By Dylan Butler
A springtime trip to Madison Square Garden is becoming an annual excursion for the John Adams girls’ basketball team. After winning the PSAL ‘B’ title in 2000, the Spartans returned to the hardwood at 33rd Street and 8th Avenue last year, but lost to South Shore in overtime.
Two key starters are back from that team as 5-foot-4 junior Nicole Moore, one of the top point guards in the ‘B’ division, and sophomore Dinorah Diaz, a 5-foot-8 power forward, who was the Spartans leading scorer and rebounder last year, return.
“It’s a possibility,” Adams head coach Harold Kreiger said of another trip to the World’s Most Famous Arena. “We’re looking towards it, but I can’t say I’m 100 percent sure we’re going to get there. I am sure there will be a lot of teams lined up ready to beat us though.”
Senior small forward Deena Felix (5-foot-7), Adams’ sixth man who became a late second starter last year, is among five others who return from a team that went 21-4 last year. Krieger also replaces one tri-sport star in Michele Tusa (basketball, softball and bowling) with another in 5-foot-5 shooting guard Francesca Romano, who is also a standout in softball and volleyball and is best friends with Tusa, now at St. Francis College.
Without forwards Taniqua Banks and Marjorie Negron (graduation) and power forward Latoya Boyce (academically ineligible), Franklin K. Lane needed to make up for 27 points and 24 rebounds per game. Luckily for head coach Rob O’ Connor, Iris Cartagena, a 5-foot-5 senior guard who led the Knights with 12 points per game, is fully recovered from a back injury.
Joelina Diaz, a 5-foot-8 junior forward, and newcomers Ashley Boardraye, a 6-foot sophomore, and 6-foot-3 sophomore Vanessa Benjamin will be expected to provide interior scoring and rebounding while O’Connor is expecting 5-foot-5 sophomore Jasmin Matos to provide additional scoring from the perimeter.
Richmond Hill was 0-12 last year and without a lot of height and many players who are playing basketball for the first time, head coach Shep Grazioli expects the Lions to struggle again.
Should Richmond Hill get into the win column, the backcourt tandem of junior point guard Maria Velasquez and sophomore shooting guard Nia Harrison will likely play an important role.
With a deeper bench and more height, Springfield Gardens head coach Janet Kleiner expects a better finish than last year’s 6-6 league record.
Campus Magnet, coached by Shannon Kohm, was also 6-6 last year. Beach Channel, which lost to Adams in the semifinals last year, and Far Rockaway round out the division.
Adams should win Queens I-B easily, but their stiffest competition for a trip to the Garden may come from Grover Cleveland, the favorite in Queens II-B.
The Indians return just about everyone from a team that went 17-7 and lost to South Shore in the PSAL ‘B’ semifinal and expectations are sky high.
“Practices have been much more intense,” said Cleveland head coach Jack Ciano. “To get that close and to get that taste, we have to have the work ethic. And you need a bit of luck and have to stay healthy.”
Jennifer Barenboim, a 5-foot-8 senior shooting guard, is back as Cleveland’s go-to player and needs just 62 points to reach the 1,000-point plateau.
Also returning is 5-foot-4 senior Shannon Gonzalez, a lightning-quick point guard, 5-foot-6 senior defensive stopper Lucy Halys and 5-foot-11 junior center Stefanie Lacku, who is expected to get the bulk of Cleveland’s rebounds and points around the basket.
Other key players include 5-foot-9 sophomore Andrea Stewart, the second leading scorer behind Barenboim, and 5-foot-7 senior Auroa Troche, who will play either of the forward spots.
Forest Hills head coach Marc Zaretsky returns five players from a team that went 15-8 and lost to Julia Richman in the first round of the playoffs last year and adds eight talented newcomers, which should make the Rangers even deeper this season.
“The returning core has experience and should provide leadership,” Zaretsky said. “And the young group, consisting of four freshman and four sophomores, seems to be jelling nicely.”
Seniors Ana Gonzalez and Fontaine Lloyd are the captains this year and are considered by Zaretsky to be the glue of this year’s team. Also back is 5-foot-7 junior forward Kamila Barnes, a versatile player who can score from inside and out.
In addition to Barnes, the only other returning starter from last year is 5-foot-5 Jackie Butler, who will likely run the point for Forest Hills this year. Providing a nice scoring touch should be Kaity Tong, a 5-foot-6 swingman and not the newscaster.
Newcomers finished 9-9 last year, good for fifth in Queens II-B but head coach Tom Hall has good reason to believe the Lions have a chance to compete for one of the four available playoff spots.
Back for Newcomers is 5-foot-9 senior center Mariana Csecsi, who scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds per game last year and 5-foot-7 senior small forward Laura Burlacu, probably the borough’s top soccer player, who averaged 14 rebounds per game and had three triple doubles last year.
A pleasant surprise for Hall is newcomer Armela Dofti, a talented sophomore point guard from Greece who Hall says is a “great ball handler.”
After coaching the Renaissance boys’ team from 1996-98 and in 2000-01, Kenyatta Belcher is excited about taking over the reigns as girls head coach following the Knights 0-12 season.
“I’m the new coach, but I’m not new to them because I’ve taught all the girls in class,” said Belcher, a global studies teacher at the Jackson Heights school. “We’re probably at level two of five right now. I think we’re going to surprise some teams because they’re buying into my philosophy.”
Two of Belcher’s key players this year will be junior guards Celeste Howard and Claudia Rios, who will be depended on to provide leadership to a young group.
Thomas Edison, coached by Jack Flaherty, hopes to improve on last year’s 3-8 league finish. The Inventors return senior guard Jillian Decoursey as well as sophomore forward Bianca Alexander.
John Bowne and Robert F. Kennedy round out the division.
Van Buren head coach Mike McClain isn’t sure if the VeeBees can mirror last year’s success, which saw his team finish 18-6 before losing to Grover Cleveland in the second round of the playoffs.
Last year’s leading rebounder Shaunte Parker is expected to miss the season because of personal problems, but there are some promising signs as junior point guard Jeneva Kelly, senior shooting guard Cherise Soto, senior forward Cherisse Bellevue, who averaged 15 points per game last year and 5-foot-9 senior Desiree Patton are back to provide leadership to a promising young crop, including 5-foot-10 freshman Jennae Leath, McClain’s daughter freshman Oliva McClain, and 5-foot-5 sophomore Jennar Brown, a transfer from August Martin who McClain expects to be eligible in January.
“We definitely show promise. It’s just a matter of how fast the kids can learn the system,” McClain said. “We’re going to strive to play pressure defense, to try and score most of our points off of turnovers.”
Newtown head coach Rob Kunkel is optimistic his team can compete for the Queens III-B title and for good reason. Back from a serious knee injury she suffered just before the playoffs last year is 5-foot-6 junior Monica Pahl, who averaged 23 points per game last year and is one of the top players in the ‘B’ division.
Senior guard/forward Laura Drulyte is in her fourth year of varsity ball and will be the Pioneers captain this season. Other key contributors should be 6-foot junior center Lasheena Brown and 5-foot-6 senior swingman Tamina Hope.
“They all could play almost every position and they can all handle the ball and are good shooters,” Kunkel said. “This is a seasoned group. They know what they’re doing.”
Former Queens College standout Cally Prasinos takes over the reigns as head coach of Academy of American Studies after a four-year stint as the Lady Knights assistant coach.
“I’m very excited about this season,” Prasinos said. “We have six returnees from last year and although we are young, I think we will give everyone a run for their money.”
Long Island City, coached by Barry Lieblich, Carla Nasso’s Flushing Red Devils, Bayside, coached by Steve Piorkowski and Robert F. Wagner, coached by Ignazio Accardi, round out the division.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.