Below is my story from Tuesday’s paper about some of last year’s surprise teams being determined to build on that success against stiffer competition. On the flip side, some traditional powers now have a chance to face more balanced schedules.
When Mamaroneck opened football practice Monday, the mood had changed considerably since last August. Here was a team that finished last season 6-2 yet found itself both confident and at least a little cranky returning to the field.
The Tigers were a success, but they were also among those who, by their own admission, benefited from Section 1’s current structure, which, starting in 2011, has aimed to arrange schedules based not on geography but on strength. Case in point: Mamaroneck earned a low preseason ranking in Class AA last year and stormed through a manageable schedule to claim one of four precious playoff berths.
“Our motto this year is, ‘Earn the right,’ ” Mamaroneck coach Anthony Vitti said Monday. “We heard the naysayers, and I basically told the kids, ‘You have to continually earn respect. If you want to be one of those programs that people look at and say, hey, they belong there, then you have to earn it.’ ”
Some will, some won’t, but the new season should offer firm answers to lingering questions as to whether last year’s surprise playoff contenders can prove they belong among the elite.
Mamaroneck’s exposure to the spotlight was halting. The Tigers, who began the season ranked 15th out of 15 teams in Class AA, lost 28-7 to the 2011 Section 1 champion, top-ranked North Rockland.
“Hopefully, we can go ahead and prove that last year wasn’t a fluke and we’ll do the same this year,” said junior Andrew Sommer, whose team is now ranked third in an eight-team league.
In Class A, five of the eight teams that qualified for last year’s postseason began the season ranked seventh or lower in their league, leaving several new contenders to compete for the sectional title. Among that group was Brewster, a former perennial contender that returned to prominence under alum Ed Mulvihill in his first year as head coach.
The Bears, who began last season eighth in a 14-team league, will now face a more challenging schedule that includes the likes of Harrison, John Jay, Eastchester and Somers, and last year’s quarterfinal opponent, Panas.
“We have a stronger schedule, but we have the same goals,” said Brewster senior Liam DaRos, whose team is now second out of 14 teams. “We look forward to playing Harrison. We know they are good, and in order to be looked at the same way, we have to step up to teams like that.”
Other schools typically in the playoff hunt saw their preseason rankings drop. For instance, Nyack, a two-time state champion, landed ninth in its 14-team league, leaving it with a tamed schedule that includes recent sectional champs Poughkeepsie and Ossining and last year’s runner-up, Sleepy Hollow, but also a handful of winnable games.
They may not focus on it, but the myriad role reversals could lead to a reversal of playoff fortunes for teams like Nyack.
“Over the last two years, we have played a playoff-caliber team each week,” said Nyack’s third-year coach, Mike Ramponi. “This year, we are playing some newer opponents. That presents its own challenges. We want to get into the playoffs no matter what our schedule looks like. I don’t think we look at our schedule and think it’s a playoff year for us. We just want to be in the playoffs regardless.”