It wasn’t long ago that Section 1 sent eight girls basketball players off to Division I programs in what many describe as the greatest class in decades. Some, like Irvington head coach Gina Maher, say the Class of 2013 is the best ever.
“Absolutely,” said Maher, a 40-year coach who molded two of the eight players — current Lehigh star Lexi Martins, and Brittni Lai, who transferred to the University of New Hampshire from Marist.
The Class of 2019 will be the next great class in Section 1, and anyone who attended the girls basketball championships at the Westchester County Center this week will be quick to concur.
“This freshman class is unbelievable,” said Maher, a Westchester County Sports Hall of Famer. “The eighth grade, freshman and sophomore classes right now is as much talent as Section 1 has ever had.”
Six of the section’s top freshmen were on display this past week, shining at “Westchester’s Most Famous Arena.” One frosh — Woodlands guard Teisha Hyman — plays in the Class B final Monday at 7 p.m.
Two of her classmates were already named to the all-tournament team in their respective classes, and more are expected to follow — notably Hyman and North Salem freshman guard Grace Curran, who scored a team-high 12 points in the Tigers’ Class C semifinal loss to top-seeded Keio.
One thing is for certain: The future isn’t just bright for Section 1 — its dazzling brilliance is already here.
If you need definitive proof, look no further than Ossining, which extended its section record to six consecutive Class AA titles after Sunday’s win.
The Pride started three freshmen — Aubrey Griffin, Kailah Harris and Jaida Strippoli, the first two of whom were named to the Class AA all-tournament team. Pride head coach Dan Ricci said Griffin, the Class AA MVP, could challenge Saniya Chong’s four-year Section 1 scoring record (2,988 points), despite having never playing the game until last year.
“She was a baby when we got her,” Ricci said of the Chicago transplant, whose father played in the NBA and is currently an assistant coach with the Orlando Magic. “She was 13 years old, she’s only played a year of basketball — it was middle school basketball — and she’s grown tremendously as a player and as a person.”
Griffin said her father’s advice has helped her settle into the game quicker than expected.
“He tells me to stay focused on the game and don’t be nervous,” said Griffin, who is already the leading scorer (25.2 points per game) on the top-ranked team in the state. “If I’m nervous, I’m not going to play as well as I can.”
The 5-foot-11 forward has already earned an offer from Seton Hall, her father’s alma mater. The Pirates, who have already signed Pride senior Shadeen Samuels, also offered Harris.
Griffin and the Pride got the best of North Rockland in the final. Red Raiders freshman forward Jaida Patrick, a dual-sport star who appears to be an early Division I prospect in both volleyball and basketball, scored 17 points in North Rockland’s semifinal win over John Jay-East Fishkill.
Playing in different classes, Griffin and Hyman won’t see a lot of each other on the court, if at all, but they will certainly be hearing an earful about one another as they climb the section’s all-time scoring ranks.
Hyman, who holds offers from Rutgers and South Florida, has already eclipsed the 1,000-point plateau in less than three seasons on varsity, leading many to believe she could break Chong’s all-time scoring record, thanks to a two-year head start.
“I’ve been playing up since I was little, so I just don’t feel (pressure),” Hyman said. “I guess I’m just used to it.”
Facing older competition is something all freshmen eventually get used to — be it from years of experience doing so, like Hyman, or a trial by fire, like Ossining’s triumvirate.
“We’re not freshmen on the court,” Strippoli said. “Sometimes it’s a little nerve-wracking because we don’t always know what to do, but we’re expected to know.”
The County Center is a familiar setting for the 5-foot-5 point guard, but not so much the court.
The crowd chanted for Ricci to put the then eighth-grader in for a couple of minutes last year, and roared when she made a free throw in the section semifinal against North Rockland. Now, a year later, Strippoli has come a long way from garbage time.
“I’ve been coming here since I was little, watching all the games — the guys and the girls,” she said of the County Center. “To be playing, it’s a whole different feeling. It’s awesome.”
Harris, a 6-foot-1 center, said the lofty expectations at an early age have their pros and cons. “I think it pushes us more to keep it up,” she said. “It’s a lot, at times, all the pressure and stuff.”
On a larger scale, the flood of youthful talent does wonders for the section.
“Having so many good young players, it just makes people want to come watch all the teams more,” Strippoli said.