by -
0 1476
Danny Bullis stops in his tracks to maneuver around an opponent and go to goal for Mount Sinai. File photo by Bill Landon

After playing his freshman year at St. Anthony’s, Danny Bullis transferred back to Mount Sinai, and he and his team couldn’t be happier with his decision.

Harold Drumm, the Mount Sinai boys’ lacrosse head coach, first saw the now college-bound attackman when he was in sixth grade, playing on a club team.

“We knew he was going to be a special player,” he said. “He was really good and you could see it even at that age. He just really understood the game and we were excited for him to come on up.”

Drumm would have pulled Bullis up to the varsity level when he was a freshman, but the attack decided to try out St. Anthony’s and upon transferring back to Mount Sinai his sophomore year, made the varsity team.

“He was the quarterback of the offense for the last three years,” Drumm said. “This year he really came into his own and became the talented and determined player that we knew he could become.”

The team went 8-8 his first year on the team, where Bullis scored 21 goals and added 27 assists. In his junior year, the Mustangs went 9-6 and the attack tallied 22 goals and 39 assists.

“We haven’t really had a player like Danny since I’ve been the head coach here,” Drumm said. “We had a couple of really good players in the past when you needed a goal or an assist or were waiting for something to happen, but we never had a player of his caliber to give the ball and to create something.”

Danny Bullis celebrates the Suffolk County win with his Mount Sinai teammates. File photo by Bill Landon
Danny Bullis celebrates the Suffolk County win with his Mount Sinai teammates. File photo by Bill Landon

Bullis excelled his senior year, exceeding his sophomore and junior marks by scoring 45 goals and 37 assists.

His second-to-last goal of this past
season was the most important one of his career.

With 3:41 left in the Suffolk County Class B title game, in front of a large crowd at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium, Bullis scored the game-winning goal to help the Mustangs edge out Sayville, 8-7.

“I can’t even describe the feeling.” Bullis said of scoring the final goal of the game. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”

Bullis scored two goals and added two assists in the Mustangs’ first county-title win in years.

“He was definitely very dedicated and worked hard,” Drumm said of Bullis. “He had the lacrosse ability and he worked real hard in the weight room this last off-season, got a lot stronger, and that made a big difference for him his senior year. I wish I had a Danny ever year.”

The attack is now St. Joseph’s University-bound, and Taylor Wray, the men’s head coach, is thrilled to welcome his new player to the team.

“He’s a huge addition to our team,” the head coach said. “He’s got a terrific skill set, he has an old-school attackman — two-handed, great vision, speed, he’s a feed first kind of player, and he can do a little bit of everything. He can turn the corner and score, shoot the ball pretty well from the outside and he’s a very well-rounded player.”

Wray is hoping that Bullis can compete for time right away and said he believes he has all the tools to do so.

“We are expecting big things from him over the course of his career,” he said. “From a program standpoint, to have a player of Danny’s caliber and skill set on attack, and to have a character guy who puts the team first, is something that gives you a major piece to work with for many years.”

Although initially a baseball player, it seems that switching to lacrosse was another move in the right direction for Bullis, who was unanimously voted an All-American and the Attackman of the Year for Division II.

“It’s one of my greatest accomplishments,” Bullis said of the All-American nod. “Not as great as the county title, though,” he added, laughing.

According to Drumm, St. Joseph’s is a budding lacrosse program that he thinks is a perfect fit for Bullis. For the player’s mother, Janine, she’s just excited to see how far her son has come in the sport.

“The older he got the more he practiced and the more he strived to become the player that he is,” she said. “I’m so proud of how far he’s come. It’s something that I never expected. I don’t even have the words to describe how exciting it is as a parent to watch the progress of not only Danny, but the entire team.”

Bullis said he plans to take a lot of what Drumm taught him with him to college, and he’s hoping it will make him successful at the next level.

“Coach Drumm is one of my favorite coaches,” he said. “Training with him throughout the last few years has made me not only a lot better of a player, but a better person. He taught me hard work will outwork talent when talent’s not working hard, and I’m never going to give up.”

by -
0 912
Maria Raheel, instructor at LISUP, strikes a pose on the board. Photos by Michael Chinnici

By Lisa Steuer

While surfing on Long Island is not extremely common, stand up paddleboarding is more popular than ever in the warmer months — and the good news is that you don’t need to be experienced to get started.

Long Island SUP is just one of the local companies with introductory classes featuring certified instructors, rentals, tours and even fitness classes on the paddleboard. In operation for the last 10 years, LISUP offers paddle boarding on Fire Island and in Smithtown and Patchogue.

Owner and instructor Joe Funaro was a surfer and a life guard, and also does windsurfing and kitesurfing — so getting into paddle boarding was a natural progression for him, he said.

“Surfing on Long Island is very difficult because the weather conditions have to be perfect to surf – it has to be a north wind at low tide,” said Funaro. “Stand up paddleboard surfing, because there is a paddle, enables you to surf smaller waves.”

At LISUP, first-timers typically start with the introduction to stand up paddle boarding class before coming back to rent boards and venture out on their own. In addition, like many other paddleboarding companies, LISUP also offers yoga/paddle fitness classes. More and more yogis are taking their practice to the paddleboard and the water because it creates more instability, making your core work harder.

“We call it yoga fusion because we are fusing both disciplines… so there are a lot of Pilates moves in it, there’s a lot of yoga in it, and then there’s core strength,” said Funaro.

Paddleboarding itself is not too difficult to learn – it’s harder to understand the wind direction, said Funaro. On the North Shore, for example, the wind is pushing you away from the beach toward Connecticut, while on the South Shore, the wind is pushing you in toward shore.

And while injuries are not too common, it’s important to be aware of your environment when paddleboarding and to look out for boats. If a boat creates a wake, “that wake is similar to somebody running through a stop sign; you’re not expecting that,” he said.

Plus, another way to ensure a safer paddleboarding experience is to simply go to a place like LISUP that has certified instructors and areas they already use for paddle boarding, rather than attempting to go out by yourself. “We have our locations to rent the boards because those areas we know best as far as what’s under the water,” he said.

The popularity of paddleboarding continues to grow, and there are also more long-distance races popping up, said Funaro, who has done a race around Manhattan. He has also paddled to Connecticut and Fire Island among others, and also offers paddling tours to those places as well, in addition to sunset paddling.

LISUP offers paddle boarding until October. For more information, visit

Get on board
In addition to LISUP, here are a few more local stand up paddleboard companies:

  • Step Into Liquid Stand Up Paddle Board Long Island: Cold Spring Harbor. Contact: 516-302-6852.
  • Epic Paddle Boarding: Various locations. More information:
  • Huntington Stand Up Paddle Board: Huntington Harbor. More information:

by -
0 878
Sea bass will continue to remain on the North Shore in August. Above, Angelo Peluso and Adrian Mason show off their catches. Photo from Angelo Peluso

By Angelo Peluso

As we move into late summer, fishing has hit peak strides throughout the entirety of the Long Island Sound. Despite the sweltering heat that often accompanies August, the eighth month of the year contains National Smile Week, and if you play your fishing cards right you just might smile broadly while finding some of the best local fish of the year.

August brings many surprises along the North Shore of Long Island. Many anglers take time off during the often scorching days of late summer, relenting to the call of the beach and BBQs. But succumbing to the myth of the dog days is a big mistake. August brings with it numerous and exciting fishing opportunities. The cool depths of the Long Island Sound and abundant bait can keep fishing vibrant and at times hectic. This is especially true of the central regions of the Sound where, striped bass, bluefish, fluke, porgies and seas bass can be caught with a high degree of regularity.

Water quality in the Long Island Sound is at its finest along the central portions of the North Shore. The month, named in honor of Augustus Caesar, also brings with it the strong possibility of visitations by some highly anticipated pelagic species: Atlantic bonito, little tunny and Spanish mackerel. With conducive bait and water conditions, those highly coveted light tackle gamesters should show in numbers sufficient to warrant expanded time on the water. All significant recreational species are in season and several ocean-roaming species visit local waters.

Summer flounder, also called fluke, have been in abundance and will continue to be caught through to the season’s end on Sept.  21.  Although it appears at times that anglers need to weed through dozens upon dozens of undersized fluke and sea robins to be rewarded with a limit of keeper summer flounder, bigger fish are still around and patience pays dividends. August usually also witnesses some of the largest striped bass catches of the season. Nighttime moon tides and drifted eels will typically relinquish some of the finer specimens of bass. While some of the largest bass will succumb to large natural baits, casting artificial lures early and late in the day will yield bass.

All the other popular summer game fish species will also continue to remain along the North Shore: bluefish, scup and sea bass. Bluefish have been prolific, but beginning in July, larger pods of marauding “choppers” began moving inshore to feast on snappers. That predation pattern should continue through August and into the fall. This is a great time to cast large top-water plugs to snag what just might be the largest bluefish of the year. Porgy, aka scup, fishing is now as hot as the weather. There are lots of these tasty scup around, but finding the jumbo porgies will take some searching in deeper water. At this time of year, smaller scup can be found well inshore and often well within reach of shore anglers fishing around jetties, rock groins, boulders and other structures. Porgies are the most democratic fish that swim in the Sound, and they can be caught by just about anyone who fishes for them. If you’d like a little different kind of fun with porgies, try feeding them small artificial baits. Scent-infused plastic lures work wonders on porgies, as do small flies. Sea bass will also present themselves this month.  To date, there have been some impressive catches of quality sea bass, and those results should continue for the remainder of the season. Deep water structure is the key to this form of bass fishing. So get out there and have a great, safe month on the water. The fish will be waiting.

by -
0 618
Kristen Fraas leaps over the hurdle for Ward Melville. Photo from Fraas

Athletes use different things for motivation. Some are fueled by a desire to be the best. Some are highly competitive. Some are driven by the fear of letting down their teammates. In a sport like track and field, where the main competitor is the clock as much as the opponent, it can be difficult to maintain a competitive edge. But Kirsten Fraas never had an issue with staying intrinsically motivated during her outstanding career with the Ward Melville track and field team.

“What got me out of my bed was the fear of disappointing my coaches,” Fraas said. “I always wanted to do my best because what’s the point of me going to practice if I wasn’t going to put my whole heart into it? I also wanted to be there for my team. I didn’t want to let any of them down, either. I got myself out of bed to be the best I could be and to be consistent for my team.”

Fraas’ former and future coaches said the track and field competitor has a relentless work ethic.

“She has an amazing work ethic,” Ward Melville junior varsity head coach J.P. Dion said. “She came to practice every day ready to work and gave 100 percent every day.”

Fraas was a key member of a team that won back-to-back League 1 championships. She was highly decorated in her four-year varsity career, winning awards for being a scholar athlete and a tri-sport athlete, and she also won the Gold Key award, which is given to athletes who letter in at least eight of the nine seasons between grades 10 and 12.

“Kirsten is highly motivated and she’s a hard worker,” Stony Brook track and field assistant coach Howard Powell said of Fraas, shedding light on what made her an attractive recruit for their program. “I’m hoping that she can bring some of her strong work ethic to our team. I’m looking forward to working with her over the next couple of years.”

Fraas competed in multiple events during high school, including 100 and 400-meter hurdles, the 400 run, and the 4×4 relay. Fraas said the 4×4 was her favorite event. Powell mentioned plans to use Fraas in a variety of different events during her time at Stony Brook.

“I think that the thing I’ll miss most is my team,” Fraas said, reflecting on her time at Ward Melville. “We’re all very close knit and we’ve spent so much time together that we’ve become a family, so it’s [going to] be difficult leaving that part of my life behind.”

Dion reflected on the mark his now former runner left on the highly successful program.

She is a great kid,” he said. “Thanks to her leadership skills, she helped make our jobs as coaches easy. She is a very talented athlete and I wish her the best at Stony Brook.”

Fraas credited her family as being a strong support system.

“It means a lot to me that they’ve invested so much of their time into my success,” she said. “I honestly wouldn’t be where I am without them.”

New Huntington lacrosse alumni Samantha Lynch, Anna Tesoriero, Alyssa Amorison and Fiona Geier at the Long Island All- American game. Photo from Huntington athletics

Four Huntington girls’ lacrosse players have been named Academic All-Americans by U.S. Lacrosse.

Class of 2015 members Samantha Lynch (University of Notre Dame), Anna Tesoriero (Stony Brook University) and Caitlin Knowles (University of Virginia) and rising senior Katie Reilly (verbally committed to Princeton University) were all named to the All-Academic team.

The honor is reserved for a player who exhibits exemplary lacrosse skills, good sportsmanship on the field and represents high standards of academic achievement in the classroom, according to U.S. Lacrosse. The player should also have left her mark beyond the lacrosse field and the classroom by making significant contributions through community service.

Several of those girls also competed Saturday as part of Long Island’s All-American Lacrosse festival at the Mitchel Athletic Complex in Uniondale.

A dozen Blue Devils girls’ lacrosse players appeared on Suffolk County teams in games against their Nassau counterparts.

The top 48 girls in the classes of 2015-2020 are selected by a committee comprised of knowledgeable figures in high school lacrosse.

Only players in good academic standing are considered for participation. The players then competed in separate games based on their graduating year.

New Huntington alumni Lynch, Tesoriero, Fiona Geier (American University) and Alyssa Amorison (Ohio State University) played on Team Suffolk 2015.

Reilly and Taylor Moreno (verbally committed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) played on Team Suffolk 2016.

Huntington’s Emma Greenhill and Isabella Piccola were members of Team Suffolk 2018. Future Blue Devils Abby Maichin, Kathleen Rosselli, Holly Wright and Maya Santa-Maria played on Team Suffolk 2020.

by -
0 880

Long Island’s leading goal scorer for last two seasons to join Adelphi University team

James Thristino kicks the ball in a preseason game. File photo by Bill Landon

Although he always had his heart set on playing Division I soccer, and despite offers from Division I schools like Stony Brook University, Long Island’s leading goal scorer for the last two seasons, Comsewogue’s own James Thristino, has decided to take his talents to the Division II field at Adelphi University.

“I was choosing between four colleges across the Island, but when I visited the other campuses, it just didn’t click,” Thristino said. “I love the campus and I was able to get out on the field and play with the soccer team, and I felt comfortable. The coach told me he wanted me playing as soon as I get there and wanted me to make an impact. Other places took the time and we spoke, but no one was as direct as he was.”

James Thristino muscles his way past an East Hampton player in the Suffolk County finals last year. File photo by Desirée Keegan
James Thristino muscles his way past an East Hampton player in the Suffolk County finals last year. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Thristino, a forward, first started kicking around a soccer ball when he was 3 years old, and after playing club soccer for the Terryville Santos, he moved on to play for the Middle Country United’s Intense Soccer Academy travel team.

Dan Costello, Comsewogue’s varsity boys’ soccer coach, knew right from the start that Thristino was a talented and dedicated soccer player, which is why he pulled him up to the varsity level in ninth grade.

“James is a coach’s player,” Costello said. “He’s a great young man. He’s respectful, into his studies, responsible and very talented, so you don’t have to worry about James. He’s a great motivator for his other teammates, too, so for me as a coach, if I could have 11 Jameses, that’s a dream team.”

Thristino said he had a difficult time
adjusting to the varsity level at first, but eventually the league MVP and All-
Conference, All-County, All-Region and All-State selection found his way.

“Freshman year was a little hard for me — I was a little guy out on the pitch and wasn’t trusted by anyone in the beginning. But as the years progressed, I was able to play some good soccer,” he said. “I could remember, in ninth grade, Costello took me in and I played a lot. I got hurt one game and he carried me off the field like I was a little kid. He was like another dad to me.”

While the coach always felt he could count on his player, Thristino also thought he could count on Costello to help him excel in the sport.

James Thristino with his senior awards. File photo
James Thristino with his senior awards. File photo

“He pushed me,” Thristino said. “He knew what I was made of; he told me I could do anything I put my mind to — that I could break records or win a state title, bring the team through the playoffs and to counties.”

He captained the Warriors to the 2014 League V title, after going undefeated in the conference at 9-0-1, and earned a trip to the Suffolk County finals, where the team fell, 1-0, to East Hampton.

Thristino was Long Island’s leading scorer for the last two seasons, with 27 goals and eight assists in 2013 and 41 goals and four assists in 2014. He finished his high school career ranked third all-time in Suffolk County, with 78 goals, and he contributed 19 assists.

He also played three years of varsity basketball, two years of varsity golf and a year of varsity football.

“He pretty much always trained at a high level,” Thristino’s father, Peter, said. “He’s a dedicated player. He’s always there for his team — high school or travel — and I think that’s one of his most important traits. He never gives up. He could be losing 4-0 and it doesn’t matter. He plays the same way from start to finish.”

With a ton of accolades to his name, James Thristino will take his high school coach’s mantra with him onto his next athletic venture.

James Thristino dribbles the ball. File photo by Bill Landon
James Thristino dribbles the ball. File photo by Bill Landon

“Costello always said that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, so even if you’re not the best and you work hard, you’ll be able to do whatever you want to do,” he said. “I feel like I can make a lot more of myself after winning awards like I have, and I feel like I can continue to push myself to go further. It makes me strive for more, and I want more all the time.”

Thristino, who received offers from Stony Brook, Hofstra University and Marist College before settling on Adelphi, said he hopes to continue his success at the next level.

“It would be great to go in and start as a freshman and do some damage,” he said. “I’ve formed so many friendships, learned so much, played some good soccer and I hope to continue that at Adelphi.”

Adelphi men’s soccer head coach Carlo Acquista said Thristino is a great investment, and he’s hoping for continued success for his new addition.

“To get any local player with ability, who has a history of doing very well, is huge for us,” he said. “The team was able to meet and practice with him, and he came in and did a very good job. We’re extremely excited that he chose to play here. He’s got a history of scoring goals and we’re hoping that history repeats itself at Adelphi.”

by -
0 783
Courtney Clasen reaches for the rim. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Going through the process of choosing a college for a high school senior is tough enough, but for one student-athlete, factoring in both academics and athletics made the decision all the more difficult.

For Shoreham-Wading River’s Courtney Clasen, who committed to play basketball at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, the first decision to be made was whether to remain on the court or the soccer pitch.

“It wasn’t an easy decision at all,” said Clasen, who also ran track. “I’m passionate about both sports. However, I saw a future in basketball. It was hard answering coaches when I didn’t know what sport I wanted to pursue.”

Clasen’s father, Craig, said his daughter’s decision was somewhat unexpected as they had long believed she would play soccer in college.

“It was a little surprising because she had been involved with club soccer since like sixth grade,” he said. “But I’m proud of her, she’s an incredible student, she’s an incredible athlete and she worked her tail off.”

Courtney Clasen said the decision between the two sports she loved weighed on her, only becoming more difficult throughout her junior year as her passion for basketball became stronger.

Courtney Clasen races downcourt with the ball. File photo by Bill Landon
Courtney Clasen races downcourt with the ball. File photo by Bill Landon

“I was an emotional basket case and I was extremely overwhelmed,” she said. “I remember breaking down in class several times my junior year because there wasn’t enough time for it all and I couldn’t make a decision.”

Opting to play Athletic Amateur Union basketball last summer, she began receiving interest from Coastal Carolina after seeing her play in a tournament in Washington, D.C.

“She’s a flat out athlete that does great things on both ends of the ball,” said Jaida Williams, the head women’s basketball coach at Coastal Carolina. “I believe her competitive edge is what made Courtney stand out above anyone else.”

Clasen said it was her official visit that convinced her to become a Chanticleer.

She enjoyed the warm weather and said it felt like home to her. Clasen recalled that she was immediately struck by the fact that the university’s mascot coincidentally wore the number 54, the same as her late-classmate Tom Cutinella, who died from a head injury in October following an on-field collision during a football game.

“I kind of stopped right in my tracks and got the chills really bad,” said Clasen of the mascot’s number, which represents 1954, the year of Costal Carolina’s founding. “No one really understood why besides my parents until my parents explained it.”

Clasen, who described herself as friendly with Cutinella, said seeing the number 54 really hit home.

“He was one of those kids that everyone was friends with,” she said.

Clasen verbally committed to Coastal Carolina in January and signed her National Letter of Intent in April. The plan for the forward is to redshirt her academic freshman year.

“It gives me a chance to get stronger and develop my game further,” she said. “It’s actually the option I prefer since I chose to play basketball over soccer in college so late.”

Williams said redshirting a year will give Clasen the opportunity to focus solely on basketball.

“During her entire career she’s been a dual-sport athlete,” Williams said. “I am excited to see the progress that Courtney will make when her focus is primarily on basketball.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s girls’ basketball head coach Adam Lievre said he is pleased to see his star athlete move on to the next phase of her life, though Clasen filled a number of roles on his squad that now need to be filled.

“She did it all,” he said. “We relied on her to be our main scorer, passer, rebounder and to block shots. We have very big shoes to fill going forward.”

As much as he enjoyed coaching the Academic All-County athlete, Lievre said it is the Clasen off the court that he will remember most fondly.

“As a person,” he said. “She is someone I would want my kids to turn out to be like.”

by -
0 818
Frank Catalanotto and former Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro during the charity softball game. Photo from Barbara Catalanotto

By Clayton Collier

Radio personalities and local sports greats alike went head-to-head in the first-ever Frank Catalanotto Foundation vs. Boomer and Carton All-Stars Celebrity Softball Game held at Bethpage Ballpark in Central Islip, Sunday.

The event, put together by 14-year MLB veteran and Smithtown native Frank Catalanotto, was organized to raise awareness for vascular birthmarks, with all proceeds from the event benefiting the Frank Catalanotto Foundation, which supports the Vascular Birthmark Foundation.

In addition to Catalanotto, former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, former NBA All-Star Wally Szczerbiak, former NFL MVP and current radio personality Boomer Esiason, co-host of WFAN’s Boomer and Carton, Craig Carton, 1969 New York Met and Long Island Ducks manager Bud Harrelson, former New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro and former Yankees utilityman Jim Leyritz were just some of the All-Stars who took the field for the game.

Catalanotto said he was grateful to all of the fans as well as the celebrities, television and radio personalities and local sports greats that came out to help raise awareness.

“That’s what it’s all about, it’s about the support for the foundation,” Catalanotto said. “To see these people come out, it shows that they care. I know they’re here to see a softball game, but they’re also here helping out a good cause.”

“I’m very happy and very appreciative of the players who came out,” he said. “Some of these guys had to get on planes or cross bridges to get here, so I really do appreciate that.”

The Frank Catalanotto All-Stars bested the Boomer and Carton All-Stars in walk-off fashion by a final score of 6-5.

Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine is seen during a charity softball game. Photo from Barbara Catalanotto
Former Mets manager Bobby Valentine is seen during a charity softball game. Photo from Barbara Catalanotto

The eight-inning contest was knotted up at 2-2 for much of the game before the FCF All-Stars drove in a pair in the bottom of the seventh. The Boomer and Carton All-Stars, thanks to some timely hitting from Esiason, tacked on a three-spot to make it a 5-4 game. The lead wouldn’t be held for long, though, as the FCF All-Stars rallied again, eventually walking off on a base hit by former Islander Claude Lapointe.

“It was good because we had some late-inning drama, the crowd got into it and we were able to come back for the walk-off win,” Catalanotto said.

DiPietro, who had a triple in the game, loved the atmosphere of the crowd.

“This is crazy man, a lot of Islanders fans, a lot of Islanders chants,” he said. “This is a great way to spend a Sunday morning.”

Carton, who after doing his famous impression of Yankees broadcaster Suzyn Waldman, announced to the crowd that his team was “here to win.” The WFAN morning host hit an inside-the-park home run in his first at-bat, and outside of a defensive miscue here or there, had a solid day overall. Carton seemed pleased with his own performance, but satirically pointed the finger at some of his celebrity teammates imploding late.

“Suddenly it’s a one-run game, we’re in the bottom of the last inning and some guys start playing differently,” he said. “I was not among them. I played consistently average all the way through the game. I thought it actually went well. I take it as a moral victory. Frank should win, it’s his event, but we’ll be back next year and win one.”

Carton said he may try to mimic Catalanotto’s lineup — made up of a fair quantity of family members and former NHL players — next time around.

“Next time I’m out here I’ll bring some Canadians and Catalanottos and I’ll try to win one for the good guys,” he said.

Catalanotto said he was pleased to see everyone have a great day for a great cause.

The amount of money raised by the charity softball game is still being calculated, but Catalanotto created his foundation to support the Vascular Birthmark Foundation after the organization helped him find proper treatment for his oldest daughter, Morgan, who was born with a vascular birthmark on her nose.

For more information about the Frank Catalanotto Foundation and vascular birthmarks, or to donate, you can visit

by -
0 1033
Nikki Ortega maintains possession of the ball in USA’s semifinal game against England/ Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine

Nikki Ortega has earned a spot on the US Lacrosse All-World team.

This news made for a bittersweet Saturday, as Ortega, a former Middle Country girls’ lacrosse standout and incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame, was part of the U.S. Under-19 women’s lacrosse national team that went undefeated before falling short in the finals of the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship, 9-8, to Canada.

“The experience was awesome and to be on that team is such an honor,” Ortega said. “It’s something that I’ll always remember, and it taught me so much about myself, and it’s made me so much of a better player over this past year that I learned so much more about the game of lacrosse.”

According to Kim Simons Tortolani, the U19 women’s head coach, more than 800 girls applied to be on the team. As part of the extensive process, regional tryouts were held beginning in August of last year, and the girls were dwindled down during several tryouts until the final team of 18 girls was chosen in January. Ortega was one of seven girls from New York to make the team. 

“The competition was really good and it was something I hadn’t really seen,” Ortega said of the tryout process. “To go up against great competition, especially once we had the team solidified, every practice we got better because all of the girls are so talented. They really challenged me.”

Simons Tortolani said Ortega made an impression early on in tryouts.

“Nikki is one of those players I can remember from the beginning being very strong and stood out amongst a lot of great players,” she said. “She is a very consistent player and played at a really high level from tryouts all the way through the tournament.”

Nikki Ortega reaches her stick out in an attempt to block. Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine
Nikki Ortega reaches her stick out in an attempt to block. Photo from Alan Rennie/Lacrosse Magazine

The coach said the girls were put through a rigorous mental, physical and emotional tryout process, some of the stress being intentional, to see if the girls had what it took to be a part of the team.

“Nikki was able to manage and handle all of that, and that’s why she made it through the process,” she said. “We had some athletes who maybe, at times, were a little bit flashier, but were not nearly as consistent, and the thing about Nikki was that she quietly does what she needs to do on the offensive end.”

After the roster was solidified, the girls practiced for a few weekends before heading to Scotland to compete in the tournament.

The girls went undefeated at 5-0 through pool play, making them the No. 1 seed heading into the quarterfinals. During pool play, USA outscored its opponents by a combined score of 90-19.

In the team’s third game, Ortega had her breakout performance of the competition. In a 19-6 win over Australia, the attack scored six goals and added two assists, to be named the Player of the Match.

“She really just was unstoppable every time she touched the ball,” Simons Tortolani said. “She’s smart, she reads the game well, we had enough confidence in her to ask her to help start to run the offense, calling the plays and I think that’s because she has a calm, steady effect on the offensive end.”

USA came close to shutting out New Zealand in the quarterfinals, topping its opponent 18-1, and followed with a semifinal win over England, 20-4, before taking on Canada in the finals.

“The atmosphere the entire 10 days of the tournament was really exciting,” Ortega’s mother, Sue, said. “All of the parents of team USA were wearing red, white and blue and they were very excited and supportive for the girls. It’s an unbelievable feeling to see Nikki representing her country and being a contributor, and I’m just full of pride and proud of the player and the person she’s become.”

Team USA, which was vying for its fifth consecutive gold medal, lost in a close match that involved several ties and started off being a difficult matchup because of the weather. Ortega, who scored 19 goals and 10 assists over the course of the tournament, and had at least a hat trick in four of her seven games, said the team did not play like themselves.

“I personally think we were more talented and it just didn’t go our way,” she said. “The weather when we got out there was horrible and a lot of us couldn’t even catch, but lacrosse means so much to me and I had to give up so much to get to where I am, so to know it all paid off in the end really means a lot. I never dreamed of accomplishing all of these things.”

The team had outscored Canada 15-9 in pool play, but Simons Tortolani said she thinks part of the team’s downfall was that it’s competition wasn’t as tough as Canada’s was throughout the tournament.

“I think the team did come together and certainly improved, in retrospect, it probably would’ve been better for us if we had some more challenging games during the pool play,” she said. “But it was a great experience for all of us who were involved. Getting to know these girls and coaching players like Nikki is a privilege and an honor and the girls represented our country and our sport in a way that I’m truly proud of.”

Astros second baseman and catcher is originally from Kings Park

Craig Biggio and wife Patty greet the crowd at an MLB Hall of Fame induction parade. Photo by Clayton Collier

By Clayton Collier

Much like he did during his 20-year playing career, Craig Biggio left it all out on the field Sunday.

However, instead of an orange-and-white Houston Astros jersey and eye black, the former catcher and second baseman was donning a navy blue suit and a touch of perspiration seeping from his forehead on the hazy summer afternoon, with the hair above his ears just beginning to show signs of graying.

Instead of coming to bat before a packed Astrodome or Minute Maid Park, Biggio took to the podium in front of an estimated 45,000 people on the grassy plain behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown to accept his induction into the MLB Hall of Fame.

Grinning ear-to-ear as he began his 17-minute speech, Biggio spoke at length about the place where the journey to his now-Hall of Fame career began, “in a little town, Kings Park, New York.”

A young Craig Biggio tags out a base runner for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall
A young Craig Biggio tags out a base runner for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall

Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport), who represents the Second Senate District, congratulated Biggio in a statement on his Facebook page saying the longtime Houston Astro is “an inspiration to young local athletes by showing them that they can achieve greatness if they work hard every day.”

Biggio, a member of the 3,000-hit club, said he acquired his work ethic from his parents, Yolanda and Lee. The seven-time All-Star’s voice became shaky as he described them: “two hard-working people who are no longer here. But I know they’re watching.’’

His father was an air-traffic controller who never missed a game. Every day, Biggio said, his father would tie a rope around his waist, then to the backstop while he threw to the young slugger during batting practice to prevent him from lunging at the plate.

“It worked,” Biggio said in his acceptance speech, hours before his plaque was installed in the MLB Hall of Fame. “But I came home every day with rope burns around my waist.”

Biggio said although sports were important, he had a number of commitments that kept him busy.

“Growing up in Kings Park, I had three responsibilities: school, sports and I had a job,” he said. “My job was I had a newspaper route.”

Baseball was not the only sport Biggio thrived in at Kings Park. The now 49-year-old was awarded the Hansen Award, recognizing the best football player in Suffolk County in 1983. Kevin Johnson, the then-assistant football coach at Kings Park, said at the time, he thought Biggio was better at football than he was baseball. Earlier this week at dinner, Johnson said he and then-Kings Park baseball coach John Rottkamp pinned Biggio down to the question of whether he thought his talents were superior in baseball or football.

“He picked the sport with the larger ball,” Johnson said with a laugh. “He thought he was a better football player at the time, too.”

Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz are MLB Hall of Fame inductees. Photo by Clayton Collier
Craig Biggio, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and John Smoltz are MLB Hall of Fame inductees. Photo by Clayton Collier

Biggio had received interest from major football programs such as Boston College and Oklahoma State University, among others, but Johnson said the schools were looking at him as a punt and kickoff returner — a rough position on the body for any athlete, let alone a 5-foot, 10-inch, 165-pound high school senior.

“That’s not a safe occupation in football when you’re undersized,” Johnson said. “When we found out what colleges were going to do with him, right away we were a little nervous that he was just going to get so banged up. Then the Seton Hall scholarship fell into place.”

St. John’s head baseball coach Ed Blankmeyer, then an assistant coach at Seton Hall University under Mike Sheppard — and now Blankmeyer’s father-in-law — was responsible for recruiting Biggio to the Pirates. Blankmeyer said it was Biggio’s hard-nosed style of play, in spite of his small stature, that initially struck him.

“He played bigger than his size,” said Blankmeyer, who has amassed 688 wins in his 19 seasons as head coach of the Red Storm. “He had some outstanding skills. He could run like the wind, he could hit, he had outstanding instinct, but whether he played good or bad, you always found something good about Craig Biggio and the way he played the game. He played with an intensity; he played with a big heart. You had to go away liking the guy, that’s what it was. I just loved the way he played.”

Despite the multitude of football offers and a draft selection by the Detroit Tigers out of high school, Blankmeyer signed Biggio.

“Not many coaches can say they’ve had an opportunity to recruit and coach a big league player,” said Blankmeyer when asked about the satisfaction in knowing he signed Biggio. “But a guy who played 20 years with one organization, who played three positions, an All-Star and now a Hall of Famer? Boy I tell you, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation.”

A young Craig Biggio rounds the bases for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall
A young Craig Biggio rounds the bases for Seton Hall University. Photo from Seton Hall

After Seton Hall’s catcher Tony DeFrancesco was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in 1984, there was a spot to fill at backstop. Sheppard called upon his star recruit, who had experience at catcher, to move back behind the plate.

“Craig used to call himself the retriever who became a receiver because he used to chase the ball back to the backstop,” Sheppard told WSOU, Seton Hall’s student radio station. “But let me tell you, he was so fast he could chase it to the backstop and still throw the guy out at first base.”

Biggio played on a Seton Hall squad consisting of future major leaguers Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Marteese Robinson. They would capture the Big East regular season title all three years Biggio played for the Pirates and earned an NCAA Regional bid in 1987.

Off the field, Biggio converted to Catholicism and met his future wife, Patty.

“Seton Hall is very special to us,” Patty Biggio said. “It’s where our family began. It’s the roots of our relationship.”

Sheppard’s teams prided themselves on a scrappy style of baseball. Biggio said that it was simply the culture of the athletics program at the time, playing on a field he described as a “dirty, nasty bubble.” A far cry from the current playing grounds of the well-manicured turf of Owen T. Carroll Field. Most of all, Biggio said he remembers a common phrase of coach Sheppard.

“Coach Shep’s motto was, ‘Never lose your hustle,’ which is something I took to my pro career,” he said in his speech.

“He was part of the journey,” Biggio said in his post-induction press conference. “How do you get to the Hall of Fame? You got to have a little bit of talent and a lot of people to help you along the way, and Shep was one of those people.”

Biggio was drafted in the first round of the 1987 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, going on to play the entirety of his two-decade career in an Astros uniform.

Adam Everett, a teammate of Biggio’s from 2001 to 2007, said he learned a great deal from Biggio about how to play the game the right way.

Craig Biggio, right, is all smiles with MLB Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson as he receives his induction plaque. Photo by Clayton Collier
Craig Biggio, right, is all smiles with MLB Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson as he receives his induction plaque. Photo by Clayton Collier

“There’s only one way to play, and that’s hard,” he said. “I owe a lot of my career to him and I really appreciate what he did for me.”

Biggio amassed 3,060 hits, 661 doubles and was hit by a record 285 pitches while playing second base, catcher and outfield at various points in his major league career. He also drew 1,160 walks and stole 414 bases.

What many do not know, however, is Biggio’s extensive charity work, particularly as the national spokesman for the Sunshine Kids, an organization supporting children with cancer. Biggio said his interest in helping children battling cancer came when a boy from a family on his paper route came down with leukemia.

“The Sunshine Kids are a big part of my life and one of the reasons I stayed in Houston for 20-plus years and continue to live there today,” he said.

It was because of his work with the Sunshine Kids and others that he was awarded the Roberto Clemente Award, something Johnson said is more indicative of who Biggio truly is, rather than his baseball statistics.

“I think that says more about him as a person than all the facts and figures that he amassed over the years,” Johnson said. “People have a tendency to look at what he did as a baseball player, but the Roberto Clemente award says much, much more about him as a person.”

Though Biggio has lived in Houston for more than 25 years, his impact on Kings Park is still felt.

“It’s great having an alum like Craig Biggio, because we can always refer to him to our current student-athletes as to what is possible and what can happen through hard work,” current athletic director Bill Denniston said.

The first three words of Biggio’s Hall of Fame plaque read “gritty spark plug,” an appropriate description of a player known for giving it his all in every game. In return, the game of baseball has given the local paperboy from Kings Park turned-MLB great an even greater gift, immortality.

“I gave the game everything I had every day,” Biggio said. “In baseball, tomorrow is not guaranteed, and I tried to play every game as if it was going to be my last. I want to thank the game for everything. The game has given me everything: my family, my friends, respect, but most of all memories of a lifetime.”