Winning an athlete of the year award is a special achievement, but to win it twice is really nice.
Mattituck senior Mackenzie Hoeg and Shoreham-Wading River senior Xavier Arline know the feeling. They both became two-time winners of the awards, presented by Times Review Media Group to the top female and male athletes from five high schools in its coverage area. Hoeg, a standout in basketball and lacrosse, took the honor for a second year in a row. Arline, a football and lacrosse star, was selected for the second time in three years (swimmer Jason Louser was recognized as SWR’s top male athlete last year).
Both Hoeg and Arline earned the recognition despite the loss of their spring lacrosse seasons, which were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Class of 2019-20 winners also include: Greenport’s Adrine Demirciyan (soccer, basketball) and Joshua Santacroce (soccer, basketball, baseball), Mattituck’s Xavier Allen (basketball), Southold’s Kaitlin Tobin (soccer, basketball, lacrosse) and Nick Grathwohl (soccer, basketball, baseball), Riverhead’s Christina Yakaboski (cross country, winter track, track and field) and Albert Daniels (football, basketball) and SWR’s Gianna Cacciola (soccer).
This is the 36th year in which Times Review Media Group has announced athletes of the year. See the complete list of winners here.
The following are profiles of the 2019-20 winners:
Greenport High School
The ascendancy of Adrine Demirciyan really is no mystery to those in the know. It’s all that behind-the-scenes work that has put this basketball player in the forefront.
“Everybody talks about her as being a very talented athlete, but as far as the basketball was concerned, she puts in the hours of work, so what she has done with herself has been earned,” said Greenport/Southold coach Skip Gehring, who pointed out that Demirciyan spends three or four days a week taking private lessons, each lasting several hours.
The product of all that work was seen. The sophomore point guard was selected among Long Island’s top 100 players by Newsday. For the second year in a row she was named an All-Conference player after making All-League as an eighth-grader. For the second year in a row she was named the team co-MVP.
Demirciyan, playing with a fiery drive, made great strides this past season. “Most teams were double- and even sometimes triple-teaming her,” said Gehring. Despite that, Demirciyan still was remarkably productive, with 17.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game.
Chris Golden, Greenport’s athletic director and coach of the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team, received a phone call from Demirciyan a week before preseason practice. She told him she was coming out for his soccer team.
“She was a huge pickup,” Golden said. “Every now and then I do alright in getting a draft choice.”
Demirciyan had never played organized soccer before, but Golden quickly found that he had a player who could contribute. The outside back went from having a marginal role to becoming an integral piece who played the full 80 minutes.
“I had two of the best outside backs I’ve ever had in my life. It was her and Saira [Gomez],” Golden said. “She had no background. None, and really learned on the fly. From each game to the next, you could just see her grow.”
He continued: “That is a gifted and talented athlete. She’s one of those young athletes that, no matter the sport, no matter where she was going to school, she would be a tremendous asset to any program. We all should have her athletic ability.”
One of the keys to Demirciyan’s progress has been her willingness to take instruction. “There’s an old coach’s expression that coaches are always toughest on the better ballplayers, so as hard as I did ride her, she was extremely cooperative,” Gehring said. He added: “She was very, very receptive to all the corrections and criticism. She had a desire to learn.”
And get better.
Greenport High School
Few high school basketball players have seen the heights and depths that Joshua Santacroce has. In his junior season, he was a member of the Greenport team that reached the New York State Class C semifinals. This past season, the guard was the sole returning senior on a young squad that lost a lot more than it won.
“He got to play with the team that went to Binghamton and then all of a sudden he’s with a team full of sophomores,” coach Ev Corwin said. “He knew it was going to be a tough season.”
At the same time, the 2019-20 team gave Santacroce a chance to do something he does well — lead. The team captain was valued, perhaps more than anything else, for his leadership and team-first mentality.
Santacroce exhibited the later last fall when the boys soccer team needed his experience on defense. After having played as an outside midfielder for most of his junior season, he was asked to make a position change for the good of the team.
“I don’t think defense would have been his number one choice, but he didn’t complain,” soccer coach Greg Dlhopolsky said. “He pretty much said, ‘I’ll do what you need me to do.’ ”
A left back was born.
Tasked with covering the flanks, defending crosses and watching for through balls up the middle, Santacroce typically was assigned to mark the opponent’s most dangerous winger. “I knew that I could count on him to play that position,” said Dlhopolsky.
Santacroce’s season with the junior varsity baseball team (Greenport didn’t have a varsity team this year) was cut short by the pandemic. Coach Brian Toussaint was expecting big things from the player he expected to be the ace of his pitching staff.
“He really understands how to carry yourself as an athlete, I guess,” Toussaint said. “Nowadays, a lot of kids are focused on the individual aspect.”
As a junior, Santacroce also played shortstop and caught. He led the team with 19 stolen bases, was second in on-base percentage (.537) and used a good curveball to help him fan 19 batters in 14 innings.
Greenport athletic director Chris Golden said of Santacroce, who has been accepted into Fredonia State: “This is the type of athlete school districts want. We want this type of kid.”
Corwin certainly does. “I love Josh. I’m going to miss him,” he said. “He was a coach’s dream being there every day. He’s just so consistent.”
Mattituck High School
It says a lot about Mackenzie Hoeg the athlete that she has won her second straight athlete of the year award really exclusively on her performance in her No. 2 sport: basketball.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hoeg lost her senior season in lacrosse, her No. 1 sport, the sport she will play in college at Virginia, where she will play alongside her older sister, Riley.
But Hoeg was the leader of the Mattituck girls basketball team, which fell short in its bid of reaching a fifth straight Long Island Class B championship game, losing to Port Jefferson in the county final. The All-Conference point guard was a unanimous All-League selection, averaging 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.3 steals per game. “I think she had a tremendous season,” Van Dood said. “She was a great leader, a great captain.”
Over four seasons she accumulated 710 points, 321 rebounds, 245 steals and 122 assists. In that time, Hoeg was a Long Island champion as a freshman and a three-time county champion.
Asked for Hoeg’s place in Mattituck’s basketball history, coach Steve Van Dood said he would rank her as a “top-five player.” He said: “She was a very humble kid. I noticed that with some of the great kids … To me that means a lot. She never acted like she was better than anybody.”
In lacrosse, Hoeg was better than most. A midfielder who can also play attack, she was one of eight players from Suffolk County to be recognized as an All-American last year. Mattituck won state Class D championships the last two years, and Hoeg was instrumental in both of them.
“Everybody works on skills and some people are just naturally athletic, but I think the thing that separates her is her lacrosse IQ is off the charts,” Mattituck/Southold girls lacrosse coach Matt Maloney said. “She truly is able to dissect and detect what the other team is doing a pass before it actually happens.”
In the five seasons the ambidextrous Hoeg played, she picked up 214 goals, 153 assists, 330 draw controls and 82 steals/takeaways in addition to gathering over 200 ground balls.
Maloney, who has coached high school girls lacrosse for 13 years, called Hoeg “one of the best kids I’ve ever coached, talent-wise and all around, on and off the field.”
Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth said, “I think Mac’s one of the best competitors that we’ve seen in a long time because she would do all she could to win.”
Mattituck High School
X marked the spot, right above the cylinder of the basket.
That’s where shots by Xavier Allen, nicknamed “X” for short, often ended up — in the basket.
Allen’s high school career ended with him being Mattituck’s all-time leading scorer with 1,564 points. Last season he led Long Island with a 31.0 points-per-game average. He piled up the points along with the honors: Suffolk County Small Schools Player of the Year, All-County, League VII MVP.
“I’ve had a lot of great players, but I have to say X is the greatest player I’ve ever coached,” said coach Paul Ellwood.
The shooting guard, who will play at the NCAA Division II level for Lander University in South Carolina, is coming off what Ellwood called an “absolutely incredible” senior season.
“Every team knew who he was because he was All-County the year before also, the first time I ever had a two-time All-County players, so it wasn’t like he came out of nowhere,” Ellwood said. “Everyone was trying to stop him and they couldn’t.”
Allen seemed like he was at his best against the better teams, too.
“His numbers were amazing, and to put up those type of numbers against the teams in our league, he put up big numbers against Center Moriches and he put up big numbers against Southampton, too,” Mattituck athletic director Gregg Wormuth said. “It wasn’t like he put up big numbers against weaker teams. He put up big numbers against good competition.”
Over the four seasons in which Allen played for the Tuckers, Ellwood saw him get better and better.
“Every year he was the most improved player on my team,” Ellwood said. “… Every year it was quantum steps. I’ve never seen a kid grow so much in terms of turning himself into a great basketball player. It was just all work on his end. He’s just relentless at improving his game, every phase.”
The hard part for Ellwood will come next season.
“They’re always telling me everyone is replaceable,” Ellwood said. “I said, ‘He’s going to put that theory to the test next year.’ I mean, we’ll still have a lot of great kids coming back, but I think it’s just going to be strange without him there. I’ve dealt with kids leaving before. It’s like, how are you going to go on without him? You’ll find a way to do it, but I think this is going to be the toughest one for me. I mean, I was really attached to him. He’s a great kid, he’s a great leader. He hustles on the floor. He sets the tone in practice. When your best player is your hardest worker, you’re going to have a good practice every night.”
Southold High School
The deal was really a win-win for everyone involved.
Good friends Kaitlin Tobin and Adrine Demirciyan made a pact. Tobin, who hadn’t played basketball for two years, agreed to play hoops last season for Greenport/Southold, and Demirciyan, who had never played organized soccer before, consented to playing for the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport girls soccer team last fall.
That way the two friends were teammates for both of those seasons, and both teams were the better for it.
Tobin is best known as a lacrosse player, although she missed her senior season, which was canceled because of the pandemic. The left-handed attacker/midfielder will play for UMass Lowell. She was a member of Mattituck/Southold’s state champion team the last two years. Last year she stepped into a midfield role and made All-Conference despite battling ankle injuries. Within a one-week span, she scored back-to-back, game-winning goals against Rocky Point and Mount Sinai.
Over three seasons, Tobin totaled 73 goals, 60 assists and 95 ground balls.
Coach Matt Maloney considered Tobin the team’s “X” factor, the sort of player who flew under the radar. “She’s quiet,” he said. “She’s shifty on the field. She’s got a nice repertoire of moves to get to the goal, and I think that she’s a motor. She’ll keep going. She’s not going to stop. She has a great Tasmanian devil-type of attitude.” Maloney also valued Tobin’s “incredible hustle. If she came up short in one area, she made up for it in hustle.”
In soccer, Tobin played every midfield position and up top as an 80-minute player. She helped MSG reach the Suffolk Class B final for a second straight year. “We don’t achieve the level of success that we do without having players like Kaitlin Tobin,” MSG coach Chris Golden said of the only Southold senior on the team. “She didn’t lead the team in goals, but she led the team in little things she needed to do to lead the team. I can’t say enough about what she meant to the team, just having her presence on the field.”
As a guard on a young basketball team in which four of the five regular starters were freshmen or sophomores, Tobin averaged six points a game, but was also good for close to 10 steals per game. “Defensively, she was phenomenal, probably the best defender in the league,” coach Skip Gehring said. “We don’t get into the playoffs without Kaitlin.”
Southold athletic director Steve Flanagan said, “You talk about hustle on the court, hustle on the field, I don’t think you’re going to see anyone putting it more out there than Kaitlin.”
Southold High School
In the nick of time, he came through.
That’s the way it is with Nick Grathwohl, the basketball player who wants the ball in his hands when it’s crunch time.
Southold coach Lucas Grigonis remembers well Grathwohl’s words to him when the Suffolk Class C title was on the line: “Coach, I got this. Give me the ball.”
Grathwohl responded with a three-pointer in the dying seconds as Southold upset Pierson, 62-60, for its fourth county championship and first since 2006.
The senior shooting guard, playing with emotion and intensity, completed his three-season varsity career as at least the fifth Southold player to score 1,000 career points. He finished with 1,134, earning an All-State honorable mention.
“It’s really impressive,” Southold athletic director Steve Flanagan said. “He’s just a competitor. When you hear about a gamer, he wants the ball at the end. I don’t think I’ve seen an athlete like that.”
With fellow senior Steven Russell playing in only nine of the team’s 23 games because of injury, Grathwohl had to tweak his game. He still averaged 19 points per game and was a handful for opponents to guard.
“You had to guard him on the perimeter because he was a shooter, but he could also beat you off the dribble,” Grigonis said. “He had a little of everything this year.”
Grathwohl brought his competitiveness to the soccer field as a center back or right back. “He completely ingrained his DNA into that team to help us to be more cohesive,” said Grigonis, who coached the team for most of the season while coach Andrew Sadowski recovered from an injury. “He fit right in. He knew how to read the game and he won almost every head ball.”
Sadowski said he “never questioned [Grathwohl’s] athleticism, but being able to pick up foot-eye coordination where his whole life was hand-eye coordination, that was a concern.”
It turned out there was no need for concern.
Hand-eye coordination came in handy for Grathwohl in baseball. As a junior last year, the corner outfielder batted .292, with a .352 on-base percentage, 16 RBIs, four doubles and a home run. “He made the plays,” coach Greg Tulley said. “He was just a good athlete and things came easy to him.”