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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, August 23, 2007

Talent and expectations abound for Dutchmen

By Tim Matteson

GUILDERLAND — The attitude has changed for the coaches and players of the Guilderland football team.

After more than a decade without a winning record, the Dutchmen want to build on last year’s success and have a little of their own success.

"Last year, we took steps," said Guilderland Coach Dan Penna. "But we are not settling. We raised the expectations of how we play. It’s dedication to excellence. If we do things right, it’s not just about staying in games and surviving. We can excel if we play our own game."

"We want to work off last year," said senior Nick Ranalli. "We want respect. A lot of people think that we haven’t earned it."

"We’re taking it one at a time," added classmate Pete Stanish. "We’re taking it week-to-week."

Last year, the Dutchmen made their first playoff appearance since 1999 and had their first winning record since 1995. Guilderland lost to eventual Section II Class AA champion Christian Brothers Academy in the first round of the playoffs.

"We’ve been waiting for the season ever since we lost to CBA," senior Paul Malamood said. "We have to get them back."

Returning talent

The Dutchmen have a lot of talent returning from last year’s team. A lot of the skilled players return, but there is some work to be done on the offensive and defensive lines.

"We’re looking to expand our offensive packages," Penna said. "We won’t be running everything the first few games. We’ll add things as the season progresses. We want to take advantage of our match-ups. We have speed outside and we have some good north-south runners. When a defense shuts down certain parts of our offense, we want to show our versatility this year."

The Dutchmen lost key players on both sides of the ball, and there are some gaps to fill on defense.

"We have both our cornerbacks returning but we lost two great safeties," Penna said of players who have graduated. "We have people assuming those roles. They should be effective.

"We have a couple of our linebackers back. That will help us when we start to play with our defensive line."

Gone from an outstanding defense are graduates Kyle Hussey, Kevin Forbes, and Jarrell Gatterson.

"We lost some great players in Hussey and Forbes, among others," Penna said. "It’s hard to replace those types of kids. But the guys have given a tremendous amount of effort in the off-season and we’ve had a successful camp."

Senior Drew Smith will play more at quarterback this season, after playing in numerous spots last year. He also had a big year last year as a cornerback.

Classmate Paul Booker returns to play halfback and junior Jason Lawrence will play more at fullback this year.

Junior Devan Van Auken is the only player who returns to either the offensive and defensive lines. He is a two-way tackle for the Dutchmen.

"Nine out of 10 line starters are gone," Penna said. "All-around, we are lacking experience. The guys we’ve got coming back haven’t been on the field but they are skilled and, at times, are explosive players.

"A few of them were in a starting role last year," Penna added. "As they mature, they will improve throughout the season."

"I’m the only starting lineman returning," Van Auken said. "We are returning some good kids"We have so many good kids that didn’t even start last year or didn’t even play.

"They got a lot better over the past year," Van Auken added. "We’re looking to continue that. Our goal is to continue the legacy and we are trying to get back to the former glory years."

Malamood returns to play tight end and linebacker this year. Stanish will join Malamood in the linebacker corps. Parker Wolfe will be a receiver and safety, and Ranalli will play wingback and returns to his cornerback position.

Stanish, Ranalli, and Smith were recognized as all-league players last year.

Expectations high

"We feel that this is a very athletic group that is also a hard-working group," Penna said. "We have a lot of talented kids coming back."

With talent, comes expectations and they are high for the Dutchmen this year.

"Our expectations for them is to continue to strive for perfection," Penna said.

The kids are working toward that perfection even as the pre-season reaches its second week.

"We’ve had a good camp so far," Penna said. "We’ve thrown a lot at the kids mentally. Camp is always physical. We do a lot of running and conditioning. We also want to challenge the kids mentally."

"We’ve been practicing hard," Van Auken said. "We’ve done a lot of conditioning. We want to be in much better shape than the opposition late in games and then take it to them."

The Dutchmen will have to prepare for a tough slate of games this fall. Class AA was realigned into two divisions from three and Guilderland is in the Empire Division.

The Dutch will face Albany High School to open the season on Aug. 31. Guilderland then will travel to Queensbury on Sept. 9 to play a rare day game.

The Dutch will also play — in order — Bethlehem at home; CBA in Colonie; at Ballston Spa; at home against Saratoga; and at Shenendehowa.

The playoffs start on Oct. 19.

There is a lot of excitement around the team, and it is not just from the players and coaches.

"Everybody is excited about the season," Booker said. "We have a bunch of skill players that are going to go to college. And most are looking at Division I colleges."

"There is a lot of excitement in town," Smith said. "They support us a lot more than past years."

"The administration is behind us more than ever before," Malamood said.

The Guilderland players have high expectations but they know they have to take steps to reach their goals.

"We want to win Section II," Ranalli said. "We want to go all the way"But we have to take it one game at a time. But we want to go further."

"This is our year," Booker added. "We’re going towards the [Section II] Super Bowl. We want to be in there."

Young players fall in line for Blackbirds

By Tim Matteson

VOORHEESVILLE — With key ingredients gone, the Voorheesville football coaches worked throughout the off-season to cook up a solid team for 2007.

In need of depth on the offensive and defensive lines, some young players have stepped up and will help continue to make the Blackbirds a competitor in Class C.

"This particular group started pre-season ahead," said Voorheesville Coach Joseph Sapienza. "We had very good attendance at both team camps and the skill sessions that we did.

"They have been very focused so far in the pre-season," Sapienza added. "We’ve gotten 100 percent effort from 100 percent of the players."

"The younger guys are stepping up and filling into positions," said senior quarterback and co-captain Jay Conde.

"We’re coming together pretty well," added senior co-captain Adam Duncan. "The younger guys are stepping up."

Duncan and Conde are captains along with senior lineman Sean Fitzmaurice and senior running back Pat Jones.

"We are going to try to be better than last year," said Fitzmaurice, one of two linemen with experience.

Fitzmaurice played mostly on the defensive side of the ball last year and will have to add offensive tackle duties to his workload this year.

Daniel Flynn is the only other lineman returning who got a lot of playing time last year.

"Put in the effort"

"It’s kind of the opposite of where we were a year ago," Sapienza said. "We had an experienced line and backfield. This year is opposite: Our skill players have experience and we have some young people on the line."

But a lot of the younger players have worked to get better during the off-season.

"At the end of last season," Sapienza said. "I put it to the kids that there is an opportunity to start at the varsity level on the offensive line. The positions are there if you make the effort. The young kids came up big. They put in the effort to train and prepare.

"We’re not starting the season cold," he added. "The kids made the effort to do the extra things that will continue to the varsity."

Sapienza said that the senior leadership has also helped the transition for the younger players.

"The four guys there," Sapienza said of Conde, Fitzmaurice, Duncan, and Jones, "are seniors and leaders. They care about it and they create a good environment for the younger kids to come out and step up and give it a shot."

The Voorheesville squad has just 23 players, which is fewer than the past few years.

"We’ve been doing a lot of conditioning," Conde said. "Our numbers are low, so we’ve been running a lot."

Two divisions

For the third year in a row, Class C has been realigned. This year, the class has split into two divisions instead of three.

"It works this year," Sapienza said. "It happens to work in our favor. When they re-arranged the divisions, they drew up a new schedule. We get Watervliet and Chatham on our home schedule. That works in our favor."

Besides Chatham and Watervliet, Voorheesville is grouped with Hoosic Valley Mechanicville, Catholic Central High School, Tamarac, and Coxsackie-Athens.

The Blackbirds open the season at home against Hoosic Valley on Sept. 1.

"Everybody is antsy to play," Jones said. "We want to hit somebody."

"This is the first time in my three years on varsity that the entire team is looking forward to the season," Fitzmaurice said.

"We don’t have any cross-over games," Sapienza said. "Every game is a divisional game and is for standings. It takes all the other criteria out of the mix."

"We are going to take it one game at a time," Jones said.

"We are not underestimating anybody," Conde added.

"It’s a great competitive schedule," Sapienza said. "I think any team coming out of division and Class C will be competitive in the state playoffs."

Looking at states

But the Blackbirds also have loftier goals.

"We are looking at going to states," Fitzmaurice said. "We want to go all the way."

"That has been our goal for the last three years," Duncan added. "It’s not happened yet."

Voorheesville had a good team last year. Although the Blackbirds were the number-eight seed for the Class C Section II playoffs last year, they were one win away from being one of the higher seeds in the playoffs.

That didn’t matter, as the Blackbirds knocked off top-seed Stillwater in the first-round of the playoffs before losing to Chatham — for the second time — in the semifinals.

This year, they can be just as competitive.

"The kids are coming together as a team," Sapienza said. "They are working hard. What we really are working on is our depth. We feel our first 11 matches up with anybody. We’re trying to prepare for the long term."

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