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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 |

The Winningest High School Pitcher


Slater's Slant







By Chuck Slater



By the time you read this, our area may boast the winningest pitcher in the history of high school baseball in New York State; or, perhaps, just the newest member of the exclusive 40-win club in the state. Which? No one is quite sure. And that includes the individual himself, right-hander Enzo Stefanoni of Rye Country Day School, who says, “I’m ready to come in whenever needed.”

Enzo Stefanoni has the comfort of pitching to his brother Aldo. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ENZO STEFANONI)

After beating Hamden Hall at the end of April, Stefanoni, who will do his pitching for Harvard next season, was 6-0 for the season with an earned run average just about 1.00. He moved up to 38 high school wins, just one below the New York public school record of 39 totaled by Ichabod Crane’s Josh Horn in 2005. And he has at least half a dozen more starts as a senior; perhaps more with a 7-3 club that lost to Poly Prep in the playoff final last season. And a possible 40 victories? Since private school records are not kept as fully, no one knows how many, if any, are in the 40-win club, but it would be either exclusive or special.

Special is a description of Stefanoni given by Ryan Quinn, in his first season as the Rye Country Day School head coach after serving as the assistant coach. “Special? Yes,” said Quinn of Stefanoni, who travels from his Darien, Connecticut home each day.

“What is he good at? Just about everything,” the coach continued. “He’s already a college-level pitcher. He throws five pitches — 4-seam, 2-seam (fastballs), curve, slider, changeup. The incredible thing is he commands all of his pitches on any count.

“He’s incredible. Yes, he really is.” And equally good to work with. “He’s wonderful to work with,” said Quinn. “Always ready to help a teammate.” And the team. Stefanoni’s 37th win came as a reliever with two shutout innings against King School.

Ask him about the record he is approaching and Stefanoni gives you a team-oriented answer. “I like the fact I’m chasing a wins record,” he said, “because wins are a team statistic. It’s not a self-centered statistic like earned run average or innings pitched. When you win a game as a pitcher, you win for your team. That’s the nice thing about the record I’m going for.”

There are two more interesting footnotes for this right-hander who is going for the record before going to Harvard with his awesome 4.3 average. “Originally I was a knuckleballer because I didn’t throw so hard.” Stefanoni says. “I’ve always considered myself a pitcher, ever since leagues at six or seven.”

And for the last two years he has been throwing to a most familiar catcher, his younger brother Aldo (who also pitches).   “He’s a freshman but he also caught his brother as an eighth grader,” said Quinn. “It’s definitely nice,” said Stefanoni. “There’s so much you can’t control in baseball. Throwing to a familiar target helps.”

May 10, 2017 |

Chong is Pursuing Her Childhood Dream


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


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


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


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


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 |
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