Winning an athlete of the year award is a special achievement, but to win it twice is really nice.
Shoreham-Wading River senior Xavier Arline and Mattituck senior Mackenzie Hoeg 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. 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). He becomes the third SWR boy to win the award twice, joining Keith Osik (1985-86, 1986-87) and Corey Jantzen (2005-06, 2006-07).
Hoeg, a standout in basketball and lacrosse, took the honor for a second year in a row.
Both Arline and Hoeg 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: Riverhead’s Christina Yakaboski (cross country, winter track, track and field) and Albert Daniels (football, basketball), SWR’s Gianna Cacciola (soccer), Greenport’s Adrine Demirciyan (soccer, basketball) and Joshua Santacroce (soccer, basketball, baseball), Mattituck’s Xavier Allen (basketball) and Southold’s Kaitlin Tobin (soccer, basketball, lacrosse) and Nick Grathwohl (soccer, basketball, baseball).
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 local winners for 2019-20:
It was the August before her freshman year, and Christina Yakaboski had reached a crossroads in her athletic career. A standout travel soccer player at the time, she had a decision to make, whether to play soccer for Riverhead or run cross country for the first time as well as track and field.
Yakaboski made her decision, ran with it, and the rest is history.
Now, four years later, Yakaboski goes down as one of the greatest long-distance runners Riverhead has produced, with a running career awaiting her at Lehigh University.
Justin Cobis, who had coached Yakaboski in cross country and track since she was a freshman, rates her among the top three long-distance runners in school history along with Ellen Dougherty and Katie Skinner. Not bad company. Dougherty was a three-time athlete of the year winner (2001-02, 2003-04, 2004-05) and Skinner received the honor twice (2008-09, 2009-10).
“I think that those are the three on the Mount Rushmore,” said Cobis, who resigned from his Riverhead coaching position late this past winter season in order to become the Southampton Intermediate School assistant principal.
Yakaboski, the class valedictorian and an AP Scholar with Distinction, made All-State in cross-country and All-County in winter track as a senior. She leaves Riverhead with her name attached to six school records in track.
Riverhead coaches said the longer the distance, the better Yakaboski is. “When you are a little bit ahead of people around you, sometimes that can be a very lonely experience,” said Cobis.
Yakaboski took it on and found ways to run past adversity, too. As a junior, she missed qualifying for her first state cross-country meet by a mere 1.86 seconds. Ouch! If that wasn’t tough enough, she then went into her senior year dealing with back problems.
Her response? She not only qualified for the state cross-country meet, but ran the fastest time for a Suffolk County Class A girl on a snow-covered, 2.8-mile course in Plattsburgh: 17 minutes, 44.2 seconds.
“She took that crushing, crushing experience as a junior … and ended up making something out of nothing,” said Cobis.
Yakaboski’s strong cross-country season carried over into the winter track season.
“She was really racing with confidence,” said Maria Dounelis, who took over the head coaching duties following Cobis’ departure. “She finally found her own way. Something clicked for her.”
Some eyes turned Albert Daniels’ way during pregame warmups when he headed to the Riverhead football team’s bench and pulled out a snazzy pair of red, white and blue high-top cleats, replete with stars and stripes. (They were a good match for his red, white and blue mouthguard).
Once the season-opening game — Riverhead’s first ever in Division I — began, though, all eyes were on Daniels as he dashed for four touchdowns and 237 yards in a 39-14 victory at Central Islip.
And that was just the beginning.
Daniels went on to turn in a spectacular season, leading surprising Riverhead (6-3) into the playoffs. The All-County senior running back/cornerback totaled 21 touchdowns and 1,584 rushing yards from 232 carries. He was among the county’s rushing leaders.
“He was our bell cow,” coach Leif Shay said. “He was the guy who provided leadership for us. He wasn’t intimidated by Division I, and everyone kind of rallied around that.”
Riverhead athletic director Brian Sacks said: “It was unbelievable. He certainly took the team on his back and carried it. Whenever anything was needed, he did it.”
As for those cleats, well, they were entirely in keeping with Daniels’ appreciation for style.
“I nicknamed him Hollywood,” Riverhead boys basketball coach John Rossetti said. “Does that say enough for his personality? He would come in with sunglasses on, hats. He had his own sense of style.”
Daniels was stylish on the basketball, court, too. The All-League player was a forward in a guard’s body who averaged about 12 points and eight rebounds per game.
“Defensively, he could cover a big man, but a big man couldn’t cover him,” Rossetti said. “He created mismatches.”
Rossetti called the four-year varsity player “an athletic marvel” whose strength and athleticism set him apart. “I don’t think I had a kid stronger than him, and he wanted to win,” said Rossetti.
Shay recognized that Daniels put his heart and soul onto the field.
“I think he made his mark just as, you know, a guy that you rally around,” Shay said. “He’s one of those guys you look back and say, ‘Yeah, that year, that was Albert’s year.’ ”
Be like G.
That’s the piece of advice Shoreham-Wading River girls soccer coach Adrian Gilmore likes to give her daughter, Kayla, an incoming freshman center midfielder for William Floyd.
In this case, “G” refers to Gianna Cacciola. Not a bad role model.
Cacciola was an All-Region center midfielder for SWR, which won its first state championship last fall with a 2-0 victory over Spencerport.
“I was so excited because we made history,” said Cacciola, who set up the opening goal by fellow senior Elizabeth Shields.
What did Cacciola bring to the Wildcats?
Just about everything.
“She’s the full package,” said Adrian Gilmore, who was the East Region Coach of the Year. “She has the skill, she has the heart and hustle, and she’s just a great kid to be around. She’s a magnet for her teammates.”
Cacciola, who will play for Hartwick College, put up four goals and eight assists her senior season, but statistics alone don’t illustrate her value to the team as a two-way player. While a big part of SWR’s attack, Cacciola was also counted on to quickly track back on defense.
She showed toughness, too, playing with a broken finger in a game against West Babylon.
“She is the hardest working player on the field every time,” said Gilmore, who described Cacciola as humble and quiet. “In four years, I cannot think of a time where I left and said, ‘Wow, Gianna really didn’t play good or she didn’t give a hundred percent.’ She never disappointed me.”
The four-year varsity player was a good teammate, who led and inspired others with her play, said Gilmore. “She wasn’t always the kid who scored, so it wasn’t always that,” the coach said. “It was she just brings that level of play, you know, that the team needed.”
SWR athletic director Mark Passamonte said Cacciola is “a kid that just gives 100% hustle all the time and she never gives up.”
Gilmore said what may stand out the most about Cacciola is her ability to mark and shut down an opponent’s best player.
“I just think of her as being that kid that just always never let us down,” Gilmore said. “I could always count on her.”
“Winning states and winning with those girls will be something I cherish,” Gilmore added, “and [Cacciola] winning All-Region is the cherry on top.”
It’s fitting that one of the greatest athletes to ever wear a SWR uniform graduates as a state champion in lacrosse and a Long Island champion in football.
“If you got to remember somebody by a lasting image, that’s a great way to remember him by,” said SWR football coach Aden Smith.
Arline, a senior who will play both sports for Navy, leaves so many memories of his dazzling athleticism. “All my years in coaching and athletics, I haven’t seen many like him,” said SWR athletic director Mark Passamonte.
In lacrosse, Arline was an All-American choice the last two years. The attackman registered 116 goals and 120 assists in that time. As a junior, he led Long Island with 137 points (67 goals, 70 assists). He propelled SWR to its fourth state championship in 2019, striking for five goals and two assists in a 12-7 defeat of Jamesville-DeWitt in the state Class C final. Over six seasons with SWR, he totaled 190 goals and 169 assists, according to laxrecords.com.
“He’s going to be remembered as one the greatest to come out of Shoreham-Wading River,” said lacrosse coach Michael Taylor.
With his behind-the-back, no-look shots, Arline was known for his artistry on the field. Taylor encouraged that creativity to flourish.
“It was a perfect match, Xavier [and] I, because I’m a big believer that lacrosse is a creators’ game,” Taylor said. He added, “If the kid’s trying to score, why would I be upset that he’s trying something crazy?”
Arline did some crazy stuff on the football field, too. As a quarterback, he finished the season with 41 rushing touchdowns, 2,332 rushing yards, 11 passing TDs and 1,237 yards through the air. He was involved in six TDs and ran for 265 yards in SWR’s 49-7 dismantling of Seaford for the Wildcats’ fourth Long Island Class IV championship.
On defense, Arline was a shutdown cornerback. Teams didn’t like throwing the ball his way, and for good reason.
For his four-year football career, Arline ran for 5,594 yards (11.0 yards per carry) and 91 TDs while passing 134-for-231 for 2,2,57 yards and 21 TDs, according to Newsday. “He’s the best player I’ve ever seen,” said teammate David Tedesco.
Arline was named to Newsday’s All-Long Island first team and a finalist for the Hansen Award, which goes to Suffolk’s most outstanding football player.
“He’s a kid that comes around once in a lifetime,” said Smith.
The hard part for Arline’s coaches is saying goodbye.
“The toughest part about this job is that you build this bond with these kids,” Taylor said, “you feel like you’re this big part of their lives — and then they’re just gone.”