The College Sports Notebook is compiled by veteran sports writer and columnist Marc Maturo, a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). The notebook will be published every Thursday. Please send items of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
These Rockland CC teams are bound for glory
Playoff-bound; bound for glory; or perhaps even better – the best is yet to come.
Such sentiments are equally shared by seasoned Rockland Community College basketball coaches Rich Jacobson and Bill Kurisko.
Kurisko, into his eighth season mentoring the men’s team, said: “We’ve got 20 (wins) already; we have a shot at everything. We have the best player in the league, and a really good point guard.”
Jacobson, now in his fourth season directing the women’s team, offered: “Right now this is my best team, absolutely. We’re going into the last third of the season and have 19 wins, so we’re going to get 20. We’re ranked ninth in the nation (NJCAA Division III), and making a push to be the No. 1 seed in the region (Region XV) – that’s the easiest road to the finals.”
Neither the men’s team nor the women’s team has a commanding post presence, but both teams have compensated with an up-tempo, transition game that depends on a team effort.
“We’re succeeding with quickness and a solid fast break,” says Kurisko, himself a top-flight player in his heyday, making three halls of fame (Nanuet HS, Wagner College and in the county). “We really get out. Our tallest player is 6-foot-3, so we have to rebound well, play zone and press. We mix it up. Defensively, we try to trap, get turnovers, pack it in with a zone. We have five guys rebounding.”
Father knows best
Leading the charge is Bronx-born Tommie Starkes, who is a remarkable rebounding force at just 6-foor-1.
“He jumps out of the gym,” Kurisko exclaims, noting that Starkes, who is averaging 25 points per game, came to him via a former opponent.
“His (Starkes) dad played against me when I played pro ball in the USBL in the early 90’s,” said Kurisko, also pointing to the critical play of Spring Valley HS alum Jason Quijada, who is in line to be named an all-American this year, and Suffern HS graduate Justin Gusman.
Quijada is averaging 21 points a game, and Gusman’s norm is 16, which helps to explain how the Hawks are the top-scoring club in the region.
The Lady Hawks are also a veritable point-producing machine, and combined with a tough defense have a 20-point differential (averaging 68 a game while allowing 48).
“Offensively, we push the ball up-tempo and try to get as many fast-break baskets as we can,” offers Jacobson. “It’s all about team. We have four of five starters averaging 10-plus points, and the fifth is close with nine a game. Our five starters do the bulk of the scoring so it’s hard to defend us. They (opponents) have no one to really stack, they got to key on everybody, and we’re a very good three-point shooting team, too.”
The top long-distance threat is Melissa Loughnane of Pearl River, but the other starters pose a threat, too, namely Erica Richards, a one-time all-county player at Tappan Zee HS, Nikki Saponaro of Nanuet, Fiona Pierre of North Rockland, and Katie Slovak of Tuxedo.
Jacobson can and does count upon two pivotal substitutes, Alex Gundermann of Tuxedo and international player Akane Kenzaki (AK to the coach).
Kenzaki is the second international player from Japan under Jacobson’s tutelage (the first came from the same area in the country, and had a hand in pointing AK to Rockland).
The Lady Hawks also spend much time at practice shooting four shots, something that is often instrumental in deciding close contests.
“Foul shooting is definitely the difference between winning and losing in close game against good teams,” Jacobson said. “You have to be consistent at the foul line to win those close games, and that’s always been a feeling of mine.”
Jacobson, like Kurisko, mixes things up. The coach uses a 2-1-1 zone press to slow up an offensive opponent, and a 1-2-2 diamond zone when he is looking to create turnovers, putting point guard Richards on the ball and Saponaro and Katie Slovak of Tuxedo at the front line.
With both the men and the women virtually going win for win, Jacobson was asked whether he and Kurisko were also going head to head for bragging rights on the Suffern campus.
“No, not at all,” said Jacobson. “We’re both rooting for each other. As far as I know, in recent memory, this is the first year both teams have had 20 wins in the same season. That’s something to brag about.”
Kurisko & Co. travel to Stone Ridge on Feb. 7 to meet Ulster CC at 7 p.m., and then travel across the river to Valhalla on Feb. 12 for a big game against Westchester CC at 7 p.m.
Jacobson’s troops have a tough game at Westchester at 1 p.m. on Feb. 9, and on Feb. 12 will be in Poughkeepsie to meet Dutchess at 7 p.m.
BETTER DAYS AHEAD: The Manhattan College softball team, which went 11-36 overall last year, returns the bulk of its team including senior infielder Amanda Babcock of Haverstraw. The North Rockland HS alumna batted .254 last season, third-best for the Jaspers, and her 35 walks were more than double of anyone on the team. The Jaspers, who have added eight newcomers, begin the campaign at the N.C. A&T Softball Invitational in Greensboro, N.C., from Feb. 22-24.
JENTZEN SPARKLES: Junior forward KC Jentzen of Pearl River paced the Lady Chargers with 19 points and nine rebounds, powering the Dominican College women’s basketball team to a 75-66 victory over Georgian Court University in Lakewood, N.J. Dominican, 14-7 overall and 11-3 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, visits Philadelphia University on Feb. 9 for a game at 2 p.m., and then travels to New Jersey on Feb. 12 to challenge Felician College at 6 p.m. Jentzen was coming of a 17-points, nine-rebound performance in a 66-47 victory over Nyack College at the Hennessy Center in Orangeburg. Jentzen, an alumna of Nanuet HS, leads the team with 13.8 points per game, and is second in rebounding with eight per game behind only senior forward Bianca Harris of Teaneck, N.J., who is averaging 8.6.
WILSON WOWS WILKES: Senior Taylor Wilson of Pearl River led all scorers with 29 points and tied her career high with 13 rebounds as the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team defeated Wilkes (Pa.) University, 74-64, at Kennedy Gymnasium in Purchase. Sophomore Alyson Caiazzo of Brooklyn added 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Valiants evened their record after 20 games with their third Freedom Conference win of the season. Manhattanville hosts King’s (Pa.) College on Feb. 9 at 1 p.m., and then travels to Doylestown, Pa., on Feb. 12 to meet King’s College at 6 p.m. Wilson ranks 34th in the nation in Division III in both scoring (18.7 average) and free-throw percentage (.839).
OFF THE BOARD: The Army swimming and diving teams wrapped up their home slate by hosting Patriot League foes Colgate and Lafayette in a triangular meet at Crandall Pool in West Point. The Black Knight men swept their conference rivals, while the Army women beat Lafayette and fell to Colgate. Vinny Franchino of Stony Point, who placed fifth in the 1-meter diving event, and his senior teammates were honored in a special Senior Day ceremony. Army next competes at the Patriot League Championships (Feb. 21-23) in Lewisburg, Pa.
ROLLING ALONG: The St. Thomas Aquinas College bowling team — coached by Spartans alum Kevan Ottochian under the direction of Brad Sarno, coordinator of athletics and student activities — placed eighth, and Westchester Community College took ninth in the Viking Classic at Holiday Bowl in Wappingers Falls. The Spartans will continue to roll on Feb. 9 in the Nassau Tournament at AMF Garden City Lanes, and on Feb. 10 in the Suffolk CC Tournament at AMF Bayshore Lanes. Both competitions are slated to start at 9 a.m. Team roster: Brandon Ballane and Matthew Scimeca, both of New City; Ricardo Arteaga, Nyack; Roque Bonilla and Matthew Finn, both of the Bronx; Kathleen Brim, Staten Island; Amanda Garcia, Haverstraw; James Park, Tappan; Clint Walker, Yonkers; and Hal Walter, Pearl River.
SCHOLAR-ATHLETES: Sophomore Samantha Wagenstein of Pearl River and sophomore Melissa Place of Pomona are two of nine players on the St. Thomas Aquinas College softball team recognized for their scholarship by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA). Students must have obtained a cumulative grade-point average of 3.5 or above on a 4.0 scale at the conclusion of the 2012 academic year. Other honorers for longtime coach Barbara Vano are Vittoria Adams, Heather Clausen, Shelby Coyle, Jamie-Lyn McCormick, Devin Meikle, Michelle Sasso, and Megan Sweezy. The Lady Spartans, who will be playing on a new home field this season, embark on a four-day, eight-game season-opening road trip to Clermont, Fla., on March 9.
QUICK HITS: Alexis Ankro is a freshman forward on the women’s basketball team at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. The Phoenix (2-13) hit the road for their next three games, visiting Lancaster (Pa.) Bible College on Feb. 9, Penn State Berks Campus in Reading, Pa., on Feb. 10, and Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 13 … Sophomore Renee Scherer of Monsey is a forward on the Warren Wilson College women’s basketball team in Asheville, N.C. The Owls (9-6) host Free Will Baptist Bible College of Nashville, Tenn., on Feb. 8, and then stay home on Feb. 12 to welcome Toccoa Falls (Ga.) College. … Samantha Pucci of Pearl River is a sophomore defenseman on the Utica College women’s hockey team. Pucci has picked up three assists for the Pioneers (12-6-1), who visit Buffalo State for a two-game series on Feb. 9 at 4 p.m. and Feb. 10 at 2 p.m. … Freshman defenseman Victoria Pucci of Pearl River has two assists for the women’s hockey team at Connecticut College. The Camels (9-8-1) travel to Baltimore County, Md., for a two-game set against Stevenson University (6-9-1) on Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m. and Feb. 10 at 12:45 p.m. … Sophomore Paul Fields of Clarkstown lost two decisions at 125 pounds, but the Cortland wrestling team, ranked third nationally in Division III, won all three of its matches at a quad hosted by 15th-ranked York (Pa.) College. The Red Dragons defeated Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, 52-4, York, 31-6, and Penn St. Mont Alto, 41-3. Cortland (16-2) returns to action at home on Feb. 9 with a double-dual against Oswego and Coast Guard Academy. First match is set for 11 a.m. Cortland is located off of Interstate 81, between Syracuse and Binghamton. … Nick Smith of Middletown led three Chargers in double figures with 22 points, and added five rebounds off the bench as the Dominican College men’s basketball team continued to roll by defeating the Nyack College, 80-65, in a Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference game at the Hennessy Center in Orangeburg. The high-riding Chargers, 18-3 overall and 12-1 in conference play, visit Philadelphia University on Feb. 9 at 4 p.m., and stay on the road on Feb. 12 to meet Felician (N.J.) College at 8 p.m. … Junior forward Omar Kellman of the Bronx did his best to stem the tide, and the St. Thomas Aquinas College men’s basketball team battled to the end, but the Spartans fell to Molloy College, 64-61, in an East Coast Conference setback at Aquinas Hall in Sparkill. Kellman led all scorers with 22 points and grabbed a career-high 17 rebounds for the Spartans, who fell to 4-14 overall and 4-6 in ECC action. Molloy improved to 12-6, 8-2. STAC will be home again on Feb. 9 to welcome the University of the District of Columbia at 3 p.m. The Firebirds are struggling this season at 2-16 under veteran coach Jeff Ruland, the erstwhile Iona College and NBA standout. Last season, Ruland led the team to an impressive 22-6 overall mark while earning a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 25 years. … Senior guard Alaina Walker of Pomona had a rare off-night with two rebounds, two points, one assist and one steal in 20 minutes as the St. Bonaventure University women’s basketball team fell to Xavier, 58-50, in Cincinnati, OH. The Bonnies (9-13) look to rebound at home against Virginia Commonwealth on Feb. 10 at 1 p.m. … SUNY Cortland senior Amber Stephens of Stony Point leaped 16-feet 10-inches to finish fourth in the long jump at the Ithaca College Women’s Indoor Track and Field Bomber Invitational. … Aaron Schwartz of Nyack competed in three events as the Purchase College men’s swimming and diving team placed a resounding second at the Skyline Conference Championships. Schwartz, a junior, was ninth in the 200-yard breaststroke and placed 12th in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200-yard freestyle. … St. Thomas Aquinas College track standouts Keeley Bateman of Pearl River and Meagan Jaskot of Blauvelt are ranked in the top-10 in the region. Keeley, a junior, is eighth in the 800 while Jaskot, a freshman out of Tappan Zee HS, is ranked eighth in the 3,000. Bateman and Jaskot are also members of the second-ranked distance medley relay team that includes freshmen Gabriela Sloezen of Westwood, N.J., and Rebecca Foroul of Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.
THIS & THAT
GOOD AS GOLD: The prestigious 106th Millrose Games, Feb. 16-17 at the New Balance Track and Field Center in upper Manhattan, features a trio of Olympic relay champions in the women’s 400-meter run, led by Brooklyn-born Natasha Hastings and Mary Wineberg along with Francena. Another highlight will be the NYRR Wanamaker Mile, in which defending champion Matthew Centrowitz tries to break Bernard Lagat’s record of 3:52.87 in the event. Centrowitz ran 3:53.92 last year, the fastest time ever at the Armory.
STATE RANKED: Coach Rob Schelling’s Suffern HS hockey team is ranked third in the state in Division I. In boys basketball, Spring Valley is ranked 16th and North Rockland 23rd in Class AA, while Albertus Magnus is ranked 22nd in Class A. Pearl River is ranked No. 18 in Class A in girls basketball, and North Rockland is rated No. 15 in wrestling in the Large Schools Division.