Recapping 2011 in Saugerties High School sports is a tricky proposition, especially as the academic year and the calendar year don’t exactly walk hand-in-hand.
For the first half of 2011, student athletes were still playing in a season that almost didn’t happen; when the high school sports program was cut from the district’s operating budget, a sizable local private donation kicked off community fundraising efforts that saved the 2010-11 sports program. What that meant for Saugerties was historic runs for sports like baseball, as well as an opportunity for a wrestler to continue carving out a name for himself in the final season of the team’s storied head coach.
“Saugerties High School is pretty much based on sports,” said senior softball player Briana Bivins, noting how much it meant for the donations and fundraising to save Saugerties sports last year. “Most of the students here do sports to keep them coming to school, and to keep them behaving and working hard to keep doing something they love.”
The varsity baseball team had a season for the ages in 2011, making it to the state Class A final four before falling in the semifinals. Saugerties went 21-4 overall, including a series of late-inning wins in the regionals and the Section IV playoffs.
“Going to the state tournament was an amazing experience,” said Jordan Baschnagel, the team’s star pitcher who graduated in June. “Just knowing that we were one of four teams still playing was a great feeling.”
Saugerties advanced to the final four with a pair of hard fought battles in the regionals, including a 5-4 victory over Tappan Zee in eight innings and a 2-1 win over Maine-Endwell secured in the bottom of the seventh. The season ended with a 7-1 loss to Burnt Hills in the state semis at NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton, home of the New York Mets’ Class AA Eastern League affiliate.
“We did amazing things this year and to that I have no regrets,” said Darren Lareau, a member of the Class of 2011 and a key piece of the Sawyers’ baseball puzzle. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently; it was a perfect year. I will remember the season for the rest of my life.”
The varsity softball team also had a good run in 2011, making it to the sectional semifinals before falling to league powerhouse Marlboro. The Sawyers finished 11-10 in a season where, with a short roster, they weren’t expected to do much damage. It was a marked improvement for the team in its second year under head coach Melinda Whitaker, and despite seeing seven of the team’s seniors head out the door when it was all said and done, players like starting pitcher Taylor Snyder, infielder Jamie Whittam and outfielder Magen Melville could all return to help the Sawyers continue their winning ways in 2012.
Both the boys and girls lacrosse programs had solid seasons in 2011, with the former winning the Section IX, Class B title. That victory came in a 10-5 performance over Wallkill, with Dave Olsen and Steven Schoonmaker each scoring three goals. The win was especially gratifying for Saugerties, who’d crushed Wallkill a few weeks earlier during the regular season in a game that was marred by unnecessary violence seemingly borne of frustration.
“The penalties that Wallkill had are just part of the game,” said Kyle Geisler, a senior middie on the Sawyers. “Especially in a Section game like that one everything gets really intense, so a few rough hits are always expected.”
The girls’ team also had a fine season, one punctuated by second year coach and first year athletic director Chris Curnan. Though the team earned an automatic bid in the regional playoffs in 2010 as the lone Class B team in Section IX, Curnan considered their 4-10 record and declined the offer feeling they should have to earn their way in. The strategy set a tone, as the team rolled into the playoffs on its own steam before losing in the semis.
“At the beginning of the season, I had high hopes for the team, but never expected for us to come together so well,” said defensive winger Nicole Buono, who will return in 2012 as a key senior on a team unlikely to slide by under the radar after last season’s marked improvement.
The boys and girls track teams also performed well in 2011, closing out the season with a number of excellent individual performances at the Mid-Hudson Athletic League championships. Senior Ron Turner, second in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints, had the best all-around performance for the Sawyers, while Will McCoy’s silver medal high jump showing was also excellent.
“I was very pleased with that performance,” McCoy, a senior at the time who came into the season hoping to top 6-feet, said. “We had a jump-off at 6’1” so it was a bitter sweet second place.”
The girls’ team also saw solid end-of-season performances from Kacey Gardner (3rd in the 400, 4th in the high jump), Shannon Averill (3rd in the 800, 5th in the 1,500) and Meagan Rom, now a freshman (2nd in the shot put).
“I was really proud of the girls’ team this year,” Gardner said. “We’re not usually as strong as our competition, but this year we really made a name for ourselves.”
Separated by the summer, the track and field of the spring eventually yielded the cross-country of the fall, with some athletes performing on both teams. At the MHAL tournament in October, the Sawyer girls placed 10th overall, with Melissa Doyle’s 31st place finish tops for the team. Chelsea Vierstra (39th, 23:17.41), Katelyn Fallows (62nd, 24:51.03) and Belinda Apjohn (96th, 27:22.03) also performed well.
On the boys’ side, Saugerties placed 11th, with Eric Dunham the team’s top finisher 37th with a time of 18:14.43. Kevin Wood (70th, 19:38.97), Brandon Minard (77th, 19:55.18) and Dave Simpson (97th, 20:56.07) all ran well.
For the girls’ tennis team, a relatively successful season was marred by a miscommunication mystery that resulted in an earlier finish for a doubles tandem than necessary. Seniors Sara Forsythe and Rebecca Zolet advanced to the Section IX tournament in late October, though neither of them knew about it until after the fact. The pair hadn’t even played together as a doubles tandem until the MHAL tournament less than two weeks earlier, and while they’d advanced through the preliminaries and first round there, a quarterfinals loss gave the duo the impression that their season was over. They learned about the error from a relative who read that they’d forfeited in the newspaper.
“I thought it was a mistake,” Forsythe said. “We called our coach, and she was like, ‘Yeah, I just got a call about it asking where my girls were.’ But she had no idea that we were supposed to be there.”
Dennis Burkett, assistant director of the MHAL, said that the myriad means by which players and teams can advance to the playoffs makes it unclear sometimes who is eligible.
“Is this the first time that miscommunication has led to issues with sectionals? Probably not,” Burkett said. “I’m sure that there have been other such oversights. It’s not unique to tennis. We have the same situation in golf, where depending upon your finish in the MHAL tournament, you qualify for sectionals.”
“It was really upsetting, especially because it was our senior year and our last opportunity to go to sectionals,” said Forsythe. “Even if we didn’t win matches at sectionals, it was the idea of going. In some sports a lot of people get to go to sectionals, but in tennis it’s kind of rare. Going to sectionals, even if we lost the first match, it would have been better than this.”
The girls’ soccer team opened the season strong, though they faded during the stretch run. Holding their own destiny in their hands, the Sawyers came up just short in a 2-1 loss to FDR that dropped the team out of playoff contention. The boys’ soccer team also fell shy of a playoff berth in 2011.
For the Sawyers’ football team, 2011 was a season of character-building. The club finished 1-8, including a six-game losing streak to finish the slate. After opening the season with a 34-0 loss to FDR, the team began to find its footing on both sides of the ball, beating Goshen in the home opener on September 17 to improve to 1-2. And even though the victory was short-lived, even in defeat the Sawyers were in it, fighting tooth and nail against some of the toughest teams in the league. A 26-20 home loss to New Paltz in the Mum Bowl at least saw the team enter the final quarter with more to play for than pride.
Less than a week later, the Sawyers hosted Wallkill and despite one of the team’s best scoring efforts on the year, they still lost by a huge 55-28 margin. Those were the last points Saugerties would put on the board for the remainder of the season. Over the final three games, the Sawyers were outscored 107-0. That includes Saturday’s non-league 27-0 loss at home to a Middletown team which only improved to 3-5 with the win.
For the Sawyer seniors, it was a tough end to a long, dry spell. Over the past two years, the Sawyers have compiled just three wins. But despite all the disappointment the team has faced over the past couple of years, there’s reason to be hopeful. Sophomore quarterback Russell Neglia and junior running back and corner Nick Koenig should return in 2012 with something to prove.
“Next year I see a very bright future for the Sawyers,” said Koenig. “We have a lot of returning players.”
Which brings us to winter sports, with both basketball and wrestling bookending 2011. Ethan Stanley was in the middle of a stellar junior season on the wrestling team at the beginning of the year, one which ended with a visit to the state tournament. As 2011 draws to a close, the discernible differences are largely academic: Stanley is a senior now, and with Scott Wickham’s departure from the wrestling program at the end of last season, is performing under the direction of a new head coach, Dom Zarrella. Otherwise, not much has changed. Stanley is still dominating and is still an inspirational leader for the Sawyers.
“It means a lot to come out strong,” said Stanley of the current season. “It shows the young guys on the team that we mean business and will work hard to achieve our goals.”
Stanley, the reigning Section IX champion, is hoping to earn a return to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association tournament, where he made it to the quarterfinals in February before seeing his season come to a close. Stanley, nominated by Congressman Maurice Hinchey to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs next year, finished last season at 32-2 overall, and is already on his way to another terrific year in a thus-far-perfect senior campaign.
“I think the experience of that weekend greatly helped me,” Stanley said of the state tournament. “Now I know how hard I have to work and what level of competition I should expect for next year.”
The Sawyer boys’ basketball team will herald the new year as one of the league’s best teams after compiling a 5-1 record to open the season. Their lone loss came against New Paltz last week, giving them more than two weeks to work on getting the bad taste out of their mouths during the holiday break.
“I hope teams notice us, because the last few years we weren’t thought of as a basketball school,” said junior Scott Melville, one of the team’s many bright spots this year. The team was good during the 2010-11 season, and they’re looking very good just one year later, nearly duplicating their prior win total with over a month left in the regular season.
Also looking to improve on last year is the girls’ basketball team, though a surprise showing in the sectional playoffs to close out the 2010-11 season set the bar fairly high. Though the Sawyers finished 4-12 last year, their 48-47 win over heavily-favored Marlboro in the opening round was one of the season’s most stunning upsets.
“Marlboro is apparently really looking forward to getting back at us for edging them out before sectionals with a buzzer beater last year,” said Maureen Ball, a senior shooting guard/small forward.
Early this season, the Sawyers are looking to find their rhythm, though solid showings in holiday tournaments could help. The team is 1-2 as of press time, winning their home opener against New Paltz in a 45-42 pre-Christmas result. Hayley Spoljaric looks to be one of the team’s most consistent threats, as her 22 points against the Huguenots should indicate.