In a special edition of the DJ Sports Show, I highlight some of the 845’s finest basketball players who accomplished big-time individual achievements in the past week for their respective college basketball teams and conferences. It feels nourishing to write about these amazing athletes and people because I know or have met all of them. From four SUNY New Paltz Hawks in Brianna Fitzgerald, Lexi Van Vorst, and Jenny Walton from the women’s side to Brooklyn native Rylan Blondo being selected second-team All-SUNYAC on the men’s side.
Also, Marcellus Earlington of San Diego Men’s Basketball capped off an impressive individual season by being selected as the first USD scholar-athlete to be selected All-WCC Second Team since 2019. Lastly, Ansley Almonor of the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights was named NEC Most Improved Player of the Year and named Third Team All-NEC.
Without further ado, let’s celebrate some of these amazing athletes!
Brianna Fitzgerald named Player of the Year and selected to First Team
The swiss army knife star forward Brianna Fitzgerald made history this past week by becoming the second player in the history of the program to be named Player of the Year, with the first being Lindsay Bettke in 2019. Fitzgerald also earned her second consecutive First-Team All-SUNYAC selection, making it the fifth time since 1988 that Hawk was named to the first team twice.
The Dix Hills native only elevated her game in her sophomore season of action from a rookie season that saw her be named SUNYAC Rookie of the Year- along with Regional Rookie of the Year. She increased her production from 13.9 points per game, which led the team last season, to 15.8. Fitzgerald became a better playmaker with three assists per game, an increase from 2.2 last season while also becoming more efficient from the field (46%) and from the foul line (75%).
In SUNYAC play, Fitzgerald started 17 of 18 games. She was named SUNYAC Athlete of the Week three times over the season and averaged 14.8 points per game (third in SUNYAC), 6.8 rebounds per game (seventh in SUNYAC), had 55 assists (second in SUNYAC) and 43 steals (first in SUNYAC) with 13 blocks in the process.
The Hawks Head Coach of the Women’s team, Jamie Seward spoke highly of Fitzgerald when he stated:
"Every game she'd fill up the stat sheet in every way and in such an efficient way, it’s just really impressive, but it's crazy because I don't think those statistical measures really demonstrate her value to the team. She's just did so many things. She plays so hard, helped the team in so many ways that don't show up statistically, and yet, she was such a statistical dominator and that still doesn't tell the whole story."
Fitzgerald has accomplished so much in just two seasons of action, and it should only make the Hawks more ecstatic that she still has one more season to take her game to another level for the program.
Lexi Van Vorst named All-SUNYAC Second Team
The fiery senior Lexi Van Vorst concludes a stellar Hawks career with her first All-SUNYAC selection. The East Greenbush native was one of the best guards in the conference with her superb scoring ability and terrific on-ball defense, even garnering consideration for Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Van Vorst helped the Hawks become one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranking eighth in scoring defense and 36th in turnovers forced. Seward spoke glowingly of Van Vorst's improvement on the defensive end through the years:
"To go from the beginning of her junior year where it was borderline a liability defensively to being a plus-defender by the end of the year, to be an absolute standout defender, maybe the best defender we've ever had and certainly one of the best defenders we've ever had in our program — yeah, that's pretty good growth,"
The Hawks guard entered the NCAA Tournament with career totals of 377 points, 383 assists, and 178 steals while amassing career-highs in rebounds (58), assists (57 and steals (45) already this season.
Jamie Seward continued praising Van Vorst by stating:
"I was talking to [assistant coach] Darren [Jackson] the other day and we think she's the best two-way guard in the history of our program as far as offense and defense, what she brings to the table… she’s probably the best two-way guard that's ever played here, which is saying a lot because we've had some really good ones whether it's Maliqua Fisher or Marion Dietz and some others that certainly fit the bill as well, but Lexi is right there on top of that list."
Jenny Walton sharpshoots her way to All-SUNYAC Third Team
The player who perhaps has taken the biggest jump this season is sharpshooting junior Jenny Walton. Walton broke into the starting lineup due to her improvement as a complete all-around player on both ends of the floor.
Starting 25 of 26 regular season games, she was second in scoring 253 points for 9.7 points per game average. She averaged 3.5 rebounds per game and had 24 assists, was second in steals with 46 and in field goals made/attempted (92-for-263), and was fourth in minutes played with 564.
One of Walton’s best performances this season came in a crucial semifinal win over Geneseo that saw her score 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting in just 26 minutes while also adding four steals, two rebounds, and two assists to help lead her team to a fourth straight SUNYAC semifinal appearance.
Seward spoke on Walton’s growth, stating:
"Jenny had a huge year. I think Jenny was one of the main reasons for our big jump as a team this year because Jenny had such a big leap as an individual, it rounded out our team and gave us another two-way player who can both play defense and offense. Jenny is another player who just expanded her game. She came in with the billing of just a shooter, couldn't do much going to the basket and she became more of a driver first and can shoot the ball now."
Walton’s improvement defensively and off-the-dribble ability is the reason why she was selected as a Third Team All-SUNYAC selection to further stamp her as one of the best in the conference.
Brooklyn native Rylan Blondo named to second consecutive All-SUNYAC Team
Getting to the men’s side now, and first, is Hawks men’s guard Rylan Blondo being selected to his second team All-SUNYAC team. Upon his selection, Blondo becomes just the 14th Hawk since 1964 to earn back-to-back all-conference honors and the first since Harris Wichard in 2011.
The junior guard had an outstanding sophomore season last year and continued building upon that his junior season, ranking fourth in the SUNYAC in points (427), third in minutes played (844), fifth in assists per game (3.5), seventh in steals per game (1.8) and 12th in field goal percentage (46.8 percent).
Blondo has an unrelenting endurance, leading the team in seven statistical categories: games started (26/26); minutes played (808); minutes per game (30.1); scoring average (15.6); total points scored (406); field goals attempted/made (317/146); free throws attempted/made (102/88) and steals (45) while ranking second in assists with 83.
The Hawks men’s coach, Keith Kenney, spoke highly of Blondo’s unwavering motor: "Rylan's work ethic stands out, he's the hardest worker, his passion for the game, to win and to compete is really admirable. He plays each day hard and does not take a play off. He is so easy to coach and I am excited he has one more year left."
Blondo posted a career-high 32-points in 26 minutes of action on 9-for-14 shooting and 12-for-13 from the foul line with four rebounds, two assists, and two steals to aid in an 82-77 early season win.
The Brooklyn native ended the season averaging nearly 19 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game in the last four games, while totaling 44 points, on 64 percent shooting with 12 rebounds, seven assists, and eight steals in two postseason games, which led to a SUNYAC All-Tournament team selection and SUNY New Paltz's seconds-straight SUNYAC semifinal appearance.
Marcellus Earlington named to All-WCC Second Team
Earlington led the Toreros in scoring 17.3 points per game during the regular season, good for fifth in the nation, including 20.7 PPG in WCC play. He added 6.8 rebounds per game, which ranked second on the team and ninth in the WCC.
The Stony Point, NY native became the first player in program history to score at least 30 in back-to-back games, including a career-high 32 at Portland and 30 at Pepperdine in late January.
In 29 games played, Earlington led the team with 25 games in double figures, including an active streak of 11 games.
He shot an impressive 49% (176-359) from the field, including 35.1% (34-97) from three-point range. Earlington was efficient at the free throw line as well, shooting 80.7% on a high volume (117-145), showing his innate ability at drawing contact and converting on easy points.
Earlington becomes the first San Diego scholar-athlete selected to the All-WCC Second Team since Olin Carter III in 2018-19. He was named to the Honorable Mention Team last season.
Ansley Almonor named NEC Most Improved and NEC All-Third Team
Lastly, is someone I’ve known since we were little kids, and that is the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights forward, Ansley Almonor, the reigning NEC Most Improved Player of the Year, and an NEC All-Third Team selection. Almonor thrived under head coach Tobin Anderson’s system, being named the first Most Improved Player in the program since Earl Potts Jr, in 2016.
The Spring Valley product elevated his game to new levels this season, increasing his production from 12 made field goals in 2021-22 to 62 and counting as they prepare to face the #7 Terriers today at 7 p.m. in the quarterfinal at Inside Statis Arena.
Almonor took advantage of an increased role this season by converting 150 of his 346 field goals this season (44%), a higher volume than his 30-of-63 (47%) his freshman season- nearly six times as many as his freshman season.
The 6-foot-6 sophomore not only was a productive scorer for the Knights but was also a terror on the boards, hauling in 138 rebounds on the season, more than tripled from his freshman year (41).
Almonor averaged 14.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 44% from the field, and 37% from three, while also proving his reliability at the foul line by converting 86% of his free throws.
It’s going to be scary for the NEC, as he is just getting better with more experience, and still has two years left to continue to display more dominance.