Edge Athletes Excel— April 6, 2014
The high school basketball season has officially come to an end. Our Edge senior class not only had a great year, but great careers. Although the roster changed slightly over time, lets take a look at the group that has been playing in the Edge program since at least the sixth grade. First, our Edge senior class consisted of nine athletes , Kyle Santoro (Our Lady of Lourdes), David Verdis (Arlington High School), Joe Flanagan (Ketcham High School), Derek Lo (Spackenkill High School), Justin Rhynders (Our Lady of Lourdes High School), Kyle Flanagan (Arlington High School), Steve Latino (Our Lady of Lourdes High School), Nick Cuccia (Our Lady of Lourdes High School), and Jack Coppola (Roosevelt High School). In fact, four of them have been playing together since they were ten years old and were originally billed as the “Fab Four” on the Edge 11u team (Verdis, Cuccia, Flanagan, Santoro). All nine of them started for their respective high schools their senior year. We will take a look at the eight athletes that have been together since the sixth grade and what they have done collectively and individually. We will also profile the ninth man on the roster, Jack Coppola, who joined the program later but was also a starter his senior year.
A league championship, two sectional titles, champions of the Dutchess County Coach’s Association Christmas Tournament, a NYS Sports Writers Association top 20 ranking, and collectively 104 wins – 64 losses, are just some of the stats that these boys logged for Our Lady of Lourdes, Arlington, Spackenkill, and Roy C. Ketcham High Schools over the last two years. Given the stiff competition they all faced, those are pretty lofty accomplishments.
But that’s what you can do when you have a group of young athletes that dedicated so much time and energy into developing their skills. “As far back as I can remember coaching these boys, they bought into the concept of improving their skills…many times at the expense of winning games,” said Jim Santoro, the boys Edge coach since the 5th grade. “I think they can look back now and realize that all of the skills work and the commitment they made to working at it with Mr Verdis and I, all paid off,” Santoro added. Ernie Verdis, who’s son David was on the team, was Santoro’s assistant for all of those years and helped plan every practice. Sometimes those practices weren’t much fun, but Edge has developed a reputation to be the program for serious basketball players. “Edge was instrumental in David’s development as a basketball player. From fifth grade on, the fundamentals were stressed in every practice and in every game,” said Ernie Verdis, who is also an assistant to Arlington coach Matt Hoyt. “This was the focus. Not winning and losing. This philosophy, along with the “team concept” enabled David to realize his potential as a player,” coach Verdis added. “Yeah, we were tough at times,” Santoro said of his and coach Verdis’s practices. “But at the end of the day, we had kids that actually enjoyed being pushed. It was a credit to them and their approach to things,” Santoro said. Looking at all the achievements both individually and collectively, it’s obvious the hard work paid off.
Although the Edge roster changed slightly over the years, the nucleus remained intact. That nucleus went on not only to become starters for their respective high schools, but major contributors for their respective high school teams. Here is a look at each one of them.
Jack Coppola – Things didn’t come easy for Jack at Franklin D. Roosevelt High School, but Jack’s dream was to start on the varsity his senior year. Jack did all the things that any coach could ask for. Although a great shooter as a youngster, Jack put in hours of time at the gym to refine and improve his shot. That paid off big time as Jack earned a spot on the varsity as a Junior. Playing behind stars like Felix Riascos and Derek Hart, Jack saw limited playing time. But he learned a lot that year, and knew what it would take to break into the starting lineup as a senior. “Jack worked his butt off in practice,” said Jim Santoro, Jack’s Edge coach. “When he first came to our program, he had all the tools but was playing with some pretty good kids. But he was determined and stuck with it, improving every practice and every game, and learned a lot from his Edge teammates,” Santoro said.
That improvement opened the door for Jack to earn a starting role at forward this year. Although Jack didn’t impress anyone with his statistics, what was most impressive was the role that he played and how he earned it. Jack set the example for all those athletes that feel they don’t have a chance. With a little bit of hard work (well maybe a lot of hard work), and pure motivation and love for the game, Jack proved that dreams can be realized.
Joey Flanagan – Although the Ketcham basketball team has struggled in recent years, Coach Paino certainly saw a bright spot last year and knew that it would be the beginning of a turnaround for his Indians. That bright spot was Joey Flanagan. Under Joey’s leadership, the Indians were able to put together some quality wins in the 2012-2013 season, laying the foundation for future years.
As a senior, Joe led his team to post season play and to Ketcham’s first post season victory in nine years. “Joey has been the best all around basketball player that I have coached since my first year,” said Matt Paino, Joey’s varsity coach. “Joey is a good scorer and a great shooter,” Paino added. Although it will be tough to replace him, Joe had to lead a young group of athletes and helped set the stage for the Indians’ future success. “Joey is the only true gym rat we have had in a long while. It is going to be difficult to find someone to equal the productivity and leadership that Joey provided,” Paino said.
Joey was a two year varsity member. As a varsity starter, he led his team in scoring both his junior and senior year and was named All League, All Conference and All County as a senior by the Dutchess County Coach’s Association. Joe was also selected to play in the Exceptional Senior game held at Spackenkill High School. He had a career high 36 points against Spackenkill as a junior and a season high 34 vs Beacon this year. Joe has been playing basketball since the first grade. He Joined the Edge program as a ten year old and has played in the program for seven years. Joe’s college choices include Elmira, Manhattanville, Cortland, and Union College where he hopes to study accounting and further his basketball career.
Derek Lo – At Spackenkill, Derek’s impact was felt as a sophomore. Spack had three good years with Derek on varsity, culminating in a sectional championship his senior year. “A three year varsity player, Derek is an absolute pleasure to coach – one of the hardest working ballplayers I’ve ever had,” said Terry Feeley, Derek’s varsity coach. He was also a gentlemen on and off the court. “He always has a smile on his face and kind word for anyone he meets,” Feeley added. His Edge coach, Jim Santoro, remembers Derek as someone that got the most out of his size. “For someone that usually gave up some inches at his position, Derek would out work his opponent and sometimes that meant the entire opposing team just to get a rebound,” Santoro recalled.
Derek was brought up to the varsity as a sophomore. He earned a starting role as a junior, and as a senior was instrumental in Spackenkill’s Section Nine championship. Derek led his team in rebounding and had a career high 18 points against John Jay as a sophomore and 18 points against Ellenville as a senior. He joined the Edge program as a twelve year old where he developed his low post moves and short range jumper. He was named to the All Academic team by the Dutchess County Coach’s Association and was selected to play in the Exceptional Senior game held at Spackenkill High School. As a member of the National Honor Society, Derek has been accepted to Holy Cross, Bentley College, Union College, Bryan University, Fairfield University, Drexel, Marist College, and Stetson University.
Kyle Flanagan – At Arlington, Kyle had to wait his turn while watching one of the best teams Arlington had in recent years fight Mahopac to get to the county center two straight years. But as a sophomore and junior, Kyle learned a lot playing for coach Hoyt and practicing with and against some of the best players in the county. As a senior, he helped Arlington solidify as a team. “Kyle was very strong going to the basket and was tough to defend. He really completed our team and made us very dangerous,” said Matt Hoyt, Kyle’s varsity coach.
Kyle was a three year member on Arlington’s varsity. He earned a starting role this year and was instrumental in Arlington’s amazing season turnaround. He averaged 10 points per game but in the final 10 games he increased his points production to 13, helping Arlington to finish the season on a strong note. In fact, Kyle helped Arlington to become one of the top teams in the county and helped them win a league title. Arlington was also considered one of the top teams in a very tough Class AA section one. Kyle had a career high of 20 points against Ketcham. He has been in the Edge program since he was thirteen where he learned how to play defense. Kyle was selected to play in this years Exceptional Senior game held at Spackenkill High School. He plans on attending Dutchess Community College next year to begin working on his degree in finance and business.
Nick Cuccia – A welcomed addition for the Warriors this year after he took his junior year off to concentrate on football. Nick, who is more recognized for his football prowess, stepped back into the basketball scene this year where he earned a starting role for Our Lady of Lourdes High School. At Lourdes, he anchored the team’s defense, always drawing the opposing teams top guard as his defensive assignment. “It was a great surprise to find out Nick was going to play this year. He had invested a lot of time into basketball over the years, and it’s was great to see him put it to use,” said Jim Santoro, Nicks varsity coach. “He brought a winning mentality from football and added it to an already confident senior class,” Santoro added.
Nick was one of the original “Fab Four” on his Edge team where he has played since he was ten years old. During his career with Edge, Nick was not only a defensive specialist, but he had exceptional offensive skills as well. Those skills continued to improve right through high school and enabled Nick to give his Lourdes team timely baskets from any spot on the court. “While defenses concentrated on stopping Kyle and Justin, Nick would often provide the dagger, whether he was hitting from three, or converting in transition off of a steal,” Coach Santoro said. “And on top of that, he was second in rebounding as a guard,” Santoro added. Nick’s college plans include University of Florida and University of South Florida.
Steve Latino – Steve, also an outstanding soccer player, has been on the varsity for two years at Our Lady of Lourdes High School. Last year, Steve came off the bench and was instrumental in helping his team win the Section One Championship. As a senior, Steve took on a lead by example role. “Steve came into this season with a great approach. And that was to do whatever it took to help his team win games,” said his coach, Jim Santoro. Steve earned a starting role where he had to change positions to help his team succeed. That success included his team getting to the Dutchess County Coach’s Association Christmas Tournament finals on their way to a 15-5 record. “Steve made many sacrifices for his team this year, and that’s what helped define our season,” Santoro added.
Steve had 19 points against Marlboro High School in the “Refs vs Cancer” game held at New Paltz College and a career high 20 points against Poughkeepsie. He played an important role on the varsity providing unsuspecting scoring punches when needed. “Steve came up big in so many games for us this year,” said Santoro. “Teams would often make the mistake of just focusing on Kyle and Justin defensively. Steve would always make the other teams pay for that,” Santoro added. Steve played for Edge since he was twelve and was named to the Dutchess County Coach’s Association All-Academic Team as well as selected to play in the Exceptional Senior game. Steve’s college choices include Quinnipiac University, SUNY Brockport, University of Delaware, and Duquense University.
David Verdis – David, a three year varsity member for Arlington High School, was also a three sport athlete, carrying his soccer team to two sectional titles and a NYS championship his junior year, and a two year starter on the Lacrosse team. On the hardwood, David was instrumental in Arlington’s success the last two years and earned a starting role this year where he captained a team that won a league title on their way to a 14-6 record this year and a three year record of 44-16. “David is one of the fiercest competitors I have ever seen,” said Jim Santoro, David’s Edge coach. “His will to win was incredible,” Santoro added. Off the court, Verdis has the total package. “David knows what he wants, and has the drive to get it. On top of that, he just does it all the right way.”
Averaging 12 points per game, 7 assists and 6 rebounds aren’t exactly shabby numbers. But David’s point production is somewhat misleading. “He could have scored over 15 points a game easy if that’s what we wanted him to do, but he was such a team player he did not care about the points,” Matt Hoyt, David’s varsity coach, said. He also felt that David will be impossible to replace. “The only thing David was concerned about was being a great teammate,” said Hoyt. And sometimes the kid that is just a great teammate is the most difficult kid to replace.
David was named All League, All County, and was selected to play in the county’s Exceptional Senior game. In addition to being named on the county’s All Academic team, David earned the “Duane Davis” scholarship award, one of the top honors given out by the DCCA. David was also named to the Poughkeepsie Journal All Star team. David has been playing for Edge since he was ten years old and was one of the original “Fab Four.” David sports a 101 grade point average and narrowed his college choices down to UCONN, Virginia Tech, Maryland, UMASS, and Ohio University before selecting UCONN as the school he will attend. David plans on studying civil engineering.
Justin Rhynders – As one of only two players in Coach Santoro’s twenty five year history to play varsity all four years at Our Lady of Lourdes High School, Justin earned a starting role as a Junior where he helped his team win the Section One championship. In fact, he had the difficult task of guarding Eric Paschal, Section One’s “Mr. Basketball” in the finals of the section one championship game. Although Paschal scored 33 points, Justin forced all of his points to come from the perimeter. “Justin did an incredible job keeping Eric out of his game,” said Jim Santoro, Justin’s varsity coach. “We had no answer for Paschal inside the paint, but Justin just refused to let him get there,” Santoro added. He also poured in 20 of his own points in that game, mostly coming as answers to Paschal’s treys. In the end, Rhynders with his backcourt partner Kyle Santoro, and the rest of the very balanced Lourdes team, defeated Dobbs Ferry in overtime. He was part of a team that had six different players lead the squad in scoring that year.
As a senior starter and captain, Justin was the county’s most potent scorer, helping his team to 15-5 record. “Justin is one of the most talented offensive players I have ever coached,” said Santoro. “I remember working with him as a young athlete and saying to myself that this kid has natural ability,” Santoro added. But what most don’t realize is that natural ability doesn’t always cut it. Hard work and commitment are just as important for any athlete to reach their potential. “Oh yeah. Hard work?” I can’t count the hours that Justin spent in his driveway and in the gym working on his game.”
Justin averaged 15 points and 3 steals per game his senior year. He also scored a season high 25 points against Ketcham as a Junior and had a career high 27 points against Red Hook in the Dutchess County Coach’s Association Christmas tournament championship game his senior year. Justin was named to the All Tournament Team for the Christmas Tournament, All League, All Conference, All County and was selected to play in the Exception Senior game. He earned the “Mort Laffin” award, one of the top honors given out by the DCAA. Justin was also named to the Poughkeepsie Journal All Star team. He has chosen to attend SUNY Potsdam to study business where he will pursue his bachelor’s degree in the Business of Music program. He will be playing for Coach Sherry Dobbs on the men’s basketball team.
Kyle Santoro – Kyle was a three year starter on the varsity at Our Lady of Lourdes High School and has been key to the program’s success. As a junior, Kyle helped his team to win a NYS Section One championship. He also led his team in assists, steals, and was the team’s second leading scorer. On three occasions, Kyle scored twenty points or more in the second half to help lift his team to victory. In the championship game against Dobbs Ferry, Kyle did his part to seal the victory by scoring fourteen points in the fourth quarter and overtime, with eleven of them coming from the free throw line. In all, Kyle converted fourteen of fifteen free throws that game, all coming at crucial moments.
After his team graduated five of the eight players from the championship squad, Kyle, along with Justin Rhynders, knew they would have their work cut out for them to be successful as seniors. Did somebody say work? “Kyle has spent more time working at his game than anyone I know,” said Jim Santoro, Kyle’s varsity coach and father. His coach recalls that point in the seventh grade where Kyle struggled on the court. But his love for the game drove him into a work ethic frenzy. “When coaches and parents ask me what was the key to Kyle’s success, they would never be able to get a feel for how hard Kyle has worked,” Santoro said. “He has literally taken over 500,000 shots on the gun since the sixth grade and has spent countless hours working on all aspects of his game,” coach Santoro said. Some people define a gym rat as someone who lives in the gym. You would have a hard time finding what kind of rat Kyle was. Gym rat? No. Kyle’s best friends were the gym, a ball, and a shooting machine. Throw in his other best friend and backcourt partner, Justin Rhynders, who played hundreds, if not thousands, of games of one on one with Kyle and I’m not sure you can find a rat big enough to describe him.
As a junior, Kyle was named the MVP of the Tom Emma Memorial game, All Tournament in the Dutchess County Coach’s Association Christmas Tournament, All League, All Conference, All County, and all Poughkeepsie Journal. As a senior, Kyle captained his team and led in assists (5.5), steals (4.4), and scoring (21 ppg). He was also the top scorer in Dutchess County, with twice scoring over 30 points with a career high of 33 against Nyack in the opening round of sectional play. Kyle was named MVP of this years Tom Emma Memorial Game, MVP of the Dutchess County Coach’s Association Christmas Tournament, All League, All Conference, All Section, All County, All MSG Varsity, and was unanimously voted as the Dutchess County Coach’s Association “Bob Stauderman” Player of the Year award. He was also named as Poughkeepsie Journal’s Player of the Year, the counties top honor. He played in his last high school game as an Exceptional Senior at Spackenkill High School. Kyle narrowed his college choices to St. John’s Fisher College, Elmira College, Keene State, Utica College, Clarkson University, and SUNY Potsdam before selecting SUNY Potsdam where he will join his backcourt partner Justin Rhynders playing for Coach Sherry Dobbs. Kyle will purse a degree in Finance and Economics in SUNY Potsdam’s School of Business.
Here are some pictures of the boys. See them as they grow into the fine young men they are today!