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Queens trio trying to keep pace with big boys

It’s the same old story for the three Queens teams competing in the Catholic High School Football League this year as Holy Cross, Christ the King and St. Francis Prep will all be hoping to hold their own against the league’s top teams, Monsignor Farrell, St. Anthony’s and Chaminade.

Both Holy Cross and Christ the King were invited to the big dance last year, the elite AAA playoffs, but neither team escaped the quarterfinal round, with the Knights falling to Kellenberg and the Royals coming up short against the Farrell Lions.

St. Francis Prep just missed out on a trip to the AAA’s, settling instead for a run through the AA playoffs that ended with a 17-7 loss in the finals to Iona Prep in the title game.

But title hopes and playoffs may be tough to come by for the trio from Queens, as key losses from graduation and the ever-powerful top teams seem to make a postseason bid an uphill proposition in 2001.

This year’s Holy Cross Knights team is perhaps the biggest in veteran coach Tom Pugh’s nearly 30-year tenure at the helm of the Flushing school. But speed does not accompany that size, the coach said, something that has hampered more than one team’s chances in recent years in the competitive CHSFL.

“We’re very big, but very slow,” Pugh said. “We’re not overmatched in our schedule. Where we are is where we are. We have some holes, we have to fill them. Speed wins in high school and we’re not fast. We have to get past that. We have some big question marks.”

Those holes are massive. Gone is last year’s signal-caller Michael Braunstein, a steady if not spectacular quarterback who was crucial to the Knights’ resurgence as a premier team. Also gone is defensive leader Dale Robinson, one of the most dominant linebackers in the city a season ago.

But perhaps the player Cross, rated No. 5 by the CHSFL this season, will miss most this season is defensive back/kick returner Victor Parsley. Parsley was perhaps the most feared special teams player in the league last year and also led the league in interceptions.

Pugh will instead hope that his team’s massive size will make up for what it lacks in speed. Thomas Arroyo (6-foot-3, 315 pounds) and Ricky Atteche (6-foot-5, 330 pounds) will bookend the offensive line, which also includes senior Mike Cominos and Division I prospect Doug Anderkavich, the team’s starting tight end.

Senior running back Woody Aime will anchor the team’s running attack, something Pugh will have to rely on with first-year varsity player Dan Meara replacing Braunstein at quarterback. Wide receiver Ironi Bearaujo will also see plenty of opportunities this season.

On the other side of the ball, the line includes Chris Moran and Danny Woods, while Mike Mazzo highlights the linebacking corps and Leon Bryce stands out in the secondary.

“I’ve never coached a team this big,” Pugh said. “We’re very big, but big doesn’t always win.”

Christ the King, on the other hand, has never lacked in the speed department and this year will be no different. Last year was a struggle for the Royals with personnel problems plaguing the team’s usually potent running attack, but plenty of turnover, coupled with several key returnees, could keep CK in the hunt.

“We’re a young team,” said head coach Mike Cassidy of his team, rated No. 7. “I think we have talent, but I think we’ll have to get lucky. We’re thin in a couple of positions. We’re young, but that doesn’t mean we’re not talented.

“You can’t compete with these teams from Long Island, they are so big,” the coach added. “You have to take advantage of what you have. We have a speed-type offense. I feel the defense is going to be strong again. We just have to get our offense going.”

The CK offense has undergone a fundamental change this season, as Cassidy has switched from a traditional two-back set to an option. Steve Shell, who saw time at wide receiver last year, moves to quarterback this season, with Cassidy looking to take advantage of the Flushing resident’s speed.

Tim Ducey is back in his fullback role, while Craig Nelson and Anthony Lazarus will play as slot backs.

The soul of the team last year was its defense, which kept the at times anemic offense in games. That again could be the case this year. Middle linebacker Rolando Garcia, whom Cassidy says may be the best in the city, should be the star of the team, though there is plenty of talent to go around.

Defensive end Justin Uhl, strong safety Robert McGuire, defensive tackler Willie Miller and cornerback Juan Martinez all contribute to make the CK defense a seemingly formidable opponent for the best teams in the league.

Cassidy also has hopes the team’s kicking game will be greatly improved, with Justin Capace up from the junior varsity.

“We tried to do a couple of things different this year,” Cassidy said. “We have a smaller roster. The hard thing with me is I just can’t cut a kid if he comes. This year we’re just going to take the kids who can play.”

The St. Francis Prep Terriers, ranked No. 8 prior to the season, had a very up-and-down 2000 campaign, topping Christ the King in the team’s opener, 3-0, then being blown out by Cardinal Hayes, coming back to beat Holy Trinity the following week and dropping back-to-back games against Holy Cross and St. Anthony’s. Wins over Xavier and Chaminade put Prep in position to possibly make the AAA playoffs, but a loss to Kellenberg the final week slammed the door shut.

This year’s version of the Terriers will be similar to many of the teams coached by the venerable Vince O’Connor in recent years. The team will be fundamentally sound with plenty of size, but will lack speed and explosiveness on the offensive end.

But like most Prep teams, this year’s group will likely improve with each game, a trademark of O’Connor-coached clubs. Last year’s team lost to Hayes in week two, 40-14, but came back to beat the team in the quarterfinals of the AA playoffs, 7-2.

Expected to be back this year are several key offensive players to the Terriers’ success in 2000, including quarterbacks Brian Forman and Peter Mazzurco, running backs Eric Maiorino, Christopher Zambrano and Eric Dolderer and tight end John Kay.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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