Author Archives: Mike Smith

About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.

NOT TO BAD

Column: Fantasy island

The NFL season is right around the corner, but with football comes fantasy obsession—at least for Sports Editor Mike Smith and his friends. Photo courtesy NFL.com

The NFL season is right around the corner, but with football comes fantasy obsession—at least for Sports Editor Mike Smith and his friends. Photo courtesy NFL.com

As I may have mentioned a time or two in this column, I’m a big fantasy football fan.

Over the next few months, the NFL season will consume me and my buddies; turning lifelong relationships into bitter, quarter-year feuds that quite often threaten the very foundation of our friendships. For those who don’t play fantasy football—or for those who don’t take it as seriously as we do—this might seem like lunacy. But really, it’s just par for the course.

But even in my group of football-mad friends, there is some debate about when the fantasy football season truly kicks off.

Was it back in June, when we held our official draft lottery? There’s definitely a case to be made for that, but that almost felt like a coda to the season that was.

When we showed up at the house of our commissioner/reigning champion to determine the order for this year’s draft, we were immediately met by the commish and his three-month-old baby, who happened to be decked out in a onesie proclaiming “My dad is a fantasy football genius.”

Touche, Commish. Shots fired, indeed.

But it’s hard to start the trash talking when the only certainty about the upcoming season is the order in which we will be selecting our teams. As such, we naturally reverted back to arguing about the strategies—or lack thereof—of each team manager from the past season.

We ganged up on Matt, who came into the draft adamant that Patriots TE Zach Sudfield was the unequivocal sleeper of the draft—only to release him five weeks later after Sudfield couldn’t find his way onto the field, let alone into the endzone.

We mocked Bobby’s inability to play the right Jacksonville wideout on any given week, not to mention the fact he had two Jags receivers on his roster in the first place.

Twan may have gotten the worst of it for his staunch belief that last year was the year Brian Hoyer would become a serviceable NFL signal caller.

But for all our snide remarks, there was a nagging feeling we were just re-hashing the past; trying to kill time until we had new reasons to rip our friends a new one.

The Giants played the pre-season opener against the Bills on Aug. 3, and I have to admit, I couldn’t really get into it. Sure I love Big Blue, and, yes, I’m anxious to see what the new West Coast-style offense
will mean for Eli’s fantasy numbers this year, but it’s just not time yet, not for me
anyway.

But some of our team managers watched the game live, DVR’d it and rewatched select drives.

Anything to gain an advantage.

Others will be tuned in to the first night of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in the belief they can see through HBO’s narratives to get an inside track on some late-round fliers.

Me, I’ll watch the pre-season games. I love “Hard Knocks,” especially the inevitable episode about rookie skit night. But I don’t really ramp up my draft prep—or fueling the ire for my erstwhile friends—until mid-to-late August with the start of the regular season right around the corner.

I’ve got the next four months to obsess over depth charts, stat lines and the inevitable mistakes of my friends.

I can stand to take it easy for a few more weeks.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter, 

@LiveMike_Sports

 
James Comblo makes a move on a defender on Aug. 2.

Tigers hold Alumni Day

Former Tiger quarterback Andrew Benkwitt runs in for a score on Aug. 2. Benkwitt was one of many recent graduates who turned up for the Tigers’ Alumni Day.

Former Tiger quarterback Andrew Benkwitt runs in for a score on Aug. 2. Benkwitt was one of many recent graduates who turned up for the Tigers’ Alumni Day.

By MIKE SMITH
On Aug. 2, scores of former Mamaroneck football players took the field to relive their glory days as the Tigers held their fourth-annual Alumi Day at Mamaroneck High School.

Teams comprised of former varsity lettermen competed in a round robin-style touch football competition pitting recent graduates and players from the 1980s and 90’s against one another.

Roughly 75 alumni were on hand, either to play to cheer on their classmates.

According to head coach Anthony Vitti, the Alumni Day helps to keep the tradition of Mamaroneck football alive, giving graduates from different eras a chance to connect on the gridiron.

“This has always been something I’ve believed in,” Vitti said. “As a former player myself, I know that this is very special to them and guys love to come back and do this.”

Although the competition is fierce, Vitti said the idea of togetherness is the central theme of the event.

“The football program should be part of the community,” he said. “The guys come, they get to embellish some of their war stories; it’s great for the kids who are the future of this program to learn a little bit
about its past.”

Vitti said tracking down former players isn’t as hard as it would have been a few years ago.

“We don’t sit down and have some big letter writing campaign,” Vitti said. “Social media helps a lot, and we really rely on word of mouth to get the word out.”

James Comblo makes a move on a defender on Aug. 2.

James Comblo makes a move on a defender on Aug. 2.

The Mamaroneck Tigers will continue to build up their presence in the community during the regular season. During the year, Vitti said, the team will help out at soup kitchens and also raise money for the Wounded Warriors Project during 12th Man Week, which celebrates the 12 Mamaroneck football players who lost their lives while serving during the Vietnam War.

A Tiger grad makes an interception during the Aug. 2 Alumni Day at Mamaroneck High School. Mamaroneck coach Anthony Vitti said roughly 75 alumni were in attendance.

A Tiger grad makes an interception during the Aug. 2 Alumni Day at Mamaroneck High School. Mamaroneck coach Anthony Vitti said roughly 75 alumni were in attendance.

“We feel that’s really great for the kids, to honor these guys, some of whom were just 18 years old, just a whisker away from where these guys will be,” Vitti said.

Vitti hopes that projects like 12th Man Week–and the recent Alumni Day–will not only serve to strengthen the bonds of Tiger football, but also help his current crop of players take stock in what it means to don the orange and black.

Former Tiger wideout Will Giddon makes a grab in the endzone. Photos/Bobby Begun

Former Tiger wideout Will Giddon makes a grab in the endzone. Photos/Bobby Begun

“The message that they get from these guys is that it’s a short, precious time they have here,” Vitti said. “They should embrace it and love it, and I think it rings true to them.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
The Total KAOS 16U team poses with its fifth-place trophy from the USSSA National Championships in Ocean City, Md. Contributed photo

KAOS fifth at nationals

The Total KAOS team poses with the sportmanship award it won at the USSSA national tournament. Coach Dean Marino said the award was more meaningful than the team’s good play.

The Total KAOS team poses with the sportmanship award it won at the USSSA national tournament. Coach Dean Marino said the award was more meaningful than the team’s good play.

By MIKE SMITH
The Total KAOS 16U softball team proved its mettle in Marlyand last week, battling against tough competition at the USSSA national tournament to secure a fifth-place finish, the best-ever showing for KAOS in the vaunted ‘A’ division.

The Total KAOS program previously finished second in the “B” division, but, according to head coach Dean Marino, the difference in the level of play between the two divisions is stark.

“The B teams are more like the local teams we play here; they’re taking kids from maybe one town, two towns,” Marino said. “But, with the A teams, the girls are coming from 70 or 80 miles apart, they have tryouts and cuts every year, so the A-level teams are very good.”

The Harrison-based squad’s run started on a sour note, as KAOS was unable to find a way to win behind Christina DeCarlo’s no-hit performance, losing their opener 2-0. But, after going 1-2 in pool play, the team came alive in the bracket round, pulling off five straight victories.

“In each game, it was a different girl who picked us up,” Marino said. “Christina DeCarlo an Netty Mendez had great tournaments, but we also had Tori Rivera get a hit to win a game, Stacey Mendez laid down a crucial bunt in the quarterfinals; everybody on the team did something to help us in a big spot.”

Marino attributes the team’s crunch-time success to the early-summer struggles of the squad as it had to find ways to win despite not having a full compliment of arms in the circle due to various injuries.

“We knew we were going to have to do different things to score runs and win games,” Marino said. “And the girls weren’t phased at all.”

For Marino, the pride over his squad’s high finish pales in comparison to the other award the organization picked up in Ocean City.

In addition to the fifth-place trophy, the team was also given the Sportsmanship Award, voted on by coaches and tournament organizers. This honor, Marino said, was a
testament to the way the players–and fans–carried themselves during the week-long tourney.

“Out of the 60 teams down there, this award showed that our parents and players respect the game,” he said. “The kids weren’t arguing calls, they’d run back to the dugout after striking out, everyone just carried themselves in an unbelievable manner. As a coach, this means more to me than winning the thing.”

With the summer season over, Total KAOS will close up shop until the team begins training in November.

“The girls are going to take a few weeks off, some of them play volleyball, field hockey; they do other things,” the coach said. “We’ll be back at it, but for now, they can just go back to being kids again.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

The Total KAOS 16U team poses with its fifth-place trophy from the USSSA National Championships in Ocean City, Md. Contributed photo

The Total KAOS 16U team poses with its fifth-place trophy from the USSSA National Championships in Ocean City, Md. Contributed photo

 

 
NOT TO BAD

Column: A black eye for the NFL

Ray Rice, seen here holding his annual New Rochelle youth football camp in 2013, was recently suspended two games by the NFL for his role in a domestic abuse incident. Sports Editor Mike Smith—one of many—feels the brief suspension sends the wrong message. Photo/Mike Smith

Ray Rice, seen here holding his annual New Rochelle youth football camp in 2013, was recently suspended two games by the NFL for his role in a domestic abuse incident. Sports Editor Mike Smith—one of many—feels the brief suspension sends the wrong message. Photo/Mike Smith

I’ve got to hand it to the NFL. If they were looking for a way to make Ray Rice not look like the biggest bad guy in this whole mess, they’ve succeeded in a major way.

By now, everyone is familiar with the Ray Rice incident. In February, while in an Atlantic City casino with his then-fiancée, and now wife, Janay Palmer, Rice was accused of knocking the woman unconscious. The hotel’s video surveillance captured Rice dragging her limp body out of an elevator before he was stopped by a hotel security guard.

The police got involved, Rice was eventually indicted on a third-degree assault charge, and the NFL—led by a commissioner who has long been seen as the league’s “hammer of justice”—had a decision to make.

And what did they do?

They punted.

Rice was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season, docked a pay check from a third, and sent on his merry way to join the Baltimore Ravens at training camp.

Rice’s actions were despicable, for sure. But perhaps the only thing more harmful than the physical violence, in my opinion, was the NFL’s response.

The National Football League has not been shy about handing out suspensions in the past. Terrell Pryor was suspended for five games by the NFL for violating NCAA rules. In 2013, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos was suspended four games for testing positive for marijuana, a drug that is legal in the state of Colorado. Over the last five years, the league has been vigilant in punishing players for end zone celebrations and unauthorized patches on jerseys.

But punching a woman in the face and knocking her out? Not a big deal, bro. Two games for you.

What this tells me is that Roger Goodell and the NFL simply don’t care about its female fan base. They’re more concerned with policing ticky-tack violations—and waging a campaign against a drug that is being legalized by more and more states—than actually taking a stand against a long-ingrained problem in our culture.

The failure to properly punish Rice for his transgressions sends a message to athletes; domestic abuse simply isn’t a big deal.

The problem with the Ray Rice case is it’s not just about Ray Rice. Stories about athletes mistreating women‑and the subsequent cover-ups by those who are protecting their athletic interests, like in the case of Heisman winner Jameis Winston, are commonplace these days.

Basically, the takeaway here is that the assault of a woman is a terrible, horrible thing–but if you’ve got a chance to be an All-Pro this year, maybe she had it coming.

It’s unlikely that the NFL—even in the face of public outrage—will do anything to lengthen Rice’s suspension. It’s made its bed and set a terrible precedent for future cases, essentially giving the middle finger to the scores of women who watch the product on Sundays.

It’s still mind-boggling to me how a punch in the face warrants a slap on the wrist, but I guess it’s just in step with the NFL’s policy toward women.

God forbid you dunk through the goalpost after a touchdown though. There’s no room in this league for that kind of behavior.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter, 

@LiveMike_Sports

 
Bryant “Pee Wee” Cruz, right, connects with a punch during a February fight at Roseland Ballroom. Cruz is currently 11-0 as a professional.

Cruz back in action

 

Pee Wee Cruz will fight again on Aug. 13 at B.B. Kings in New York City. His opponent has not yet been named.

Pee Wee Cruz will fight again on Aug. 13 at B.B. Kings in New York City. His opponent has not yet been named.

By MIKE SMITH
Port Chester native Bryant “Pee Wee” Cruz will be back in the ring in two weeks, co-headlining a fight card at B.B. King’s in New York City.

Cruz, who is currently 11-0 as a professional, will look to keep his perfect record intact–even if he doesn’t know who his opponent will be yet.

Bryant “Pee Wee” Cruz, right, connects with a punch during a February fight at Roseland Ballroom. Cruz is currently 11-0 as a professional.

Bryant “Pee Wee” Cruz, right, connects with a punch during a February fight at Roseland Ballroom. Cruz is currently 11-0 as a professional.

Cruz was last in the ring on June 22, when he outpointed the rugged Osnel Charles at Foxwoods Resorts Casino. Though he initially eyed a return to action sometime in July, trainer Ryan O’Leary said a deal just couldn’t get done in time.

“His last fight was a tough one, it went the distance,” O’Leary said. “We tried to get a fight on [DiBella Entertainment’s] last card, but the card filled up quickly so we shot for the August date.”

As of press time, Cruz’s opponent has not been announced. According to O’Leary, finding the right opponents is difficult at the moment, given Cruz’s status in the super featherweight division. Although he doesn’t want his charge to move up and take on the top 10 fighters at 130 pounds just yet, putting Cruz in the ring with novices or also-rans would do little to raise his stock or give him the experience he needs to one day vie for a title.

“We’ve got a team of matchmakers on it full time now,” O’Leary said. “We’ve been through about a dozen potential opponents already, but should have someone soon.”

Bryant Cruz celebrates a February win. His trainer, Ryan O’Leary, far left, believes Cruz is right on the cusp of challenging the top names in the division. Photos/Bobby Begun

Bryant Cruz celebrates a February win. His trainer, Ryan O’Leary, far left, believes Cruz is right on the cusp of challenging the top names in the division. Photos/Bobby Begun

O’Leary said he is confident Cruz has the physical skills to tangle with the best the division has to offer—Oxnard’s Mikey Garcia is currently viewed by many to be the division’s top fighter—but he would like to get his fighter a little more seasoning against fighters who have been around before challenging the division’s big names.

“Sometimes with young guys, it’s tough for them to grasp that they belong at this level because the transition from amateurs to pros goes so quick,” O’Leary said. “[Cruz has] never shown me that; he’s never quit, and I’ve never doubted him, but I’d like to see him have three or four good fights before getting up to those top 10 guys.”

Regardless of the opponent, the Aug. 13 bout will be Cruz’s first eight-rounder. While the move up in rounds can prove some fighters’ undoing, O’Leary predicts longer fights will only serve to highlight Cruz’s style even more as he rises through the ranks.

“He’s been ready for eight-rounders since he was an amateur,” O’Leary said. “He’s so relentless, he’s well-conditioned, and it’s
only going to work to our advantage. He doesn’t have that one-punch knockout power, but with these added rounds, I think you’re going to see him earn more stoppages.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
The LMLL 10U team celebrates with its District 20 championship banner. From left to right: Stefanie Santoli, Caleigh Shapiro, Nora O’Brien, Katie Blanch, Mia Castaneda, Taylor Pryor, Carissa Pecchia, Heather Anderson, Makena Lynch, Julia Jakob, Ella Mcloughlin, Lily Freedman, Amelia Stone, Jordan Pryor. Coaches from left to right: Lorenzo Santoli, Jeff Jakob, John Pryor. Not pictured:
Trudy Marszalek, Abby Tucker. Contributed photo

LMLL enjoying great summer

The LMLL 10U team celebrates with its District 20 championship banner. From left to right: Stefanie Santoli, Caleigh Shapiro, Nora O’Brien, Katie Blanch, Mia Castaneda, Taylor Pryor, Carissa Pecchia, Heather Anderson, Makena Lynch, Julia Jakob, Ella Mcloughlin, Lily Freedman, Amelia Stone, Jordan Pryor. Coaches from left to right: Lorenzo Santoli, Jeff Jakob, John Pryor. Not pictured: Trudy Marszalek, Abby Tucker. Contributed photo

The LMLL 10U team celebrates with its District 20 championship banner. From left to right: Stefanie Santoli, Caleigh Shapiro, Nora O’Brien, Katie Blanch, Mia Castaneda, Taylor Pryor, Carissa Pecchia, Heather Anderson, Makena Lynch, Julia Jakob, Ella Mcloughlin, Lily Freedman, Amelia Stone, Jordan Pryor. Coaches from left to right: Lorenzo Santoli, Jeff Jakob, John Pryor. Not pictured:
Trudy Marszalek, Abby Tucker. Contributed photo

By MIKE SMITH
It’s been quite a summer for the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Little League 10U softball team.

After capturing the District 20 crown last month and playing against some of the top teams in New York, the travel squad has continued to play at a high level, dominating the ranks of the Westchester Baseball Association as the summer season winds down.

For the first time in roughly a decade, the LMLL squad participated in the district tournament, which is comprised of other all-star teams from the lower Westchester area, and fared quite well, winning all five games in a double elimination tourney to claim the title.

Heading into the district tournament, which was uncharted territory for the LMLL players, the team’s coaching staff didn’t know how the squad would fare against in the nine-team pool.

“We knew we had a good team,” coach Jeff Jakob said. “But we really didn’t know what to expect. But we won our first two games convincingly and thought we had a good chance to win it.”

Of the five games the LMLL team played, they won three by the 10-run mercy rule, including the district finals against White Plains, whom LMLL beat 13-2.

Jakob credits the deep lineup and the efforts of ace pitcher Jordan Pryor as two of the biggest reasons for LMLL’s success.

“Our lineup was reminiscent of the 1927 Yankees,” Jakob laughed. “From top to bottom, we didn’t have one weak link.”

The LMLL team followed districts with a trip to sectionals, where it won its first-round game against Montgomery with a 9-8, come-from-behind effort. Though the team would then fall to New City, and then in a consolation bracket game against the same Montgomery team, Jakob felt it was good practice for his girls as they got ready for their summer campaign in the WBA, where they are currently 11-1.

“Playing against competition like that, we gained confidence knowing that we could hit those tough pitchers,” Jakob said.

Jakob also pointed out that, because the LMLL team features the best players from the Larchmont-Mamaroneck area, many of the girls are playing unfamiliar roles, something that will only benefit their development in the long run.

“We’ve really challenged our girls, put them into some positions that they’re not used to,” he said. “But, at some level, the kids want to be challenged like that, and that’s what differentiates this from the rec league.”

The LMLL team has just four games left in the WBA season, and is looking to close out its summer season on a high note. Although the stakes might not be what the girls got used to in sectionals and district, Jakob said, they’ve take a big game approach with them as they’ve stormed past their summer competition.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “We don’t have that same emotion, having 200, 300
people coming to watch the game. We’ve got a couple of decent teams left on our schedule to play, though.”

After the WBA season comes to a close, Jakob said the girls will get some time off before fall ball starts up in September.

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
Jordyn DiCostanzo, right, takes the draw during a 2014 Eastchester Eagles game. DiCostanzo verbally committed to Manhattan College just prior to the season. Contributed photo

Eagle committed to Jaspers

Jordyn DiCostanzo, right, takes the draw during a 2014 Eastchester Eagles game. DiCostanzo verbally committed to Manhattan College just prior to the season. Contributed photo

Jordyn DiCostanzo, right, takes the draw during a 2014 Eastchester Eagles game. DiCostanzo verbally committed to Manhattan College just prior to the season. Contributed photo

By MIKE SMITH
Eastchester’s lacrosse program has been on the upswing the past several years, and, for the first time in the school’s history, its female lacrosse players are beginning to get noticed by collegiate coaches.

Eagles co-captain Jordyn DiCostanzo recently became the first Eastchester girls lacrosse player in the program’s history to commit to a Division I program, as the prolific scorer is set to join the Manhattan College ranks in 2015.

DiCostanzo, who led the team with 65 goals in 2014, has been on Eastchester’s varsity squad since she was in eighth grade. In that time, she’s racked up more than 200 points and helped lead the Eagles to a league title last spring.

But it wasn’t until she went outside of Eastchester, looking for off-season competition in the club lacrosse world, that she began to assess her
future options.

According to DiCostanzo, the college recruiting process got underway in earnest last winter, but the process wasn’t a long one as she was impressed by Manhattan coach Elizabeth Weber, who has announced her intent to build the Jasper’s program from the ground up.

Last season, under the first-year head coach, the Jaspers went 4-13, but DiCostanzo said the program should be on the rise in the next few years.

“She’s a new coach, and she’s still getting everything the way she wants it,” DiCostanzo said of Weber. “In her first season, they didn’t do all that well, but she told me that they’re looking to move forward and become a threat in the conference.”

Preliminary talks with the staff have revealed that, in addition to placing DiCostanzo in her traditional attack role, the Jaspers plan to use her in the midfield as well, so as to take advantage of her ability on the draws and use her versatility on both ends of the field.

In addition to her lacrosse career, DiCostanzo also said Manhattan was a logical choice, given the wide variety of academic choices available at the college.

“Right now, I really don’t know what I want to do,” she said. “But they offer a lot there, so I think it’s a good fit.”

Before she becomes a Jasper, DiCostanzo will look to lead Eastchester to new heights in 2015. After winning a league title last year, the Eagles are well aware they will be playing against tougher competition next spring.

“Our coach, Kylie Gregory, has been so great, and this has really been an adventure for us,” DiCostanzo said. “We know it’s going to be hard, but we’re just hoping to continue to do well and hopefully win our first sectional game
next year.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
NOT TO BAD

Column: Summertime news?

Sometimes, the sports world slows down over the summer months, giving Sports Editor Mike Smith, not pictured, some time to put his feet up. This summer has been different.  Photo courtesy of Metrocreativeconnection.com

Sometimes, the sports world slows down over the summer months, giving Sports Editor Mike Smith, not pictured, some time to put his feet up. This summer has been different.
Photo courtesy of Metrocreativeconnection.com

They say the dog days of summer are generally a dead time for sports. Generally, I’d have to agree.

With MLB just around its midseason point—and plenty of games still to be played—playoff races don’t really start to heat up until August. With the NBA, NFL and NHL on hiatus, it means there’s generally little to talk about.

And that’s problematic for me, both professionally and otherwise.

The lazy days of summer often prompts local sports pundits, like radio host Mike Francesa, to step away for weeks at a time for some much-needed vacation; one can only imagine at this time, most years, Francesa is enjoying his yearly pilgrimage to the most prominent Diet Coke bottling facilities in North America.

But this year, something feels different.

It’s hard to say why, but there seems to be no shortage of truly compelling stories in the sports world, both at the national and local levels.

Of course, the fact that it’s Derek Jeter’s final season—something I wrote about last week—means baseball is at the forefront of the sports conscious right now. But beyond that, the season is an oddly compelling one in New York despite the fact that neither the Mets nor the Yankees look to be world-beaters this year.

The Mets, who have seemingly been on the precipice of turning the corner for the last half decade, have been a maddening, frustrating, but sometimes enjoyable team to watch this year; a team capable of putting together a winning streak and threatening to win back the fan base before playing back to form and dashing the hopes of the fans. The Yankees on the other hand, riddled with injuries, have benefited from playing in the “competitive”—perhaps “ugly” is a better term‑AL East, where the loss of four of the five starting pitchers on the Opening Day roster hasn’t yet knocked them out of the playoff hunt.

As a result, both teams could be players as the trade deadline looms. The Yanks brought over Chase Headley from San Diego and assure us they’re not done acquiring talent for the postseason push, while Met fans wonder if there’s a team out there—maybe the Yankees—who might be willing to eat Bartolo Colon’s contract and possibly go over MLB’s luxury tax on postgame spreads, in exchange for some prospects.

The Jets and Giants opened up camp, both teams with major question marks at the big positions; Geno or Vick? Can Eli bounce back? Do the Giants have any running backs currently on the roster?

Not to be outdone, the NBA has been a fun follow this summer as well. From LeBron’s choice to return to Cleveland‑Decision 2: The Re-Decisioning‑to Carmelo’s drama with the Knicks; heck, even the Las Vegas summer league has been exciting, giving fans the chance to see
up-and-comers like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins face-off on the court.

Even the world of sports in the Hometown area is more abuzz than usual, from a monumental coaching change in the Harrison football program, to local athletes in crew, softball and basketball competing—and succeeding—at the national level.

As far as summers go, this certainly hasn’t been your run-of-the-mill dead period. The sports fan in me loves the different stories and narratives developing on a daily basis–after all, it beats binge-watching bad TV series on Netflix.

And the sports writer in me loves it as well. At least I’ve got something to write about. I have to earn my paycheck somehow.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter, 

@LiveMike_Sports

 
Michael Carty—a rising junior at Rye High School—goes for a layup on July 17. Carty is one of several Rye locals playing in multiple summer leagues.

Resurrection league a hit

Michael Carty—a rising junior at Rye High School—goes for a layup on July 17. Carty is one of several Rye locals playing in multiple summer leagues.

Michael Carty—a rising junior at Rye High School—goes for a layup on July 17. Carty is one of several Rye locals playing in multiple summer leagues.

By MIKE SMITH
Rye Resurrection’s Summer Intramural Basketball League kicked off its inaugural season in June and, so far, the competition has been fierce as scores of local youths take the court twice a week to battle for hardwood supremacy.

Two players tip off at the Doty Gymnasium on July 17. Each Monday and Thursday, Rye Resurrection features two intramural basketball games.

Two players tip off at the Doty Gymnasium on July 17. Each Monday and Thursday, Rye Resurrection features two intramural basketball games.

With roughly 50 players aged 14 to 17 on four teams, the league has been a success, according to Resurrection Monsignor Donald Dwyer. Dwyer, who previously ran a similar program at Church of the Assumption in the Bronx, felt implementing a summer league in Rye was a no-brainer given the success of Resurrection’s CYO program.

“It’s something that brings the community together,” Dwyer said. “And it gives the kids something to do.”

Games are played on Mondays and Thursdays at the newly renovated Doty Gymnasium‑featuring official scorers and patched referees–making this one of the more unique leagues in the area. While most summer leagues are run by high school programs and are aimed at developing talent for the varsity level, the Resurrection league is only open to Rye residents but welcomes players of all skill levels.

 

The league may also pay dividends at the varsity level, however; several players currently in Rye’s High School program are taking part.

Two players tip off at the Doty Gymnasium on July 17. Each Monday and Thursday, Rye Resurrection features two intramural basketball games.

Two players tip off at the Doty Gymnasium on July 17. Each Monday and Thursday, Rye Resurrection features two intramural basketball games.

Will Durkee, who saw minutes on the varsity last winter as a junior, is playing in both the Garnets’ summer league as well as in the Resurrection league. He said he’s playing basketball almost five times a week over the summer in the hopes it will pay off once the basketball season rolls around in late November.

Durkee said playing in the Resurrection league gives him the chance to work on other aspects of his game that he might not get the chance to explore as a part of the Garnets’ system.

“Generally, one of my strengths is shooting,” Durkee said. “But here, I can work on my passing and my
rebounding, if I need to.”

Michael Carty, a rising junior and varsity hopeful, echoed Durkee’s sentiments.

 

“You don’t have that pressure here if you want to try something new,” he said. “So it gives you a little more freedom to work on something in the game.”

A player soars toward the basket on July 17. Though the league features four teams now, there are plans to expand next summer.

A player soars toward the basket on July 17. Though the league features four teams now, there are plans to expand next summer.

Dwyer said the success of the league this year–due in part to the large player turnout and willingness of parents to pitch in–means next year the league will look to expand in order to accommodate more players.

“We filled up quickly,” Dwyer said. “Next year, we’d like to add about two more teams.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
The Hoop Strong 14U team became the first New York-based squad to win a national AAU title when it  defeated the Randalstown Running Rebels in Orlando, Fla., last week. Contributed photo

Local squad wins AAU crown

The Hoop Strong 14U team became the first New York-based squad to win a national AAU title when it  defeated the Randalstown Running Rebels in Orlando, Fla., last week. Contributed photo

The Hoop Strong 14U team became the first New York-based squad to win a national AAU title when it defeated the Randalstown Running Rebels in Orlando, Fla., last week. Contributed photo

By MIKE SMITH
A group of local basketball players took home a prestigious honor last week when the Hoop Strong Warriors 14U AA team won the Division 2 National Championships at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orland, Fla.

The Warriors beat Maryland’s Randalstown Running Rebels 35-34 in the title game to win a field of 113 of the best Division 2 teams in the country. This is the first time ever that a New York team has finished first at the tournament.

According to Hoop Strong head coach and director Mike Matthews, the 14U team–which finished with a perfect 29-0 record in AAU play this season–showed promise from the time the team began workouts in the fall.

“I had this group with a lot of the same kids since they were in sixth grade,” Matthews said. “There was a lot of unity on this team and they became brothers right off the bat.”

Down the stretch, the team was led by Aundre Hyatt and Marcus Ellington, each of whom tallied 16 points in the final game. Harrison resident and Iona Prep student Jack Doty scored three points in the game.

For a team that is comprised of top-level players, Matthews said, it’s important for each player to find a role on the team as quickly as possible.

“I preach this to every team; we don’t have that one player that’s going to take us over the hump,” the head coach said. “We’ve got to play good team defense and do everything with a team-first concept and the team bought into that pretty early.”

Matthews feels the chance to play at the AAU level will eventually benefit his players when they return to their respective prep squads in the winter.

“When you get to the high school level, kids are going to be bigger, stronger, faster,” Matthews said. “I think playing at this level will give them a boost of confidence.”

The Hoop Strong program runs year-round, and Matthews said while his younger teams–starting with first and second graders–feature players that are committed to playing other sports throughout the year, the majority of his older players, including the athletes on the national championship squad, have begun to concentrate their efforts on basketball as their primary sport.

“It’s a high level of commitment, and we start young,” he said. “It’s good for [the younger players] because, as they get older, they know what to expect. By the time they get to eighth grade, to the level of the 14U team, running the offense becomes second nature to them.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com