Best of the best for fall sports in New Paltz and Highland

New Paltz swimming Abbie Santos.

It was yet another interesting season in New Paltz and Highland sports: New Paltz girls swimming won its first-ever Section 9 title, while the Highland girls fielded a swim team for the first time; the New Paltz girls cross country team won an MHAL title, while the Highland boys had a record-setting winning season; New Paltz girls tennis went undefeated and won the MHAL for the first time since 1993; New Paltz football, the defending Section 9 champs, was dethroned by Marlboro; and the Highland girls soccer team returned to their winning ways at 8-7-2.

So here are the athletes that made these happen, and others who excelled during the Fall 2017 season:

Best game/meet (team):

New Paltz — the girls swim team winning their first Section 9 title by over 50 points over Monroe-Woodbury was a true team effort, with ten swimmers scoring points and participating at next weekend’s State Meet in six events, the most ever for the Huguenots.


Highland — the soccer girls 4-3 overtime win over heavily-favored Marlboro; it made their season, the game-winner by Emily Peterson.

Best game/meet (individual)

New Paltz — swimming’s Abbie Santos, who doubled in the Section 9 meet for the second time, going to States in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly and anchoring the 200 Medley and 200 Freestyle relay teams.

Highland — in a losing cause boys soccer’s Dario DiValentino, scoring all three goals in a 4-3 last-minute loss to New Paltz and moving back-and-forth from offense to defense, he dominated play, one great game.

New Paltz cross country Logan Linares.

New Paltz football Mike Pisciotta.

Best of the Unsung

New Paltz — Mike Pisciotta (football): stepped in when Christian Burda got hurt and ran wild with four 150+ yards-rushing games, with huge games against Spackenkill and Marlboro; Elijah Tamarchenko (boys soccer): the heart of the New Paltz defense at sweeperback, last line of defense for the Huguenots, saved many a game with his speed and tenacity; Erin Metzger (girls soccer): often the best player on the field, but played, due to team injuries, most of season out of position at sweeperback, where she was needed most; Josie LaPolt (swimming): scored tons of points wherever she was needed — backstroke, breaststroke, IM, freestyle, butterfly, relays — and going to States in the Medley relay; Logan Linares and Abbie Gravatt (cross country): for the second year-in-a-row just the model of consistency, both had top 15 in MHAL’s and Section 9, with Linares going to this weekend’s State meet; Riley Finnegan and Grace Morrissey (tennis): undefeated at second doubles and as sure a bet as the undefeated Huguenots had in any match, a tough matchup even for first doubles players; Jill Harrison (volleyball): led the Huguenots to a resurgent second-half of the season, qualifying for Sections, was tough at the net and with a solid serve, team leader out there; and Nick Puleo (golf): finished top ten in the Section and going to States this Spring, put it all together this year and was consistently around par.

Highland — Max Vidal and Dario DiValentino (football): Vidal played everywhere, stepping at quarterback for second-half of the season and led the Huskies to their only win over Onteora, while soccer star DiValentino kicked three field goals, switched to wideout and snagged three touchdown passes from Vidal; Dylan Warren (boys soccer): heart of the defense, moved out of the keeper role to sweeperback and kept the Huskies competitive defensively; Emily Peterson (girls soccer): steady, steady, steady out there, midfield gem, passer and scorer, she scored all the big goals for this season’s resurgent girls team; the DiMassio Sisters (swimming):Toni and Ava were big point-gatherers for the new seven-girl swim team, anchored the relays and were a big reason the first-year team won three meets; Jake Tomancy and Adrianna Scalo (cross country): Tomancy led the boys to an unexpected 12-3 dual meet season, with Scalo carrying the girls banner and finishing top ten in Sections; Rachel Bender (tennis): topped the 1-9 Huskies with three wins at third singles, got her game going in season’s second half; Tom Cipollini (golf): made the cut for States, game improved dramatically over the second-half of the season; and Jillian Brennie (volleyball): Ms. Do-everything for the one-win Huskies, tough in mid-court, solid at the net, with a solid serve, the team-leader out there.

Best Defender

New Paltz — Kenny Verney (football): leader of the defense, relentless from middle-linebaker position, calls the shots, run-stopper extraordinaire, the Huguenots couldn’t have had seasons like these last two without him, one terrific high school football player.

Highland — Mollee Stafford (girls soccer): did a great job her first season as keeper, played her best when the game’s were on the line, spectacular performance in the win over Marlboro that defined the season.

New Paltz cross country (L-R) Valentina Arizza, Amelia St. John, Abbie Gravatt.

Highland swimming Big Four: (back) Toni and Ava DeMassio; (front) Ava Rosen and Ashley Benker.

Best Out-of-Nowhere

New Paltz — Valentina Arizza and Riley Brutvan (cross country): Arizza, an exchange student from Milan (Italy), helped the Huguenots win the MHAL, finishing top 15 in both the MHAL and Section 9; and the freshman Brutvan, who ran step-for-step with Linares all season long, finishing top 10 in the MHAL and top 20 in Sections.

Highland — the first-year swim team, coached by ex-New Paltz Times writer Erin Quinn, who won three meets with just seven swimmers, placing tenth in Sections (out of 15 teams) and getting a swimmer to States.

New Paltz tennis Natalie Meyer.

New Paltz soccer Isaac Cheruiyot.

Best of the Future

New Paltz — Kenny Verney (football): hard to believe he’s just a junior, not only leads the defense, but can carry-the-mail besides and is a solid receiver, one of the best players in Section 9; Anna McDuffie (girls soccer): exploded onto the scene this season, led the Huguenots in scoring (with a couple tri-fectas) as a junior, bigger things next year; Isaac Cheriuyot (boys soccer): fluid, smooth, fun to watch, the junior led the boys in assists from midfield, double figures in goals; April Cook (swimming): dogged, immense improvement from last season, going to States in the 500 freestyle; Natalie Meyer (tennis): led the Huguenots to MHAL title as number one singles, third in championships; Amelia St. John and Riley Brutvan (cross country): a surprise package, Amelia running as number one for the girls and making States, with Riley number two for the boys and just missing the trip; both will only get better-and-better; Ella Sky Franks and Jordan Giancola (volleyball): the coming 1-2 punch for the Huguenots, Franks at the net, with Giancola setting her up, spectacular possibilities with this duo; Patrick Murphy (golf): missed out on States, but the constant number two to teammate Puleo, the big guy has the shots.

Highland — Nick Hackett and Adam Albright (football): Hackett the leader of the offensive and defensive lines, and Albright a tight end with some big TD catches, the future for the one-win Huskies; Gino Mazzella (boys soccer): he’s got the pedigree-name and some offense to his game, next season’s leading scorer; Brooke Harris and Teresa Mazzella (girls soccer): Harris, a forward/midfielder playing forever, is still only a sophomore, and with Mazzella, who played all over the field this season, should keep the rebuilt Huskies up in the upper-echelons of the MHAL; Asheley Benkert and Ava Rosen (swimming): eighth-grader Benkert is headed to States in the 100 butterfly, freshman Rosen just missed going by :00.02 in the same event, shoe-ins for next season’s States; Paige Dauenheimer and Olivia Bell (volleyball): big girls that can control the net, young, promising, setters please apply; Allie Fuller (tennis): as an eighth-grader had a lot to deal with at second singles, talented, player to build a program around; Benito Vargas (cross country): ran second to the senior Tomancy in the highly surprising boys season, next season number one.

So that brings us to the Big Three awards…the drum roll, please:

Best Team:

New Paltz — swimming and tennis, with both teams winning titles since…well, forever…the swim team winning their first-ever Section 9 title and the tennis team their first since 1993, with both the true definition of “team”, where the many (in essentially individual sports) worked hard to win these collective titles.

Highland — boys cross country, who put together an impressive 12-3 dual-meet season in a sport that has been no more than an afterthought in Highland; and the seven-member swim team, who in its first year will send a swimmer to States and just missed in a couple other events.

Best Coach

New Paltz — Scott Taylor in tennis and Don Bartlett in swimming. Scott for having put together a young, talented team that won its first title in 25 years; and Bartlett for not only winning the program’s first Section 9 crown, but being the architect of the program that went from 0-12 the year before he came on board. Patience and competence the overriding characteristics for these two gentlemen. Applause also for girls cross country coach Ann Gregory, whose team won the MHAL championship.

Highland — cross country coach Katie Reid. Has taken a program that has had trouble even finding runners in a community that often doesn’t think about it, to a boys team that won their division of the MHAL and with more girls running than ever before, including a top 20 in the MHAL, and we have our coach-of-the-year.

New Paltz football Jimmy Verney. (photos by Rich Corozine)

Highland soccer and football Dario D’Valentino.

Best Player:

New Paltz — there can be only two this Fall season, and they repeat from last year: swimming’s Abbie Santos and football’s Jimmy Verney. Santos did it all and for the second year in a row: winning two titles at the league and Section championships and anchoring the 200 Medley team, plus the 200 Freestyle team headed to States. But even more, the whole girls swimming culture changed when Santos, her sister Kaela, Carolyn Murphy, Bridgit Rodezno, Morgane Kuyl and others, and coach Bartlett joined the program. For Verney, the defending Section 9 Player-of-the-Year, there was no drop-off from last season, once again giving New Paltz not only another 1,000 yards rushing/1,000 yards passing season, but more, a leadership that was as brilliant as it was unassuming, and the feeling that with him in there the Huguenots could always pull it out.

Highland — for pure diversity and stellar play, boys soccer and football’s Dario DiValentino. Led the Huskies on the soccer field with scoring and defense on the opponent’s top player, then kicked for the football team, where at mid-season became a wide receiver and defensive back. It was quite the feat…and he did it so well.

So, that’s it for this season…next up Winter 2017-18, where we’ll have Highland girls basketball trying to defend their Section 9 title and where junior point guard Bri Rozzi should score her 1,000th point; the New Paltz boys basketball team trying to recover from their stunning loss in the opening round of the Section 9 tournament…and many other Best of the Best moments.