The best of high-school sports in 2016

The best of high-school sports in 2016
Photo by Robert Cole

It was a headline-making year in Brooklyn high-school sports. There were championships and crushing defeats, a mixture of highs and lows that made the last 366 days (it was a leap year!) nothing short of memorable. Courier Life is taking a look back at the year in sports across Kings County — here’s the best of the best from 2016:

Athletes of the Year

Shamorie Ponds,
Jefferson basketball

The Orange Wave star wrapped up his high-school career in sensational fashion, leading Jefferson to its first Public Schools Athletic League championship in 62 years. Ponds averaged 28 points, eight rebounds, and six assists per game and was the unquestioned emotional leader of his squad. He hasn’t missed a step in transitioning to the college game either — earning preseason Big East Rookie of the Year honors and averaging just over 17 points a game at St. John’s.

Isabella Gerone,
Madison softball

The Golden Knights pitcher has long been the leader of her team, and she once again led the charge in her final softball season, jam-packing her stat line. Gerone was top of the league in batting average, hitting a whopping .718 with just two strikeouts in 16 games. And she was even better in the circle. Gerone wrapped up her career with a 15–1 record and a 0.40 earned run average, racking up 193 strikeouts and just 26 hits in 88 innings pitched.

Team of the Year

Midwood baseball

The Hornets were the most improbable champions this season, clinching the program’s first-ever city title with a 3–0 victory over top-seeded Tottenville in the AAA baseball final. Midwood came into the playoffs as the No. 10 seed, but somehow found a way to hit its stride in the playoffs. The squad took down the top two seeds en route to a championship and never faltered when faced with adversity — working out of two bases-loaded jams in the final.

Coaches of the Year

Thomasina Lenzi,
Midwood girls’ volleyball

The Hornets team finally wrapped up the season with a victory, defeating Cardozo in the Public Schools Athletic League A final and clinching the program’s first championship at that level. Lenzi has made Midwood one of the city’s top volleyball program — the team appeared in three of the last four championships — but the Hornets consistently came up short. That changed this year, and Lenzi was at the center of that.

Anwar Gladden, South Shore girls’ basketball

The South Shore girls’ basketball coach is building a hoops dynasty in Canarsie. The Lady Vikings clinched their second-straight Public Schools Athletic League championship in March, defeating Francis Lewis at Madison Square Garden. The squad came up short of its state championship aspirations, but that just fueled the fire for this year.

Best Newcomer

Gregory Dorfman, Midwood baseball

The freshman pitcher threw five scoreless innings in the city championship game, capping off a postseason performance that will go down as one of the best in Midwood history. Dorfman got out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning with three straight fly balls, keeping the shutout intact and giving the Hornets a chance to rally. He went 3–0 in the playoffs with a 1.75 earned run average, giving up just 12 hits in 20 innings pitched.

Best Upset

Xaverian boys basketball defeats Bishop Loughlin 59–56 for the Catholic championship

Zack Bruno drew a game-sealing charge with .9 seconds left as the Clippers wrapped up its improbable postseason run with a championship. It was the program’s first city title since 2005. Xaverian finished fourth in league play during the regular season, but the squad never lost its confidence or, more importantly, its focus in the postseason.

Game of the Year

Erasmus Hall holds on for 27–26 victory over Lincoln in the semis

Offense wins games, but defense wins championship appearances. The Dutchmen’s offense led the team all season, but when it came down to the wire, the team’s defense held on and secured a third-straight championship appearance.

CJ Pauyo made the first big-time defensive play, forcing a fourth-quarter fumble with just over three minutes left on the clock to set up Aron Cruickshank’s game-winning touchdown just seconds later. The Railsplitters did its best to rally, marching down the field on the ensuing drive, but Erasmus Hall’s defense held once again, forcing a fumble on the final play of the game and recovering the ball in the end zone. It was emotional, it was dramatic, and it was a defensive performance that helped define the Dutchmen’s season.

Story of the Year

Bruce Eugene fired from Grand Street Campus

Eugene — who led the Wolves to the program’s first-ever football championship in 2015 — was suspended from coaching just a few days before the season began, amid rumors that he’d allowed a Long Island player to use his Brooklyn address in order to enroll at the Williamsburg school.

Eugene was ultimately fired from his position, and he took his case to court, determined to get back onto the sidelines. Meantime, team security escorted him out of a game against John F. Kennedy.

The Wolves did its best not to let the headlines get to them, but the team struggled to maintain its rhythm and came up short of a return title appearance, falling to Curtis in the semifinals.

Quote of the Year

A mom comes to Eugene’s defense, saying the program was the only thing preparing her son for the college admissions process.

“There are a lot parents of inner-city youth that don’t know the process of college,” said Chandira Holman-Bey during a protest in front of the Department of Education’s headquarters. “[The Grand Street coaches] make sure that [players] move on to be positive, progressive men in society. My son is travelling two hours from the Whitestone Bridge area to attend Grand Street — not because of Grand Street’s academics, it’s because I’ve seen over the years being a youth-football parent in an inner-city program in East New York, what coach Bruce has done for these kids.”