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Ossining’s Super-Scoring Superstar

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

 

Slater Photo-Espinoza-Hunter

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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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 |

This Goalie Really Saves

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

Any hockey goalie who allows less than two goals per game is exceptional.  Similarly, any hockey goalie who saves 90 percent of the shots on his net is very exceptional. So what would one say of Scarsdale High junior goalie Sam Seltzer?  He is permitting 1.32 goals against per game on a team that is good, but no more, without him.  His save percentage—95.8! The word phenomenal comes to mind.

Slater Photo-Sam Seltzer

Sam Seltzer makes Scarsdale a threat in every game.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SAM SELTZER

“Sam is unreal,” says Kevin Wright, a hockey lifer in his 20th year of coaching, but his first with Scarsdale. “That’s why we have a chance in every game.  Because of our goalie.”

Because of their goalie, Scarsdale, with a new coach and a new system, came close to beating Section 6’s skilled and speedy powerhouse, Orchard Park, before losing by 3-2 in the Pelham Invitational early in the season.   Seltzer faced an incredible 37 shots, and many of his saves were acrobatic, bordering on the incredible.  And most recently he had another 37 saves in a 1-1 tie with Mamaroneck, the top team in the state.

“They were killing us in our defensive zone,” team captain and big scorer Jonathan Schwartz said afterward.  “Luckily, we have Sam in net.  He is amazing.  He saves us all the time.   Sam’s been awesome for us last year and this year especially.”

Last year, his first as a starter, Seltzer permitted just 2.3 goals per game with four shutouts, three of them by 1-0 for a basically .500 club. The save percentage was 91.4.  Yes, he was all-league, and now he’s an assistant captain. And now the demands on the fearless Seltzer are, if anything, greater.  Wright is more offense-minded than the longtime previous coach, Jim Mancuso, who often turned defensive with small leads.

The team is now on its holiday break—it resumes play on January 6th—with a 3-2-3 record against a particularly tough early schedule and, with its goalie leading the way, it should still be playing in the post-season.  “This is a good club,” says Wright.  “I like it a lot.”

Johnathan Scwartz, the captain, is a consistent offensive threat, but his sophomore brother Ben has been the early-season scoring leader with five goals and three assists.  Defenseman Martin McDonald, an assist machine, has two goals and four assists so far.  But the 5-foot, 8-inch, 140-pound goalie is crucial. And Seltzer got an early start on his favorite sport. “I was four or five,” he said, “and I played for Scarsdale in the local Hudson Valley League.”

As a goalie?  “No one wanted the goal then,” he said, “so we took turns.  When I tried it, I found I really liked it.” He has been in the nets ever since. And the family is into hockey, too.  Older brother Max, now at the University of Wisconsin, played defense for Scarsdale in high school.  Dad Cliff is a big Rangers fan.

With his goalie stats and a 3.9 GPA, a college scholarship could be a possibility though he has yet to pick a college.  Otherwise the junior standout isn’t sure about the next level.  “College?  Maybe just club hockey,” Sam Seltzer said.  “I’m not really sure yet.”

January 4, 2017 |

The Wounded Superstar

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By Chuck Slater

 

 

With the women’s high school basketball season in its initial stages, most coaches are hoping to start strong and then get stronger, reaching a late-season optimum at playoff time.  In the case of the already very strong Briarcliff girls squad, undefeated in its opening games, there might also be a late-season bonus.  It could pick up as good a point guard as the section has had in the last few years. We are, of course, talking about Carly Fanelli.

As a sophomore two seasons ago, Fanelli was an All-State point guard.  As a junior, she was expected to have the Bears contesting with Ossining for the best distaff squad in the area.  But in the season opener against Irvington, she went up for a rebound, got hit in the air— “and,” she said, “I came down funny on my right leg.  Funny, as in tragically.  She tore her ACL and meniscus and also required reconstruction of her right kneecap.  “It was horrible,” Fanelli said.

Her junior basketball season was over.  She had extensive surgery last January 2nd—in fact, three surgeries in all. Her senior basketball season is still very much in doubt although the 5-foot, 4-inch athlete is a team captain and is just being cleared to practice.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be able to play,” Fanelli said.  “All I can do is encourage my team as a captain.  Yes, I can dribble now and even shoot the ball but not participate in actual play.” There is no sure answer to the “when” question.  There is hope for the second half of the season, doctors and the right leg willing.  “I hope I can come back,” she said.

So does Don Hamelin, the veteran coach whose Briarcliff girls had a strong winning record without their All-Stater last year and made it to the sectional semifinal in the playoffs.  “Carly would make us a lot better,” he said.

They are already very good, and very young.  The 5-foot, 10-inch Maddie Plank, a sophomore, has been brilliant at point guard—“She’s a standout player,” Fanelli said.  Freshman Alana Lombardi, sophomore Kacey Hamlin and senior Jackie Contento all returned with double-figure averages.  Another sophomore, the 5-foot, 9-inch Kelly O’Donell, is the center on a team lacking height.  “But an eighth grader, the 6-foot, 2-inch  Jordan Smith, is playing a lot and improving all the time,” Hamelin said.

But nothing could improve Hamelin’s girls more than a healthy Fanelli. At one point—the pre-injury point—Carly Fanelli seemed headed for a college scholarship.  Now she doubts she’ll play varsity at the next level.  “Maybe intramural because I love the sport so much,” she said.

 

December 21, 2016 |

Somers’ Super Linebacker

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By Chuck Slater

 

Slater Photo-Antonio Vieira

Antonio Vieira can play offense too.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ANTONIO VIEIRA

Since he moved over to Somers, highly successful coach Tony DeMatteo has produced nothing but outstanding teams.  But his Tuskers even topped themselves at the end of November by winning the school’s first-ever Class A state football championship, defeating Grace Athena, 25-17, in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. “This,” said the 74-year-old DeMatteo, who also won a state title in Yonkers, “is my greatest coaching win ever.”

And next year’s Somers squad – which the coach is doubtless already planning – figures to be formidable again.  The two top runners, Matt Pires and Messiah Horne, and much of the offensive line are due to graduate, but there are a slew of talented juniors returning.  And none is more talented than Antonio Vieira. “Yes, he was only a junior this year,” DeMatteo said, “but next season he should be the best linebacker I’ve ever coached.”

One could cite the state-championship game as Exhibit A.  Vieira produced a game-high 11 tackles that included 9 solo stops and a sack.  And with his team trailing by 7-6 in the second quarter, he collaborated on an interception with the opponent deep in Somers territory. “I don’t know if it’s the best game I’ve ever played,” Vieira said, “but it’s certainly one of the best.”

Vieira’s father, Mark, was an offensive lineman for Somers before DeMatteo’s time.  The son was seven or eight when he was introduced to football through the Pop Warner League program and has loved it ever since.  “And I hope to keep playing in college,” he said, “though of course I don’t know where that will be yet.”

Wherever, it will probably include a football scholarship.  Beside his brilliance on defense, Vieira has also played well on offense.  “I’m also a fullback,” he said, “but our offense was so good this year coach said he didn’t need me.  But I talked to him recently and he said he expects to use me on offense next season.” And to further show his versatility, in- between football seasons, Vieira is also a varsity wrestler and baseball player.

DeMatteo, believed to be the lone coach in state history to win the big title for two different districts, did so with a 12-1 club, but he has had other one-loss and even undefeated teams.  “What made this so special,” the coach said, “is when the heart-breaking loss came. Usually it’s a season-ender in a championship or semifinal game.  But this time it was an early 34-13 defeat by Yorktown.” Then, in the sectional championship, Somers astoundingly dominated Yorktown, 42-6.

And next season, DeMatteo, who intends to coach as long as his health holds up, expects to have his best linebacker ever to help avoid heartbreaking losses.

 

December 14, 2016 |
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