Anne Delaney

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Delaney: Mounties season months in making

The last time Little Falls won a league title in softball, Mounties head coach Cristi Paragi doesn't know for sure. The roots of the successful 2009 season are easier for the coach to remember.

"It's a tight-knit group of girls and we've really been together as a team since summer when we started fundraising to go to Florida," Paragi said.

The Walt Disney World spring training trip produced two wins in two official games, and plenty of innings of work from scrimmages and unofficial games. The Mounties started their season at Disney, and they were ready to roll when they came home. The 20-2 Mounties start their second season Thursday with a Section III Class C-2 quarterfinal game against Thousand Islands. Game time is 5 p.m. Little Falls is the No. 2 seed. Thousand Islands, which advanced with a first-round win over Frankfort-Schuyler Tuesday, is No. 7.

In Florida, Little Falls defeated Section III Class AA Auburn and a team from Alabama. Little Falls' only losses are to league rivals Herkimer and Ilion.

"We had confidence coming back from the experience there," said Paragi in her sixth and most successful season.

The confidence produced a league title for the first time in two decades - "I think it was back in the 80s," Paragi said - but the Mounties also saw the potential to win a Section III title with some of the same athletes from the school's successful girls basketball teams.

Junior Nickie Van Meter has settled into the starting pitching role inherited from her sister, Kate. Nickie Van Meter, a year-round pitcher, has a reliable defense behind her and an offense led by a senior, a junior and the team's only freshman. Junior shortstop Olivia Tooley is the top hitter with a .453 batting average. Senior first baseman Sue Schoff is the RBI leader with 40 and she's third on the team with a .447 average. Freshman Jordan Mitchell is second in average (.452) and RBIs (37). Tooley, Schoff and Mitchell were members of the Little Falls girls basketball team that won a split-class title and played Bishop Grimes for the Class C overall championship.

Paragi, in her sixth and most successful season, benefited from being around many of her players for several years and having eight returning starters including six seniors. From Orlando to Cicero: they all hope the next big stop is for the Section III finals on June 6.

"The trip, really, that's where the momentum started and it's been carrying us through the season," Paragi said.

Delaney: UEFA simple celebration

There was confetti, players dancing in joy and a trophy held high for all to see. The FC Barcelona players could give any American team a run for its money in post-game celebration.

The scene in Rome's Olimpico Stadium after FC Barcelona defeated favored Manchester United 2-0 in the UEFA Champions League Final was beautiful in its simplicity.

Just like Barcelona's second goal, scored in the 70th minute off the head of Lionel Messi on a perfectly placed serv from midfielder Xavi. Manchester United dominated the first 5-6 minutes of the match. Once Sameul Eto'o scored on Barcelona's first quality chance in the 10th minute, the game belonged to the Spanish club.

French forward Thierry Henry held the grand trophy on his head. With medals around their necks, the Barcelona players posed for a team photo, showed off the cup to their fans and danced.

I wonder if any of them are going to Euro Disney?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Delaney: IHC's Gullo teaching to the end

Tony Gullo didn't let his team scatter. The Watertown IHC softball team's season was over, but the Cavaliers coach still had a moment to teach. Mohawk defeated IHC 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh and then Gullo gathered his team in the dugout.

Starting center fielder Mikayla Kolb is a seventh grader who never played organized softball before this season. Left fielder Angie Garrabrant has two years of modified ball.

Before the Cavaliers' pre-game infield session, Gullo told his players about the Syracuse University men's lacrosse win over Cornell Monday. He told them about plays that set up other plays and the importance of those moments. During the game, Gallo talked to the players almost nonstop while coaching on the third base line.

At a school where girls soccer and basketball grab more attention, the seventh-year coach has one objective.

"We're a young team and the goal is to get better," the coach said.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Delaney: MacMillan adjusting from Alaska

The warm temperatures around the area Thursday were an issue in Camden, where the Tri Valley League girls track and field teams were competing in the league championships.

As I was driving into Camden, a bank reading on Route 13 was 87 degrees just before 5 p.m. I don't know if that was true. According to weather web sites I checked later, afternoon temperatures in Camden didn't go that high.

Regardless, the hot sun was an issue for the distance runners. VVS's Lauren MacDonald, who is not a fan of warm weather, won two events and was second in another. Before the meet, MacDonald told herself the conditions would be the same for everyone and she had to gut it out. MacDonald won the 1,500, ran a leg of VVS's winning 4x800 relay and was second in the 3,000.

"Today I felt good," MacDonald said. "The last couple laps of the 3,000 were brutal."

Camden's Jessica Farley, who won three events and was named track athlete of the meet, was not bothered by the warm weather. Farley is a sprinter.

"The weather was beautiful," Farley said. "This is perfect to run in. I do better when it's warm."

Holland Patent's Jessica MacMillan might have the biggest adjustment to warm conditions. The sophomore moved to Central New York from Anchorage, Alaska last year. MacMillan won the 400 hurdles with a time of 68.6 seconds, one-tenth of a second off her own school record. MacMillan's father Joe is a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and was transferred to Griffiss in August.

"I'm used to the 50s so this is extra hard," MacMillan said.

MacMillan qualified for states in four events when she was in Alaska. Here, she will go for one or two.

"The competition here is tougher," she said.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Delaney: No batting helmets, no problem

The Westmoreland softball team wasn't quite ready to go Monday afternoon for its CSC Division III game with Oriskany. When it came time for the Bulldogs to bat in the bottom of the first inning, someone realized they didn't have their batting helmets. Lead-off hitter Molly Peckham had to use an Oriskany helmet while teammate Lea Wolak ran to school to get the black bag.

Westmoreland rallied for two unearned runs to defeat previously unbeaten and state-ranked Oriskany. The Redskins (13-1) are good team. Overall they play smart defense and I have a feeling they go far again.

Generally, I'm not a fan of softball chants. It's fun to hear the high school players do them - they seem to be having such fun - but they get stuck in my head like a bad song. Things were pretty quiet in both dugouts Monday, but Oriskany had a good for right fielder Colleen Foose. Foose wears No. 9 and when she came up to bat early in the game, her teammates yelled: Niner, niner, rip down the liner, Foose, Foose, Foose. The Foose-Foose-Foose part was done in a collective deep voice and I think that's what makes the chant cool.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Delaney: Rice clear on steroids in baseball

Former Boston Red Sox left fielder Jim Rice was upfront about his feelings on steroid use in baseball and how players who used performance-enhancing drugs should be treated by Hall of Fame voters. Rice was in Cooperstown Friday for his orientation tour in advance of his July 26 induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"If you talked to the Hall of Famers, the Hall of Famers will probably say if you use drugs to cheat, to cheat the fans, to cheat the opposing team and cheat everything else, maybe not."

Rice said he didn't understand why a talented player such as Manny Ramirez would use performance-enhancing drugs. With all of the tools today's player has to be successful that men from Rice's era didn't, Rice was at a loss to explain steroid use.

"Why do you need it?" he asked, sitting in front of the plaques of the Hall of Fame's first class. "The guys here, they never used steroids and they're in the Hall of Fame."

Rice wasn't the only Hall of Famer to question the motives of players using steroids. According to a story on ESPN.com, Cal Ripken, Jr. said at a banquet Thursday in Florida he plans to ask Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez why he took performing-enhancing drugs.

"The steroid era really puts a dark cloud over baseball," Ripken said in the story that ran on the network's web site Friday. "And that dark cloud is hanging and hanging."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Delaney: Proctor, RFA & TVL is not over yet

I expect we haven't heard the last of this. In fact I'm pretty sure there's more to come with the on-going saga of the Tri Valley League and Thomas R. Proctor and Rome Free Academy.

The reversal Wednesday by a three-person NYSPHSAA panel on a Section III decision to allow the schools into the TVL opens the door for additional action to be taken. For now, it seems as if the TVL won although on a technicality. Unclear paperwork and ballots as part of the Section III Athletic Council vote in March allowed the state association panel to reverse the decision.

Now it's back in the hands of Section III. As a result of the procedural error, the section is going to create guidelines for schools to follow if they want to change leagues or join a different one. Once the criteria is made clear to all 100-plus Section III member schools, I expect the process to start all over again.

Get ready to turn the page.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Delaney: Younger DiMaggio could "go get it"


Dominic DiMaggio, the younger brother of Joe DiMaggio, died Friday at his home in Massachusetts. He was 92.

I asked my father, who is two months short of his 88th birthday, about his memories of Dominic. Dad grew up in the Boston area and like DiMaggio he wore glasses. DiMaggio was apparently know as the "Little Professor" because of his glasses and his size - 5-foot-9.

"He was short but he could cover a lot of ground," dad told me. He guessed he saw DiMaggio play 10 or 12 times. "He went after every ball. He was a good player."

Delaney: Red Sox 'whew'

Somewhere in Boston, Red Sox personnel are letting out a collective sigh - 'whew' - at Manny Ramirez's positive drug test. Ten months ago, this would've been Boston's problem and it wouldn't have been a quiet one.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Delaney: The difference between boys and girls

Oneida softball coach Mike Curro said something very interesting to me the other day. I was talking to Curro for a short feature story on him that will be in Thursday's paper. Curro is a passionate, hyper-competitive coach who oozes intensity, though he's worked hard to tone it down over his 10 seasons with the Indians varsity.

Curro comes from a baseball background. He played at HCCC and at Cortland State.

Curro said of the difference between coaching boys and girls: "Boys have to play well to feel well. Girls have to feel well to play well."

Great insight. I often wondered about the differences between coaching boys and girls. Shows there is more to the intense Curro than wins and losses.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Delaney: Raise the bar? Not always

Linda Hadfield and Kelly Benfey were mentally spent before they got to RFA Stadium for Saturday's Rome Free Academy's girls track and field invitational. For pole vaulters that's bad, though the duo had good reason.

"It's really a mental, mental sport," said New York Mills' Hadfield. "It's your head going to kill you."

The technical nature of the pole vault makes it nearly impossible to pull off a perfect attempt, Benfey and Hadfield said. The juniors were admittedly far from perfect. They both did 10-feet, 9 inches.

"We took SATs this morning," said RFA's Benfey. Hadfield rolled her eyes. Hadfield's season best is 11-6. Benfey's is 11-0.

Hadfield and Benfey are worth more than an inquisitive raising of the eyebrows. How do two athletes from the same area become pole vault junkies?

"Sometimes it just happens," RFA coach Brett Couchman said.

The girls met at the RFA meet three years ago. They have competed at national meets, and Section III and state championships. At times opponents, they are also training buddies. It's a friendship formed from long carpool trips to Cornell University for weekly wintertime practices. Since they were in ninth grade, they've trained at the Tompkins County Pole Vault club with coach Matt Scheffler. Jeff Willis of Canastota also works with Scheffler, a man Hadfield calls one of the most patient ever. Benfey said it's not a coincidence two good athletes from the same area would go for the same sport. Pole vault, though, isn't the run-of-the-mill sport of choice.

"It pushes both of us," Benfey said.

Hadfield said she gives herself 20 minutes to shrug off a bad meet or performance. Benfey needs more time. In the pole vault, an athlete's seeding or reputation doesn't mean much. One day's A 10-9 vault can be 12-feet the next. By the end of Saturday's meet Benfey found something good from her 10-9.

"For me it was a good day," she said. "I've been in a slump for a year and I hadn't been at 11-feet for a while."


Friday, May 1, 2009

Delaney: Regardless of score, kids are kids

I went to a Little League baseball game in East Utica this evening. Most of my game coverage is spent with varsity sports and watching the Mets and the Marlins, I was really reminded of the differences between youth sports and high school sports.

Not every kid could catch or throw. Others did both quite well. Friday's game was a blowout in favor of the Marlins, who scored so many runs in one inning the scoreboard had to be cleared.

One Marlins player reached first and he went to the bag. The Mets first baseman greeted the runner with a warning: your shoe's untied. It wasn't a trick; it's the ultimate playground etiquette. The Marlins player tucked the laces into one of his shoes and got into his base running crouch. The Mets first basman watched his opponent and returned his attention to the mound.

Forget the score or the game situation, first things first. Tie your shoes and then we'll play.





Delaney: Lucky 7

Seven Utica-area softball teams are ranked in a recent state poll.

According to the New York State Sportswriters Association, RFA is 15th in Class AA, Oneida is 12 in Class A, Canastota is 14 in Class B, Poland is 7 in Class D, and Oriskany (10), Stockbridge Valley (15) and Hamilton (19) are also ranked in Class D.