Titles and tears: The year in sports

It was a year a lacrosse goalie scored, a single highway corridor sent three high schools to state f
Roughly 15,000 fans showed up at Saratoga Race Course the day before the Travers just to watch triple Crown winner American Pharoah work out.
Roughly 15,000 fans showed up at Saratoga Race Course the day before the Travers just to watch triple Crown winner American Pharoah work out.

It was a year a lacrosse goalie scored, a single highway corridor sent three high schools to state football championship games and back-to-back sectional title soccer games went to four overtimes.

And none of those stories could crack the area’s Top 10 for 2015.

A super-sized Suburban Council launched, an NFL kicker fresh out of RPI gave the school tons of free national publicity, and a football coaching legend at Union retired via a press release.

And none of those stories made the Top 10, either. Yeah, it was that hard to make the cut.

So what did make it? Here are the Top 10 area sports stories for 2015, as chosen by The Daily Gazette:

10. Wrestler Nick Gwiaz­dowski’s career takes a turn toward historic. The former Duanesburg High School legend, now at North Carolina State, won his second consecutive NCAA heavyweight national championship in St. Louis in March. The senior is now gunning for a third title this spring, a goal only reached by former NFL player Carlton Haselrig in 1987-89. After that, Gwiazdowski has his sights set on Olympic glory.

9. #TheyGotCarlyOnSportsCenter. Carly Sinnott, a captain for the Mekeel Christian Academy volleyball team, died May 13 after falling 50 feet the night before while hiking in Plotter Kill Preserve in Rotterdam. Her friends decided a fitting tribute for the Clifton Park teen would to see her honored on ESPN, and launched the Twitter hashtag campaign #GetCarlyOn­SportsCenter. The campaign went viral, and on May 27 Sinnott was featured on ESPN2’s midnight edition SportsCenter, showcasing her as one of its “3 Stars of the Night.”

8. Burnt Hills girls’ volleyball dominance reaches new heights. The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake girls’ volleyball team has won state titles in 2002, 2004-05 and 2011-12. But never before has a Spartans team been as dominant as Gary Bynon’s squad this year: A 3-0 win in the Class A final this fall gave Burnt Hills a sixth state title, capping a 31-1 campaign — a record win total for the program.

7. Niskayuna state lacrosse title a first for Section II. The Silver Warrior’s 13-10 win over West Genesee this spring in the Class A title game was a watershed moment for Niskayuna and the region, marking the first-ever state championship for a Section II boys’ team in lacrosse.

6. Niskayuna’s Garrett Whitley named best high school baseball player in state, drafted in first round. In his senior season Whitley hit .356 with three home runs and 13 RBIs. He also walked 13 times on his way to a .487 on-base percentage, stole 15 bases without being caught and played a stellar center field. In June, just days after his high school won the state lacrosse title, the 2014-15 Gatorade New York Baseball Player of the Year became the 13th overall selection in the Major League Baseball Draft, taken by the Tampa Bay Rays.

5. Section II basketball owns Glens Falls . . . while it can. Section II pulled off another triple in the boys’ state basketball championships at the Glens Falls Civic Center, with titles by Shenendehowa, Scotia-Glenville and Lake George. In the past five years the section has won nine of a possible 15 championships.

But with a December vote by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association, the state tournament — which has called Glens Falls home since 1981 — will be moving after this spring to Binghamton. Some local coaches wonder if all the winning by Section II played a factor, although state officials say that is not the case.

4. National lacrosse player of the year Lyle Thompson of UAlbany sets NCAA marks, enters best-ever argument. The University at Albany attackman became the only man ever to win the Tewaaraton Trophy as player of the year two years in a row, after setting the NCAA career record in points and assists. Thompson, who graduated and turned pro, is in the discussion not only for the best college lacrosse player of all time, but the best athlete ever to play any sport in the Capital Region.

3. Sean Conroy becomes the first openly gay active pro baseball player. On June 25, in the same week the Supreme Court enshrined gay marriage as a right in all 50 states, the 23-year-old graduate of Shenendehowa High School and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute made history by becoming the first active openly gay player in professional baseball history. Conroy pitched for the Sonoma (Calif.) Stompers of the independent Pacific Association of Baseball Clubs.

2. The anguish and triumph of Peter Hooley. Peter Hooley took a hiatus from the UAlbany basketball team in early 2015 to be with his mother, who was back home in Australia dying of cancer that would take her life Jan. 30. On March 15, the guard drained one of the most celebrated shots in Capital Region basketball history: a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer that beat Stony Brook 51-50 in the America East championship game, sending SEFCU Arena into a frenzy, and the Great Danes into the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.

“When you’ve got angels watching,’’ Hooley said, “you can do anything.’’

Hooley’s extended appearance on ESPN afterward and eloquence made him the face of the NCAAs leading up to the tournament. This week NCAA.com named the shot one of the 13 moments that defined college basketball in 2015: “March had no better story.”

And the Capital Region had only one in 2015.

1. Pharoahtoga. In 2014, this would have been a nonsense word. Pharoahtoga? What does that mean? And isn’t the Pharaoh part spelled wrong?

That was before American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, broke through the barrier of sports into the mainstream, then made his way north for the Travers, energizing the entire Saratoga Race Course meet.

The day before the Travers, 15,000 people turned out at the race course to watch him in a tuneup. To quote the great philosopher Allen Iverson, we are talking about practice.

The fact that Pharoah lost to Keen Ice in the Travers at Saratoga did little to smite the thrill he brought to the region and racing.

ALSO CONSIDERED (in no particular order): Three high school teams from the Route 29 corridor — Saratoga Springs, Schuylerville and Greenwich, make state football finals at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse; Joe Cremo’s basketball success at Scotia-Glenville continues at UAlbany; RPI kicker Andrew Franks sticks and flourishes with the Miami Dolphins; the Suburban Council absorbs teams from the old Big 10; facing pressure after recent losing seasons, Union football coach John Audino, the winningest coach in the history of the program, retires after 24 years.

Schalmont soccer star Chris Hamilton sets the state scoring record; UAlbany women’s basketball goes to its fourth straight NCAAs; Schalmont girls’ soccer wins state title; the unparalleled success of Ballston Spa boys soccer; new agreement shifts Albany Cup to SEFCU for 2017; former Niskayuna lacrosse star Kayla Treanor of Syracuse a Tewaaraton finalist for college MVP; Niskayuna and Saratoga win national rowing champ­ionships.

Honor Code edges Liam’s Map in a thrilling Whitney Handicap at Saratoga; Jeff Blatnick is inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame; Shenendehowa’s Ian Anderson wins world championship with USA Baseball; Saratoga’s Aidan Tooker becomes first Section II male cross country runner to win three Class A solo titles; two consecutive Section II girls’ soccer title games go four overtimes; UAlbany lacrosse goalie Blaze Riorden goes coast-to-coast to score a goal against Cornell in the NCAA tournament, and is later the only college player named to national indoor team.

Amsterdam track star Izaiah Brown wins his third consecutive 400M state title; Schalmont grad Liz Kuhlkin named national bowler of the year, leads Nebraska to NCAA bowling title, wins her first professional women’s bowling title; Greenwich kicker Linnea D’Achille of Greenwich sets what is believed to be a Section II record for points scored by a female football player; Burnt Hill’s boys soccer registers twice as many wins in the postseason as it had all last year, making it to the state semifinals.

Categories: Sports

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