Hope springs eternal after strong winter

St. Anthony's Jamel Hudson (top) wins his match

St. Anthony's Jamel Hudson (top) wins his match over Chaminade's Jon Faglione (bottom) during the CHSAA State High School Wrestling Championships. (Feb. 13, 2011) (Credit: Richard Slattery)

Gregg Sarra

Newsday Columnist Gregg Sarra Gregg Sarra

Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer.

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The mildest of winters is behind us. Thankfully, the snowblower never left the shed, black ice was not a common denominator on our roads or in the news and our vehicles weren't navigating through and around potholes.

There were many days in January and February that felt more like spring. The winter was nothing like the one in 2010-11 that left us buried in snow from late December through early February.

Ah, spring is finally here, as the spring high school sports season officially opened this week across Long Island. Be sure, that many didn't have to look too hard to find their bats and gloves, golf clubs, lacrosse sticks and shorts. The weather allowed everyone to get ahead start on the season.

What we leave behind is a winter high school sports season, not interrupted by weather, but punctuated by brilliant performances from the winter track teams at Garden City and North Shore to the hockey team at St. Anthony's.

The Friars skated through an undefeated regular season and into the CHSAA state tournament. There, they forever inked themselves into the annals of CHSAA hockey history with a stunning 4-3 win over St. Francis of Springs, a school located just outside Buffalo.

Senior Chris Wallace, who has a flair for the dramatic, scored his third goal of the game, with one second remaining for the championship win. The Friars became the first downstate champion to win the state tournament in the nine-year history of the event.

Nine Long Island wrestlers earned state championships. A state record four wild card entrants from Long Island, Sean McCabe (Connetquot), James Dekrone (Glenn), Nick Bellanza (Glenn) and Evan Kappatos (Syosset) made the most of their second chance, and won a state title.

St. Anthony's senior Jamel Hudson became the first wrestler in 50 years of the state tournament to sing the national anthem and then go out and win a crown - that's cool.

Hudson celebrated with a bag of Mike n Ike's candy. "Man, this is the greatest night of my life," he laughed. "I just need to eat some candy."

Hudson was just a typical high school kid living in the moment. He couldn't decide which was more satisfying, his outstanding rendition of the Star Spangled Banner or his state title win. Both were great.

Perfection came in different styles, epee, foil and sabre and all with the fencing teams at Ward Melville who continued to dominate, winning the boys and girls Long Island championships.

As we roll out of winter and into spring, hope blooms everywhere. Hope is timeless. Even at Bellport, where legendary baseball coach Bill Batewell, who led the Clippers to two straight playoff appearances, had only 11 athletes try out for the team.

Forever an optimist, Batewell surmised, "We've got some very good players and we'll get along. But the good news is we have a ton of talent in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades."

You have to love Batewell's attitude.

The spring is about new beginnings and ignites the imaginations of all teams. There is drama in the competition of tryouts and all of the athletes searching for a spot on the team, whether it varsity of junior varsity. There are different sets of expectations in programs across the board. Some aspire to be champions, others to take the next step and make the playoffs.

There is rebuilding and reloading for the start of the spring season. Dreams will be realized in a short time. Winter is over, and spring is here, but don't blink because it's over quickly for most teams that would be mid-May.

For the really good ones that reach the postseason, see you in the state championships in June. Here's a little tease. Watch out for Patchogue-Medford baseball, Seaford softball, North Shore girls track, St. Anthony's boys track, Smithtown West boys lacrosse and Garden City girls lacrosse.

And remember these names; Vogel, Montemarano, Giovaniello, Nadel, Nerud, Colletti, Pannell and Rotanz.

Just hope the weather cooperates.