By Sean Lynch
WARWICK — Cheers of jubilation filled the Washingtonville locker room after a 46-42 come-from-behind win against division foe Warwick on Tuesday night.
With the win, the Wizards improved to 16-4 and won the Division II title for the first time since 2013.
The emotional cheers continued as head coach Todd Rose walked in the locker room to congratulate his team.
“I’m proud of you guys tonight,” he said. “Feels nice to win the division title, doesn’t it?”
His players cheered some more, and concluded with one final sentiment.
“One of our goals at the beginning of the season was to win the division and we just did that. Now we’ve got one final thing to win.”
The entire team screamed in unison, “Now we’re going for the Section 9 ‘chip.”
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
After a two hour practice at the beginning of the season, junior guards Ryan Graham and Ryan Hendricks approached Rose with words that would make any coach smile.
“We want you to work us harder in practice.”
“In all my years coaching, I don’t think any players have told me to work them harder in practice,” he said with a chuckle.
Since then, the team has had more intense conditioning practices, weight room workouts, and even weekly mediation.
“The weight room gives us confidence during games,” said Graham. “We’re less afraid to get physical with teams in the paint because we know we’re capable of finishing at the rim and grabbing gritty rebounds.”
Once a week, the team goes to the Body Art Barn — a mediation studio ran by Washingtonville guidance counselor, Ms. Susan Cooney. The team goes through various mental exercises to put their mind at ease and keep their bodies fresh.
“When I first thought of mediation, I thought it was something where you sit on the floor and do nothing, but it’s a lot more than that,” he added. “It’s really soothing. We stretch our bodies and close our eyes while Ms. Cooney talks — it’s been a big help to us this season because it makes us mentally tougher on the court.”
Emergence of Romeo Aquino
It’s not often you see a junior-varsity player get pulled up and lead the team in scoring, rebounds & blocks the following season— but center Romeo Aquino has done just that.
Aquino, a 6-foot-5 junior, is averaging 14.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game this season.
“We didn’t bring him up last season because we were very senior-heavy,” said Rose. “Heading into our summer leagues (against teams from around Section 9) he was our hidden weapon. Then when he started dunking, he wasn’t hidden anymore.
Aquino acknowledged his effort on the court, but shared the praise with his teammates.
“I always give it 110% out there but it’s not all about me,” he said. “My teammates always find me when I’m open and they always have my back on the court. A lot of the credit goes to them.”
1975 Washingtonville graduate Tommy Clyne runs an open gym at the high school from 12:00-to-3:00 every Saturday afternoon. He applauds Aquino’s work-ethic and dedication to being a better player.
“Romeo is one of the first people to come, and one of the last to leave,” said Clyne. “He’s a special player, and that’s no accident.”
Wizards Playoff Aspirations
The Wizards are expected to host Warwick in the Section 9 Class AA quarterfinal next week.
“We know Warwick will want revenge after we beat them for the division,” said Rose. “We have to be able to control the things we’re able to control and play the way we’re capable of playing and if we can do that, we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Earlier this month, Washingtonville lost by a combined three points to Kingston and Middletown — the anticipated No. 1 & 2 seeds in the upcoming Class AA playoffs.
“We’re gonna work hard in practices this week because we don’t know if we’ll be able to practice together again,” added Aquino. “No one on our team wants to stop playing, and that’s our motivation.”