How much better can Rye Neck’s softball team play in 2015?
By Mitch Silver
Section Finalists Look to Make More Softball History
How much better can Rye Neck’s softball team play in 2015? They went 18-4 last year to win their league and reach the Section championships before falling to Valhalla. How much better can Diana King pitch? All she did a year ago was go 17-1 with 195 strikeouts in 117.67 innings. Achieving an under-1.00 ERA isn’t even a challenge for her — she did that in 2014 (0.95, to be exact) on her way to making the All-State team.
What makes the questions especially worth asking this spring is this: practically everyone is back from last year’s squad. Out of 705 trips to the plate in the Panthers’ 22 games last season, the girls who graduated in June made just 88.
So, what is left to shoot for? Head Coach Joan Spedafino is single-minded about it. “We want to win the Section and go to States. But first, we have to keep improving each day.” Which explains the hours the team spent in the gym while March rains flooded the fields outside.
Though the coach insists “no positions are set; everyone is in a competition to start every game,” it wouldn’t be surprising to see King pitching to Samantha Yannuzzi (she of the .382 batting average in 2014) behind the plate when the Panthers host defending Section champ Valhalla April 7.
The infield might look this way: from first to third, Shannon Liquori, Olivia Dunne, Briana Cefaloni, and Nicolle Miller, who sported a .464 on-base percentage a year ago. Powerful Jackie DeCicco and Lindsay Walther should be patrolling the outfield. Katie Fraioli, Rosella Salanitro, and Nicole Yannuzzi will get a lot of playing time as well. The one major addition to the squad is multi-season athlete Lauren Vallerelli, who last played softball for Rye Neck in 2013.
If form counts for anything, the coach, who teaches at the Bellows School by day, should reach a personal milestone once league play starts April 15. With 27 seasons under her belt — 23 of them coaching alongside husband Frank — Joan Spedafino is only seven wins away from Skip Walsh’s all-time Section 1 record at Eastchester.
Piece of cake.
Panthers Have a Golf Title to Defend
Mark Canno is entering his 11th year as head golf coach at Rye Neck. Add to that the seven seasons he’s put in as Girls’ Tennis coach, and he knows a few things about the unpredictability of high school sports. “Especially at a small school. If you graduate a strong core group one spring, you may not have the same quality coming in the next.”
So, how do you judge your 2015 squad? “We have 25 kids in ninth and tenth grades alone trying out for six spots on the day of a match. And this year, we’ve got half a dozen talented girls, including our senior captain, Lauren Mastoloni. We’ll be competitive.”
But the tricky part has been the weather. Unlike last year, Rye Neck’s home course at nearby Hampshire Country Club has been under snow or water for most of March. Canno knows what returnees like Noah Caplan (captain) and Logan Spencer, both juniors, can do. The same goes for sophomores Jack Van Buren and Tim Kelley. But he’s only able to estimate how good his incoming talent is by watching them on the driving range. “I can see how they strike the ball, but touch? We’ll just have to see.”
One player who’s probably good at punishing the ball is Black Hat football running back and linebacker Dom Brescia, who’s come out for the team his senior year before heading off to Merrimack College this fall.
The season for the two-time league champs kicks off against Pleasantville April 7 at the Whippoorwill Club in Armonk. With large school Horace Greeley and golf power Edgemont on the 2015 schedule, it’s going to be an interesting year. And Coach Canno wouldn’t have it any other way.
Boys’ LAX on the Attack
Can an “extremely coachable” lacrosse team become extremely successful?
Second-year varsity Boys’ Lacrosse coach Jonathan Sable is starting his fifth year heading up the Rye Neck team. How is that possible, you ask? Because this is only the Panthers second season of play at the varsity level. Before that Sable coached the team for a couple of years at the modified level, and another as a JV squad.
So, even though the Panthers have only a single year of varsity play under their belts, several have been “building their lacrosse IQ” — as Coach Sable puts it — right through high school.
Finally, this is the year it all pays off.
“We had our bumps and bruises last year, but these kids are very coachable,” Sable said. “And very athletic as well. I’m looking for good things.”
Why not? He has his entire defense back from 2014, including captain Noah Ponticiello, Mark Cianciulli, Chris Campone, and sophomore Daniel Garofalo. Pedro J. Cueto and Alex DeLitta will wield the long sticks. Midfielders Peter Veltri, Chris Richart, and junior captain Jack Bauer will be joined by freshman Michael Gottlieb, a “shining star” in the coach’s words.
There’s plenty of experience up front, with seniors Jake Sevean and Daniel Gottlieb and junior Jake Calcagni running the attack.
If the names sound familiar, they are: nearly every player on Coach Sable’s squad played for the Black Hats on the gridiron last fall. So they’re not about to be pushed around by anyone. To prove it, the Panthers went out and manhandled Keio Academy 11-6 in their season opener before dropping a 9-7 squeaker to established power Edgemont March 28.
This year, Rye Neck will be handing out the bumps and bruises.