VSS clinches conference title


A basketball team returning zero starters and less than four percent of its offense is typically bound for a rebuilding season with plenty of bumps in the road, but that’s far from the case for Valley Stream South.

The Falcons continued their torrid play last Friday night and extended their winning streak to 11 games while sealing the Conference A-IV title with a 60-32 home victory over Clarke. Senior Brandan Gosley had 20 points and 20 rebounds, and junior point guard Aaron Davis added 11 points and 7 assists.

“Chemistry is probably the biggest reason we’re playing so well,” VSS head coach Matt Johnsen said. “The kids do a great job sharing the ball and looking for the best shot.

“We’ve beaten some pretty good teams and I think we’re legitimate contenders for the county championship,” he added. “We might be flying under the radar with everyone talking about Garden City, Floral Park, Sewanhaka and Elmont, but that’s fine with us.”

South (15-3 overall, 11-0 in A-IV) hasn’t lost since Dec. 22 at Garden City and earned Johnsen his 100th career win at the helm Jan. 26, beating North Shore by 19 for its ninth consecutive victory during the streak. “One of my goals when I first got this job was to average 10 wins and get to 100 in 10 seasons,” said Johnsen, who’s in his eighth season and guided the Falcons to back-to-back Nassau Class A titles in 2014 and ‘15. “It’s a reflection of a lot of outstanding players and assistant coach [Glen] Wyche.”

Last winter, South reached the playoffs and won an outbracket game against Wantagh before falling to eventual repeat county champ Elmont. Of the 1,162 points the Falcons scored on the season, players responsible for only 45 returned. Matt Benavides accounted for 39.

“Matt was an offensive spark off the bench,” Johnsen said of Benavides, a senior averaging 14 points per game. “He developed his overall game during the offseason and drives to the rim and plays strong man defense.”

Gosley (four points last season) is making the most of his starting role and serves as an imposing presence in the paint at 6-foot-8. He’s averaging double digits in points and helping control the glass. “Brandan has nice offensive moves, guards the rim and makes up for some of our defensive mistakes,” Johnsen noted.

Senior Matt Doncell (two points last season) is another defensive asset who provides grit and leadership, Johnson explained. “Matt’s a top three-sport athlete and he gives fits to anyone he guards,” he said.

Davis, who’s averaging a team-leading 17.2 points per game and has yet to be held to single digits, has been lynchpin to success, according to Johnsen. “We’re able to run so many different sets because of how well Aaron sees the defense and his ability to score and distribute,” Johnsen said of the transfer from Lawrence Woodmere Academy. “He’s the glue.”

Junior Corey Powell (14 ppg), up from JV, is a consistent outside threat who also gets the toughest defensive assignment in the backcourt. Juniors Elijah Johnson and Michael Hicks are also making impacts in their varsity debuts.

“We jelled a lot faster than I thought,” Johnsen said.