By Dylan Butler
With a team that goes 14 players deep, Bayside head coach Steve Piorkowski will have a unique substitution pattern. The scorers table will be a crowded place when Piorkowski wants to make a change, as a full group of five, similar to a hockey line change, will replace the five players on the court.
“We have no tall players so we’re going to be trapping and stealing the ball and shooting a lot of threes,” said Piorkowski, whose team finished tied for the Queens III-B title last year with Van Buren and won a playoff game for the first time in recent memory.
The formula has been successful in the early season, as the Commodores have amassed 56 steals in its opening two games, both wins.
Back is the starting backcourt consisting of Bayside’s top two scorers last year in 5-foot-5 sophomore Gayle Silverstein (13.7 points per game) and 5-foot-6 junior Allie Falco (12.1 points per game). Piorkowski says junior Leyla Sak is the team’s most improved player. After scoring 3.5 points per game last year, the 5-foot-8 guard sharpshooter worked hard over the summer and scored 27 points in the Commodores two wins.
“We’re going to take a lot of shots, so it’s going to come down to playing good defense and making the most out of our opportunities offensively.”
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.”
While they might not battle for the division crown, Flushing could compete for a playoff spot, especially with the scoring touch of junior Monet Pledger back for the Red Devils.
Expecting to lead a group of mostly sophomores is three-year varsity player Gisselle Spencer, a senior shooting guard who head coach Carla Nasso named co-captain along with senior forward Jahmelia Russell. Senior forward Nadege Nerette also has valuable experience.
“We’re definitely going to grow and we’ll be a lot better as the season goes on,” Nasso said. “We hope to be in contention with the top three in the division. It’s anyone’s ball game.”
Newtown, with a healthy Monica Pahl, who averaged 23 points per game last year, should also vie for the division title.
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.
Long Island City, coached by Barry Lieblich, and Robert F. Wagner, coached by Ignazio Accardi, round out the division.
John Bowne, like Queens II-B foe Grover Cleveland, lost to South Shore last year, falling in the quarterfinals but the Wildcats will struggle to repeat last year’s 20-3 season.
“We’re rebuilding this year,” said Bowne head coach Bruce Bitterman, who has just one senior and two juniors on his 18-player roster. “There’s a lot of talent here, but it’s going to take some time for them to learn the system.”
Gone are Angela Fragoso and her 18 points per game as well as 6-foot-3 center Jennifer Muojeke, who is at Division II Dowling College.
Junior Noshaun Burrell, a 5-foot-6 forward who averaged 10 points per game, is Bowne’s top returning scorer and 5-foot-5 junior guard Trishauna McKinney is the Wildcats best defensive player.
Robert F. Kennedy graduated four key players from a team that went 6-6 and was edged out of a playoff berth by Forest Hills. But when the top returning scorer and rebounder (5-foot-10 senior forward Michelle Wallace) is back, a rebuilding year may not necessarily be in order.
“While we will experience some growing pains throughout the year we still expect to be a competitive team,” said Panthers head coach Dave Cohen. “Our main focus will be aggressive defense and spreading the ball.”
Also returning is RFK’s best defender in 5-foot-8 junior swingman Christina Connoly as well as 5-foot-4 junior point guard Jennifer Giannone and 5-foot-7 junior forward Yannine Correa.
Cleveland, led by senior Jennifer Barenboim, who is 62 points shy of the 1,000-point plateau, is the favorite in Queens II-B. Forest Hills should once again be strong while Renaissance, Newcomers and Edison round out the division.
John Adams is once again expected to win Queens I-B and has a strong chance at returning to Madison Square Garden for the PSAL ‘B’ championship game for a third straight year. The Spartans won the city title in 2000 before falling to South Shore in overtime last year.
Franklin K. Lane, Springfield Gardens, Campus Magnet and Richmond Hill round out the division.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.