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Chong is Pursuing Her Childhood Dream

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

Saniya Chong’s defense and care of the ball are major assets. (Photo Courtesy of Patrick McKenna)

Saniya Chong, the girl from Ossining who could, is living her dream. She is currently playing professional basketball exhibition games with the Dallas Wings of the Women’s National Basketball Association. She was drafted in the WNBA’s second round, the 26th overall pick, on April 13th after a virtually all-winning career with the storied University of Connecticut team following a record-setting run with Ossining High School. She flew to Dallas two weeks ago.

“It’s been a dream,” said Chong of pro basketball. “Ever since I was a little girl shooting baskets with my brother, I dreamed of someday being a pro.” And more than two years ago, she voiced the hope publicly. “I recently was told I could expect to be drafted,” continued Chong, a 5-foot, 8-inch guard, “but not by whom.”

And it’s a decent bet that Chong — whose 2,988 points for Dan Ricci’s Ossining Pride is a Section 1 record as well as the standing state record for four-year performers, has the lowest collegiate average and the highest winning percentage of any of the Wings’ candidates. She and fellow senior Tierney Lawlor compiled a 152-2 mark at UConn as the Huskies won three NCAA titles — the winningest pair in Division 1 women’s basketball history. Chong, a full-time starter as a senior, averaged 8.3 points on 47 percent shooting and 40 percent on 3-point shots — but that hardly tells her story. Her 3.31 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked fourth in the country and the guard managed to snare four rebounds a game.

“She’s a winner,” Ricci said simply. Howard Megdal, an intricate observer of women’s basketball, agrees: “She has several translatable skills; among them is her ability to take care of the basketball and passing. But the separator for Chong may be defense. She was third in the country in defensive points per possession. Between her three-point shot and defending, she possesses unique skill sets for WNBA teams.”

Chong’s junior season was plagued by a painful iliotibial band but it all came together this season. “Saniya’s confidence level and her preparation were way better,” said UConn coach Geno Auriemma. “Anybody could see, watching us play, that she played with a lot more purpose and was much more sure of herself. She acted like a senior all year long; she took care of the ball, made shots and played well defensively. It just all kind of came together for her this year.”

And what about with the Wings? “I think it depends on what the situation is on the team,” Auriemma said. “Dallas has a number of guards coming in so it depends on what they are looking for. She has shown the ability to make plays for other players, so in that respect I think she will be really valuable. Her ability to handle the ball and her quickness to the basket is a great strength. Playing well in the WNBA is all about getting on the right team and how your talents fit into the needs of the team. I think Saniya is going to surprise some people.”

And after the WNBA season, Chong may take her dream overseas, too, with big bucks to be made in Europe. “Yeah, I might like to,” Saniya Chong said.

May 3, 2017 |

The Righty Who Bowls Lefty

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

Samantha Mills is her team’s captain and leader. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JANICE MILLS)

 

 

In my old bowling days, teammates would disparage one another after a good shot by saying, “That was so easy, I could have done it left-handed!” Well, the naturally right-handed Samantha Mills had to do so, for real. And now the Walter Panas sophomore is the Westchester/Putnam girls bowler of the year.

The nearly 5-foot, 4-inch Mills has always been right-handed all the way. She writes right-handed. In softball, as the starting JV second baseman who bats in the middle of the order, she hits right-handed and throws the same way. But almost five years ago she decided to push her scooter to the max. She ended up flipping over the handlebars and breaking her right wrist. This happened just before her fall bowling league. Not wanting to miss it, Mills threw a ball left-handed, awkward as it was at first. “Guess this is what we’re doing,” she told herself, and she worked her way through the frustrations of correcting her righty approach.

It finally felt natural and has been ever since. Now nimbly rolling with her off-hand, she averaged 154 over 45 games in the high school season and fired a 1,115 six-game series to finish 16th at the Section 1 tournament.

No one has been more impressed than her fellow Panas sophomore Nicholas Perrone, who is merely the best Section 1 bowler ever. “What she did is extremely difficult,” said Perrone, who this past high school season won the section and state titles after averaging an awesome 239 record during the season, breaking the section tournament mark with a 1,580 six-game series and adding a 1,392 at States.

“Have I ever seen anyone else do it (switch hands out of necessity)? I can’t say I have.” So how was Samantha Mills able to do it? “Determination and perseverance,” said Perrone. “You need a lot of both.”

After using her southpaw slants for Panas in the eighth grade, Mills didn’t compete as a freshman. Yet when she came out as a sophomore this season, coach Santa Trawick designated her team captain. “We have a young team,” Trawick explained, “and she’s proven a great leader. She’s always got time for less accomplished girls.” She’s also got time to fool around with right-handed bowling, but only when it doesn’t count.

There are, of course, certain shots where bowling right-handed would be an advantage, like a second shot with a couple of pins lined up on the left corner. But it’s not permitted. “You have to bowl the whole game with the same hand,” Mills said. “And when you qualify for a tournament, you must use the hand with which you made your average.”

Still, the forced-to-be-a-southpaw has been known to have a right-handed game. “Our team, which is close, sometimes does midnight bowling for fun,” she said. “Then I might try right-handed but the average isn’t too good.”

Mills will bowl — left-handed of course— in a summer league. And she has set her sights on her junior bowling season. “I definitely hope to make States (at sectionals),” she said, “and then to do well in the state tournament.”

 

April 26, 2017 |

She’s More Than Par Against the Boys

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

A decade ago, for only the second time ever, a girl — yes, a girl — won the boys Section 1 golf tournament—Marissa Kamelgarn of Mahopac.

Kyra Cox was beating her dad when she was nine. (PHOTO COURTESY OF KYRA COX)

It could happen again this season, in the person of John Jay Cross River junior Kyra Cox. “It’s definitely high on my goals for this year,” said the Indians’ clear Number 1 for a second straight season.   “And then to go up to States and do well, too.”

Last season, Cox finished 16th overall in the sectional tournament. Already successful in girls’ events, she has since grown — in stature, too and is now 5-feet, 6 ½-inches — to national-level success. Her father Keith Cox, a good and avid golfer, took his daughter to a charity event with him when she was seven. If it wasn’t love at first sight, it was close. She asked — nay, demanded — to play this stick-and-ball sport. “By the time she was nine,” Keith Cox said proudly, “she was beating me.”

Before she was 15, she had won the New York State PGA Junior Championship and has been scoring big in big events ever since. Late last summer against the best girls her age throughout the nation, the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) championship, she finished 9th on rounds of 70, 73 and 73 and before starting her junior high school season, had a scholarship to Furman University in her golf bag. And she’s hoping to get even better. “I’m working on a new swing and a new grip with new clubs,” she said. “I took a little break after getting the Furman scholarship.”

This season, the John Jay golfers have a new coach, Artie Blank, replacing Ray DiStephan. Not many golf coaches inherit such a strong team, and none with a girl as the ace of a boys’ squad. “I’ve got really good kids and a pretty solid team,” Blank said. “Kyra? She’s a great kid and, yes, our Number 1. She’s very strong, hard working, consistent and helpful with her teammates.”

Number 2 for a second year on a just-started 15-match season is senior Nils Carlson. “He’s very consistent, too,” Blank offered.

Number 3 is senior Greg Hoffman, one of five returnees Blank inherited. Senior Kyle Campbell and junior Marc Skriloff are the others, and there are four imposing newcomers in junior Jacob Gonzalez and freshmen Chris Walsh, Jason Sans and younger brother Robert Skriloff. “They seem unflappable,” the new coach said.

And the girl among them seems the one to watch at tournament time.

April 19, 2017 |

North Salem is Dangerous Again

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

North Salem High baseball coach Rob Gilchrist, whose team won its first-ever Class C State championship last year, isn’t primarily concerned with having a great regular-season record. On a team that lost its ace pitcher (the C Player of the Year) and two other regulars to graduation, his Tigers are into a schedule that includes all the other Section 1 titlists—all larger: Ketcham (Class AA), John Jay (Class A) and Keio (Class B). And other bigger schools as well.

The goal for Gilchrist, whose club finished 20-6 a year ago, is not to win as many in-season games as possible but to be as battle-tested as possible for the post-season. “We should be right up there again,” the coach said. “We played all the tough teams last year, too, and that provided us with the opportunity to succeed.”

Adam Concadoro is moving from leadoff to the Number 3 hitter. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ADAM CONCADORO)

The opportunity is there again, led by All-State shortstop Adam Concadoro, on a team that is returning six regulars and outscored the opposition by 40-12 in four State tournament games. Concadoro, a senior committed to Misericordia University on a scholarship and with a 3.3 average, was the area’s best leadoff hitter when healthy; he missed post-season time a year ago. He is taking his high .300s batting average into the key Number 3 spot in the order. “He should have a great season if he stays healthy,” the coach said.

And so should pitchers Connor Mahoney and J.B. Healy, now 1-2 on Gilchrist’s staff with player-of-year Danny Capra (7-2, 1.20 ERA, 88 strikeouts in 58 innings) now throwing for Rochester Institute of Technology. But the left-handed Mahoney—“He’s our Number 1,” said Gilchrist— and Healy, who combined to beat Avon in last season’s State-title game, are still around and still dominant. “I feel good with those two,” the coach said.   Both are seniors, and they can also hit, but next in line is a junior, Will Baumler. “My mindset is always, I’m going to get this guy out,” said Mahoney, who is headed for Quinnipiac.

Concadoro, who has been playing baseball since he was four, started out as an outfielder in middle school but was shifted to short—”and I love the position.” He also loves his team’s chances. “We still have a good, solid team,” he said, “and with the pitching so sound, we have a chance to do as well (as last year).”

A pleasant surprise, and filling a graduation-created outfield hole, is sophomore Rian Balbino. “The team really likes him,” Gilchrist said. “He put a lot of work in during the off-season, including weights. He’s ready.” “We have four kids hoping to play second base and third base,” the coach added.

There is no such question mark at the spot between the two bases. “Concadoro is our guy,” Gilchrist said. “The whole season the bats were going,” Gilchrist’s guy said. The Tigers are looking to repeat that consistency.

April 12, 2017 |

She’s Walking to Glory

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

 

Amelia Cuomo was fascinated by racewalking. (PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSEPH SCELIA)

Brewster senior Amelia Cuomo got into track and field almost by accident in the seventh grade after running a surprisingly fast mile to show she was fit for another sport. The following year at a meet in Rockland, she became intrigued by the seldom-done racewalk. “It looks like fun,” she told veteran Brewster coach Joe Scelia. “I’d like to try it.”

Soon it wasn’t just fun. It was also record setting. She now holds the Section 1 record of 6 minutes 38 seconds for the normal local distance of 1,500 meters. And recently at the New Balance Indoor Nationals at the Armory, she set the section record for the full mile of 7:08.65 in finishing third. It smashed her previous mark by more than eight seconds.

“I hope this inspires others to pursue the event,” said the 5-foot, 6-inch Cuomo, who is a Brewster captain. “Unlike running, there’s more to it than just stepping on the track and going fast. Form is very important, too.”

“As a junior Amelia really started to excel,” said Scelia. “She was All-State and All-American and finished fourth in the State meet. And this year she has been all but unbeatable. Only national champion Lauren Harris of Long Island has bested her. She has won the State qualifier, the Northern County championship, the Class A sectional and the league title.”

Scelia is the first to admit racewalking is not his prime area of expertise. “She has the endurance, the distance running,” the coach said. “She’s finished a marathon, you know. She’s figured out the technical aspects of it (racewalking).   The distance training I knew. I could help her with it. But she would modify it a little differently.”

If the directive were to run six miles, Cuomo would run three and walk three. “She’s a great captain, a great leader,” the coach said. “Even if there’s no practice, she’ll get her work in. She has a tremendous work ethic.”

She is also a tremendous student. Her GPA is an awesome 98.3. She hasn’t picked her college yet, but it will be a fine Division 1 school; however, none of them offers racewalking, which she plans to continue on the outside.

At the Nationals, Olympian Maria Mitchell-Coffey urged her to continue her racewalking. “She gave me hope for the future,” Amelia Cuomo said. “Compete internationally some day in racewalking? That would be incredible.”

March 29, 2017 |

Little North Salem Comes Up Big

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Slater's Slant by Chuck Slater

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

 

That was quite a basketball season the boys of little North Salem completed recently. The second seeds won the Section 1 Class C championship at the County Center for only their fourth time ever and first since 2008, beating Number 4 Hamilton, 61-57, in the final. The Tigers then closed out a 17-7 season by losing to Section 9’s Millbrook, 59-54, in the State Regional semifinals, leaving veteran coach Henry Sassone one shy of 400 career victories. “A great season,” the coach said.

Chris Alterio first shot hoops on the basket in his yard. (PHOTO COURTESY OF HENRY SASSONE)

And there’s more than an outside chance of another great season next year. Of the 13 players used in the playoff run, just four seniors are graduating, including regulars John Martabano and Miles D’Alessandro, one of the team’s two high scorers.

But returning for his fourth varsity season will be the team’s other top point-maker, Chris Alterio. The 6-foot, 1-inch forward has already totaled 1,029 points in his three seasons and was more responsible than anyone else for the gold-ball defeat of Hamilton. He scored 29 points —to go over the 1,000-point mark — and grabbed 12 rebounds in winning MVP honors. “He should be our scoring leader,” Sassone said, looking ahead to his 33rd year at the North Salem reins. “Chris? Yeah, definitely,” added the 6-foot, 2-inch D’Alessandro, who will continue his pursuit of baskets in college at Macalester in Minnesota on an academic scholarship. “You know, Chris was even our top scorer as a sophomore.”

Alterio started organized basketball in the 5th grade and soon was onto AAU play, but he was shooting hoops earlier on a basket in his yard with his dad, James, who had played for Panas.   “We still fool around in the yard at times,” said the son, who plays his sport year-round and hopes to continue in college.

Alterio, who scores a lot of his points from in close on layups and rebounds, can also shoot from a distance. He takes a few three-point shots a game and makes almost half of them. And he’s a strong rebounder. “I’ve always played forward,” he said. “I’ve always been a big guy.” And he and his teammates came up big. “We knew we had a lot of experience and a lot of talent,” Alterio said. “Then when we started winning (often against larger schools), we knew we could go a long way.”

“They will be good next year,” D’Alessandro predicted. “We’ve got a couple of young kids coming up.” The senior was referring to eighth grader Christian Norberto and ninth grader Mike Horan, both of whom contributed late this past season. They figure to help Alterio and North Salem bring Sassone a lot more than his 400th victory.

March 22, 2017 |

A Sub to Whom Losing is Foreign

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Slater's Slant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Chuck Slater

 

Zaira Turner plays softball, too. PHOTO COURTESY OF ZAIRA TURNER

 

 

She has hardly been a star of the continuing Ossining High girls basketball dynasty. In fact, she never even got in the game when coach Dan Ricci stuck primarily with his starters in the recent 80-77 revenge win over a tough Albertus Magnus for The Pride’s seventh straight Class AA Section 1 title at the County Center. But it’s been an unforgettable experience for senior guard Zaira Turner, and one where losses are virtually foreign.

Turner is a 5-foot, 4-inch defensive specialist. She averaged under 5 minutes a game for Ricci, and a lesser number of points, as the Pride won all but one of its Section 1 games in her two years. But when the opposition had a hot-scoring guard, the coach might turn to his senior defender, who has been on the varsity for two years. “She’s one of my best defenders,” the coach said of his Number 11. “And she’s a great kid.” And she loves the game of basketball. She was a starter in much of her two years on the Jayvee even though she really didn’t get into basketball until the 7th grade.

“Just the rush of the game is good,” Turner said. “And I really enjoy being with my teammates and contributing on defense. Winning helps a lot, too,” she added. Winning was far from easy against an Albertus Magnus squad which lost high-scoring shooting guard Kate Major to a concussion in the first quarter of a run-and-gun offensive struggle. Back on February 1st, it handed Ricci’s girls their lone defeat in 93 games against Section 1 foes over a span of nearly six years.

As usual, in the final, all-everything Andra Espinoza Hunter — the UConn-bound senior who just may be the best distaff player in the state — paced Ricci’s side with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists. She also blocked a potential game-tying shot just before the final buzzer and was the tournament MVP.   Sophomore Kailah Harris, a tall future superstar, had 27 points and 15 rebounds.

The losing Lady Falcons played a gutty game and led 34-27 at the half, but the Pride strung together an 18-4 third-quarter run. Mairead Durkin, whose 21 points led Coach Pat Buckley’s squad, gave Albertus its final lead, 53-52, with a bit over six minutes left, and fellow junior Dani LaRochelle kept the loser’s hopes up with two 3-pointers in the final 35 seconds, but it was the Pride who again advanced in post-season play.

Whenever Ossining’s run ends, Turner will report to another varsity — softball — where she is expected to be a regular outfielder. She is uncertain where she will go to college next year but varsity basketball doesn’t seem to be in the picture. “I don’t think so,” Zaira Turner said.

 

March 15, 2017 |
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