BY MARC MATURO
Optimist, thy name is Kevin Metcalf – apparently for good reason.
The veteran girls basketball coach at North Rockland High School realizes it won’t be a simple task to surpass last year’s sparking 17-4 record, but he envisions another solid season despite the key loss of injured junior guard Naya Rivera of Pomona.
Rivera, an all-section selection on the hardwood last year, was injured in soccer, just two weeks before the end of the season.
“That one hurts,” said Metcalf. “But we have three key players back, and also four others.”
Two of the key returnees – sophomore Lexi Huertas of Haverstraw and senior point guard and team captain Gabby Cajou – “will be asked to do a little more,” noted Metcalf, who expects other major contributions from senior center Pam Miceus of Haverstraw and freshman guard Jaida Patrick.
Also returning are senior forwards D’Andrea Millien and Amanda Schweitzer, both of Haverstraw; junior guard Danielle Cajou, Gabby’s younger sister; and sophomore forward Fran Cippolina, also of Haverstraw.
The Red Raiders, who were to open the season in Yonkers today (Dec. 3), have a big challenge on Dec. 6 in Brookville, L.I., against nationally 23rd-ranked L.I. Lutheran. This is a rematch from last season, when all that the Long Island-based powerhouse featured were five players with Division 1 futures.
“We stayed with them for three quarters; then wore down,” said Coach Metcalf, recalling a worthwhile 18-point defeat.
“This (Sunday) is another great chance for our players to get exposure against a team at a high level,” he said. “We’ll go out as usual and play as hard as we can.”
North Rockland’s home opener is set for Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. against Ursuline of New Rochelle, but a key matchup looms in the Red Raiders’ own tournament on Dec. 28 against rival Clarkstown South HS, a team coached by Kevin’s younger brother Brian.
Kevin Metcalf and athletic director Joe Casarella renamed the North Rockland tournament six years ago in honor of longtime coach, Vietnam veteran and Haverstraw native Rich Korn, who amassed some 320 victories before eventually retiring to Virginia.
Metcalf remembers losing both games to his brother two years, but gaining a measure of revenge the following year when North Rockland prevailed in both meetings.
The coach also said his parents Ernie and Chris of Stony Point will again be in attendance, and that once again they would sit on the North Rockland side for one half and the South side for the other half (which half is yet to be determined, or announced).
Metcalf defers to Brian when it comes to playing the game, laughing, “I was always the big, heavy guy, so he was the better player.”
Metcalf is assisted by Steve McCready whose father, Syd, incidentally, is the assistant to famed Coach Willie Worsley at Spring Valley H.S.
North Rockland’s leader is perhaps fourth-year varsity standout Gabby Cajou, who has already committed to Manhattan College in Riverdale.
An all-section choice last year, Gabby has everything a team needs.
“She’s a special player, a power offensively,” said Metcalf. “She is one of the quickest girls in the section, and always has a positive attitude.”
Huertas started all 21 games as a freshman last season, averaging nine points a game. According to the coach, Huertas, a defensive stalwart, will be assigned to every team’s best player.
Miceus, the 6-foot center, is a great rebounder and strong in the low post. Last season, she had a high game of 12 points and 10 rebounds against New Rochelle.
Schweitzer, the senior forward, is a rarity today as a three-sport athlete, also playing volleyball and softball, while Patrick, the newcomer, could prove to be something special, too.
“Patrick has a chance to be a special player,” said Metcalf. “She has speed, athletic ability, grew up around the game and knows how to go after it.”
In addition to L.I. Lutheran, the national power, North Rockland bowed to Albertus Magnus, Ursuline and Ossining — in the Section 1 semifinals — last season.
“Three of the four were at one time ranked No. 1 in the state in their respective size (class),” Metcalf notes. “Ossining finished 19th in the state at the end. So I have to say we had a good year.”
(Ed note: this is the first in a series featuring varsity athletic teams in the county. To offer a suggestion, email [email protected]).
GUARINO HONORED: Albertus Magnus HS graduate Kelly Guarino of Thiells, a freshman basketball player at New Jersey Institute of Technology, was named athlete of the week for her performance in the Highlanders’ 71-50 win over the College of St. Joseph’s (Vt.). The 5-foot-7 guard was the only double-figure scorer for NJIT with 21 points, going 7 of 8 from 3-point range. Guarino’s seven 3-pointers were two short of the program record, set in January 2011 by Rayven Johnson (Class of 2013). Guarino ranks first on the team in points with 51, averaging 10.2 per game. The Highlanders travel to Charlottesville, Va., to meet Virginia on Dec. 5, then visit LIU Brooklyn on Dec. 9, and challenge Army on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Estelle and Zoom Fleisher Athletic Center in Newark.
GOING WEST: The Nike National Cross Country Championships are next for eighth-grade superstars Mary Hennelly of Suffern and Katelyn Tuohy of North Rockland. The twosome each clocked 18:20.2, with Hennelly taking fifth and Tuohy sixth at the Nike Cross Country New York Girls Championships at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls. The nationals will take place on Dec. 5 in Portland, Ore.
TYLER TERRIFIC: Albertus Magnus HS alum Tyler Sayre of Garnerville led the Golden Knights in scoring and rebounding as The College of Saint Rose in Albany opened the season with four victories in five games. Sayre, a 6-foot-6 junior forward who continues to improve each season, averaged 20 points and seven rebounds to spark the ball club. The Golden Knights visit Southern Connecticut State in New Haven, Conn., on Dec. 5 for a 3:30 p.m. tip-off, and then travel to North Easton, Mass., to meet Stonehill College at 7 p.m.
COLLEGIATE CLIPS: The Purchase College women’s basketball team dropped its first four games of the season, but Clarkstown South HS alumna Allison Haugh of New City did her part to stem the tide, with second-best averages in points (13), rebounds (5) and assists (11). The Panthers visit College of New Rochelle at 7 p.m. on Dec. 4, and then host Yeshiva University at 11 a.m. on Dec. 6. … Clarkstown South HS alum Shane Cronin of West Nyack had a 38-yard field goal in Cortlandt’s 38-22 loss to unbeaten Linfield (11-0) in the NCAA Division III tournament second round at McMinnville, Ore. The Red Dragons finish the season at 9-3. Cronin led the team in scoring with 62 points on seven field goals and 41 extra-points in 45 attempts. Freshman running back Donny Davis of Nyack was the leading rusher with 572 yards, and had five touchdowns, while sophomore defensive back Matt Caputo of Stony Point made eight starts and had 43 tackles. … The St. Thomas Aquinas College men’s basketball team, which won four of its first six games, is home in Sparkill for three straight games beginning on Dec. 9 against Queens at 8 p.m. The Spartans then meet Molloy at 3:30 p.m. on Dec. 12, and LIU Post at 3 p.m. on Dec. 19. … Sophomore guard Alex Bertolino of Garnerville averaged a team second-best 10 points per game as the Thomas Aquinas College women’s basketball team upended its first five opponents. The North Rockland HS alumna is tied for the team lead with 2.2 rebounds a game. The Lady Spartans host LIU Post on Dec. 5 at 1 p.m., and stay home to meet Queens on Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. and Molloy at 1 p.m. on Dec. 12. … North Rockland HS alum Charles Nardone of Stony Point is a junior guard on the men’s basketball team at Manhattanville College in Purchase. The Valiants host Wilkes University at 3 p.m. on Dec. 5 at Kennedy Gym, and then visit Keystone College in La Plume Pa., on Dec. 16.