Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Violante's Bloodline Intact As Mahopac/Fox Lane Quarterfinal Promises To Thrill

Like his father before him, Fox Lane head coach Chris Violante has rebuilt a program that was teetering on the fringe of mediocrity when he inherited it.

Don’t argue with the history.

Violante’s father, Frank Violante, is forever synonymous with the Dobbs Ferry football dynasties of the 1980s.

Stop by any restaurant or Pizzeria on Main Street in Dobbs Ferry on any night that ends in Y, old-school Dobbs Ferrians will hark back and relive epic state championship battles at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

Talk to a local at Doubledays about Skip Violante’s legacy and some of the potent teams of the 80s and 2000s, be prepared for a three-hour conversation, underscored by descriptive detail depicting the storied rivalries and mega upsets.

The man  they called “Skip,” Violante etched his legacy at Dobbs Ferry with coaching longevity.

He pumped life back into the program after Dobbs Ferry broke free from its joint program with Hastings in the early 2000s, intensifying one of the oldest small-school rivalries in Section 1.

Skip Violante renewed the winning ways by guiding the Eagles to a 2002 Class D state championship.

The success bled into 2004.

A speck-small running back with a colossal heart named Rich Burke absorbed more hits than a human pinball, juking and absorbing the contact and fighting for the extra yardage every step of the way.

The quarterback of that team, former Ithaca College starter and one-time Buffalo Bills prospect Dan Juvan, helped bag the second state championship in three years.
While Violante built the football culture at Dobbs Ferry, Chris Violante has helped the basketball program at Fox Lane blossom.

When Chris Violante arrived at the doorstep, his vision was to lift the Foxes from Section I’s lower percentile.

The days of Adrian Carvalho scoring in clusters and Taj Finger crushing home dunks were long forgotten. The program was in dire need of a resurrection.

Violante’s Foxes struggled mightily the first year, crumbling under a third quarter Houdini syndrome that wrecked them in close games.

The following year, Violante’s program surprised the critics. He had a deep rotation, playing 11 guys comfortably. Bullish forward Will Trawick emerged into one of the County’s elite scorers.

Trawick, now a 6-foot-5 220-pound forward in his sophomore year at Emory, expanded his overall game during the program’s culture change.

And so Mahopac will meet Violante’s finely-oiled team, now 17-2 and piloted by a high-engine combo guard in James Morales, on Thursday at 6 p.m at Fox Lane High School.

The Foxes got the better of Downes’ club during an early season scrimmage,  but Mahopac was still acclimatizing to Downes’ defense and grasping the niceties of the uptempo game.

Morales, similar to Mahopac’s RJ Martinez, can dictate games when he bags shots in clusters and slithers through defenses.

He can handle the ball. He can snipe.

He plays with fire, ferocity and a fervor, and swagger manifested through actions and not words. Mercy, Concordia, Ithaca, and several others want a piece of the 6-foot-2 gamer. Morales had 16 points in the Foxes 59-47 Class AA first round win over Clarkstown South. The hot hand was seized by Nic Bonura, who scorched the nets to the tune of six 3-pointers en route to a game-high 23 points. 

Morales seems to have extra juice for these high-pressure environments. During a 56-53 win over Stepinac during the Slam Dunk Challenge, he poured in 21 points. Shooting the rock in the County Center, which has the depth perception and funky rims that can hurl any sniper into a 4-for-14 quagmire or 5-for-21 choke show, Morales was 7-for-13 with five treys. 

The two-time All-Section guard will not want to end his career on his home floor. Nobody wants to miss a trip to the dance. At the same token, Mahopac is chasing a fourth straight County Center berth, where they've encountered an eventual Section 1 champion each and every time. 

Downes, the two-time Section 1 Coach of the Year, has his young fleet eyeballing a fourth straight trip to the County Center.

It is an unprecedented feat, never even envisioned by any Mahopac team.

When Violante stepped in at Fox Lane, he was cognizant that this was the product of a grass-roots system.

Many of these kids ascend the ranks together, grow up playing on the same CYO teams and tournaments, and more often than not finish their careers on the same floor that will be flooded with fans Thursday night.

What Violante has done is ensure that this team continues to play as one, subscribing to the tenets of the we-before-me system.

Violante has preached family and brotherhood, he has enforced hard-nosed defense.

The Foxes have won 17 games this season by surrendering personal desires for the greater good of the program.

Now, with the eyes of the Section pasted on them Thursday, Mahopac and Fox Lane will go eyeball to eyeball.

Both teams are aware this is a game that must be earned. 

In a high-stakes affair of this caliber, before a jam-packed and ferocious crowd, this snow-blanketed February matchup will have the feel of early, sun-sprinkled March.

The two coaches–one a defensive guru who has re-scripted the program record books and the other carrying out family tradition– want it that way.