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Monday, Dec. 28, 2015: Samuels, freshman trio power Ossining

   Leading off today: This may not be the season someone takes down Ossining in the NYSPHSAA girls Class AA basketball tournament. And the three seasons after that ain't looking so good either.

   The Pride, winners of five straight Section 1 titles and the last three state championships, started three freshmen in a 66-52 win Sunday over top Class A contender Albertus Magnus in the Slam Dunk Tournament final at the Westchester County Center. Aubrey Griffin, Kailah Harris, and Jaida Strippoli combined for 37 points, 21 rebounds, seven assists and seven steals.

   "I told the freshmen, we can bring you along slowly and bring you off the bench and treat you like freshmen, or we can throw you into the heat of the battle and treat you like upperclassmen," Coach Dan Ricci told The Journal News, "and we chose to do that."

   Senior Shadeen Samuels finished with 24 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals en route to MVP honors.

   Height of excitement: Imagine being a young, talented high school athlete who's already gained a measure of recognition in ninth grade. Now, imagine being that freshman and getting the chance to compete alongside one of the major stars of your sport.

   That happened to Gates Chili track athlete Erica Ellis on Sunday during the Upstate New York Holiday Classic XVII put on by USA Track and Field Niagara at Rochester Institute Technology. The featured performer was defending Olympic women's pole vault champ Jenn Suhr.

   Suhr was the day's winner with a height of 15 feet, 7 inches before missing three cracks at 16-1. Ellis, who set a state freshman indoor record of 11-8 this season and trains with Suhr, produced a PR of 11-9 on her first try at the height.

   Ellis missed three attempts at 12-3.

   "I can't put into words how much I wanted it," Ellis told the Democrat and Chronicle.

   Track world loses an innovator: Retired Wantagh coach Mike Byrnes, who helped co-found the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation that spawned top-notch national high school competitions, died in his sleep Saturday in Culpepper, Va. He was 83.

   Byrnes formed the Long Island Striders, which later became the Long Island Athletic Club in 1964 to provide high school and college athletes an opportunity to compete in the summer. Two decades later, he went national by joining forces with Jim Spier and the Metropolitan Athletics Congress' Tracy Sundlin to create the first national high school indoor track meet.

   "I told Tracy that I could create a 'hit list' of the best U.S. athletes to recruit," Spier recalled, "but we needed a salesman to recruit them. Mike Byrnes was that man."

   The National Scholastic Indoor Track and Field Championship was the first meet to offer travel money to high school athletes and spawned several similar indoor and outdoor events that have been staples of the schedule following the conclusion of high school seasons.

   Today, the New Balance Indoor National Championships, New Balance Outdoor National Championships and Great American Cross Country Festival draw elite fields from high schools across the country.

   "As the meets grew, we finally brought in enough money to make a serious impact on helping athletes to attend Junior championships," Spier said. "None of this could have been done without Mike. He was the soul of the organization for all those years."

   All-state cross country: Liverpool senior Ben Petrella, whose races this fall included victories in the NYSPHSAA Class A meet and the Nike Cross Nationals regional qualifier, has been selected the state's boys cross country runner of the year by the New York State Sportswriters Association.

   Petrella also recorded first-place finishes at V-V-S, McQuaid and his league and sectional championships. He was sixth overall at the NXN Nationals in Portland, Ore., this month.

   The full all-state team can be viewed here.

   Five decades on the job: The first basketball game Rick Ahlfeld officiated was a JV game in Potsdam in December 1964 for the princely sum of $7.50. Some 52 years later -- two years as a probationary member and now half a century as a full-fledged International Organization Of Basketball Officials ref -- he's still working.

   Over the years, Ahlfeld has worked boys and girls basketball, plus soccer, baseball, softball and volleyball at the high school and college level. He's also coached varsity soccer and freshman basketball at Massena High, done radio coverage of hockey games and written for the Massena Observer.

   "I'd be up at 4:15 a.m. to write stories on the old teletype for the Observer," he told The Daily Times. "Then I would go to the radio station and record seven one- and-a-half-minute sports reports. Then I would go to Massena Central, open the door at 6:15 a.m. and start my day with freshman basketball practice at 6:30 a.m."

   Ahlfeld is now retired -- other than officiating high school basketball, baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball. His idea of a vacation is when he travels to Florida in February to work college softball games.

   "Officiating gives me something to look forward to everyday," he said.

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