By John Schiano
A story that’s been floating around for more than three decades recalls Bobby Knight’s response to a routine question on the eve of the 1976-77 basketball season at Indiana University.
Knight was asked if his Hoosiers team was ready to defend their NCAA Division I championship, but the coach said he wasn’t going to answer the question because it was factually flawed.
Give him back Scott May, Quinn Buckner and Kent Benson, Knight told the reporter, and he’d be happy to try defending the title. But with the cornerstones of the squad having departed to the National Basketball Association, Knight was left with just a shell of his title team.
That’s a feeling all too familiar to high school coaches, who annually lose 50 percent or more of their rosters to graduation. It makes for a very difficult time when it comes to repeating as state championships. In fact, only 14 of the 63 teams that won New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships in the 2006-07 school year managed to repeat in 2007-08.
In the fall season, eight of 33 team champions successfully defended, but half of those were in girls cross country, a sport in which it’s not unusual for underclassmen to be the top performers, thus making for more continuity.
So what’s the likelihood that we’ll see repeaters next month when championships are contested across New York? Here’s the rundown on how last fall’s football and soccer champions are faring thus far in 2008 and an assessment of how likely it is they’ll be hoisting NYPSHSAA trophies once again:
West Genesee (Class AA, odds against repeating: 12-to-1) – The Wildcats (5-1) are the only NYSPHSAA champion to have lost a game thus far, but they rebounded with a 28-22 victory over Syracuse CBA last weekend, which is a good step toward Job 1: winning the Section III championship. Jim Marks has thrown for 1,448 yards and will probably have to throw for at least that much more over the remainder of the season because the eventual Section III champion will be in for tougher-than usual games in the first two rounds of the state tourney.
Aquinas (Class A, 6-to-1) – The Little Irish (6-0 with a 188-56 scoring margin) punish opponents with a potent rushing attack led by a beefy offensive line, but they threw a change-up at Buffalo Bishop Timon/St. Jude last week by turning three-year starting quarterback Ben Bostick loose for 170 yards on 12-for-15 throwing. Unlike its championship seasons over the last decade, Aquinas likely faces at least two challenging games to win the Section V title because Victor, Canandaigua, McQuaid, Greece Athena and Irondequoit are all tough outs this fall.
Rye (Class B, 3-to-1) – It’s a perfect storm for the Garnets, because they’re fairly well loaded in what amounts to a bit of a down year for the rest of the class in New York unless Lackawanna or tournament-tested Geneva makes the final. Rye (6-0) is balanced as Connor Eck throws for 100 yards a game and Kyle Ramalho (418 yards, seven TDs) leads a ground attack that generates nearly 235 yards a game.
Bishop Ludden (Class C, 10-to-1) – The Gaelic Knights (6-0, 240-69 scoring margin) have a way of leaving observers under the impression they’re living on borrowed time. But Omar Osbourne already is a 1,000-yard rusher with 14 touchdowns and the defense just posed its first shutout of the season. The bad news is Ludden is the smallest school in a 27-team Section III bracket, making for three tough Central New York games, and the state semifinal against the Section V or VI rep will be challenging. And then it’ll almost certainly be a very talented Dobbs Ferry awaiting in the final.
Walton (Class D, 2-to-1) – Jim Hoover’s Warriors (6-0) aren’t as dominating as they were a year ago, but calling this a down season would be laughable. Bryant Mead (430 yards) is picking up 10.8 yards a carry and Phil Hanley (408) is close behind at 10 yards a pop. Throw in 330 yards from Rob Rigas and you have evidence that Walton can once again run the ball down an opponent’s throat all day long. The scoring margin has been 262-27, including 134-19 in the last two games. The state semifinal, probably against Caledonia-Mumford or Maple Grove, will likely be the Warriors’ most competitive contest.
Vestal (Class AA, odds against repeating: 15-to-1) – It’s tough to be bullish on the Bears only because the recent trend in boys soccer has not been favorable toward repeat performances. Vestal (14-2) wrapped up its second straight unbeaten season in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference over the weekend, but Poughkeepsie Arlington and Shenendehowa – the previous two champions – lead the list of lurking challengers.
Bryam Hills (Class A, 5-to-1) – What’s not to like about the Bobcats and their 12-0 start with a 46-2 margin in goals? Patrick Vierengel is coming off three straight two-goal games and has 12 goals and 11 assists for the season. With a 57-3-1 record since the start of the 2006 season, running the table this fall isn’t out of the question for the state’s last unbeaten and untied Class A squad.
Spackenkill (Class B, 20-to-1) – The Spartans are the only 2007 boys soccer champions who can even marginally claim to be in rebuilding mode. They remain state-ranked at 10-3, with Anthony Balbo (20 goals, 11 assists) and Keyhone Russel (10 goals) supplying the firepower. There are just too many mountains to scale, starting with Onteora in Section IX, to feel confident.
Red Creek (Class C, 7-to-1) – The Mules, winners of two of the last three Class C crowns, are kicking again at 13-2 and chasing their fifth Section V championship in six years. Maple Hill, the 2006, champ, is cruising right along and there’s always the annual statewide question in the class about what Long Island has to offer. Southold could bring a five- or six-loss team up from Section XI to the postseason but be more battle-tested that other Final Four squads.
Chazy (Class D, 4-to-1) – With three state championships in four years, Chazy has the formula down pat. The Eagles packed a busy schedule into September and stand at 16-1 while awaiting Saturday’s Mountain & Valley Athletic Conference playoff against state-ranked Bolton. Unbeaten Poland and New Lebanon will have to find an answer for Stetson Fields, coming off a five-goal, two-assist day against Keene, or else Chazy officially gets to start throwing around the word “dynasty.”
Greece Arcadia (Class AA, odds against repeating: 50-to-1) – The 2007 season was a once-in-a-generation experience for the Titans, who have fallen back to earth with a 7-8 start this fall. In Section V alone, Arcadia would have to hurdle Aquinas, Greece Athena, Fairport, Spencerport and Brockport. And Massapequa, East Islip and Commack are simply mauling Long Island foes thus far.
Rockville Centre South Side (Class A, 10-to-1) – The three most successful sports teams in state history are West Genesee boys lacrosse (15 NYSPHSAA championships), Saratoga cross country (14) and South Side girls soccer (14), so don’t count out the four-time defending champions. At 3-3-3 in their conference, the Cyclones are likely battling Plainedge for the right to advance to a Section VIII title date with New Hyde Park (13-0), which has surrendered just nine goals. Ne assured that no one ever looks forward to a postseason clash with South Side, even in a down year.
Briarcliff (Class B, 6-to-1) – Briarcliff is 12-1 with a 69-4 scoring margin, but the setback was to Nanuet (15-0), 2-1, a month ago in a reminder to the Bears that getting out of Section I rates as a tall task. But you’re never out of contention when you have Katie Weiner (19 goals) and Danielle Christiano (13 goals, 10 assists) leading the offense, so don’t dare to disrespect Briarcliff.
S.S. Seward (Class C, 2-to-1) – The Spartans are rolling along at 15-0 and senior forward Jillian Collova crashed through the 100-career-goal barrier last month. As if life needed to get any better, Seward has dropped down to Class D based on enrollment figures. That leaves Class C wide open to a squadron of unbeaten and one-loss teams and changes the dynamics of the small-school class, which had co-champions – Lyme and Chazy -- a year ago. Lyme graduated too much to contend again, but Chazy would rate no worse than 8-to-1 odds based in part on the fact that traditional deep rosters of contenders in the Syracuse, Binghamton and Rochester regions are going to be trimmed down by sectional play beginning shortly.
The start of basketball season is still more than a month away, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t happening in New York.
* Bishop Loughlin coach Khalid Green is leaving after five seasons in order to become the New Jersey Nets’ East Coast college scout effective Nov. 1, The Daily News reported. Officials at Loughlin, which was 22-6 a year ago, haven’t named a replacement yet.
* Rice High’s schedule outside the highly competitive CHSAA will include a trip to the Cancer Research Classic in Wheeling, W.Va., on Jan. 3. Rice will take on Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic on the 10-team, one-day event at Wheeling Jseuit University sponsored by the Urologic Research Institute.
John Schiano, who has written about high school sports in western and central New York for more than 25 years, covers New York for MaxPreps. He may be reached at email@example.com.