As the weather warms, five Panther programs work towards that season-ending moment in the sun.
The giant killers are back! Last year’s Class B Section finalists finished the season with a sterling 17-7 record. But this year they’ll be up against larger schools in every league contest they play.
“We need to work hard each game,” said head coach Joan Spedafino. “We lost our second baseman and right fielder to graduation. The good thing is, these girls are dedicated to softball both on and off the field and we look forward to a successful season.”
The Panthers’ strength starts on the mound with returning All-State player Jessica Calvini. The first-sacker is Marissa Bella, All-Section Honorable Mention. The left side of the infield boasts vets Nicole Pineda at shortstop and Nickole Morgan at third.
Add the experience of the team’s five senior captains – Katie Doong, Nicole Maggio, Stephanie Scialo, Vanessa Laise, and Ashley Cables – plus returning outfielder Kirsten Tammucci, and Rye Neck has the savvy and talent to compete against anyone … if the underclassmen come through.
Spedafino is confident they will, crediting Rye Neck’s feeder program for keeping the team supplied with talent. “This is our 20th year hosting our clinic for girls in grades three to six. All of my players, who double as my instructors, once attended the clinic.”
Can the Panthers make it back to the title game and reverse last year’s 3-0 loss to Dobbs Ferry? Don’t bet against them.
Opening Day is March 31 at Valhalla.
“If everyone stays healthy and our pitchers throw strikes, I think we can win some games.” So said Panthers’ head coach Tyler Slater.
Fresh off a week of tryouts, Slater is looking at a lot of new faces to turn around 2010’s 8-13 record. “Last year’s team, with 11 seniors and All-State player Ryan Pennell, underachieved, losing in the first round of Sectionals to Westlake. This year we have four freshmen and a sophomore, with another four new junior and senior starters. They may be young, but they’re talented and have a positive upside.”
Who does the coach think will make an impact?
“Chris Cascione at shortstop is a promising freshman. So is Thomas Pipolo, who can catch, pitch, and play third. Among our returning players with game experience, I look to pitcher/catcher Tom Gisin and outfielders Russ Sonenclar and Pete Tucci. Anchoring our pitching will be Jesse Sacks-Hoppenfeld, with Gisin and freshmen Matt Franks competing for innings. The combination of young and old will make for an interesting start of the season.”
The Panthers open the season at home April 4 against Westlake.
It’s not often twins start for a varsity program. It’s rarer still when they’re only sophomores. And downright extraordinary when one of them is a girl on a boys’ team.
In 2011 co-captain Michael Spiegel, who just missed All-League as a freshman, will lead the Panthers. His twin sister Whitney, one of the only freshman girls to start on a boys’ team in Section 1 last season, will hold down the No. 4 spot.
Head coach Mark Canno, in his seventh season at Rye Neck, is pleased with his team’s depth. “Luke Murphy and Zubayr Fentas look to have strong seasons in the two and three slots. Our only starting senior is co-captain Jake Stone. Craig Maggio has made a huge improvement from last season, and should start in the sixth spot.”
Canno’s goal is a winning record after last year’s 4-8 season.
A triumvirate of coaches leads the Rye Neck track team: Matt Wurtz teaches the sprinters, jumpers, and hurdlers; Stephanie Profenna works with the distance runners; and Nick Ianello is the throwing coach.
Wurtz told us, “It is never easy to replace eight seniors, but we have a great group of students this year. One characteristic they don’t lack is a good work ethic. They bring it every day to practice after a tough school day. I guarantee we have one of the highest team GPAs in the school, so these kids know how to work!”
All-State cross-country qualifier Kylie Van Buren leads the girls’ distance team. Fellow seniors who should garner points are Christine Cook, Kiran Pande, Rosemary Green, Cassie Swinghamer, and Kelly Yang.
“Our top sprinter is Damon Surgrue,” said Wurtz, “who was also League champion in the high jump last year. For the girls, Anna Solomon is our top sprinter, and a bright spot in the 100m hurdles. And Steven Falco is a dominant shot putter.”
The coach’s eyes brighten at the thought of his distance runners. “We have an awesome core group of boys and girls returning. Seven of our top nine cross-country runners are out for spring track, including Lucas Bucknavage, Charlie Fraioli, Will Kebbe, Chris Pinto, Sebastian Tanner, Billy Stetson, and Etienne Bott. I’m hoping for big things out of newcomers Ryan Baal, Rasmus Johansen, Luis Ferrira, and Jeff Daugherty.”
Asked about the team’s goals, Wurtz replied, “Our goal for this season is to stay healthy, be competitive, and let this year end for our seniors on a very high note. They deserve it.”
The starter’s pistol goes off March 30 with the Panthers hosting Alexander Hamilton.
Last year’s Rye Neck team, head coach Shawn Lincoln’s first in charge, dominated the league, bagel-ing nearly every team they played. The champion Panthers finished 6-0 with a 29-1 match record in League play.
Individually, eight of Rye Neck’s 12 players were selected for the League tournament, with senior co-captains Phillipe Adams and Luis Ruigomez taking the doubles crown.
Rye Neck also earned recognition as a NYSPHSAA Scholar-Athlete team on the strength of a whopping 93.6 team GPA.
The team graduated five seniors: All-League performers Ruigomez and Adams, No. 3 singles Chris Bartow, and the No. 2 doubles team of Zak Eisenberg and Adam Gutierrez.
Lincoln, though, isn’t looking back. “Despite the loss of so many experienced players to graduation, I’m very excited about our potential for the upcoming season. I believe we have a strong team in place, led by senior co-captains David Mendoza-Conner and Chris Yang. Additionally, three other seniors, Kenneth Militana, Michael Sickles, and Chris Masatoshi Takara, will lend their experience. We also have two other returning players, juniors Aaron Kim and Alex Geenan, who can work their way into the mix.”
Looking ahead, he added, “Our ability to successfully defend our League title will likely hinge on our extremely talented group of young players, lead by eighth grader Hayato Takahashi, along with freshmen Daniel King and Jason Leeds. And three ninth graders, Grant Sundstrom, Charlie Bermingham, and Sameer Naeem, have the potential to be key contributors as the season progresses.”
The first serve will be hammered March 30 at home against Westlake.
— Mitch Silver