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Seniors hope to have one more go in ’21

Standouts deal with recruiting while hoping for H.S. season

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Emily Van O’Linda, Vincenzo Buffalino and Jake Schneider, senior student athletes at Wantagh, Seaford and General Douglas MacArthur high schools, respectively, are faced with the possibility that they may have competed in their final high school events last year. While some sports are more likely to have a condensed 2021 season than others in the winter and spring, all three athletic standouts still hold out hope to play at the collegiate level next year.

Van O’Linda has been a leader of the Warriors girls’ volleyball team since she was an underclassman. In November 2018, as a sophomore, she played a key role in an astounding Class A state championship run by the Warriors. And the team’s focus last year, she said, was to replicate that season.

“We didn’t do as well as we wanted to last year,” Van O’Linda said. “Sophomore year we had won [the state championship], and maybe we had a weight on our shoulders when we went into the [county tournament], where we lost in the semifinals. We felt like this season would be a proving ground once again.”

Volleyball, along with most other fall sports, is tentatively scheduled to start on March 1 in Nassau County, after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. As of press time, Section VIII of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association was standing by its plan to schedule a regular season’s worth of games in a more condensed time period.

Van O’Linda said that what she has missed most are daily practices with her friends and teammates. Speaking with the Herald last Friday, she said she had told herself not to look too far ahead, and that she was just hoping for the best. But college volleyball, she hopes, is a major part of her future.

“Its definitely harder for the recruiting process,” she said of the pandemic’s effects, because college recruiters and coaches now must rely on game tapes — and Van O’Linda’s homemade highlight mixes. “They can’t see the way I react to things as well through tape,” she said. “When I huddle with my teammates and the way I take charge when I have to and take responsibility, that’s something you see more in a live game.”

Like Van O’Linda, Seaford’s Vincenzo Buffalino is preparing both mentally and physically for his anticipated senior season of soccer. He has set both high individual and team goals for the shorter schedule.

“Individually, I want to be the leading goal or point scorer for my team, as well as always being there for my teammates on and off the field,” Buffalino said. “We want to be better than last year, and make it farther in the playoffs. Seaford isn’t really known for its soccer team, but we want to prove our worth.”

Buffalino has been infatuated with the game since he was 4, he said. He trains year-round, but he acknowledged that this year presented many more challenges than years past. With gyms closed in early summer and group training harder to come by, he had to focus on individual work. He said he hoped to be fully prepared for a season in which he may have fewer recovery days than ever before.

“Usually we would play two games a week, and that would be tough,” he said. “Now, with the condensed schedule, we might have to play three and maybe even four a week.” Buffalino said he was more focused on getting back on the field than making a deep run in the playoffs, because even if the season starts without problems, he said, finishing it is no guarantee.

In late November, he was feeling less stress after committing to play soccer at St. Joseph’s College, in Patchogue, at the Division III level. He commiserated with Van O’Linda, saying that recruiting was surely more difficult during the pandemic.

The final season of MacArthur senior Jake Schneider’s high school wrestling career, however, doesn’t look promising. Nassau County has postponed wrestling indefinitely, though Schneider’s focus on the sport hasn’t wavered. He practices every day on wrestling mats set up in his home with his older brother, Steven, who was also a standout wrestler at MacArthur, and went on to compete at SUNY Binghamton. Jake said that training with Steven has been his “most important asset” this year.

Schneider finished fifth in the 132-pound weight class at the state championships in Albany in February. Two weeks later, at a team dinner, he said, the team found out collectively that school was closing indefinitely.

“Looking back on being on the podium now, if I knew it would be the last time I would wrestle in high school, I would have taken it all in a lot more,” Schneider said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

He usually trains at former Russian Olympian Vougar Oroudjov’s wrestling school in Syosset with other top-notch high school competitors, or with four-time NCAA All-American and current UFC fighter Gregor Gillespie, in Bellmore.

Now, Schneider said, he is working even harder than he typically would in preparation for a season. Even if this one is canceled, he said, his goal is to become an All-American at the 31st Annual High School National Championships in Virginia Beach next summer, representing Oroudjov’s academy.

But Schneider, like Van O’Linda, is still looking to sign a letter of intent with the right college. He said that the pandemic has influenced him to lean more toward a school close to home, preferably in the tristate area, he said. Van O’Linda said she, too, was looking mostly at schools in New York state.

“Sports are a huge way of releasing stress for us,” Van O’Linda said, “and I’ve realized you can’t take any of it for granted, because you never know when you’ve played your last [match].”