The end of any school year is undoubtedly a joyous time for all involved. From the students, who welcome two months of freedom from quizzes, tests, report cards and essays with unfettered celebration, to the teachers, whose own relief is just as palpable, there are few tears shed when schools close their doors for summer vacation.
But for some—like me—the end of an academic year is always a time of reflection; a bittersweet period during which I get to look back on the year that was and look ahead to the storylines I will follow once preseason kicks off in August.
This year, there was no shortage of great sports moments—both individual and team-oriented. But the importance of these stories is often lost in the final score.
The chance to watch these teams year in, year out, provides me—and hopefully our readers—with the bigger picture. The ebb and flow of Section I powers, the maturation of a group of young athletes, struggles to reach new heights and the inevitable process of rebuilding that all programs must face.
This year, watching basketball players like Eastchester’s Jack Daly, Harrison’s Coby Lefkowitz and Rye’s Rachel Egen, Hannah Billingsley and Alanna Morque, I saw multi-year stars come into their own and have a major impact on the style of ball their teams played. But, in all three cases, not one of these players deviated from the team-first concept. Instead, each managed to become a star while adhering to the principal strategies and game plan of his or her coach. Ball movement and tenacious defense were the calling cards of the Huskies, Eagles and Garnet girls this year—so I don’t think it’s a coincidence all three teams found themselves playing in the County Center in February.
Perhaps no group of athletes this year—male or female—bought into the concept of team and community quite like the Rye Neck Panthers.
For years, murmurs in the hallways said 2014 would be “the year” that a talented crop of senior athletes would elevate the Panther name to new heights. And boy did it ever. With two state finals appearances—football and baseball—and a berth in the Class B basketball finals, this was undoubtedly one of the most talented classes of athletes Rye Neck has produced.
Aside from the prodigious talent, what struck me about this team was its sense of camaraderie. After every game, that day’s star would undoubtedly bring up the fact that the seniors on this team played together since elementary school and they waited for the chance to shine–together–for years.
And that, my friends, made them a pretty easy group to root for.
I’m well aware groups like that don’t come around every year. Even so, I’m looking ahead to next year to see if someone will emerge as the next great story. Will it be Bronxville’s girls lacrosse team—fresh off its first-ever sectional win—that gets over the hump to claim a state title like the boys did this year?
Will it be Harrison’s baseball team, which struggled with a young group this year before winning a postseason play-in game, that turns the corner like its rivals from Rye did this year?
Will New Rochelle’s baseball team, led by emerging star JoJo Gray, be able to avenge its first-round playoff exit in 2014 and win another league title?
These are all questions that remain, for now, unanswered. But watching these storylines play out makes me want to fast-forward through the summer and get right back into the thick of things come August.
Of course, I’m sure there are a few teachers out there who might disagree with me on that one.
Follow Mike on Twitter, @LiveMike_Sports