The jerseys of Ossining were still damp with sweat following a thrilling 69-66 win over Shenendehowa in the Class AA girls basketball state final Saturday night, but the rumblings started not long after the final buzzer sounded at Hudson Valley Community College.
Ossining became the first Class AA team to win four consecutive New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships, and it marked just the fifth time in tournament history a program accomplished the feat, in any class.
“It’s really insane that they have been able to do that,” said former White Plains head coach Sue Adams, who led the Tigers to four consecutive Class AA section titles from 2005-08. “The two times that we lost the state final, you realize how difficult it would be to win one state title.
“Six months later, you realize everything has to be aligned: You can’t have injuries, you can’t have sickness, you can’t have foul trouble,” she added. “To win a state title is really difficult. To win four is truly amazing.”
As is common practice with any newly-crowned champion, outsiders look ahead to see what can be in the future. The difference between Ossining, which starts three freshmen, and most other teams is that when people look forward with the Pride, they’re not looking at next year; they’re looking at 2019.
“We’re just going to enjoy the moment right now,” Pride head coach Dan Ricci said Saturday night, adding that if anything, Ossining is going back to the drawing board. “We’ve got young kids that worked really, really hard, but we’re losing five seniors that were a big part of this team, so we’ve got to start all over again.”
Under most circumstances, it would be an outlandish thought to even consider looking three years into the future for any program in any sport at any level, especially when talking about potential state championships; but Ossining, as it often does, shatters the status quo.
Two of its freshmen, Aubrey Griffin and Kailah Harris, already have offers from Seton Hall, where senior teammate and two-time state tournament MVP Shadeen Samuels will play next season. Point guard Jaida Strippoli will likely follow her classmates’ Division I path as she continues to grow — physically and mentally — on the court.
More than half of the Pride’s roster includes players who are in their sophomore year, or younger, and have already shown that they can run with the best in the state during Ossining’s current run.
Samuels was obviously the stalwart for Ossining this weekend, averaging 29 points in the semifinal and final, but in a game when the Pride trailed and were outplayed the majority of the time, it was their versatile group of youngsters that often provided the biggest moments.
Sophomore 3-point-shooting specialist Kelsey Quain scored five consecutive points late in the first quarter to keep Ossining’s deficit at the time to a respectable margin; Griffin and Harris each recorded double-doubles; and of course, Strippoli.
The pint-sized guard buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with just over two minutes left, then banked in a free throw with 19.4 seconds left to put the Pride up by three.
“The rest of these kids, that have never experienced this — a state championship is the greatest feeling in the world. Four of them in a row, words can’t describe how great I felt,” Ricci said.
Sophomore forward Helen Ishmael is often one of the go-to options off the bench for her tremendous inside presence, and could likely move into a starting role next season. Then there are players like freshman guard Angela Torricella and eighth-grader Adriana McFadden, who get fans talking with their athleticism, even if they’re not filling up the stat sheets just yet.
The future is radiant for the Pride, as anyone who has seen a game this year can attest to, and likely shines through the cloud of modesty Ossining would like to hang over its program.
People are already talking, and for good reason; but is it premature to discuss the possibility of seven consecutive state titles for the Pride? No, it’s really not.
“I think it is a possibility, looking at how young his kids are,” Adams said. “The youth that he has there has attracted a lot of attention to his program, he’s (earned) a lot of respect for his program.
“It certainly is now in the realm of possibility that he can keep this going for all of the time these young kids are there. They’re amazing.”