Only at Irvington can a loss in the sectional final be viewed as a disappointing end to a season. When the 2019-2020 Bulldogs fell in the Class B final to Putnam Valley, it ended Irvington’s run of successive titles at five.
That team (17-6) had two seniors, Abby Conklin and Nikki May, meaning head coach Gina Maher will have a wealth of talent back, headlined by senior Grace Thybulle and juniors Katie LeBuhn and Sara Gavagan.
Fellow seniors Aine Cleary, who slid into a starting role last season, Kate Hanna, and Kyla Mizrachi are also back this year, along with sophomores Olivia DiNardo, Claire Friedlander, and Amanda Raimondo, and freshman Anders Knapp.
“Grace Thybulle and Katie LeBuhn will again give us a strong inside game,” Maher said. “Both have worked on their own offseason and should continue to be a presence on the court.”
She continued, “Aine Cleary, Kate Hanna, and Kayla Mizracchi have been on varsity for three years and I feel will bring experience and leadership. Sara Gavagan should once again be a leader on defense.”
The familiar faces should equal togetherness.
“They are a very cohesive group … grateful and excited to play after the long wait,” Maher said. “Our strength is our attitude and our working together.”
The coach added, “We are thankful that we will be able to play the game we love, and hope to improve with each day of this short season. Our goal is to give our best, but also to be smart and follow all the guidelines that will keep not only our team, but also our families and community safe and healthy.”
DOBBS FERRY (10-11) head coach Stephanie Mills will ride her dynamic duo of seniors Kayla Halvorsen and Julia Schwabe as far as they will take the Eagles.
“Kayla is a leader both on and off the court,” Mills said. “She makes our team go; she is our ball handler and our floor general. She is one of the hardest-working kids and has put in a ton of time, even in this corona-driven offseason. She is the definition of a gym rat who is always willing to go the extra mile.”
An incredible ball handler who is able to see the floor, Halvorsen has the ability to go both ways and finish strong at the basket.
“Her shooting has improved each year and she is a huge threat from beyond the arc,” Mills said. “Kayla will do whatever it takes to win. Her knowledge of the game is incredible, and the best part about Kayla is her bubbly personality.”
Meanwhile, Schwabe, who will play lacrosse at Michigan, may be the best female athlete the Eagles have ever seen.
“My two little girls say, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like Julia,’ which is the best compliment I could give anyone,” Mills said. “Julia is a dynamic player in that she does it all. She can work by the basket, she can hit a pull-up jump shot, and she is just so tough on the boards. Julia has a mentality where she never quits, and literally never gets tired.”
The coach added, “She could run forever, which is a testament to her work ethic. She is a true leader both on and off the court and has no problem voicing her opinions to her teammates to help make them better. Julia and Kayla are the backbone of our team this year, and we will go how they go.”
The duo may get some assistance from sophomore newcomer Jacqueline O’Connor.
“She is just an all-around great athlete,” Mills said. “She is strong and can get to the basket. She needs to build her confidence and improve her defense and she will be an added threat to our team.”
The coach continued, “Our strength will be how role players step up, like Taylor Broccoli, Talia Reath, Erin Hogan, Ashley Polimeno, and Anabel Patino. Teams will be keying on Julia and Kayla, so how others step up will determine how our season will go.”
Mills added, “Also key will be our defense; I think we can really hawk the ball with Erin and Taylor and put some pressure on other guards and hopefully create some offense off of that. Honestly, our goals are to go out and stay healthy and stay on the court for what we have left of the season, and for the seniors, just giving them a senior year they won't forget.”
The ARDSLEY Panthers (8-13) started the 2019-20 season with no juniors or seniors on their 11-player roster. Those players are a year older, but still young by varsity standards.
Under head coach Nick Revasy, the Panthers head into this season with seven juniors led by Nicole Sanfilippo, and including Christina Fatato, Kelly Tierney, Francesca Syky, Nikki Macri, Jillian Anderson, and Izzy Fatato.
“Nicole Sanfilippo is a proficient scorer who can get to the rim and really shoot the ball. She can defend multiple positions as well. We lean on her to be our leader on and off the court,” Revasy said. “Christina Fatato sets the tone on defense and does all the intangibles needed in order to have success. She takes charges, dives for every loose ball, and pushes the ball in transition on offense.”
He continued, “Kelly Tierney can really score the basketball in a variety of ways and can put up points in a hurry, while Francesca Syku provides a paint presence for us and is an excellent help defender; she also does a great job of screening and finding open areas on offense. Nikki Macri is a do-it-all player for us. She will defend multiple positions on defense, win the 50/50 balls, and play whatever position is asked of her on offense. She is a glue player for us.”
The coach added, “Jillian Anderson can create a bit of a matchup problem for defenses because she can play inside and outside. Her jumper allows her to space to the three-point line and she also does a great job of defending the paint for us. Izzy Fatato is an energy player that creates second opportunities for us on offense and will win the 50/50 balls.”
The lone sophomore returning is Kacey Bornstein, who is an excellent three-point shooter; while Leah Rifas and Claire Tierney are the two veteran freshmen back this season.
“Leah Rifas is also a leader for us; she has a high motor and started every game for us as an eighth-grader,” Revasy said. “She can defend the one through five, rebounds very well, pushes the ball, and plays very hard.”
He added, “Claire Tierney also started for us as an eighth-grader and is a very good scorer who can shoot the ball well from deep. She is a threat to make a play and defenses have to account for her at all times.”
As it was a year ago, the Panthers will hang their hats on their ability to defend.
“Our team strength is the way we defend the basketball — we pride ourselves on defense,” Revasy said. “We want to create offense through our defense and constantly play in transition. Our other team strength is our unity and togetherness; team chemistry is vital in achieving success, and you can’t fake it.”
He added, “Our team goal is to get better every day and the rest will take care of itself.”
For the HASTINGS Yellow Jackets (16-7), talent will not be an issue.
The Jackets lineup boasts Northwestern-bound senior Melannie Daley, Manhattan-bound senior Lindsay Drozd, and future D-1 commit Paige Martin, a junior.
New head coach Patrick Theodule will have to find a way to get that trio to mesh at both ends of the floor.
After losing in the sectional Class B semifinals a year ago to eventual champion Putnam Valley, the Jackets would have been regarded as one of the favorites to take home a Gold Ball this winter. However, the pandemic has altered those plans. Now, a regional title is the goal for the Jackets.
Also expected to take a step forward this winter: sophomore Violet Bowen-Rink, juniors Jill Peña, Kate Ryan, and Luisa Scioscia, and senior Chloe Caraballo.