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MS 158 repeats as District 26 hoop champs

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When the Marie Curie Middle School (MS 158) boys' basketball team won the District 26 Championship last year by completing an undefeated season it was described by its coach, Steven Iallonardo, as possibly being the best team ever at the perennial basketball powerhouse.

This year's team rose to the challenge and surpassed all expectations by going undefeated en route to another District 26 Championship. This is the third championship for the Bayside school in the past four years, and fifth in the past nine years. An unprecedented four undefeated seasons were recorded during that time. The Marie Curie program has never had a losing season according to its coach, who has been at the helm for fifteen years and won seven championships in the process.

The success of this year’s team can be traced to the fact that many of the current players have been involved in the Marie Curie Basketball Program since they entered the school as sixth graders, or have been part of the Beacon Basketball Program run by Dave Johnson, who also doubles as the 158 assistant coach. As upperclassmen they have been able to display excellent skills, abilities and veteran leadership.

This group will take their basketball skills to the next level as they enter some of the local high schools in the fall, included among them will be Cardozo, Holy Cross, St. Mary's, Van Buren and Christ the King.

They will hopefully follow in the steps of former Marie Curie players who have achieved success at the high school level such as Ryan Williams and Duane Woodward (Cardozo), Chris Combs and Darryl Hawkins (Bayside), Edward O'Neill (Molloy), Mario Godoy (Holy Cross), David Turetzky (Garden School), and Larry Davis (CTK).

It was obvious from the first game of the year that this was a special team and had the ability to compete for the championship. A balanced attack with a strong inside game and excellence from the perimeter enabled the team to win every game with an average scoring margin of over 30 points per game. In addition to winning all of their in- league games, the Marie Curie team traveled to tournaments in Brooklyn and Westchester with similar results.

The team was anchored by a core of returning players led by four-year star Nicholas Flagg, whose deadly outside shooting and finesse to the basket enabled him to be the leading scorer in most games.

Jim Maxis, who at 6-foot was a slasher, rebounder, and strong defender, also averaged double figures in scoring. Third year player, and starting point guard William Garvin led the team in assists and his creativity with the ball provided his teammates with easy scoring opportunities.

Chris Whitfield, a versatile guard/forward provided a good scoring touch with excellent defense for his team. The dominant play of 6-foot-2 center Joseph Vines may have been the critical piece of the puzzle that enabled this team to exceed all expectations. An excellent rebounder with incredible low post moves and an outside shooting touch, Vines is already considered one of the top players in the city.

Rounding out the team was Chris Parker, a Marcus Camby-like player who at 6-foot-3 was able to score and rebound very well. Jared Arthur, a guard with three-point range also revealed good ability at going to the basket. Strong outside shooting and basketball awareness was obtained from Ryan Canedo, a guard, and forward Jonathan Ganesh. Richie Armento provided good low post offense and strong rebounding, while the athletic skills of Shaheed Hawkins enabled him to rebound and block shots.

With most players graduating, the possibilities for next season are uncertain, but returning players Robert Fox and Cequan Best should make the Marie Curie team competitive once again. Fox will bring good shooting skills while Best, a star in the making, will likely be the focal point of next year's team. They will enable the tradition of competitive basketball to continue at Marie Curie Middle School.

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