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Friday, February 26, 2021

Sports > General

Panthers on pause

Montis on hold as NYSPHSAA Jan 4 start date delays hoops

Nov 19, 2020

By Richard Ross - reporter/photographer

Monticello's Jordan Ruggiero dribbles by a New Paltz defender in last year's Section 9 Class A Championship game which New Paltz won 67-65 in overtime. Ruggiero is a senior this year.
MONTICELLO- “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope,” proclaimed Martin Luther King Jr.
When it comes to the hopes and aspirations of high school athletes in these uncertain days of the COVID-19 pandemic, accepting disappointment is unfortunately becoming an all too familiar challenge. To wit, holding out hope for the restoration of their athletic seasons has become increasingly harder to do. After the cancellation of last spring's sports and the postponement of fall sports until March, basketball players and coaches have been holding their breath to see if the winter season would also be nixed.
Basketball, like wrestling and competitive cheerleading have been classified as high risk sports and were not authorized to begin practice on November 30 unlike low and moderate risk sports including skiing, swimming and diving, indoor track and bowling which have been given the go-ahead.
As the COVID-19 infection rate continues to rise the New York State Public High School Athletic Association( NYSPHSAA set a tentative date of January 4, as the possible start for high risk sports practices to begin.
This arbitrary start date is, of course, contingent on the authorization of the Governor and the Department of Health. So the roughly 63,000 hoops players across the state find themselves in the all-too-familiar waiting game again.
In his November 17 Zoom press conference, NYSPHSAA Executive Director Robert Zayas noted that the January 4 date, “gives us more time to work with the state officials. Also we need to give two to three-week advanced notice to sections before the start date so if we don't have authorization by mid-late December we may have to readjust that start date.” Asked if NYSPHSAA would just go ahead and cancel the season, Zayas was adamant about not doing so. “We're not going to cancel prematurely. We have 600,000 student athletes across the state and we take our responsibility very seriously.”

Monticello reacts
When it comes to winter sports, basketball is king and in no place is that more evident than in Monticello, the flagship school district of the county with its illustrious hardwood history. Like all districts its successes have had their ebbs and flows but last year was a sterling one for both the boys and girls teams.
The 16-7 boys team under the watchful eye of coach Christopher Russo made it to the Sectional finals before losing 69-67 in overtime to New Paltz.
The girls program resurrected under the sage tutelage of Ryan Jasper was only two games shy of making sectionals. Both Russo and Jasper were 2019-20 Sullivan County Democrat Basketball Coaches of the Year.
With the approval of School Superintendent Matthew Evans and Athletic Director Kurt Buddenhagen, the Panthers have been authorized to engage in limited practices that are deemed safe under the COVID-19 protocols.
According to Russo, “We've had time to build skills we might not ordinarily be able to concentrate on so specifically. We've done hour and a half workouts on footwork, individual ball handling and layup drills.”
For the boys team, work of this nature was going on during the fall and will continue over the coming month and a half until the possible start date for formal practices. Monticello graduated 11 seniors last year and will be in a rebuilding mode. Returning players include senior Jordan Ruggiero who will probably handle the point guard spot, senior Julian Velasco who is a wing player who is versatile to play other positions, seniors Jalil Jones and Shameeck Clemons. Current juniors who were called up for sectionals last year, Pedro Rodriguez and Michael Mingot, will also be part of the varsity squad.
Other players from Coach Harrison Larkin's successful JV team may also make the roster during team tryouts.
“Harrison does a great job teaching the kids what we need them to do,” avers Russo who understands the need for safety and caution with regard to whether the season will take place. Robert Zayas said, “we're all planners and we have to get used to this uncertainty.”
Russo went on to say that while the setback is understandable, it is nonetheless disappointing.
According to him, “we'd be eligible to begin playing games six days after the startup date of January 4. He foresees mostly playing league games. The original schedule that came out last month had 14 games on it but Russo envisions probably about ten. The annual trip to Wallenpaupack will not take place as no interstate travel for sports will be authorized.
For Jasper and his ascending girls squad, there was no such workouts during the fall. They only met for the first time a week ago. A big loss for the Lady Panthers will be point guard Ahliyah Hart, but Jasper is looking to the return of sophomore forward Aaliyah Mota, senior post player Dezhariya Williams, junior forward Shayla Smalls, sophomore forward NaAsia McNeal, senior guard Cayshla Herrera and up and coming sophomore guard Giana Demayo.
In terms of upcoming practices, Jasper's schedule coupled with the fact that most students are only in school one day a week, it looks like Friday will be the only day for now that the team will get to work together.
“The information changes everyday about what is going to happen,” notes Jasper. It's also difficult to note the discrepancy of responding to the pandemic as schools in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are playing.
But as Zayas notes, New York has one of the lowest infection rates in the nation so policies erring on the side of caution seem to be working.
For now, players and coaches will remain cautiously optimistic that with the advent of the new year, a new dynamic will take place and hoops will once again provide the excitement and zest to offset the cold and bleakness of winter.

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