Favorite: Ossining. Don’t let the three freshmen starters on paper fool you — the five-time defending section champs and No. 1 seed are very much the frontrunner this year. Aubrey Griffin and Kailah Harris already have offers from Seton Hall, where senior teammate Shadeen Samuels is signed to play next year, and Ossining head coach Dan Ricci thinks his freshman point guard Jaida Strippoli will be “right there with them” at the Division I level.
Challenger: North Rockland. The fact that these two have not played each other this year during the regular season could help or hinder the Red Raiders’ chances, but they’re talented enough to hang with the Pride. North Rockland has good size in senior center Pam Miceus and freshman forward Jaida Patrick that will match up well with Ossining’s bigs.
Sleeper: Arlington. One thing I’ve learned about sports when it comes to the postseason is that momentum is a tremendous factor, and Arlington has a ton of it. The fifth-seeded Admirals (14-6) are “peaking at the right time,” head coach Kim Costello told The Poughkeepsie Journal and have an experienced squad of eight seniors. Arlington’s not a threat to win it all, but it could certainly be dancing at the County Center.
Best first-round game: No. 10 Fox Lane at No. 7 Clarkstown South. Both teams have been hit with the injury bug this year but have rebounded nicely as the season progressed. The Vikings appear to be the more fundamentally-sound team, but the athleticism of Fox Lane is bound to give the hosts fits all game.
Upset special: No. 10 Fox Lane at No. 7 Clarkstown South. This is the most realistic upset, in my opinion. Fox Lane sophomore Maria Violante has been a dominating force all season, and if Clarkstown South can’t find an answer for her, it could make a first round exit. Also not a bad bet: No. 11 Suffern at No. 6 John Jay-East Fishkill.
Toughest road: No. 9 Lourdes. I really had high hopes for the Warriors, who returned four starters from last year’s section finalist team. If Lourdes gets past No. 8 White Plains, as I think it will, it runs right into Ossining. The Warriors gave the Pride a good game earlier this year, but even if it pulls off the mammoth of all upsets, it would still have to beat likely New Rochelle or Arlington and North Rockland or Scarsdale to hoist the gold ball. Not a fun trip.
County Center-bound: Ossining, North Rockland, Scarsdale, New Rochelle
Championship: Ossining over North Rockland, 82-64.
MVP candidates: Gabby Cajou, North Rockland; Kayla Correa, New Rochelle; Rachel Cohen, Scarsdale; Aubrey Griffin, Ossining; Lindsay Kramer, Scarsdale; Shadeen Samuels, Ossining; Casey Schweitzer, Arlington
Favorite: Albertus Magnus. Calling anyone a “favorite” in this class is loose term, but the defending champs return sophomore starters Mairead Durkin and reigning Section 1 tournament MVP Dani LaRochelle, and have one of the deepest rosters in the section.
Challenger: Everybody else. That’s not my way of avoiding confrontation; I can honestly see about seven teams realistically winning the gold ball. I have fifth-seeded Peekskill winning it all under first-year head coach Kimberly Saxton, so my top challenger would have to be the Lady Red Devils. Peekskill and Albertus Magnus will meet in the quarterfinals, should both advance. Whoever wins that game will most likely also win the gold ball.
Sleeper: Pearl River. Entering with the 7-seed, the Pirates will get to host a first round game before likely running into this year’s regular-season Cinderella, Somers. Pearl River’s core group of seniors — Lauren Gallagher, Kari Portington, Julie Marsico and Jenna Scanlon — have been on the team since they were freshmen. The Pirates have height, talent, experience and hunger to hijack the Class A scene.
Best first-round game:No. 9 Eastchester at No. 8 Harrison. Remember when Huskies head coach Louis Kail was ejected before his game on Feb. 5? It was against Eastchester. Sometimes the basketball gods give the people what they want.
Upset special: No. 11 Pelham at No. 6 Brewster. The youngsters that Pelicans head coach Tim Pitrulle brought to the County Center three years ago are now seniors, and every bit capable of spoiling some opponents’ postseason plans.
Toughest road: No. 8 Harrison. My dark horse, the Huskies draw a tough Eastchester team in the first round and then would likely face Ursuline in the quarterfinals. From there on, it doesn’t matter who makes the County Center this year — the Class A field will be a gauntlet.
County Center-bound: Ursuline, Somers, Rye, Peekskill
Championship: Peekskill over Rye, 67-60.
MVP candidates: Maddie Eck, Rye; Korina Guerra, Ursuline; Dani LaRochelle, Albertus Magnus; Katie McLoughlin, Ursuline; Katie Popp, Rye; Lanay Rodney, Peekskill; Gabby Rosenzweig, Somers
Favorite: Irvington. The defending champs graduated all but one starter, and the only game they lost this year came after shooting 18 percent. Next to Ossining, the Bulldogs are the safest bet in this tournament.
Challenger: Woodlands. You have to give the Falcons credit, seeing as how they are responsible for the “1” in Irvington’s loss column. Freshman Teisha Hyman is one of the best players in the section and capable of lighting it up at any point.
Sleeper: Westlake. The Wildcats made their first-ever trip to the County Center last year and will look to return this season. As an 8-seed, Westlake would draw Irvington in the first round, but if it could pull off the upset, the Wildcats are capable of beating any team in the field.
Best first-round game: No. 9 Dobbs Ferry at No. 8 Westlake. The Eagles are young this year, so the production is bound to be sporadic; but there’s talent all over the roster that could at least win this opening game.
Upset special: No. 10 Pleasantville at No. 7 Putnam Valley. The experience factor in this matchup is overwhelming. The Panthers still have a few bodies back from last year’s County Center team, while the Tigers are enjoying a breakout campaign.
Toughest road: Westlake. Dobbs Ferry isn’t a walkthrough game, and Irvington is the heavy favorite. If the Wildcats get by the Bulldogs, there will likely be Briarcliff, Valhalla, and/or Ardsley waiting in the wings.
County Center-bound: Irvington, Briarcliff, Woodlands, Ardsley
Championship: Irvington over Woodlands, 63-52.
MVP candidates: Nicolina Chenard, Ardsley; Lindsay Halpin, Irvington; KC Hamlin, Briarcliff; Teisha Hyman, Woodlands; Sam Morillo, Valhalla; Maddie Plank, Briarcliff; Danielle Scaperrotta, Ardsley
Favorite: Haldane. Don’t let the 3-seed fool you. The Blue Devils played a respectable schedule for a Class C program in order to prepare themselves for the County Center.
Challenger: Keio. The top-seeded Unicorns are currently having the best season in program history under first-year coach Steven Loscher, winning 14 games during the regular season. Loscher led Peekskill to the section final in Class A last year, and is itching to bring home a gold ball to Keio.
County Center-bound: Keio, Hamilton, Haldane, North Salem
Championship: Haldane over Keio, 64-50.
MVP candidates: Allison Chiera, Haldane; Nina Gill, Hamilton; Rumi Hirose, Keio; Marina Kofukugawa, Keio; Missy Lisikatos, Haldane
Column: Ursuline finally finds ‘A’ home
Mike Zacchio’s Top 10 rankings
1. Ossining (18-2)
2. North Rockland (17-3)
3. Peekskill (15-5)
4. Albertus Magnus (16-4)
5. Scarsdale (15-5)
6. Rye (16-4)
7. Ursuline (16-4)
8. New Rochelle (13-7)
9. Irvington (19-1)
10. Somers (18-2)