For the final time this season, here are my Top 10, class-by-class, small-school, Catholic, private and Rockland County rankings.
The season proved to be a successful one at just about every level. Mount Vernon, Tuckahoe, Iona Prep and Rye Country Day all won state championships. Tappan Zee came awfully close. Albertus repeated as sectional champs and nearly upset the defending state champs.
Mount Vernon made state history with its 10th NYSPHSAA state championship. Tuckahoe won its first since 1981, and completed the year unbeaten. TZ was just one win shy of its first state title and first unbeaten season, but the Dutchmen still completed a slew of firsts. They appeared in their first state final four and first state championship game. Rye Country Day narrowly missed out on a coveted Fairchester title but rebounded to win the NYSAIS Class C crown.
Individually, Isaiah Cousins gave Mount Vernon a seventh straight Mr. Basketball. He recently announced his commitment to Oklahoma. Fellow seniors Sky Williams (Tuckahoe), Tyler Sayre (Albertus Magnus), Pat Peterson (Tappan Zee) and Dave Solano (Eastchester) all made their own history, establishing new all-time scoring records for their basketball programs. And Mike McCahey (Clarkstown South) came within just a few baskets of joining that group.
All in all, it was a tremendous few months of accomplishments for local teams and players. Our all-star and all-county sections will publish in less than two weeks to honor the top players, so here’s a look at how I rank the top teams when all is said and done:
1. Mount Vernon (23-3) — The Knights may have fallen short of their ultimate goal, but they did cruise to victory at sectionals for a seventh straight and won a second straight state championship. Their senior quartet of Isaiah Cousins, Randy Stephens, Jarrel Marshall and Qwadere Lovell formed the area’s best core. Add in the section’s best bench and its most accomplished coach and Mount Vernon deserves to finish this season No. 1 by a considerable margin.
2. Tappan Zee (25-1) — No one else could top the season put forth by the Dutchmen, who backed up their phenomenal regular season and delivered in the playoffs against every level of competition. They beat three of Class A’s best five or six teams to win another Section 1 crown (Pearl River, Byram and Poughkeepsie) and proved their toughness and resiliency in regionals. But the versatile group, led by Pat Peterson, Billy O’Shea, Joe Letizia, Brian McLaughlin and big men Brendan Donohue and Eric Casey, bolstered its resume most at the state final four thanks to an upset of four-time defending state champ Jamesville-DeWitt. TZ even took Harborfields into the final minute before falling in the state final. That performance surpassed what other top local teams Stepinac and Iona Prep did. Both lost to Harborfields by double digits.
3. Stepinac (10-16) — The Crusaders were 10-8 before facing a suffocating closing stretch that included two games with Mount and one apiece with Long Island Lutheran, Cardinal Hayes, Christ the King, Burke Catholic and Bishop Loughlin. Stepinac’s record was marred by its inability to finish late, but it still beat CHSAA Class AA state champ St. Ray’s, as well as All Hallows and St. Mary’s. The Crusaders also had perhaps the area’s top pure point guard in Josh James, and one of its top big men, Duvino McRae.
4. New Rochelle (13-7) — I really hasten to put New Ro so high on this list considering it hasn’t played a game since Feb. 21. But how do you put the Huguenots any lower after a strong win against Iona Prep just prior to the playoffs and two impressive efforts against Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon’s gym? New Ro had a solid core with Joe Clarke, Kirkland Ottey, K.C. Nwosu and all-section picks Chris Elefante and Malik Burts. They had depth and could really defend. Minus one loss to Mamaroneck — a loss New Ro made up for with authority in the playoffs — the resume is pretty strong. This team just ran into Mount Vernon right as it peaked. Twice.
5. Iona Prep (24-4) — The Gaels won the CHSAA Archdiocesan championship and the CHSAA Class A state title, advancing to the second Federation tournament in four seasons and just the second in program history. Their season included impressive accomplishment, especially when you consider it was tested by injuries to starters Tim McCarthy, Luke Wooters and Kevin Conroy. They also had something I really liked: An experienced lineup. McCarthy, Wooters, Conroy and Felix Abongo gave the Gaels four seniors to pair with emerging sophomore Isiah Ice in the starting 5, and Jack Fay was another vet giving them experience off the bench. The question now is whether or not Iona moves on from the A division.
6. Albertus Magnus (20-3) — The Falcons never really had to sweat in the Section 1 tournament despite facing three of Class B’s top teams in Briarcliff, Croton and Dobbs Ferry. Frankly, their only blemishes all season came against Tappan Zee and Burke Catholic, which both reached the state semifinals in Glens Falls. They won the Slam Dunk, beating the likes of White Plains and Byram Hills in the process. They were also 4-0 against the likes of Pearl River, Clarkstown South and North Rockland, which is impressive for a Class B school. On the court, Tyler Sayre developed into as dominant a force as their was in the county. Teammates Pat McGuinness, Jack Sullivan and Arnell Dandridge combined to form one of the section’s top backcourts, one that could lock down opponents just as easily as it rained down 3’s.
7. Byram Hills (14-7) — The Bobcats don’t boast the section’s best credentials to be sure. But when they were right, they were terrific. They closed games strong because of their championship experience and they never backed down, regardless of injuries that never went away. No team in the section played Tappan Zee tougher than Byram. In fact, the only team that played TZ tougher than Byram did in the sectional semifinals was Byram during the regular season. Jeff Lynch was hobbled by an ankle injury that eventually led to postseason surgery but was terrific when healthy. Ryan Golden and Andrew Maloney each raised their games after playing key roles the season before, while Charlie Murphy, Andrew Groll, Alex O’Brien and Brian Skelly all produced in increased or new roles. The Bobcats should challenge next year for another County Center berth.
8. Poughkeepsie (14-8) — Speaking of challenging, it’s hard to imagine any other team in Class A starting next season as a favorite. Brian Laffin took a very young team with just a couple inexperienced players back to yet another Section 1 final. That run peaked with a win over longtime rival Peekskill in the sectional semifinals. It was sparked, perhaps, by several tough losses suffered against a challenging early schedule, but those tests ultimately paid off. The Pioneers turned into a very deep and balanced team, and a group led by Jermar Dancy, D’Andre Smith and Devin Lawrence will return for next season largely intact.
9. Tuckahoe (25-0) — The Tigers completed the first undefeated state championship season in program history and won the state title for just the second time ever. Their historic run seemed to follow the same game plan every night: Domination, especially in the second half. They finished strong when it mattered most, and Sky Williams came away with just about every important award he competed for. The program’s all-time leading scorer had great pieces around him in Justin Nolan, Tyler Friere, Shyheim Nixon and Mark Raymond, and they developed into a team that wasn’t just the best in its class in the state. It was one of the best in the section. Period.
10. Mahopac (16-6) — No one expected the Indians to match their 2011, so instead they exceeded it, earning a No. 3 seed in Class AA and advancing all the way to the final against Mount Vernon. The team was inexperienced, with few players who contributed the season before. Kevin Downes rallied a group led by newcomer Brendan Hynes, who fast became of the section’s top players. Seniors Mark Vaccaro and Zack Ankier were at the forefront of a solid group of role players that helped deliver one of the most thrilling wins of the postseason — an OT comeback to beat Arlington. Like Poughkeepsie, Mahopac returns plenty of its talent and should be a County Center contender again next season.
Small-school Top 10
1. Albertus Magnus
3. Dobbs Ferry
5. Rye Country Day
6. Blind Brook
9. Sacred Heart
1. Mount Vernon
2. New Rochelle
4. Fox Lane
5. Clarkstown South
7. North Rockland
9. Horace Greeley
1. Tappan Zee
2. Byram Hills
6. Pearl River
10. Our Lady of Lourdes
1. Albertus Magnus
2. Dobbs Ferry
5. Blind Brook
8. North Salem
10. Rye Neck
2. Children’s Village
2. Iona Prep
3. Rye Country Day
4. Sacred Heart
1. Tappan Zee
2. Albertus Magnus
3. Clarkstown South
4. Pearl River
5. North Rockland