It was a winter sports season of many surprises for New Paltz and Highland varsity teams, as the overachieving Highland girls basketball team kept up the tradition of six Section 9 titles in 13 years by winning yet another; the New Paltz boys and girls basketball teams both had their winningest season in nearly a decade; both New Paltz and Highland crowned a Section 9 wrestling champ; in the first year of New Paltz indoor track and field they won the Class B title and crowned a pair of individual champions as well; New Paltz girls Nordic ski won Section 9 and crowned an individual champion; the New Paltz boys swim team finished third in the Section and won two individual titles; and Highland launched their first solo boys swim team — and pretty successfully at that.
There were (as usual) a bunch of individual performances of note, but we’ll get to that, as we give kudos (sorry — no plaques or money) to the best of the best for the winter sports season for New Paltz and Highland.
Best game/meet (team):
New Paltz — both boys basketball games against FDR, both won by the Huguenots down the stretch and in eerily the same fashion: New Paltz makes free throws and FDR has a final last shot a tie with a three-pointer and the same FDR player misses both times. Two teams with great similarities and style of play.
Highland — girls basketball against arch-rival (and defending Section champion) Marlboro in Section 9 quarterfinal. Biggest win in three years for the Huskies, with the entire team contributing to the surprising victory that launched Highland to their equally-as-surprising Section title. Names popped up that one didn’t usually associate with Highland basketball: Emily Peterson, Mia Beck, Arianna Ranalli, Mollee Stafford.
Best game/meet (individual):
New Paltz — boys swimmer Seamus Trzewik-Quinn becoming yet another New Paltz double Section 9 champion (following in the illustrious wake of Emile Kuyl, Hudson Carroll, Eric Culver, Hunter Bartlett, Dan Strothenke, AJ Hasbrouck, Mike Ferraro), winning the 200 Individual Medley (in school record time) and 100 backstroke.
Highland — girls basketball’s Bri Rozzi against Marlboro — her stat line: 23 points, 13 assists and five rebounds, plus eight-of-ten from the free throw line in the final two minutes to beat their arch-rival and send the Huskies off to yet another Section 9 title.
Best of the unsung:
New Paltz — Corey Burke (boys basketball): became an inside presence for the Huguenots at last, leading rebounder, inside defender, shot blocker and averaged ten-plus points per game, one of the keys to New Paltz’s resurgence; Hailey Osborne (girls basketball): should be “unsung” no longer, averaging close to 30 points-per-game over the last 5-6 games of the season, only a sophomore, should become New Paltz girls fourth 1,000-point scorer (Bryna Burda, Devon Ciliberto, Courtney Hagen are the others); Max Weires and Chad Catania (swimming): big point scorers in various events during the regular season, and half of New Paltz’s State Meet 200 Medley relay team; Guy Soumah (wrestling): injured at season’s end, denying the senior a sure-thing Section 9 220-pound title; Jordan Nagle and Owen Sheekey (Nordic skiing): former led girls to Section title and won individual title as well, latter led the boys and went to State meet; Dagi Tadese and Kaela Santos (indoor track): won outdoor gold in boys pole vault and girls shot put, respectively, in Class B championships, repeating their outdoor success from last season.
Highland — Andre Twyman (boys basketball): wound up as de facto leader of poor 1-18 team, came on in second half of first varsity season to provide some hope for next season; Sam Garcia (girls basketball): wispy inside presence had a big year off the boards and particularly as a shot-blocker underneath, developed offensively as the season went on; Andrew and Matt Valentino (swimming): heart-and-soul of Highland’s first foray as a solo team (they had been teamed with Marlboro for a couple of years) in the OCIAA, the Huskies biggest point scorers; Colin Canfield (wrestling): the big guy finished third in Section 9 for second year in a row, a dependable competitor against anyone on the mat.
Best of the future:
New Paltz — Axel Rodriguez and Mike Holohan (boys basketball): both, sophomore and junior respectively, already are the top players on the 17-4 team, should get even better, the former dishing from the point and the latter scoring and rebounding underneath; Anna McDuffie and Bella Santos (girls basketball): with fellow-sophomore Osborne, led the New Paltz girls to their best record in a decade, the Huguenots’ backcourt the next two years, quick, relentless and smart; Leo Kuyl (swimming): next season’s Seamus T-Quinn, top five in freestyles and breaststroke, Section titles in the offing for next year; Ethan Polanca (wrestling): like with Soumah, an injury denied this eighth-grader an almost sure Section 106-pound title, a natural on the mat; Abby Gravatt and Wells Willett (Nordic ski): the next 1-2 punch on the ski trail, Gravatt finished second in Section, Willett eighth.
Highland — Cameron Ness (boys basketball): the 6-8 sophomore made a huge leap this season and could dominate inside next season, lots of still untapped potential offensively; Candace McCutcheon (girls basketball): second scoring option after Bri Rozzi, the junior is the league’s premier perimeter defender and can score in bunches offensively, improving outside shot will make the Huskies even more formidable next season; Matt Malheiro (wrestling): the “future” is already here as the sophomore 138-pounder won his first Section 9 title this season. More to come I’m sure; Finn Goldleaf (swimming): lots of individual points in various events for the talented eighth-grader, a Section 9 title in the not-too-distant future.
Angela Robins Zen Award (to the New Paltz athlete that makes it look so easy)
Seamus Trzewik-Quinn (swimming): there isn’t a stroke he can’t swim and win (even the 200 freestyle, swimming the backstroke all the way in 1:54), just focused beyond his years, headed off to Division 1 Buffalo University in the fall.
Christie Morano Zen Award (to the Highland athlete that makes it look so easy)
Bri Rozzi (girls basketball): only a sophomore, the team is now hers, talented enough in every facet of the game to be a college Division 1 prospect.
New Paltz — Charlie Perez (boys basketball): last season’s sub-point guard became a big time sixth-man this season, with his three-point shooting (including seven in one game) and relentless defense.
Highland — the boys swim team: nearly breaking even in their first year solo, first-year coach Mike Watts led his eight-man squad to some impressive wins; and Emily Peterson (girls basketball): upped her game this season, and if not for her career-high 13-point outburst (just when the Huskies needed it most) in the Section win over Marlboro, Highland probably would not be Section champions.
New Paltz — the boys basketball team — if not for unsuccessful MHAL and Section 9 tournaments at season’s end, the boys captivated the league with their high octane offense, deep roster of interchangeable parts, pressure-packed man-to-man defense and some spectacular individual play from various sources. They could have won it all…but for last-second heroics by their opponents.
Highland — the girls basketball team used every bit of their ability and desire to capture Highland’s seventh Section 9 title in the past 14 years, quite a feat for the small school out in Pancake Hollow that overachieved in every way this season, a tough, gritty team that just doesn’t quit out there.
New Paltz — Stu Robinson (boys basketball) and Eric Culver (swimming): Robinson would have been unchallenged here if not for the end-of-season disappointment, as he has built a budding powerhouse for the next few years, patient, cerebral and intense; and Culver simply made his first year as coach a memorable one, riding the backs of his seniors and developing his underclassmen to keep the Huguenots near the top of the Section, hopefully for years to come.
Highland — Jim Malak (girls basketball): in his second season continued the excellence of his predecessor Jim Delmar (six Section titles in 13 seasons) with a Section title, pushing all the right buttons and developing a tough, relentless team that just didn’t know how to quit, and developing bench players that could step in and give quality minutes (and more) whenever asked.
Best of the best:
New Paltz — Seamus Trzewik-Quinn (swimming) and Ben Cuppett (wrestling): Trzewik-Quinn continues the line of top-flight New Paltz swimmers (and relay teams) without a home pool who have won Section titles over the past 20 years, the list is long and impressive, with Trzewik-Quinn winning two events and finishing in the top six at States in the 200 Individual Medley and 100 backstroke; while Cuppett, suffering with an injured back, won his third straight Section 9 title this year (182 pounds), a remarkable feat for a New Paltz wrestler, “surfer-dude” used his strength and quickness, and this year his desire, to rally himself in the face of his serious injury.
Highland — Bri Rozzi (girls basketball): what is left to say about the sophomore phenom? The team is hers. She leads it in near every category, but more is her composure in the biggest of moments, not to mention that she is closing in on 1000 points for her career and when she is done could beat out her oldest sister Erica (number two with 1648) and Lisa Pritzlaff (number one with 1652) for the most career points at Highland (girls or boys). Just a great player.