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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 23, 2006

Wright’s kids ready to take over the team

By Tim Matteson

BERNE — Four years ago, when Andy Wright took over the basketball program at Berne-Knox-Westerlo, he knew it would take some time before the Bulldogs would be successful again.

Now, the time might be here.

The Bulldogs return several talented players and will have more move up from the junior varsity as they head into the season opener the day after Thanksgiving.

"Hopefully, this season will show the fruits of Coach [Brian] McCoy’s and my labor. I knew it would take three to four years to develop and this is the fourth year. This is the first group that I started working with when they were little. I think the Bulldogs’ bite might be back."

The Bulldogs also have one transfer student that will help them and maybe another one if everything works out.

Returning for BKW will be senior Rich Geist and juniors Josh Skinner and Matt Lounsbury. All three were starters last year for Wright.

"We have three starters back and all five starters from the j.v. have come up," Wright said. "They had 13 wins and were very competitive.

"Two of our returning starters are juniors," Wright added. "Rich Geist played point guard last year and this year he’ll move to the three [forward]. He was injured the last two springs and didn’t play AAU basketball, but the rest played in AAU."

Most of the kids play in an Athletic Amateur Union team during the spring and go to camps and a team camp during the summer.

"These kids play year-round," Wright said. "We went to a team camp and competed. We were a small school playing up."

Getting the call-up from the junior varsity are juniors Ben Burton, Joey Conklin, Jeremy Springer, Keith Cunningham, and Greg Mulson. Sophomore Dave Sikule is also moving up.

"David Sikule will be our point guard," Wright said. "We have an intelligent group of kids. I love the kids I have. Most of them have a 90 or higher average in school. They have been playing together for a long time."

The Bulldogs added size this season in the form of transfer student Lenny Coons. Coons joins the BKW team after moving to the Hilltowns from Middleburgh. Coons is six feet, four inches tall and weighs about 260 pounds, Wright said.

The Bulldogs also might get more size if transfer student Mike Hopper is eligible to play. Hopper played at Voorheesville last year and is enrolled at BKW this year.

Tough schedule

The Bulldogs opened the season on Wednesday in the Rensselaer Tournament. They will play Hoosick Falls in the first game.

"Hopefully, we’ll be ready for the first game of the tournament," Wright said. "We haven’t won any more than eight games the last two years. I’m hoping for 12 or better. That’s a realistic expectation. We don’t play a watered-down schedule. We lost to Hoosick Falls by a considerable margin in sectionals last year. We play Watervliet in the Tamarac Tournament. And we play Herkimer, which was ranked number-one in the state last year."

The Bulldogs will also have a tough stretch around Christmas time.

"We’ll play four games in seven days during Christmas break," Wright said. "We’ll have to be in excellent condition."

BKW will play two games in the Tamarac Tournament and then two more in the St. Johnsville Tournament.

Wright said his team looked alright in its first competition of the year.

"We shook off the rust," Wright said. "We looked good in our first scrimmage. We’ve just got to keep getting better. We have to execute our plays and our sets. In terms of talent and ability, we’ll be good. But what exceeds that is a team that plays together. I never coached a team that can play as deep. I can play everybody on my roster and not give up anything."

The Bulldogs open the Western Athletic Conference season on Dec. 8 at Canajoharie.

"They have been champions three out of the last four years," Wright said.


Wright has seen good progress in the BKW basketball program and is pleased to see where it’s at right now.

Len Cianfrocco takes over the freshmen team this year and Cliff and Dennis Barber continue to work with the seventh- and eighth-grade teams.

The solid coaching has helped give Wright a depth of talent.

"We’re in a nice situation with our depth," Wright said. "All the kids can play. I’ll have more problems dividing up the playing time. But it’s not a bad problem to have."

The talent has also led to excitement that Wright has seen throughout the Hilltowns.

"People are excited about BKW basketball," the coach said. "There is a buzz in the community. When I go to the post office or the library or the transfer station, everybody is interested in what’s happening with the team. The kids have got a high level of talent."

Guilderland athletes sign on the dotted line

By Tim Matteson

GUILDERLAND — Three Guilderland athletes had their dreams come true last week.

On Nov. 15, Nikki Branchini, Ben Henderson, and Nick Polsinelli all signed letters of intent to play college sports. Branchini will play Division I lacrosse at the University at Albany; Henderson will play baseball at Division I Jacksonville University in Florida; and Polsinelli will play baseball at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, a Division II school.

"It’s definitely a relief to get the decision out of the way," Henderson said. "We have unfinished business as a team. Me and Nick have been lucky that we had coaches that supported us over the years and helped us get to where we are now."

All three athletes said that they felt comfortable at their chosen schools — for the academics as well as athletics.

"I feel that I was taught all those things when I was young," Polsinelli said. "My parents and coaches always said that academics come first. You can’t be playing on the ball field if you don’t keep on top of that."

Henderson has been on the varsity since his freshman year and Polsinelli has been on the varsity for three years. Both gave credit to head coach Doug LaValley for his help in developing their skills.

Henderson also played for the South Troy Dodgers baseball program in the high school off-season and Polsinelli played for the Capital District Knights and for the Adirondack Team at the Empire State Games the past two summers. He also played for South Troy this past fall.

Branchini has been a club lacrosse player and a member of the varsity girls team for three years. She has also been on the varsity field hockey and basketball teams and had to leave Wednesday’s press conference early to go to basketball practice.

Reaching their goal

It had been a goal of all three players to participate in a high level of competition. And all three have accomplished those goals.

"I just like playing the game," Henderson said. "I work on getting better every day. I got better and had an opportunity to get seen by colleges."

"Having two older brothers," Polsinelli said, "I felt like I had to be better than both of them. I would try to be the best. I knew I could be playing at the college level and I’m excited to be attending The College of Saint Rose."

Saint Rose is a power on the Division II level and has sent some players to the professional ranks. Jacksonville is a small program in a talent-laden state, but plays Division I against much larger schools, such as Florida State University and the University of Florida.

"I definitely took some time," Henderson said. "I’ll be far away from home and what I know. Competition-wise, I’m looking forward to the schedule and playing Florida and Florida State and the other teams in their conference. They are a top-notch team."

Both ball players will be playing in front of professional scouts, though that isn’t anything new.

"I have wanted to play in the Major Leagues or any higher level of baseball since I was in Little League," Henderson said. "I’ll play in front of pro scouts, but you just have to play your game and try not to think about them. You just go and do what you know how to do and go with it."

"We play in front of pro scouts in high school," Polsinelli said. "We played in front of pro scouts all fall. We just play the game like we know how to play it and we’ll be alright."

But before college and pro scouts comes one final high school season for the two Dutchmen. Both are among the top pitchers in Section II. Polsinelli is a talented middle infielder and Henderson will see time at first base when not on the mound. Both can also hit the ball hard.

Guilderland will be considered one of the top teams in the Suburban Council this spring.

"Coach LaValley said that we might be paper champions," Polsinelli said. "But that doesn’t mean anything. We have to get on the playing field and get the job done."

Super seniors

Branchini, Henderson, and Polsinelli are just three Guilderland High School athletes who will be receiving some sort of athletic scholarship or playing at a Division I or Division II level.

Athletic Director Wayne Bertrand envisions a possibility of nine or 10 athletes moving on to top notch competition in college.

Running star Brian Rhodes-Devey will be heading to the University of Texas next fall to run cross-country and track. Rhodes-Devey is one of the top runners in the state and showed that by finishing second at the New York Federation meet in Wappingers Falls on Saturday.

Football lineman Kyle Hussey is being looked at by Division I and I-AA schools and is looking hard at the University at Albany.

Scott Raffensperger is heading to Albany to play lacrosse for Coach Scott Marr. The long-stick defender has been on the varsity for three years and played at the Empire State Games this summer.

Track star Mark Domaracki is also being recruited heavily by Division I colleges to run. He is in the midst of basketball season but was a state qualifier in the 400-meter run last spring.

"We can have eight or nine scholarship athletes," Bertrand said. "It could be as many as 10. I’m proud of that. That shows the program has come along from top to bottom. And that makes me the most proud."

Blackbirds will have shoes to fill

By Tim Matteson

VOORHEESVILLE — A lot of new players will fill in spots for the Voorheesville boys’ basketball team this winter.

The Blackbirds lost three experienced starters and a couple of good players off the bench from last year’s Class B semifinalists.

"We have three important spots open," said Voorheesville Coach Don Catellier. "We lost three good kids that started for three years. We’ll have to find some people that want to play them. I think we’ve got great, great kids that can play there. We just need to gain experience. It’s not as much about playing time as much as asking them to step up."

Graduated from the Voorheesville roster are three-year starters Nick Duncan, Andy Catellier, and Greg Klopfer. They have big shoes that Don Catellier will need to fill.

"We have a good group up from the junior varsity," Catellier said. "They are working hard."

Returning is junior Evan Christner. He started last year as a sophomore and was a good contributor for the Birds.

Justin Arico returns to play at the guard spot again this year.

Chris Thompson got some time off the bench last year and is vying to be the starting point guard this season. Greg Carson is also returning after seeing some playing time last year.

Tim Robinson and Joe Klembczyk are also returning from the varsity last year and will be asked to play more minutes this year.

"They will be asked to play major roles," Catellier said. "They will have to be the leaders of the team and make plays. They can’t wait for someone else; they’ve got to do it."

Newcomers to the team are juniors Jordan Murphy, Jay Conde, Macky Lloyd, Kevin Klembczyk, and senior Pino Ragonese.

Friday’s practice was one of the few for which Catellier has had a full squad in the early season.

"Macky was gone for cross-country," Catellier said, "Timmy had football, and Joey was hurt from soccer. I was missing kids and I’ve only had them for about a week."

"Different things"

The Blackbirds have had a couple of scrimmages. The first was against Broadalbin-Perth.

"We did alright," Catellier said. "It was our first scrimmage. We played hard and hustled. Our energy was great. Basketball-wise we need to improve."

Voorheesville scrimmaged Hoosick Falls on Monday and Mohonasen on Wednesday.

The Blackbirds will have a different look than last year. They lost size in Duncan and will rely on more speed and quickness.

"We’ll do some different things," Catellier said. "We’re more athletic than we’ve been in a few years. We’ll be different on offense and defense. We’re still getting into it. We’re still working on it."

Carson, Christner, and Robinson will provide some size for the Blackbirds this season.

"Greg, Timmy, and Evan are good-sized kids," Catellier said. "Jay Conde is athletic. He can jump through the roof. We’ll do stuff like press more and run a motion offense. We’ll try to get after some people."

The Blackbirds will also be a deep team this year.

"I have 11 players and, right now, I feel I can put any of the 11 out there," Catellier said. "We’ll be a pretty balanced team. And Evan can be one of the best players in the Colonial Council. We want to put the ball in his hands down low. Size-wise, nobody can stop him.

"Justin is confident he can shoot the ball," Catellier added. "Macky and Chris are battling for the point guard spot."

Voorheesville will open the season in the Catholic Central High School Tournament this weekend. The Blackbirds will play the host school and either Schuylerville or Colonial Council rival Albany Academy in the second game.

They open the league season against Cobleskill on Dec. 1. Then the birds face their familiar rival.

"We’re at Albany Academy for the second game of the year," Catellier said. "We’ll find out right away if we’re any good."

The Birds will also be in a Christmas tournament at Saratoga Spa Catholic. Also in the tournament is Greenwich and Hudson Falls.

"We’ll get to see some different teams," Catellier said.

Lady Birds want to bring back the tradition

By Tim Matteson

VOORHEESVILLE — The players on the Voorheesville girls’ basketball team are looking to return the program to the high perch it once sat upon.

After winning just two games last season, the Blackbirds are hungry to get back to being one of the best small-school basketball programs in Section II.

"We’re very excited about it," said Voorheesville Coach John McClement. "We are looking to rebound from last year. By all accounts, it was a down year. It was the first time in 12 or more years that we haven’t had a piece of the final or championship. This group is hungry for that."

Voorheesville has five seniors who are returning and remember what it was like to win games. Jenna Massaroni, Alyssa Schultz, Kelly Larsen, Kara Zimmerman, and Sarah Belenchia are the upperclassmen coming back.

"We have five seniors returning and we also have a lot of younger kids that we moved up," McClement said.

Erika Schultz, Casey Beccerra, and Courtney Bourque moved up to the varsity during the season last year because of a slew of injuries.

"At that point of the season, we had nothing to lose," McClement said. "They had everything to gain. Our record didn’t indicate it, but we were competitive in most games. We lost a lot of games by one or two possessions. I think certainly that our record should have been better."

Brittany Vogel is also a returner to the varsity. The junior had a contributing role last year.

Joining the varsity are Katie Bollentin, Kate Prendergast, Krissie Norris, and Heather Bates.

"Every night will be a battle"

McClement expects his team to battle in the Colonial Council, as the league is tough as usual.

"Every night will be a battle," the coach said. "Nobody is above the other. There is no dominant team in this league, which is typical of the Colonial Council. Watervliet returns a lot. I’m not sure they had a senior last year. Holy Names has a new coach. I don’t know if they will have the same style as last year. Ravena has a new coach, so it’s the same thing there."

McClement and his players have discussed what it would take to get back to being competitive in the league.

"We had a big drop-off from what we do," McClement said. "They saw it, and the one thing we talked about is that they wanted to be different. This senior group wants things to be different. They want to change their luck."

The Blackbirds have had some scrimmages this pre-season as they get ready for the season opener Dec. 1 at Cobleskill.

"We just want to play games," McClement said. "At this point, we are ready to get on the court."

The players are ready to get on the court and get the tradition back.

"They know it," McClement said. "They’ve grown up with it. And I think that made last year even harder to deal with. The girls have had sisters that played, or cousins, or older friends. There is only one way to go after a two-win season and that is improve. They put in the time and I think everybody is accepting a role."

The Birds will have to improve in some of the technical aspects of the game.

"The big key is shooting consistently," McClement said. "We didn’t shoot consistently last year, particularly from the free-throw line. We do things that improve that. Improving our shooting is an everyday thing."

McClement hopes that improving will give his players confidence as they work their way back to the top.

"We’ve been winning for a long time," McClement said. "They don’t know any other way. They didn’t forget how to play basketball."

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