Saturday, October 25, 2014

Returning All Starters, Ossining To Make Due With Schedule

A basketball oasis in the old-school sense, Ossining girls basketball is predicated strictly on homegrown products.

Like Mount Vernon on the boys side, it's the grass-roots systems and togetherness that breeds a yearly contender.

Out of the 11 players head coach Dan Ricci plays comfortably, all went to elementary and middle school together and grew up in the tiny, 3.2 square mile village along the banks of the Hudson River.

 This helps evoke an unflappable chemistry that's rendered tight-knit Ossining such a daunting order for Section 1 foes.

Self-interest and personal stats are never a concern.

Those 50-50 balls are pursued grittily.

Shooters pop off the bench and provide immediate catch-and-stick production.

Ricci ensures that all of his scoring threats are defenders first.

 The Pride's roster contains enough oceanic-depth to come in waves and waves and waves en route to wearing down the opponent.

With four straight Section 1 championships, three straight regional champions, and two consecutive NY state championships to defend, the talent is nurtured through an AAU schedule featuring road swings in D.C., Rhode Island, N.J. and Blue Chip-laden showcases in Pa.

Ossining's entire team from last season is back, with the focus shifted to becoming just the seventh program in NYS history to win three straight state titles.

The aim is always to compete against the best, as Ricci noted.

Out-of-conference matchups against Archbishop Molloy, Syracuse area power Jamesville-DeWitt, Bishop Loughlin, Albany HS, as well as a barometer against James Madison (Va.) during a tournament in the Bahamas are sure to keep the brand fresh.

After a pre-season tune-up against plenty-talented Our Lady Of Lourdes at CLUB FIT, which witnessed the short-handed Pride deposit a hailstorm of 3-pointers en route to a 40-point washout, the hunger for new, stiffer competition has only intensified.

"Unfortunately our schedule is not what we would like it to be (this year)," Ricci said.

"Twelve of our 18 games were assigned by BOCES. We wanted to play the likes of Christ The King and Murray Bergtraum like we did a few years ago, but we were not allowed to do it this year. So we will scrimmage those teams to improve."

Improvement is a vital factor for Ricci's system, as he tightly charts progression.

Few players have improved at the rate Shadeen Samuels has.

 Finally receiving a clean bill of health, the 6-foot guard has proven she can crash the boards and defend as effectively as she opens up the mid-range game and handles.

Offers from George Washington and Seton Hall are on the table.

 LaSalle, Iona, Hofstra, Delaware, Canisius, and Sacred Heart have all inquired.

Hartford, which received a verbal pledge from teammate Jalay Knowles last month, has also expressed interest.

Knowles, a 1000+-point scorer, was the MVP of O's 76-49 Section 1 championship romp of Mahopac.

She authored a 23-point, seven-rebound, and seven-steal performance, only the prelude to a 42-point, 20-rebound eruption during a 77-47 thrashing of Kingston High.

It was her coach-ability and character that helped her win over Hartford head coach Jen Rizzoti, a Geno Auriemma disciple who coaches with the USA World Championship team.

Also deciding on a future hardwood home was guard Stephanie Svodoba, who committed to nearby Pace. Svodoba, who got her teeth cut as a pure shooter with New Castle Youth Basketball Association, adapted to the role of game manager last season.

Madison Strippoli, a forward who provides immediate energy off the bench, has received Division-II interest from NYIT and Georgian Court.

"She would be the best player on most teams in Section 1," as Ricci opined. "She will start if we go big."

The Pride has upfront strength with senior Abby Squirrel, a multi-sport athlete headed to Marquette on a lacrosse scholarship. Squirrel has routinely shot free throws with one hand, bringing back a lost art mastered by guys like Anthony Mason and Don Nelson.

Ricci said it's always been a priority to prepare his team against the elite of the elite. He'll sidestep the schedule with a rigorous preseason.

There is nowhere for the Pride to hide, not with the demanding off-season work and budding NCAA interest across the boards.

There's a high standard held here. Only because it's Ossining, where the mountainous expectations remain sky-high through the post-Saniya Chong era.