The train ride back from Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon gave me plenty of time to ponder the state of college basketball in Queens. St. Johns abysmal performance against Duke notwithstanding, you would probably be surprised at just how good things are in the borough.
While the Red Storm mens and womens teams may not be having seasons to remember, four other Queens teams are. The Queens College and York College teams have all turned in stellar season and all are vying for potential spots in their respective NCAA tournaments.
It may be hard to believe, but the team that goes farthest this season in a post-season tournament might turn out not to be St. Johns.
The Queens mens team, coached by St. Francis Prep graduate Kyrk Peponakis, is just three wins away from setting the school record for victories in a season. As of this writing the Knights were 16-9 overall, 14-7 in league play with just one game remaining, good enough for third place in the division.
The team consists of several Queens-bred players, including Steve Sikiric and Gary DeBerry, who are second and third, respectively, in scoring on the team, behind freshman Anthony Washington, a Virginia native.
Sikiric, out of Molloy, and DeBerry, a Holy Cross grad, are both averaging better than 10 points per game. Sikiric, a senior, is third on the team in rebounds, second in assists and tied for first with 18 blocks.
So good is Queens, in fact, that the team could possibly draw an at-large berth in the Division II tournament. The Knights could guarantee themselves a spot, but that would mean beating the nations No. 1 Division II team, Adelphi, in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. Queens lost twice to the Panthers during the regular season.
The Lady Knights have also had a strong season for Queens. The team, coached by Jerry Ingenito, is currently 14-11 overall, 12-7 in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference with only one game remaining.
The team, also laden with local talent, has made a living off its defense this year, which is tops in the nation for field goal percentage against, holding opponents to just 33.1 percent shooting from the field. The team is also sixth in scoring defense, keeping opponents to a paltry 55.5 points per game.
The teams offense is led by Elena Rakova of Bishkek, Kyrgyztan, and Erin and Theresa Dollard, sisters from Elmhurst and Grover Cleveland. Rakova is averaging 14.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game to lead the team in both categories. The Dollards combined are averaging better than 18 points per game, nine rebounds per game and four assists per game.
Both teams have a realistic shot at the NCAA Tournament, which is more than either St. Johns team can say at this point.
The York College Cardinals, coached by Ron St. John, are 14-11 overall and 7-6 in league play, which is quite a drop-off from last year, when the team finished 12-1 in the league and 19-9 overall before falling to Baruch in the championship game, 52-50.
But like most York teams, St. John has found a way to get the most out of this one. Led by leading scorer Stanley ONeil, a transfer from Hunter College who played his high school ball at Holy Cross, the Cardinals reached their 10th straight CUNYAC semifinals with a 72-56 win over Lehman Sunday.
And if the team can get by its next opponent Wednesday, City College, upset winner over top-seeded Baruch, St. John and his Cardinals will have reached the finals for the seventh straight time. York easily handled City College in the regular season.
ONeil, who overcame being stabbed during his freshman year at Hunter to lead that team to a CUNY title, was named a conference all-star this year with York.
But the real story this year in the CUNYAC has to be the Lady Cardinals. Sporting a record of 16-6 this season, good enough for second place in the South Division and the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, the York womens team has taken giant strides from just a few years ago.
Head coach Jackie Smith turned the program around when she took the reins four years ago. A product of Forest Hills High School , Smith led York to a 14-10 season last year, but has improved the club this year, despite some disadvantages.
With only eight players the Lady Cardinals have thrived, thanks to the play of CUNY Player of the Year Tamara Taylor. It was Taylors reverse layup Sunday that helped York force overtime en route to a win over CCNY in the quarterfinals.
Ironically the game was won without Smith, who was being inducted in the St. Johns Hall of Fame and had to leave the game in the second half with the Lady Cardinals trailing. Behind assistant Winnie Brown, York still pulled off the victory, 85-79.
The team was to face Hunter in the semifinals Wednesday. York was the only team to beat Hunter during the regular season.
While Queens two Division I teams may be sent home early this March, at least the borough still has a chance to make the NCAAs.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2001 Community News Group
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