The Section 1 Class AA girls basketball field will be more crowded this season after it was determined by the section that Albertus Magnus will be moving up from Class A. The Falcons will join fellow private schools Ursuline and Lourdes in the section’s highest classification for the 2016-17 season.
Section 1 executive director Jen Simmons confirmed the decision to The Journal News/lohud Tuesday afternoon, citing the section’s bi-annual review of all private, charter, and parochial schools. The review requires schools to submit records and playoff history over the past five seasons, the prior season’s roster, and residences of all athletes for each sport at each level, according to Simmons.
“I think we’re always surprised when we see our teams move up,” Albertus Magnus athletic director Tim Gavan said. “It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.”
A committee consisting of eight people and a sub-committee of five additional people review each case and decide whether to adjust the program’s athletic classification. Simmons said the decision is made on a consensus vote, but that it’s “usually unanimous.”
Gavan said he has been in contact with varsity girls basketball coach Pat Buckley since the school received the letter of notification from the section Monday, noting both were disappointed with the decision.
Albertus Magnus’ varsity girls basketball team compiled a record of 89-23 over the past five seasons, according to the New York State Sportswriters Association, with one section title and two additional trips to the championship game.
Albertus Magnus has competed in Class A since 2009, when it won the section championship. The Falcons have been one of the most successful girls basketball teams in the section over the past two decades, reaching the Westchester County Center — home of the Section 1 championships — in 17 consecutive seasons.
“Apparently the rule was supposed to be based on dominance,” Buckley said Wednesday afternoon. “I wouldn’t say that winning a section title by five points two years ago counts as being dominant.”
The Falcons’ current stretch of consistent success has had many public school coaches, particularly those in lower classifications, calling for a change.
Rye girls basketball head coach Dennis Hurlie and Pelham girls basketball head coach Tim Pitrulle both objected to private schools playing for public school championships last year, but said they would concede to having them play in the highest classification — where the largest schools by enrollment play.
“I think it’s the right decision,” said Pitrulle, who was the head coach at private school Maria Regina for 12 seasons before arriving at Pelham. “When you’re a team that’s been to the County Center 16, 17, 18 years in a row, that’s not the norm.”
Many coaches and athletes consider making it to the County Center an accomplishment in itself.
Ursuline moved down to Class A in the middle of the season last year, drawing the ire of Class A programs, but will be back in Class AA this year due to increased enrollment at the school and not a section committee decision. The Koalas lost to Rye in the Section 1 Class A final last year.
Hurlie said he received several text messages from fellow Class A coaches who were applauding the section’s decision to move Albertus Magnus up.
“When you take Magnus and Ursuline and move them out … there’s a whole list of schools that think, ‘Wow, we can get to that Final Four,’ ” said Hurlie, whose team will play Albertus Magnus, Ursuline, and Lourdes this season. “I’m glad we’re playing all three because it’s going to make us better.”
Albertus Magnus was the perceived favorite by many to win the section title in 2017, with the Falcons returning all-state juniors Dani LaRochelle and Mairead Durkin, talented junior guards Kate Mager and Allison Conti, and senior starter Lizzy Benedetto.
“If you asked me (Monday) who the favorite was to win (Class A), the first word out of my mouth would’ve been, ‘Albertus,’ ” Pitrulle said. “I think Albertus Magnus will do very well (in Class AA). If they don’t get to the County Center, they will be in the game to get there.”
Buckley said that while the school is “at the discretion of the section,” he welcomes the challenge that await in Class AA.
“We go from being the favorite to not being a favorite at all,” he said, referring to six-time reigning section champion Ossining. “It’ll be a challenge, but we’re looking forward to it.”