Favorite: Arlington. The Admirals actually tied for the 1-seed with Scarsdale, but fell to the 2-seed since the Raiders earned more bonus points during the season. Arlington hasn’t lost in a month, winning its last nine matches. In a Class AA field that is littered with teams who could reasonably make a run for the title, Arlington is the hottest team going in.
Challenger: Scarsdale. The top-seeded Raiders have been battling injuries to key players Kristine Fink, Sydney Bernstein, and Annemarie Horn the past week, but head coach Ann Marie Nee could also be giving them extra rest for the section tournament. If Scarsdale is at full strength, the Raiders are every bit capable of winning it all.
Sleeper: Fox Lane. With a deceiving 10-6 record and well-rounded lineup, the battle-tested Foxes have the height, talent, and low-radar status that could make it this year’s Cinderella story in Class AA.
Best first-round match: No. 10 North Rockland at No. 7 Suffern. The Rockland rivals split their regular-season series with one another, going five sets in each match. Under first-year head coach Samantha Gutmann, the defending state champion Mounties will look to avoid an early exit at the hands of the Red Raiders.
Upset special: No. 10 North Rockland at No. 7 Suffern. These are two of the most evenly-matched teams you’ll see in any class. Suffern won the first meeting, North Rockland won the next; who will take the rubber match is to be determined.
Toughest road: John Jay-East Fishkill. The Patriots draw Mahopac, owners of the most bonus points (23) in the section due to its schedule strength, in the first round. After Mahopac, it would have Clarkstown North, which nearly drew the 1-seed.
Final Four-bound: Arlington, Clarkstown North, Fox Lane, Scarsdale
Championship: Arlington over Scarsdale, 25-23, 18-25, 22-25, 25-22, 25-20
Favorite: Panas. Outside of the season-opening loss to Fox Lane, in which nine starters did not play, the Panthers have shut-out all but one regular-season opponent and have won three large tournaments (Clarkstown South, Lindenhurst, Panas).
Challenger: John Jay. The defending section champs have been regulars in the final, reaching the title match seven times in the last 12 years. The second-seeded Indians boast two of the best hitters in the section (Julia Mines and Taylor McCarthy) and a large chip on their shoulder from people thinking this would be a down year for them.
Sleeper: Ursuline. The fifth-seeded Koalas have battled injuries virtually all season, with hitter Charlotte Stivala missing the first half of the season (ankle) and now libero Milena Ciaccia expected to return soon from a mild concussion sustained two weeks ago, but are dangerous when healthy.
Best first-round match: No. 9 Somers at No. 8 Ossining. The Pride have one of the section’s brightest stars (eighth-grader Mychael Vernon) highlighting a young roster that should be in the mix for years to come. Somers has been competitive every year since coach Sarah Benischek took over three years ago.
Upset special: No. 10 Rye at No. 7 Brewster. The Garnets have been playing exceptionally well lately, going five games with Harrison on Monday, and Brewster may not have its full starting rotation. This is the best bet for an upset outside of the 8-9 matchup.
Toughest road: Harrison. Realistically, everyone but Panas has a gauntlet of a road. The fourth-seeded Huskies will likely have to deal with Ursuline, Panas, and either John Jay or Yorktown from the quarterfinals and beyond. Fun times.
Final Four-bound: Harrison, John Jay, Panas, Yorktown
Championship: Panas over John Jay, 25-20, 25-17, 25-21
Favorite: Hen Hud. When you hear Section 1 volleyball, “Hen Hud” should be one of the first things that come to mind, and for good reason.
Challenger: Pelham. Hen Hud dominated the 2000s decade, while the Pelicans have (so far) been queens of this decade, making back-to-back trips to the state semifinals in 2011 and 2012. Top-seeded Pelham has a veteran lineup than has really come together in the second half of the season and is peaking at the right time.
Sleeper: Nanuet. Few expected the Golden Knights to get by Pelham in the section semifinals last year, so being the underdog is nothing new to coach Jen Adams’ fifth-seeded squad. Nanuet may get a rematch of last year’s section final (Ardsley) and semifinal (Pelham) in this year’s quarterfinal and semifinal, respectively. Revenge and talent could make for an entertaining bracket.
Best first-round match: No. 9 Peekskill at No. 8 Beacon. The Lady Red Devils more than doubled their win total from last year under coach Dennis Adams, so the season is already an overwhelming success. Peekskill gets a tough draw against a red-hot Beacon team on the road.
Upset special: No. 13 Putnam Valley at No. 5 Nanuet. I’d really be floored if any of the top eight seeds lost their first-round matches, but if you have to pick an upset, Putnam Valley has a few talented players in Kiki Cruz, Reena Olsen, and Allie Dick that could pull off a first-round shocker. Again, I’m not expecting any upsets.
Toughest road: Ardsley. This is really contingent on how healthy the Panthers are for the tournament, with two all-section players (Nicolina Chenard and Christina Chu) and a senior middle blocker (Danielle Morano) battling injury, but they would likely have Nanuet, Pelham, and Hen Hud, respectively.
Final Four-bound: Hen Hud, Nanuet, Nyack, Pelham
Championship: Hen Hud over Pelham, 25-20, 25-21, 22-25, 27-25
Favorite: Dobbs Ferry. It’s tough to pick between the Eagles and Pawling, but given that they are the top seed and two-time defending champs, the Eagles have to be the slight favorites.
Challenger: Pawling. The Tigers winning back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 was just before my time on the beat, but second-seeded Pawling is every bit the contender again in 2015.
Sleeper: Irvington. Between the fact that Class C is finally crowded with competitive teams and the Bulldogs haven’t really been contenders in recent years, first-year coach Karen DeMartino and fifth-seeded Irvington could knock some people on their rears this year.
Best first-round match: No. 9 Pleasantville at No. 8 Albertus Magnus. The Panthers have been without senior captains Natalie Dell and Chloe Violette for the past couple of weeks due to injury, which led to their second-half slide. Pleasantville could’ve easily been a top-five seed, so depending on how healthy it is, this could either be an exceptional match or a blowout for either side.
Upset special: No. 9 Pleasantville at No. 8 Albertus Magnus. Bluntly, this is the best possible “upset,” in my opinion.
Toughest road: Irvington. I don’t think anyone outside of the 5-seed can make a legitimate run to the final, and since the Bulldogs would have to be on the road the entire tournament, I’m thinking they have the steepest hill to climb.
Final Four-bound: Briarcliff, Dobbs Ferry, Pawling, Valhalla
Championship: Dobbs Ferry over Pawling, 25-21, 24-26, 22-25, 25-21, 25-23
Favorite: Haldane. Because you’d have to have had a lobotomy to pick against the 12-time defending champs.
Challenger: Keio. The Unicorns took a game from Hen Hud and still have their trademark defense. With Haldane facing some injury woes, this is the best chance Keio has had to win in probably a decade.
Sleeper: None. As per usual.
Championship: Haldane over Keio, 25-20, 25-21, 22-25, 25-17