BY IAN BEGLEY
The days of “no more pencils, no more books” are over. Summer vacation is gone, the school bell is back in play, and so are thousands of high school athletes throughout the city, each sharing the highest of hopes and the greatest of expectations. That’s the charm of summer: Anything is possible, at least before the season begins.
Then there are those who aren’t so much inspired as they are possessed. Athletes typically say team comes first, but to some, there’s more – more pressure, greater responsibility, added incentive, something to prove; if not to their teammates, then to themselves.
Here’s a look at some of those athletes in the Bronx who hope to rise to the top, to make their name, and maybe a few headlines, along the way.
Soccer (Boys): Lions’ pitch is Park’s Place
A few months after Lehman goalie Sheldon Parkinson dominated some of the top teams in the Bronx, he brought his game to one of high school soccer’s biggest stages.
Parkinson traveled to North Carolina to the U-16 national tournament with FC Eastern, his club team from Connecticut. The netminder helped his team reach the finals, where it fell short of capturing the national title.
“It was a good tournament because I made some key saves to help us get to the finals,” Parkinson said. “I didn’t get any shutouts, but colleges got a chance to see me.”
If Parkinson can duplicate his dominant junior season this fall, college coaches will have no choice but to come to the Bronx to see the 6-4, 186-pound keeper.
Last season Parkinson allowed just seven goals in 11 regular season games. He had five shutouts and made 80 saves.
He also had a solid postseason, helping Lehman reach the final, where the Lions fell to perennial power MLK, 4-0.
Parkinson said it’s going to take “a lot of heart” for the Lions to take the PSAL title this fall, but coach coach Patrick Straw knows that as long as Parkinson is in net, Lehman has a legitimate shot.
“He’s definitely the best goalie in the PSAL,” Straw said. “It all starts with Sheldon. I always say you can have the best team on the field, but if you don’t have a goalie, you can lose 1-0 all the time.”
Parkinson also plays volleyball at Lehman, showing similar skills he has around the soccer net as a setter for the Lions. Parkinson had 31 blocks, 33 digs and 37 kills, helping Lehman to a 9-1 finish and Bronx V Division Championship.
“His reflexes are amazing, and you see that in both sports,” Straw said.
After flashing those reflexes in the U-16 tournament against some of the best high school players in the country, Parkinson, now 17, is confident he can dominate the PSAL.
“No offense, but the competition in club is better than the PSAL,” Parkinson said. “I improved in the club part so I’m definitely going to improve in the PSAL.”
Football: Kennedy’s Wizard of Ozzie
In his first year as Kennedy’s starting quarterback, Ozzie Garcia averaged 6.5 passes per game. With a backfield of Stephon Green (now a freshman at Penn State), Angel Vargas and Tyriek Washington – all in the top 15 in the PSAL in rushing – there wasn’t much more for Garcia to do last fall, besides hand the ball off and watch the running backs eat up yards.
Garcia doesn’t sound like he’s ready to give the ball up as easily in his second season under center.
“I want the ball in my hands as much as possible,” the 16-year-old junior said before Kennedy’s practice last Thursday. “If they let us loose, we’re going to tear everybody up.”
Neither Kennedy coach Alex Vega nor Garcia would confirm that the Knights – who finished 5-4 last fall – will throw the ball more this season, but coach and quarterback agreed that Garcia, who doubles as a linebacker, will be counted on to provide leadership to younger teammates on both sides of the ball.
“We need his leadership, his toughness, he’s a very savvy player,” Vega said. “He gets these guys going because he’s the first one out there and the last one in.”
Garcia knows his teammates and coaches expect him to shoulder more responsibility with the offense in his second year as a starter, but Garcia welcomes the added workload.
“I feel a little pressure from the coaches to make all the throws because it’s my second year here,” Garcia said. “But I love that they put pressure on me to do better because I think I have the ability to take that and lead my teammates to success.”
Garcia – who threw for 443 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions in nine games last season – first played quarterback with the Kips Bay Mustangs when he was 13. He wasn’t comfortable with the position initially, but a youth coach convinced him that he had a strong arm and was well suited to play under center. Now, four seasons later, he will be on center stage, calling the shots for what should be one of the top PSAL teams in the city.
“You know what I love about playing quarterback?” Garcia said. “I love having the ball in my hands at all times.”
Cross-Country: (Easy) Eddie Jennings ready to roll for Rams
So much for the lazy days of summer. For the last three months, Fordham Prep distance runner Eddie Jennings has run close to 300 miles in preparation for the fall season. He estimates he’s run at least 8 miles a day, mostly in Central Park. What did you do on your summer vacation?
“I did it because I know now that I’m in shape when I come back for Mr. Febles, I want to be in shape so I don’t have to start all over,” Jennings, 17, said.
Jennings was forced to start over in June after spending half of the indoor and most of the outdoor season on the sideline with nagging injuries (knee, hip), a sinus infection and bronchitis.
“It was tough to take the time off. I wish I could have been out there (setting personal records), but it happens,” said Jennings, a senior from the Upper West Side.
In June, after he spent a week with Habitat for Humanity mending worn-down houses in the Appalachia area of Tennessee, Jennings hit the pavement in Central Park with a purpose.
“I just wanted to put my mileage in and get stronger for the season,” said Jennings, whose father coached track at Riverdale and ran at Power Memorial HS in Manhattan.
Last October, he was the strongest distance runner in the Bronx, finishing the 2.5 mile course at Van Cortlandt Park in 13:47, good for first place in the Bronx Catholic Championships.
Jennings, who will run with his younger brother and Fordham Prep sophomore Thomas, said his goal for the season is to run a sub-13:20. Fordham Prep coach George Febles believes Jennings can reclaim the borough crown this fall after all the work he put in this summer.
“He kept his head up through all that and he looks good now. He’s learned the combination of pushing hard and being patient,” Febles said. “He doesn’t have the best foot speed and he’s had to battle injuries but he’d persevered and he puts in the work.”
Swimming: No rest for Roberts
Weeks before school started last summer, a friend invited Bronx Science swimmer Hilary Roberts to take a vacation in Normandy, France. Naturally, she accepted.
But when Roberts returned to Bronx Science for preseason workouts under coach Robert Brown, the then-junior swimmer felt sapped, struggling to swim basic strokes.
“There was no pool to swim in over there; I tried the running thing, but that didn’t work out very well,” Roberts said. “I enjoyed myself there, but I didn’t enjoy myself when I came back to swim – when I got back in the pool, I couldn’t even swim a freestyle.”
A few months later, Roberts was back in form. The senior finished first in all five 200-yard freestyles she swam, and helped the Wolverines to six first-place finishes in the 200-yard medley relay. She and the Wolverines fell just short of the PSAL team title.
Roberts insists she isn’t consumed with avenging last season’s loss. She said she just wants to see every swimmer on the team improve.
Teammates say that Roberts is more committed to winning than she lets on.
“She’s crazy dedicated and she’s willing to do anything for the team,” said Jane Kim, a junior who swam with Roberts in the 200-yard medley relay. “She’s one of those people that will put the team above themselves.”
Roberts didn’t take any trips to France this summer. Instead, she spent the past few months in the pool swimming with the Asphalt Green United Aquatics club on the Upper West Side. Roberts hoped to shave seconds off of her time in the 200 fly and 400 individual medley.
Roberts fell a few seconds shy of her goal to meet the time standard required for entry in the U.S. Olympic trials, but that doesn’t mean all the hours she spent training were a waste.
“I just stayed in the water a lot more this summer,” Roberts said. “So when I get back this year, I won’t be out of shape.”
Soccer (Girls): Pint-sized Panther pride
Jean Marie Albin stands just 5-4, but many of the Prestin midfielder’s teammates look up to Albin as a leader of the young Panthers squad.
“Even as a freshman, she would help out older players if they were having a tough time on the field,” Preston coach Julia Spelman said of Albin, a 16-year-old junior who lives in Throgs Neck. “She’s going to be a captain this year. She works well with her teammates and she shows up 100% of the time. She always plays very aggressive and she never gives up.”
It’s a good thing Albin plays with a lot of energy, because she’s got a large piece of real estate to cover this fall.
“I’m hoping for her to control the whole middle of the field on offense and defense this year,” Spelman said.
Albin, 16, has started on the varsity since she was a freshman, but as a captain this season she’ll be expected to lead the rebuilding Panthers back from their 2-8 season in 2006.
“It’s hard because I’ve lost 16 players the past two years,” said Spelman, who coaches the team with her husband Delcan. “We’ve pretty much had to start over, two years in a row.”
One of the few constants has been Albin, who tallied 15 assists last season and made up for a lack of height with uncanny strength and an ability to steal the ball from an opponent.
“She never lets anyone beat her,” Spellman said.
Alban has an explanation: “I’m so aggressive on the field because I want to win, so usually I can overpower the players because I’m quicker and stronger.”
Albin has been playing soccer since she was 6, and – with many of her Preston teammates – played with the AFC Rapids soccer program in the Bronx. She also plays basketball at Preston, but said she stayed away from both sports this summer, choosing instead to play softball and vacation with friends.
Albin was back on the field last week for soccer tryouts.
“It was fun and easy,” Albin said. “Everything came back naturally.”
Cross-Country (Girls): Falcons high flyer
When Simone Brown tells her cross country runners it’s time to run during practice, she knows some girls aren’t eager for the workout. When the Cardinal Spellman coach tells them to run a mile and half to begin practice, and another after a short break, followed by a 1,200-meter breakdown, she can tell some runners aren’t thrilled with the workload.
But Lauren Endres doesn’t mind.
“She’s hard-working, goal-oriented and if she sets a goal she goes for it,” Brown said. “She’s a leader and she doesn’t complain about the workouts, she just gets the work done.”
Endres spent last week putting in work at the Running School in the Catskills, running 7 miles in the morning and three in the afternoon to prepare for the fall season.
“It definitely makes a difference,” Endres said. “I went for a run today and I felt like I could run for miles.”
Endres ran 18:36 in the city championship last season, finishing in the middle of the pack in the 2.5-mile race. Endres, 17, hopes to run a sub-18:00 race this fall.
The Spellman senior said Brown’s intense workouts can only help her reach that goal.
“I think with practice, you’re going to have to do it anyway, and it’s going to make you better,” Endres said. “Coach isn’t going to make you do something that isn’t in you’re best interest, so you might as well do it.”
After watching Endres work the past three years, Brown won’t bet against the 17-year-old in her quest to snap the 18-minute mark.
“She wants it. It’s about talent and how much you really want it,” Brown said. “And she’s one of those that really want it.”
Endres also plays forward and guard on the varsity basketball team and runs middle distance events in the outdoor track season. In addition to the sub-18 minute race, Endres has another goal in mind this season: beat her older sister.
Pam Endres was a cross country runner and teammate of Brown’s who ran “some races in the 17:00-minute” range as a senior in 1996.
“We don’t talk about it as sisters,” Endres said. “But I definitely want to break some of her times.”
By MARK LELINWALLA
Here’s a look at some of those athletes, coaches and teams in Brooklyn who hope to rise to the top, to make their name – and maybe a few headlines – along the way.
Swimming: Tots in the water
Replacing seven seniors lost to graduation won’t be Midwood’s only problem this season.
While they wait for Brooklyn College to finish renovating its pool across the street, the Hornets must go back to using Madison’s pool in Marine Park. The travel time to Madison moves back Midwood’s practice from 5 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Hornets coach Svetlana Kutrycheva said she expects some parents to think twice before allowing their kids to join the team, because of the late practices.
“A lot of parents don’t want their girls coming home in the middle of the night,” Kutyrcheva said. “Last year, there were girls who wanted to be on the team, but they lived in Bay Ridge or Bensonhurst and the commute from Madison made it too much. Since we lost a lot of girls to graduation, we’re going to need freshmen to step in and produce.”
Midwood went 6-1 last season, finishing second to Brooklyn Tech (6-0) in the Brooklyn Division before losing in the quarterfinal playoff round against Bronx Science.
With little experience and many new faces, Kutyrcheva believes the team will be hard-pressed to make a similar run this season.
“I would love to go 6-0 this season, but to be honest, it’s going to be a tough year,” she said. “It takes time for swimmers to develop and really know that this is serious and they’re part of a team.
“Hopefully, we could come together quickly.”
Bowling: Lady Utes ready to challenge Curtis for city crown
The New Utrecht Lady Utes sincerely thought last season was their year to win the championship. They came close to proving their theory right, but the Lady Utes went 12-0 during the regular season and eliminated four teams in the playoffs, before losing to the eventual champion Curtis in the Final.
This season, New Utrecht looks to strike its way to the championship match and win it.
Returning from last year’s A team are cousins Michelle Velez and Stefanie Pitre, whose 185.9 average was the 10th best in the PSAL. The Lady Utes will also count on B team starters Krystal Alma and Lisa Morro to continue showing growth in the squad’s quest to the championship.
With seven straight PSAL bowling championships, Curtis seems to be the perennial favorite to get back to the Final, before the season even begins.
However, if this season’s Lady Warriors are going to reach the championship match, they’ll have to do it without six seniors, including Melissa Kammerer (PSAL-best 216.2 average). Senior Erin Schneider is Curtis’ only player, who bowled on the A team last season, meaning last year’s subs and freshmen will have to step up.
Still, Curtis coach Jeffrey Sohn has a knack for producing a champion. The Lady Warriors have brought the PSAL championship across the Verrazano and into Staten Island all four years that Sohn has been at the helm of the program. We’ll see if they can make it eight straight this season.
Last year Midwood finished second to New Utrecht in the Brooklyn III Division standings with a 10-2 record. New Utrecht then ended Midwood’s season in the quarters of the PSAL playoffs.
If Midwood is going to contend with New Utrecht and prolong its stay in the postseason this year, it’s going to need sophomore Ashley Mighty to continue her rapid development.
As a freshman last season, Mighty delivered with one of the best averages (171.8) in the city. This season, she’s scheduled to play alongside fellow sophomore Eboni Harris on Midwood’s A team. Midwood can complete its A team by pairing the duo with Cindy Han and Lisa Li, who will both be entering their senior season.
Volleyball: Old nets, new coaches
If Bishop Kearney wants to extend its 156-0 regular-season volleyball winning streak, it’s going to have to do so without its longtime coach.
Theresa Gannon, the Lady Tigers’ 12-year coach, is on sabbatical this season to tend to an ailing family member. Assistant Kristen Wulff will assume the helm.
The coaching swap is just one of three volleyball coaching changes this season in Brooklyn. Fontbonne Hall and Bishop Loughlin also have named new coaches.
Linda Strong will take over the program at Fontbonne, while Eileen Gillen steps in at Loughlin, where former volleyball coach Angela Proce has become the school’s new athletic director.
Despite all the changes, Wulff remains confident that the Lady Tigers can maintain their stronghold over their CHSAA Brooklyn Division competitors.
“From my point of view nothing has really changed, except for the coaches, and I’m not really concerned with the changes other teams make,” said Wulff, who played for Gannon at Kearney before becoming her assistant in 2002.
“I think we’ll continue to play well in Brooklyn,” Wulff added. “Coach Gannon passed on a lot of knowledge to me, and I’ll bring my own little things to the team.
“With 156 straight wins, I’d hate to be the one to burst the bubble.”
If Wulff seems confident, it’s for good reason. She’s returning 6-1 blocker Brianna Marceline and Kim Matthews to clog the middle and alter opposing shots.
“What makes Brianna so tough is she always gets her hands on the ball and puts it away,” Wulff said of her senior. “It’s a given point.”
Marceline will have to deal with the likes of Loughlin’s hard hitter Elizabeth Knight.
The quick and powerful Knight gives Loughlin an advantage in the middle.
Cross-Country: Sowing seeds for spring
Catholic and public schools both find themselves in a Catch-22 when cross-country season rolls around.
It’s not exactly the coaches’ and athletes’ favorite part of the three-season track calendar, but they understand that their commitment in the fall is an essential precursor to success in the winter (indoor) and spring (outdoor) track and field campaigns.
Just ask Bishop Loughlin coach Jack Darrell and Tilden coach Sharon Mason.
“It’s not so much that we don’t like cross-country season,” Mason said. “It’s more that we’re track runners, and we love indoor and outdoor. Then again, we know cross-country is preseason. It’s where we get the training principles we need for outdoor season. So, it’s a necessity.”
Darrell, who’s heading into his fifth season in charge of Loughlin’s boys’ and girls’ track program, agrees.
“You got to have a good foundation in cross-country,” Darrell said. “If you don’t, your indoor and outdoor seasons will show it.”
Darrell looks for his Lady Lions – especially junior Sheina Roberts – to get off to a hot start during cross-country season. Roberts, an incoming junior, seemingly did it all during her sophomore season, running everything from the 2.5-mile to the 200-, 300-, 400- and 600-meters.
Darrell thinks Roberts has a chance to turn heads and freeze clocks.
“She’s a tough competitor who likes to head for the front and stay there,” Darrell said. “She’s going to be exciting to watch this season.
Mason expresses similar sentiments about junior Sherril McFarlane and senior Monique McKenzie, expecting the standout duo to lead the way for the Blue Devils this fall.
“When it’s cool and not too hot, it’s good conditions for us in cross-country,” she said. “We’ll be as ready as we can.”
Football: Regime change for Kings?
Fort Hamilton finished last season an unblemished 9-0, and ran the table in the playoffs to win its second straight PSAL championship. Xaverian capped a memorable 2006 campaign by clinching the CHSFL ‘AA’ title.
With results like that, why do the Tigers and Clippers believe their competition is counting them out before the new season even begins? Simple.
Both schools graduated a bevy of key players. After winning the CHSFL ‘AA’ championship last season, Xaverian lost quarterback Chris Calabrese and Daily News All-City running back Xavier Martin. To make matters tougher, the Clippers were promoted to the CHSFL ‘AAA,’ meaning they’ll now face a stiffer slate of competitors including St. Anthony’s, the CHSFL champion for six years running (the Friars visit Xaverian on Oct 6).
Fort Hamilton will take the field this season without running back Antonio (Kadeem) Walcott, who rushed for more than 5,000 yards and a PSAL-record 80 touchdowns in his three-year career. The Tigers also graduated their starting receiving corps and nearly their entire offensive and defensive lines, which may have the competition licking its chops.
“We have a bunch of babies,” said Fort Hamilton coach Vince Laino of his Tigers. “If I showed you a roster-full of freshman and sophomores, people would think we’re not going to win a game, but momentum plays a big role in that.”
Momentum is what the Clippers hope they can build early this season, and, like Laino, Xaverian coach Dom Laurendi knows his squad is going to have to grind it out.
“This is going to be a black-and-blue league,” Laurendi said. “We’re excited to test ourselves here in the ‘AAA.’ We do have some players coming back, and that should help us.”
That’s the good news. Despite their respective losses, both championship teams are returning vital players.
Xaverian hasn’t lost wide receiver Paul Perez or Dennis Spadero, its 5-10, 210-pound battering-ram running back. The Clippers will begin the season with a quarterback-by-committee strategy, with 6-5, 215-pound Najee Tyler and Ethan Ostermeyer splitting duties behind the offensive line.
The Tigers will begin building up their defense behind linebacker James Fregara (85 tackles as a junior last season), and on offense the brunt of the load will fall to quarterback Jeffrey Legree.
The senior southpaw won’t be handing off to Walcott in the backfield, and he’ll most likely have less time to scramble behind a young O-line.As the best-known player on the offense, opposing defenses will be zeroing in on him all season.
That said, Legree isn’t letting the pressure get to him.
“The way I see it is, I have a good team that no one knows about … yet,” he said.
Added Laino: “When you have a great player, he makes the guys around him better, so we’re optimistic. We want to stay healthy and get stronger.”
The Tigers begin their title defense at Boys & Girls in Bedford Stuyvesant on Sept. 8. Xaverian will open in grand fashion, playing a non-league game against St. Joseph’s-Montvale at Giants Stadium on the same day.
Soccer: Blue Devils open with blank slate
The Tilden Blue Devils were on their way to finishing a storybook season last fall. They finished the regular season with an undefeated 8-0-4 record and earned a No. 2 seed in their playoff bracket. Tilden easily eliminated Petrides in the quarterfinals and scored a win over Cardozo in the semis. But then … it happened.
A league-wide eligibility investigation revealed that the Blue Devils were playing with two over-age players on their roster, a finding that brought their season to an abrupt end.
That was the scene then; now, Tilden is working with a blank slate.
“I think we’re going to put that behind us,” said co-coach Salvatore Sparacino. “That situation embarrassed and humiliated us. Now, we’re going to try to (restore) that honor back to Tilden. It’s time to rebuild.”
Besides the lingering bitterness from last season, the school has had a stormcloud hovering overhead: Tilden is slated to be closed in 2010, a fact that may cause talented underclassmen to consider requesting a transfer.
Still, what’s in the Blue Devils’ control is soccer.
This year’s team will try to get over the loss of several playmakers, including Jerome Jemps and leading scorer Christopher Persad. The now-graduated forward duo accounted for 31 goals and eight assists last season.
Sparacino and co-coach Tony Crescitelli will count heavily on Cleon Barnaby, Randolph Chang and Nelson Nemorin, to lead the way and help younger players adapt to their Italian system of play. A majority of Tilden’s team is of West-Indian heritage.
“They’re what’s left of a great team,” Sparacino said of the senior trio. “They have to teach these younger fellows. They know they have two soccer coaches who are from a soccer country, and that our system works. So, the idea is to stay together – to once again be the powerhouse we once were.
“Madison and Canarsie will probably be good this season, but we’re going to work hard and go back to having fun.”
BY MATT GAGNE AND EBENEZER SAMUEL
Here’s a look at some of those athletes in Queens who hope to rise to the top this fall, to make their name – and maybe a few headlines – along the way.
Cross-Country (Girls): Zoom past the cafeteria
Alison Lee is hungry.
“I’m definitely starving for something,” she said. “I want to be known for something.”
The Cardozo senior can’t help herself. During last year’s outdoor season, she ran with Lindsay Rowe, the PSAL 100-meter hurdles champion who’s starting college on a track scholarship at UCLA, and with Dalilah Muhammad, the IAAF World Youth 400-meter hurdles champ.
Lee has never won a title and always felt outclassed competing alongside the decorated Muhammad and the long-legged Rowe. Then again, as a freshman cross-country runner in 2005, she had no championship aspirations.
“I was just starting off, trying my hand,” she said.
Lee struggled during her first year, finishing no higher than 15th in a varsity race. But she managed to show potential at Cunningham Park, claiming one freshman victory.
Three years later, the short runner with a choppy stride has high hopes for the cross-country season. Last year, she finished fifth at the PSAL cross-country championships. That performance, along with her second-place finish in the 3,000-meter run at the outdoor championships, helped her realize her ability.
Lee says she spent the summer focused on “track, track and track,” running with club teammates at Forest Park four days a week. On Saturdays, she rose early and ran alone.
“She’s become one of the hardest workers on the team,” Cardozo coach Gail Emmanuel said. “Every year, we see a difference in Alison.”
This year, she’ll aim for a quantum step forward.
“I don’t want to be number two anymore,” Lee said. “It’s gotta be number one.”
Cross-Country (Boys): A quick study leads to slower pace
Chris Guerrero hung his head. The Townsend Harris sophomore had just finished a respectable ninth in the 3,200-meter run at the PSAL outdoor city championship last June. Yet he felt only disappointment.
“He wasn’t happy,” said coach George Rio. “He had nagging injuries all spring that held him back.”
Guerrero flashed potential during a breakout cross-country campaign last fall, finishing second to Newtown star Alex Medina in three Queens Grand Prixes. He was widely regarded as one of the borough’s finest.
But to stay close to Medina, the hypercompetitive Guerrero often ran at top speed.
“Sometimes kids do that,” Rio said. “They like to lead from start to finish. It wasn’t a bad strategy against Medina, but you don’t necessarily have to lead the pack.”
Guerrero knows that now. Track and field is the PSAL’s lone year-round sport, a discipline that requires athletes to peak near championship season, not perpetually dominate.
Guerrero’s all-or-nothing tactics wore him down. He finished a disappointing 15th at the cross-country championships last year. During indoor season, he managed just four top-10 finishes; by outdoor season, he was so banged up that Rio held him out of the steeplechase.
“Still,” Rio said, “I was pleased.”
He’s been even happier this month. Guerrero ran with Rio at this summer’s Big Apple Games, and the coach says Guerrero now “understands more about strategy.”
That means you might not see Guerrero at the head of the pack early in the season. He’ll wait until later to challenge Francis Lewis senior Corey Green for the title of borough’s best.
“I keep telling him: you don’t have to be the fastest in August,” Rio said. “It’s October that really counts.”
Football: Big man on campus attracts defenders’ eyes
Defenses couldn’t stop him. Even his coach, a former Marine, couldn’t hold him down.
Last November, in the second half of the PSAL Cup Division semifinals, Troy Walker returned a kick down the right sideline and ran straight into a train wreck, suffering a concussion that left him sprawled out on the field for several minutes.
Back on his feet, the sophomore receiver paced the sideline for the remainder of the game and at one point tried to return to action. His coach, Steve Agresti, pulled him off the field and, with all the zeal and bluster of a drill sergeant, escorted him to the bench and chewed him out.
“Stay there,” Agresti shouted, pulling a roll of athletic tape from his pocket and, as a joke, taping Walker to the bench. “Don’t get up.”
A week later, with a doctor’s go-ahead and permission from Mom, Walker played in the championship game and was being double-teamed in the Bulldogs’ 30-12 victory over McKee/SI Tech. He caught three passes for 28 yards, including an 18-yard reception in the fourth quarter that he dove for and snagged in the back of the end zone.
Now a junior, Walker is expected to lead a team that graduated 17 seniors, including standout quarterback Haris Lekaj, and one that has moved up to a 3 power ranking and the more competitive City Championship/Bowl Division.
“He’s only 16, but he doesn’t look like he should be playing high school football, and I’ve never said that about any of my players,” said Agresti, a former player at the University of Maine and sixth-year head coach. “Nothing gets by him; he runs crisp routes, and the ball just floats into his hands.”
Walker, who averaged 28 yards per catch and scored 11 touchdowns in 12 games last season, was matter-of-fact about the challenge: “I just have to step up, lead the team and make the playoffs, maybe the championship,” he said. “People are saying, ‘You won it last year as a 1 team, let’s see if you can do it as a 3.’ We moved up, and I think we can.”
Volleyball: Already preparing for finals
She was there at the end; it just didn’t end the way she had hoped.
With the PSAL championship on the line last November, Jennifer Dortch missed a shot, sending the ball just beyond the end line. She then mishandled the ensuing play, the final point glancing off her hand as Kennedy took the third-game tiebreaker from Francis Lewis and won 2-1 (21-25, 25-21, 26-24) at York College.
“I was so disappointed, because we were so close,” said Dortch, now a senior. “I felt like I let my team down. I got over it, but I felt really, really terrible.”
There was no faulting the captain, who coach Arnie Rosenbaum called the best setter in the city and the reason the Patriots, a five seed, advanced to the finals.
“We got close, we had a chance and she missed a couple close shots,” Rosenbaum said. “You can’t look at those last two plays. You have to look at the whole match, the whole run. We don’t have to win a championship for her to be that good; it’d be nice to do it, but one person alone isn’t going to win it.”
But Dortch will try her best.
“We’re going to go to the playoffs and we’re going to go far, if not finish first this year,” she said.
Soccer (Boys): Executing the best-laid plans
Tom Lee missed the penalty kick, then kicked himself as Molloy’s season ended with a 5-4 loss to St. Francis Prep in the semifinal round of the CHSAA ‘A’ intersectionals last November.
“It was rough,” Lee said. “I knew the kid, and he knew I always go the same way.”
The fourth Stanner to take a PK, the rightfooted Lee directed the ball to the goalie’s left, about thigh-high and just inside the post. But goalie Kevin Garcia, who knew Lee’s tendency from having played on the same travel team, stopped the shot.
“I never missed a penalty kick before, and at that point I felt like I let my teammates and my coaches down,” Lee said. “I still think about it sometimes, and I plan on winning everything this year.”
Forget redemption; it’s an expectation every season.
“They have on their shirt a list of our championships from Brooklyn-Queens, city and state. They see all the years and different accomplishments … so they quite well understand the aspirations,” said coach Andy Kostel, who’s won 11 city titles in 31 years, and two state titles in the past five.
“Last year we did a tremendous job even though we didn’t win the city finals,” Kostel added. “It was devastating for the kids, but for the kids coming back, it’s something they will have a chance to rectify.”
Soccer (Girls): New coach and cartographer
Coach Tom Bruen led Mary Louis to the Nassau/Suffolk ‘B’ championship in 2005, then retired after last season as the program graduated seven seniors. But there’s no cause for alarm around Jamaica Estates; the Hilltoppers are in good hands.
Twenty-nine-year-old Tracey Riley needed just one two-hour phone interview this summer to convince new athletic director Joe Lewinger of her coaching merits. She even mapped out a long-term goal: “Mary Louis wants to be the St. Anthony’s of our league.”
That’s a lofty expectation, considering St. Anthony’s is ranked second in the nation by studentsportssoccer.com. But Riley knows what she’s doing, even if she’s never coached high school soccer.
A two-time Division II All-American at C.W. Post, she’s spent the last 10 years coaching with her husband, Paul Riley, at his soccer school in Baldwin, L.I. She wanted to bring that experience to the Hilltoppers, she said, because she saw “diverse” talent.
Riley sees a playmaker in junior Kathy Gualatano, and she knows top scoring threat Nicole Choffel well; she coached the Hofstra-bound senior on the Long Island Fury, a top East Coast youth squad.
Even with those talents, Riley can’t predict instant success. Without those seven seniors – and with a freshman most likely playing goalie – Riley forecasts a rebuilding season.
“In the coming years, we’ll be on the map in the playoffs,” she said.
Even so, Riley remains on opponents’ maps. Thanks to her work at Paul Riley Soccer School, she knows most of her Long Island foes well; she’s coached players from St. Dominic and St. Mary’s, and St. Anthony’s roster should include seven former Fury players.
Does that mean that Mary Louis will enter every game with an edge?
“When we play St. Anthony’s,” Riley said, “I already know who we’re going to mark.”
Golf: A sophomore’s hard task
From third to first in only her second year. That’s the promotion awaiting Sophia Kim, a sophomore who hopes to lead Cardozo to its fifth straight PSAL championship.
“If I become No. 1, that’s a big step,” Kim said. “There’s a ton of pressure on me because the seniors are gone. I’ll try my best to block it out. But if I play well, it’ll take care of itself.”
Last year’s seniors – Ana Nam and Jean Chong, the Judges’ No. 1 and No. 2 players, and Jenny Chang, the No. 4 player – may be gone, but postseason expectations aren’t.
“We have to try to practice a lot and make it to the finals,” said Kim, who was slotted in the third position last year and is now expected to rise to the top.
“She’s a young girl with a lot of potential,” coach Neal Baskin said. “And if she reaches the level of Chong and Nam, she’ll be terrific.”
When they were freshmen, Nam and Chong approached Baskin about creating the golf team and went on to dominate the PSAL for four years, their personal run ending with a 3-0 victory over Tottenville that capped a 10-0 season last November.
Another sophomore, Hee Rae Shin, factored into the final victory and will return to help Kim keep the championship streak alive. But Baskin isn’t calling the engraver just yet: Rival Bayside returns a pair of top sophomores, Ha Rin Lee (No. 1) and Alice Choi (No. 2), who beat Nam and Chong not once, but twice last season.
“I think it’ll be difficult to go undefeated again,” Baskin admitted. “We lost three starters and Bayside has two excellent players returning. It’ll be possible, but very difficult.”
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