Diane Ramirez, Ally Stamatiades, and Jessenia Marrero all hail from Queens, went to high schools in Queens, and now start for Baruch College in Manhattan, which is having its best season in school history."Those three are the engine that makes this team run," Baruch first year coach Machli Joseph said. "When I came in and took over the program, I had to build the program around those three. I knew if I did that, we would be very successful."It's been a season of peaks and summits for the Bearcats (19-5, 11-2 CUNY), who have won more games than any Baruch team before them. They defeated NYU, the top ranked team in Division III, 70-68 on December 15, and beat Hunter College for the first time in ten years, snapping a 15-game losing streak. "It's been a good year," Stamatiades said. "It was just a matter of working hard and putting all the pieces together."Those pieces weren't finished products when they arrived at Baruch. First, they had to mature and add a coat of polish. Juniors Ramirez and Marrero weren't stars at Francis Lewis, consistently the top PSAL girls' team in Queens. They were defensive specialists entrusted with providing a buffer for the team's leading scorers. Marrero was cut her freshman year and worked hard to make the team her sophomore year. "I was a role player on the team," said Marrero, a resident of Flushing and first team All- CUNYAC player last year. "I worked hard in practice, but I was in the shadow of some of the other players there."Stamatiades, a 5-foot-8 sophomore from Astoria, was a genius on the softball field at Bryant HS where she recorded the lowest ERA in school history, giving up less than one run a game and was named TimesLedger PSAL Player of the Year. When she was approached by college coaches, it was to play softball, not to help their basketball teams.During the city championships at Madison Square Garden her senior year, Ramirez, a Sunnyside resident, tore her right knee on a drive to the basket in the second quarter. Four years earlier, she tore her left knee in a preseason practice attempting to block a taller player's shot.After that, Ramirez, the team leader in assists with 125, pondered retiring from the sport. She enrolled at Stony Brook and spent the next two years playing pick-up basketball with Division I players, her passion and competitiveness filling her heart up with regret.When Marrero, her best friend and a freshman at Baruch, invited her to come watch a game, she jumped at the chance and liked what she saw. A year later she was the starting point guard for the Bearcats."I saw people playing basketball (at Baruch), and I missed it," Ramirez said.Playing together for the first time last season, the trio meshed like windswept teammates, complementing each other's tendencies perfectly. They talked basketball together on the No. 7 train, reminiscing about their high school days during their commute and quickly bonded on the court: Stamatiades, an All-Rookie selection last year, was the undersized slasher who kicked the ball out to Marrero, a 5-foot-7 classic set-shooter. Ramirez, the team's 5-foot-5 point guard, generously directed the offense, passing the ball to her Queens' neighbors.All that was missing was a coach to deliver on their promise."Diane is the best point guard in the league," said Joseph, who was hired when former coach, Bob DiNardo, was fired following last season. "After we lost our leading scorer to academic eligibility, I told her she had to score more, and she can, almost at will. Jessenia is one of the best shooters in the league, and Ally, who has made herself if not the best, one of the best slashers in the league. Together, they're a lethal combination."Heading into the CUNY tournament Saturday, Baruch is poised to go further in the playoffs that it did last year when they lost in the semifinals to Staten Island. They won their division and are seeded second behind Staten Island, a team it already beat this season.Seven of the 14 players on Baruch's roster come from Queens, a twist of fate that is explained away as a coincidence, a product of luck rather than savvy recruiting.That may soon be changing."I spoke to the coach at Forest Hills recently," Joseph said. "He has this girl who averages like a triple-double per game, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in speaking with her."Then he paused for comic effect. "I said, 'Why not?'"Baruch College always has room on its roster for another Queens player.Reach reporter Mitch Abramson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 130.
©2005 Community News Group
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