Early this week, the New York State Public High School Athletic Association was forced, again, to bend to the COVID-19 situation, officially announcing that “high-risk” winter sports – basketball, ice hockey, wrestling and volleyball – would not start until January 4, and only if the state changes its guidelines for those sports. Just as before, the notion of indoor events in closed facilities with potentially large crowds remains the greatest danger spot for the virus, which explains the move. At the same time, NYSPHSAA did not yet cancel its winter state championships, holding out hope that changing infection numbers and perhaps a vaccine might alter circumstances and make them favorable once late February and March rolls around.
But NYSPHSAA’s move did not affect Section III all that much. The section had already decided to push back all winter sports, high or low risk, until December 14 and have contests around the start of the new year. Where the state and section differs is in the timing of low-risk sports, with bowling, boys swimming and skiing starting November 30 at the state level and in mid-December at the sectional level, and in indoor track, which NYSPHSAA permitted to go ahead, but Section III postponed because of the difficulty of getting any venues, whether it was SRC Arena or the tracks at Colgate University and Utica College still closed to all activity, not just the big high school meets they wanted to schedule there.
All this follows the end of the abbreviated fall sports season. The exclamation point in girls soccer was offered by the New Hartford Spartans, who played a Tri-Valley League championship game against archrival Whitesboro on November 14 and beat the Warriors 3-1. Not only was this the third time New Hartford topped Whitesboro this season, it completed a 14-0 campaign where the Spartans started with 25 goals in its first two games, then recorded shutouts over powerhouses Marcellus, Westhill and Fayetteville-Manlius. About all New Hartford did not do was have its November 2 game against fellow unbeaten East Syracuse Minoa, which got snowed out, so we never got to know which Spartans side was better.
Aside from New Hartford and East Syracuse Minoa, it was Poland getting the honor as another undefeated, untied girls soccer team in Section III this fall. As a follow-up to an undefeated run to the state Class D title in 2019 and despite a coaching change as Jason Potempa replaced the legendary Tom Basel, the Tornadoes played 11 games and won them all. The closest calll was a 2-1 win over 2019 state Class B finalist Central Valley Academy early in October as it scored at least twice in every game and got as much as eight against Herkimer on October 19. Alexis Bates and Logan Cookinham both scored 12 goals to lead Poland, and both return next season, where the Tornadoes look to continue its 33-game win streak.
While much of the attention in boys soccer centered around dominant teams like Fayetteville-Manlius, the Marcellus Mustangs put together a quietly good 8-3 season. Even though it lost twice to rival Skaneateles, who was still formidable despite defections to club soccer from its 2019 state Class B championship team, the Mustangs more than made up for it October 19 when it gave Westhill its lone defeat of the season, a 2-0 decision where Brett Beal and Ryan Lundrigan earned the goals, with Cory Cangemi getting the shutout. All told, Marcellus won its last six games, three of them shutouts over Syracuse Academy of Science, Jordan-Elbridge and West Genesee, which should give them lots of momentum for 2021.
If a particular school could feel upset and frustrated with what happened with COVID-19, it was Cazenovia and both of its soccer teams. The girls soccer Lakers played just six games and won all of them, with only a 1-0 decision over Chittenango close, and it had half of its games wiped out when a single positive test in the high school forced it to go remote for what amounted to most of the rest of November. It was nearly the same for the boys soccer Lakers, who are a consistent Class B contender and had steadily accumulated a 5-1 mark, its lone defeat coing to Faith Heritage, before it had the same swath of games in the first two weeks of November cast aside and never taking the field again this fall.
Another team that should not get forgotten amid this fall season was Rome Free Academy’s field hockey team. Starting later than other sides, the Black Knights on October 14 began by knocking off perennial power Camden 2-1 and went from there, eventually winning all nine of its games. RFA is a historically great program and, in 2020, the Black Knights proved tough, winning four times in one-goal decisions. Jace Hunzinger led the RFA attack, accumulating seven goals and six assists as Drew Kopek got a team-best eight goals, plus three assists, and Alana Fragapane earned five goals. Too bad, really, that RFA and 13-0 Cicero-North Syracuse never got to face each other to determine local large-school bragging rights.
One more cross country meet took place among three teams on November 14 in the Pioneer division of the Tri-Valley League. Vernon-Verona-Sherrill earned the boys championship and had the girls individual champion in Lacey Simmons, who in 21:41.1 was more than two minutes ahead of the field. Central Valley Academy won the girls team event and, in the boys race, gained individual honors thanks to Jack Gibson, whose 17:55.4 was nearly 10 seconds ahead of any other runner. Already Rome Free Academy had dominated the boys Tri-Valley Colonial division by going 5-0, though in the girls Colonial division it was New Hartford matching the Black Knights at the top of the standings.
It’s never too early for basketball news, even if hoops might not happen until January, if at all, at the high school level. Just as Rob Siechen moves from Jamesville-DeWitt to replace Eric Smith coaching Cicero-North Syracuse, Northstars senior forward Jessica Cook is deemed one of the top 10 seniors in New York State as she signed her college letter of intent to attend the University of Toledo. Meanwhile, to replace Siechen, J-D kept it within the program and promoted Kurt Sweeney to the top post. Sweeney coached four years of freshman and two years of modified basketball at J-D so he knows all about the talent working its way through a Red Rams program that won three straight state titles from 2016 to ’18.
Moving to boys basketball, those watching the much-delayed NBA Draft on Wednesday night would get an opportunity to see whether a local product gets the call. Nate Knight attended Nottingham High School and didn’t get much college attention. Not until he went to prep school did he receive that notice, ultimately ending up at William & Mary and flourished. If drafted, he’d be the first CNY native to receive that honor since 2010. Meanwhile, we also wait to see if one-time Jamesville-DeWitt star Jimmy Boeheim leaves Cornell, where his senior season got derailed when the Ivy League nixed all winter sports. Boeheim is in the transfer portal and people already wonder if he will join brother Buddy at SU.