 7, 2017 |

The Little Team That Can


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



For a small school, filling out a varsity team can be a challenge. Winning all its games in any sport? Well, just a dream. Except for tiny Faith Christian Academy in Poughkeepsie.

The Academy boasts a grand total of 270 students through all its grades. Only 76 are high schoolers, and that includes both boys and girls. And yet, its girls softball team has just completed a second consecutive league championship season with a 33-game winning streak after another post-season playoff sweep!

Incredible is too tepid a word to explain it. “It’s a hard-working group of girls,” explains Dave Betsild, who in two seasons as head coach has never had to deal with a loss.   “Yes, we have a small school, but these kids jell well. In a small school you figure to have two or three good players, but we have six or seven. And they recruit their classmates — we can use eighth graders on varsity — so we have 14 or 15 kids.”

Liz Tolkan got into softball to honor her grandmother. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ELIZABETH TOLKAN)

And 33 consecutive victories, a dozen of them this past season. Most times in the dozen games, the victory margin has been a dozen runs or more. “How? That’s a good question,” the coach said. “There’s no outside recruiting to get the best athletes. What we do have is a very close-knit group who love playing with each other. There’s no jealousy.”

Senior Sydney Beck is the team’s pitching mainstay and underhanded her way to a pair of no-hitters. Her twin, Alexandria, is the starting first baseman. But the Academy’s star is a short sophomore third baseman, Liz Tolkan.

All the 5-foot, 2-inch Tolkan did was bat .750 — yes, .750! — with 11 home runs. In the very first inning of the playoff opener, she tripled, then went 2-for-3 in a 21-1 romp to raise her average to the .750 level. Pretty amazing for anyone. Especially amazing for a player who missed her entire freshman season with a torn ACL, which made some leery of counting on her this season.

She got ready in four months. “I was never worried,” Tolkan said. “I knew I’d done 100 percent of what I needed to do to be ready. And my coaches believed in me.” But .750 with 11 home runs in just 12 games? “I think it exceeded my expectations,” Tolkan said. “It’s been real good. “College? Yes, I’ll want to keep playing.”

“She’s very strong and very spirited in everything she does,” said Roy Arnesen, the athletic director. “She goes all-out in everything she does.” Even how Liz got into softball is interesting. “I did it because my Nana, Mary Ellen Stewart, loved baseball,” Tolkan said.

“You know,” added Betsild, ” we had two star players injured this season. We should be even better next year!”

May 31, 2017 |

The Girl Playing Varsity Baseball


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



How does the Yonkers Montessori Academy team feel about—in the person of freshman Madison Allen—being the first Section 1 baseball varsity ever to have a girl on its squad? “She has 17 big brothers,” coach Spike DiMartino says with satisfaction.

For Madison, perhaps the hardest step to varsity baseball was convincing her parents to allow it. “They worried I might get hurt,” she said. Indeed, a pitcher’s follow-through leaves her less than 60 feet from what could be a screaming line drive. “We worried about line drives back to her,” admitted James Allen, her father. “But she’s very persistent. It’s hard to say no to her.”

Madison Allen had to win over her parents first. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES ALLEN)

Indeed the daughter, who always favored pitching, favored T-ball as a youngster and baseball always. She shed softball after one season. “I didn’t like the concept of (underhand) softball pitching,” she said. So this spring the father stepped into the batter’s box to test his determined 14-year-old. “It was like, hmm, we might have something here,” he said.

But first they had to give the daughter a battery of tests and even get permission from Albany. But DeMartino was immediately receptive. “I was all for it,” he said. And also protective. His distaff pitcher wears a mask on the mound and since YMA only has a varsity, he picks spots for her carefully. And she has responded brilliantly. In her first two appearances, Madison is 2-0 with 17 strikeouts in 12 innings with the curveball her favorite pitch. She also boasts a walk in her two-at-bats. “She doesn’t throw hard but she does throw strikes,” said the coach.

“In this day and age,” said Madison, a high honor roll student, “there should be no one or nothing to stop you from what you want to pursue.” “I’m more nervous than she is,” said James Allen. “But now I’m pumped when she’s pitching.” And helping has been her true big brother, Tyler, 22, who hopes to continue baseball professionally. Brother and sister work together.

The Eagles, just 7-17 in DiMartino’s first season, are now challenging the .500 mark as “big brothers,” and they have players of interest on merit alone. Righthander Israel Guzman handles the bulk of the pitching and his earned run average is easily below 2.00. Cleanup hitter Juan Peguero is batting well over .400 and freshman shortstop Evan Diaz is close to .500 as the leadoff hitter.

The team even went on a winning streak when Madison was able to join them. “I feel like I did accomplish something; I had to jump through hoops,” she said. And all the attention from being the first girl on varsity baseball in Section 1? “It feels kind of weird,” Madison Allen said.

May 24, 2017 |

The Javelin is All in the Family


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



The javelin is the stepchild of track and field. It is difficult — this spear one throws for distance and accuracy. It requires a lot of time and a lot of technique, and every now and then, an innocent athlete on a practice field has been impaled by an errant javelin toss. Plus, the javelin, when it is in a meet, is almost exclusively the province of male athletes.

Yazmine (from left), Nieasia and Brianna all started the javelin at their mother’s club. (PHOTO COURTESY OF DEBORAH THOMAS)

Except of course for the Thomas sisters who compete and/or will compete for Spring Valley High School. And senior Yazmine Thomas, who breaks school and individual records virtually every time a javelin competition is available, may just be the best in the area with the stepchild spear.

It all started when Deborah Thomas saw that five of her daughters were interested in track and field, with an emphasis on the not-often-offered-for-girls field events. So she formed her own track club, In Motion, for her girls three years ago. “I started it for my girls,” she said, “and then I opened it up. Now I have twenty and a lot more inquiries, so it may grow. And, yes, the javelin is very much a part of it. I explain to the kids you have to know the risks involved,” she said. “And we start with the Turbo Javelin (a smaller, plastic version of the spear).”

Five Thomas girls throw the javelin as part of their track competition: Yazmine (17), Nieasia (16), Brianna (14), Tyaja (12) and Ayanie (10). “And my four-year-old granddaughter, Bria, already handles the javelin,” added Mrs. Thomas. “We haven’t had a javelin thrower in twenty years,” said Spring Valley athletic director Bill Pilla. “Isn’t that wonderful? And they are all great girls, too.”

“One of my jobs,” said track coach Andrew Delva,” is finding javelin competitions. Yazmine is one of the five best in the state.” The 5-foot, 10-inch Yazmine, who has committed to Manhattanville College from a host of academic and athletic scholarships, is the family’s javelin star — so far. At the recent Red Raider Relays, she stole the show and won with a school-record and personal-best javelin heave of 106 feet, 5 inches. She termed it a perfect throw, yet the following week in the Crusader Relays, she eclipsed her two records with a winning toss of 108.3. In both meets Nieasia was third with personal bests of 83-1 and 92.6. Brianna took sixth in the latter meet with 77-9 — at fourteen!

“It’s a rush when you get a good throw,” said Yazmine, who also throws the discus and shot and triple-jumps and wants to be a CPA. “Six years ago, my mom gave me a little javelin and told me to throw it. I just fell in love with it.” “It’s a competitive thing and a lot of fun,” Nieasia said. “I hope to do it in college, too.” Young Brianna also holds the school record of 36 feet 5 inches in the shot put. “I like the shot more,” she said, “but the javelin requires more technique and more practice.”

“Yazmine,” coach Delva says, “is a very committed and hard-working young lady. She’s also very quiet.” But her javelin exploits speak loudly.

May 17, 2017 |
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