Sports

Middle Country's Ashley Miller stands poised and ready to make a save in a previous contest against Northport. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Ashley Miller has been a part of two undefeated girls’ lacrosse seasons in Middle Country school district’s history, and as she moves on to play at Dowling College, she will have the opportunity to add another to her resume.

“It feels great to look back at what I’ve accomplished,” the now former Middle Country goalkeeper said. “I remember in eighth grade my middle school lacrosse team went undefeated and to have both my high school and middle school careers end undefeated is a good feeling.”

This past season, the Mad Dogs went 14-0 in Division I before falling to West Islip, 11-10, in double overtime in the Suffolk County finals. It was the first time the varsity team went undefeated and was the furthest the team had made it in the postseason. In 2014, Middle Country fell in the semifinals to the same West Islip team, 12-11, with one second left on the clock.

Middle Country's Ashley Miller watches the play downfield. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Ashley Miller watches the play downfield. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Being in goal, Miller has been the last line of defense for both undefeated seasons and as she has gotten older, her skills have only improved. As a starter in goal for the last two seasons, head coach Lindsay Dolson noted the advances she saw.

“She definitely has come a long way and has improved her skills so much and worked really hard to get there,” she said. “We felt confident in her. She’s worked really hard and done all the extra work to get to where she is today. She came up with big saves for us.”

Dolson also pointed out that Miller was part of the reason the team was so successful the last two years and made it as far as they had.

“If you don’t have a good goalie in the cage there’s not a lot that you can do to stop people from scoring, especially in girls lacrosse, so she helped us become the team that we are today,” she said. “Ashley was a great player and very coachable. Anything we wanted to try, she was always willing to do it.”

Miller started out playing lacrosse with her cousins when she was young, but wasn’t interested in the sport at first. Not on an official team until seventh grade, she used the sport as a way to stay athletic and make new friends. According to her father, Butch, she played field hockey and lacrosse in junior high but switched to lacrosse in high school because she had more of a passion for the sport.

“She picked it up in middle school and was always a determined individual,” he said. “Whatever she starts, she follows through. She doesn’t give up, she’s not a quitter and she gives it her all.”

Middle Country's Ashley Miller races away from the cage to send the ball into play. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Middle Country’s Ashley Miller races away from the cage to send the ball into play. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Miller learned a lot of the basics in seventh and eighth grade and as she moved up to the high school level, she played year-round with off-season practices and winter and summer leagues. She was pulled up to the varsity team during the playoffs when she was a freshman and remained on the team, starting between the pipes her junior and senior year.

“The team was really close, we all got along really well and it was interesting how I was able to build up so quickly and pick up the game so fast and to be able to get pulled up to varsity early,” she said. “We became really close and it felt great to be a part of that and experience that, because it was the best team I’d ever been on. It meant a lot to be able to play such a major role.”

Miller’s father said his daughter was always interested in playing locally and was thrilled with her decision to play at Dowling.

“It’s hard to put into words how amazing it is that her hard work is paying off for her,” he said. “She’s done a lot for herself and it’s made her a better person. I’m very proud to be her father. All of her dedication earned her a scholarship and there are a lot of doors that have now been opened for her. I want her to strive to be the best and never settle; always reach for the stars.”

The Dowling freshman will be competing against three other goalkeepers for the starting position and hopes to be able to make an immediate impact on the team.

“One of my goals is to never stop improving, but I also want to try to get a starting position,” she said, laughing. “I love the sport, it helps you get out there and meet new people and it also helps you take your stress out and just have fun. I learned how to push myself through the sport, be a good team member and to be the best that I can be.”

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Tristin DeVincenzo, a two-time All-State athlete and two-time county champion, is Royals’ winningest wrestler

Tristin DeVincenzo wrestles in a previous Suffolk County championship match. File photo

Tristin DeVincenzo may not have started his varsity wrestling career at Port Jefferson on the highest note but he left a mark, as the two-time All-State wrestler, who will be heading to the University of Pennsylvania
in the fall, racked up the most wins in program history.

“He was a little kid with a bad haircut,” Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said of DeVincenzo, one of the first wrestlers he brought up to the varsity level as an eighth-grader, laughing. “He won about 13 matches that year. He still had a lot to learn — he was a little undersized — and over the next couple of years, he continued to work at his skills and worked on his body and got into shape to where he was one of the best wrestlers in the state.”

DeVincenzo knew he had a passion for the sport, and set his sights on improving his grappling game.

“Right away I loved the fact that it’s an individual sport and it all revolves around you,” he said. “I knew the work I needed to put in to be the best. At first I had no mental strength and I didn’t know how to win matches, but as the years progressed I developed a lot of mental strength and a very, very good work ethic and both of those together helped me progress in the sport.”

He did significantly better his freshman year, and signed up for the 28-day J. Robinson Intensive Training Camp in Minnesota in the next two offseasons.

“When he started to show the discipline and the dedication for the sport, I got more excited because I’m a wrestling guy and I wrestled in high school and college,” said Tristin’s father Matt DeVincenzo, who is the athletic director in neighboring Comsewogue. “You have to know where Tristin came from as a wrestler. He always loved the sport, but he wasn’t always a gifted wrestler. Now he’s an All-State wrestler and no one can ever take that away from him.”

The training camp, along with support from his coach, his father and his younger brother Matteo, who is also a Royals wrestler, directly impacted Tristin DeVincenzo’s game, and the athlete began to climb the ladder toward the state championships.

“I surrounded myself with guys that had the same goals as me and the same mindset to improve and get better,” he said of his time at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. “Being on a small school team was also awesome. Everyone looked up to me and I served as more or less a role model, which not only helped me teach others but it taught me a lot about myself.”

Tristin DeVincenzo has his arm raised after winning a county title. File photo from Port Jefferson athletics
Tristin DeVincenzo has his arm raised after winning a county title. File photo from Port Jefferson athletics

Once his junior year arrived, DeVincenzo realized he was on track to surpass the school’s win record, which had been established more than 20 years before. He finished his high school career with 137 wins, topping the previous 134 mark.

“There’s only been eight other wrestlers that have won over 100 matches for Port Jefferson wrestling, which has been around since the 1950s,” Maletta said. “He’s at the top of the heap now.”

DeVincenzo’s now-former coach, who began working with him when he was a quarterback on the junior varsity team, said it wasn’t surprising that his athlete was able to achieve the feat.

“He had the will to succeed — that’s key,” he said. “He didn’t want to fail, so he did what he could to improve on his skills to always be successful. He continues to improve at every level and keeps setting new goals for himself.”

DeVincenzo is used to overcoming setbacks.

After his 39-4 junior-year campaign, he hit trouble in the state bracket but bounced back to place fifth. The wrestler did the same thing at the Eastern States Classic that same season, winning four consecutive contests in the consolations to make the finals, which included three nationally ranked wrestlers.

DeVincenzo won back-to-back Suffolk County championships in 2014 and 2015, and was named a 2015 National High School Coaches Association Academic All-American. Besides athletics being a major part of his life — the competitor also had brief stints on the football and baseball teams — he also plays the piano and trumpet.

“I love playing the piano because it’s another thing that’s on you, kind of like wrestling,” he said. “The work you put into it directly correlates with how good you are.”

Maletta recalls his wrestler earning the All-State honor, and compared the feeling to being similar to the sensation he had when his children were born.

“I had chills down my body,” he said. “When he turned and looked at me after becoming All-State and he jumped in my arms, I had the same feeling. He put so much effort into this and the journey was such an up-and-down one.”

His grit and determination to get to the top helped him attract the attention of multiple colleges and universities and ultimately, after stepping onto the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, DeVincenzo’s decision seemed obvious.

“It’s a Division I program, so it’s good wrestling,” Maletta said. “He’s going to have a great experience and I’m excited to see where the next few years take him.”

To be successful on a big stage, Maletta said he hopes DeVincenzo can continue to carry the same mindset he had in high school onto the college level.

“It’s not going to be easy,” Maletta said. “There’s going to be an adjustment period. There will be days he’ll want to quit and every day he’ll have to wake up, put his feet on the floor, set some new goals for himself and tell himself that he’ll get better every day.”

Alex Tirapelle, a second-year head coach at the helm of UPenn’s program, is looking forward to what the members of his first recruiting class will bring to the program.

“When I arrived on campus in August, I knew it would it would be important to find the right people for the class of 2019,” he said. “While Penn Wrestling will always recruit high-achieving student-athletes, it was particularly important for us to find young men that were representative of the program’s core values — integrity, passion, confidence, persistence and commitment. I believe we have done exactly that.”

DeVincenzo would like to see himself as a multiple placer in the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association tournament and, by doing so, qualify for nationals. His ultimate goal would be to become an All-American.

“It’s been a crazy journey, especially from where I started in eighth grade,” he said. “I didn’t really have the confidence in eighth grade and by junior/senior year, I had the confidence that I could do things beyond that. I’m happy it all paid off and I can look back and see I’ve accomplished things in the sport. Wrestling means a lot to me. It’s a lifestyle. I love it.”

One of 20 Long Island business professionals gearing up for annual Long Island Fight for Charity in November

Rhonda Klch gloves up for last year’s Long Island Fight for Charity. This year, Klch will head back into the ring for the charity match, which raises money for the Long Island Community Chest. Photo from Corbett PR

By Rachel Siford

Mount Sinai’s Rhonda “Master of Financial Disaster” Klch is heading back into the ring on Nov. 23, 2015, for her second Long Island Fight for Charity match.

Klch is the founder and CEO of Equity First, LLC, a financial advising firm based in Coram. She started the company in 2004.

The charity boxing match raises money for the Long Island Community Chest, a nonprofit organization that provides short-term financial support to needy families and individuals who have suffered a crisis. Last year, Klch left her match victorious.

Klch was inspired to participate in the fight when she heard the money was going to the Community Chest. More than $850,000 has been donated to Long Island charities since its inception 12 years ago.

“Due to the fact that my firm works heavily in budget planning and helping clients that are in financial distress, I felt it was very close to what we do,” Klch said.

Rhonda Klch left the ring with a victory last year. Photo from Corbett PR
Rhonda Klch left the ring with a victory last year. Photo from Corbett PR

Preparing for the match takes time. Fight for Charity requires all participants get a physical exam. Fighters also have to check in at certified gyms to track how much they are training. Boxers typically need to complete three to four days of cardio a week, with two or more days of sparring.

Klch will have to wait until September to find out who she will be fighting on the night of the event.

“Right now, I have to train like I’m going to get my butt kicked,” Klch said smiling. “I have no idea who it is going to be yet.”

Klch and her company try to get involved with many organizations.

Equity First is also involved with The Starkey Hearing Foundation, which supplies hearing aides to those who can’t afford them, and Pink Tie, a cancer research fundraiser. Last year, the company sponsored 160 children from the Longwood community who were either homeless or in transient housing and provided them with their holiday gifts. Klch is also on the Friends of Karen, which supports critically ill children and their families, Long Island advisory board.

“We have a pretty good corporate culture here,” Klch said. “Everyone wants to chip in and help out; it’s almost a prerequisite for their employment.”

Prior to founding Equity First, Klch was a branch manager for First West Mortgage Bankers. She actually started Equity First as a side business while still working at the bank.

“I’m just very entrepreneurial by nature,” Klch said. “I feel like I am a good leader and I like having my own concepts and being able to see them through from start to finish.”

Klch said staying involved with charities helps people learn about their communities and issues they may not have realized existed.

“You just never know enough about yourself until you put yourself into an uncomfortable position,” Klch said. “You’ll never grow if you never go out of your comfort zone.”

For more information on the event go to www.lifightforcharity.org.

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Young runners race around the track. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Ward Melville girls’ track and field team has found a way to raise money for its season while also providing families with young children from the district with a fun night to get out and exercise.

This is the third summer that the girls, lead by varsity coach Tom Youngs and junior varsity coach J.P. Deon, have organized races on six nights to host about 150 kids, though as many as 175 showed up on one night, from the community at the high school track.

“It [has] been really successful,” Youngs said of the three-year run of race nights, which took a hiatus last summer to allow for a new track to be put in at the high school. “We’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from the community.”

Nicole Murphy, a senior on the track team, also enjoys seeing the support the team gets during race nights.

“It’s nice to see everyone get together to participate in something,” Murphy said.

A little girl crosses the finish line in a 55-meter run. Photo by Alex Petroski
A little girl crosses the finish line in a 55-meter run. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It’s a great thing for the kids,” Tracy Seedorf, a community member and a parent of one of the runners, said. “My kid doesn’t play soccer. She’s not a ‘contact sport’ girl, so this is great. This makes it easier, especially when there’s a lot of kids here. It’s more fun for them.”

The race nights feature six events of various distances, with heats in each event for age group ranges.

“It’s a good opportunity for community members and their children, keeping them active and healthy throughout the summer months when they have that time to sit on the couch or just lay on the beach,” Youngs said. “It gives them something to look forward to every Thursday night.”

At the end of each race, members of the varsity track team wait at the finish line to write down the kid’s times on stickers that are stuck to runners shirts. The kids and their parents are encouraged to track their times in the various events to see their progress over the course of the summer.

“It’s nice to tie in the community,” Deon said. He added that a great deal of parents, and even grandparents’ involvement, is as a huge part of why the event has been successful. Ages of the runners span from 2 years old up to 12 or 13.

“I think they should start at an early age,” a parent, Marty Johnson, said of the importance of getting kids active, and also allowing them to socialize with their peers. Johnson said it was easy getting his kids enthusiastic about events like these. “My kids love being outside.”

Registration costs $5 a night per child, and three more race night events remain this year, including tonight. The registration period ends at 5:30 p.m. each Thursday, and races begin at 6 p.m. All of the funds raised go to the girls’ track team to be used for meets, invitationals, overnight trips and transportation.

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Jacob Bloom chases after an opponent for Miller Place. File photo by Desirée Keegan

When Jacob Bloom was heading into middle school, he had to choose between the two sports he had dedicated most of his childhood to learning.

But, his father told him his future wouldn’t involve a baseball bat, but a lacrosse stick, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made, as the now former Miller Place defender will be playing for Marist College next year.

“It was more of a complete sport,” Bloom said. “The physicality and the emotion — I fell in love with the game right away.”

Bloom’s father, Mark, who was coaching him in both sports, said he saw potential in his son to excel in the sport at a young age.

“He positioned himself better as a lacrosse player than as a baseball player,” he said. “In his size, his structure and his footwork.”

Miller Place boys’ lacrosse head coach Keith Lizzi saw the same strong future in the budding defender, who was brought up to the varsity team as a ninth grader.

“Jacob is extremely mature,” said Lizzi, who first coached Bloom when he was on the middle school football team. “He was coachable at a young age — he was like a sponge — and he listened well. He understood that it was going to make him better if he listens.”

Bloom said it was a challenge being the low man on the totem pole, but the team was able to groom him at a young age, and the athlete said the experience was what he needed most.

Mark Bloom saw his son devote most months out of the year to continue progressing in the sport, playing 10 months out of the year, and Lizzi also saw his player’s development each season. As a result, Jacob Bloom’s role continued to become more important to the team, as he began covering opponent’s tougher players each season.

Miller Place's Jacob Bloom reaches out his stick to keep a Comsewogue player at bay in a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Miller Place’s Jacob Bloom reaches out his stick to keep a Comsewogue player at bay in a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“He’s very tactical,” Lizzi said of Bloom. “When he’s playing defense, he’s always thinking about what he’s doing. He’s not going to super aggressive and be all over you, but he’s going to outthink you.”

The defender always had a plan, according to Lizzi, and was very organized and harped on the little things to make sure he was always at the top of his game.

“Being a smart kid, he was able to figure out people’s next move,” Lizzi said. “When you play defense, you have to react, and his mentality was, if he could figure out what the other kid was trying to do, he’d be in a good spot. He knew every year there was something different to improve upon. He made major strides every year as a result.”

Bloom also prides himself on this.

“Defense takes a lot of mental work and understanding what your opponent wants to do, and I’ve always prided myself on being a very smart player and having a good lacrosse IQ,” he said. “I watch plenty of film and I’m always studying the guys I’m covering.”

He improved in his stick skills, passing, catching, throwing, footwork and body positioning every season, which Lizzi said helped him stand out among other defenders who didn’t continue to work on the basics at the varsity level.

Bloom was also a leader on the team.

“He was so mature that it was like having another coach on the field, which helped us,” the coach said of his former co-captain. “He understood our game plans, our strategy and why we did what we did, so he was able to help some of the younger kids around him and from a leadership point of view, he was a great role model.”

Bloom’s contributions to the team, along with its strong offensive leaders, helped the Panthers earn a Suffolk County championship title in 2013, and reach the finals again in 2014, where the Panthers fell to Rocky Point, 6-4. This past season, the team fell in the second round of the playoffs to Eastport-South Manor, 12-7.

Bloom was named an All-County defenseman this season and also won the Panther Pride award, which is given to a player who exemplifies what a Miller Place athlete should be. He also earned the school’s defenseman of the year award and leadership award.

These qualities helped him earn the recognition of various colleges and universities. He ultimately chose to play at Marist, where he will be joining the Panther’s former co-captain and All-County defenseman Brett Osman and All-County and All-Division midfielder and co-captain Liam Walsh.

“I couldn’t be prouder for him to play Division I lacrosse,” Mark Bloom said. “Just to watch him grow and become a man and a leader on the field, I think that he’s only scratched the surface with his ability. I think he can go much, much further than even what he’s achieved and reached now.”

Jacob Bloom said he’s excited to play for a growing program and Marist’s head coach Keegan Wilkinson. He said he’s learned a lot along the way that he plans to take with him to the next level and said the camaraderie, fraternity and brotherhood created with some of the guys he’s known since third grade, and will be friends with for the rest of his life, has meant a lot to him.

“What I take from coach Lizzi would be to never be satisfied — you have to keep working and keep getting better,” he said. “No matter how good you think that you are, you can always be better. Working toward a common goal has taught me to work hard and I can achieve great things.”

Isabella Nelin and Isabella Petriello pose for a photo with their lacrosse sticks at the Brine National Lacrosse Classic. Photo from Anthony Petriello

Both girls made the team, again.

And although Isabella Petriello and Isabella Nelin were not able to help the Long Island sophomores defend the Brine National Lacrosse Classic championship title the girls won as freshmen, they’re just happy to be able to continue to play the sport they love.

“Lacrosse is my passion — it’s really taken over my whole life,” Petriello said. ”It’s helped me not only to be a better athlete, but it’s helped me with everything. With my time management skills, my ability to focus, to accept failure, and to just keep working hard.”

The athletes, both defenders, continued to work hard at the lacrosse classic in Midlothian, Virginia, outscoring much of the competition despite an early loss, and cruised to the semifinals, where the team fell to would-be champion Pennsylvania, 8-4.

“It was a great experience,” Petriello said. “It was an honor to get the chance to play with such talented girls that share the same passion as me.”

Nelin’s mother, Karen, was just proud of her daughter for making the team for a second year in a row, and is proud of what her daughter has been able to accomplish since she first joined the sport in the seventh grade.

“I feel like Bella can definitely get the job done,” Karen Nelin said. “I have such confidence in her. She’s a fast runner, she’s very tall, and she’s also good when her teammate needs help to slide. She’s a voice out there. Even when the offense has the ball, she’s out there encouraging them, and is confident and supportive.”

Petriello said the loss pushed her to want to do bigger and better things in the future.

“You go into it expecting the things that you did last year because you’ve been working so hard, and it definitely was hard, I wont lie, but failure and losing are a part of being successful,” she said. “When I don’t reach my goal the way I want to, that’s what I use to light my fire. It helps me keep fighting to get to where I want to be in life.”

And Isabella Petriello’s father, Anthony, said his daughter has some things you simply can’t teach.

“She has that grit, that desire and that heart every single time she goes out there,” he said. “That gives her the ability to help her teammates and do the things that she needs to do on the field, along with her teammates, to get the job done.”

Although Isabella Petriello has been involved in the sport longer than Isabella Nelin, both have been named strong players. Petriello uses more aggression, while Nelin likes to be more tactical.

The defenders play for the Long Island Top Guns travel team, but Petriello picked up the sport when she was in second grade, playing for the Brookhaven Town team before playing for Miller Place.

“She lives and breathes lacrosse for her ultimate goal of playing at the college level,” Anthony Petriello said, adding that his daughter plays volleyball for the school team, as well as in a Middle Country school district lacrosse league on Thursday evenings. “What a reward for parents to see their child succeed in anything in life.”

Nelin, on the other hand, picked up a lacrosse stick for the first time in seventh grade after her friends tried to get her to join.

“I was a little rusty at first, but I’d go over their house and ask them to please throw and catch with me,” she said, laughing. “Even when we don’t even plan on practicing, we end up grabbing sticks and going outside and having a pass. Once you start playing the sport, you don’t stop. I feel like I always have a stick in my hand.”

Although she started later, Nelin has trained with many coaches, including local defender Shanna Brady of Smithtown, who played for St. Anthony’s and currently plays for NCAA tournament-winning University of Maryland. Nelin also plays varsity lacrosse for Ward Melville.

The girls like the team aspect of defense, and work well together on the field.

“We both know where the other one is on the field at all times and know what the other person will do, and it makes it a lot easier,” Petriello said. “[Isabella Nelin] is always pushing herself and, especially me and others, to be better,” she said.

Nelin is also comfortable working alongside her Long Island teammate.

“The coaches don’t know us, so when they ask who wants to start on defense, we both stand next to each other and try to raise our hands at the same time,” Nelin said, laughing. “We both want to get on the field at the same time. I can trust her when she says she has my right and tells me to force a player somewhere so we can double-team her.”

And Brine’s Long Island team’s coach Megan McCormack, noticed the girls’ chemistry quickly.

“They were both very talkative, very aggressive,” she said. “They worked well with one another and meshed well with the other girls on the team.”

Nelin is excited to see where the future will take her.

“Lacrosse really means a lot to me,” she said. “I feel like it’s my future. I’d love to play in college and it’s helped me meet a bunch of new people. It’s opened new doors for me; I’ve traveled to a bunch of different states and it’s just been amazing. I feel like it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”

McCormack believes that Nelin and Petriello’s futures will be bright.

“You can see and pick up on that chemistry right away,” she said. “I knew that they felt comfortable with one another. They knew what each other did well and what each other needed, whether or not they should push one another, so I thought they really complemented each other well. I know they both had successful lacrosse careers ahead of them.”

Kyle O’Brien leads the pack for Huntington High School in a previous race. Photo by Jimi Mello

This fall could be the Huntington High School boys’ cross country team’s breakthrough season.

Kyle O’Brien, Shane McGuire and Ethan Dywer are the team’s top three returning runners that will look to make an impact on the team this upcoming season.

“If they put in the summer work they are going to bring a big 1-2-3 punch as all have been showing huge improvements over the past year,” Huntington head coach Shawn Anderson said. “Shane had a big breakout season in track and cross country last year, so we’re looking to see if it translates to a big year this coming fall.”

Ryan Smith, Connor Grosso, Ryan Mock, Quinn Kemerson, Danny Collins and Nick Sanin will look to compete for those last four spots to round out the Blue Devils’ competitive top seven.

“We are going to have a lot of unknowns in terms of newcomers from Finley Middle School,” Anderson said. “Our league has also changed, so we will be seeing new competition. Hopefully this translates to some wins.”

The Blue Devils finished last year’s cross country season with an 0-6 record and moved from League IV to League III.

“We have been in a building phase for a few years; always with a strong front, but the pack hasn’t always been where it needed to be to win those close meets,” Anderson said. The Blue Devils have lost several contests by a point or two.

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Patrick Lagravinese hurls the ball to first base. Photo by Ray Passaro

The University at Albany is getting a special baseball player from Smithtown East next year, but if his family and coach are to be believed, they are getting a special person as well.

Patrick Lagravinese, who will be playing at Albany when the 2016 college baseball season begins, had a standout senior season playing shortstop and pitching for the Bulls. Smithtown East saw its record from 2014 to 2015 improve by 12 wins for one major reason — Lagravinese transferred back to Smithtown East ahead of his senior season after spending two years at St. John the Baptist.

Patrick Lagravinese makes contact with the ball. Photo by Ray Passaro
Patrick Lagravinese makes contact with the ball. Photo by Ray Passaro

While he was playing at St. John’s, all he managed to do was help the team win back-to-back Catholic league championships. He made the difficult decision to transfer back to Smithtown East, the school district he attended until his freshman year, despite the opportunity he had in front of him to win a third consecutive league title.

“Nothing’s better than being able to finish up your high school career with the friends and family that were there when you first started playing the sport,” Lagravinese said.

When Lagravinese decided he wanted to return to Smithtown East, he said he spoke with his parents and they supported the decision.

“He loved St. John’s but he felt like he was missing something his senior year,” Lagravinese’s dad, Chet, said. “But it wasn’t something I was going to do for him.”

The shortstop notified his head coach John Habyan, and said that phone call was “the hardest thing ever.”

“The amount of memories and relationships I made with this team will go a long way and I don’t regret any decisions I made crossing this path,” Lagravinese said.

With St. John’s in his rear view, Lagravinese was outstanding in 2015. He went 5-0 on the mound and hit .363 while playing solid at shortstop and earned an invitation to the Grand Slam Challenge, a Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“Senior year at Smithtown East was everything I could ask for,” Lagravinese said. “The coaches and players were great to me and made me feel like I never left.”

Welcoming him back was easy, though watching him move on will be much harder for the Bulls.

Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski
Smithtown East’s Pat Lagravinese gets up to bat. Photo by Alex Petroski

“We’re going to do the best we can to slot someone in [at shortstop], but you don’t replace a Pat Lagravinese,” Smithtown East head coach Ken Klee said about the reality of being without Lagravinese, who he called extremely coachable and hard working, next season. “He’s unique in the fact that he’s clearly the best kid on your team, but doesn’t want any of the credit.”

Klee added that when the team heard Lagravinese was returning, it immediately raised the Bulls’ expectations for the season. It was like the team found its missing piece.

Leadership was a word frequently used by those who are close to Lagravinese. Klee said that Lagravinese being around again raised everybody’s game.

“During practices I would try my best to be a leader even though I wasn’t a captain,” Lagravinese said. “Not being a captain doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help out and take charge when needed. Kids on my team looked at me as if I was a captain and I really appreciated that.”

That is a quality usually representative of truly special players like the one that Lagravinese said he models his game after.

“My favorite player is Jose Reyes,” he said. “I would always watch videos on YouTube and try and use the same style of play. I was a huge Mets fan up until he left, and now I love watching him play on the Toronto Blue Jays.”

University at Albany head coach Jon Mueller did not immediately respond to requests for comment, though he was quoted on the school’s official site after Lagravinese’s commitment to Albany: “Pat is a smooth fielding left-handed hitting infielder with good arm strength. He comes from both a great high school
program and summer organization. We anticipate Pat having an immediate impact for us in 2016.”

Chet Lagravinese spoke with pride when describing his son, both for the player he is and the person that he has become.

“He’s one of those kids that anything I say, he takes everything with pride,” he said. “He does whatever he has to do to make things right.”

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Middle Country’s Christine Gironda may switch to midfield position at Iona College

Gironda bobbles the ball to take possession off the draw. File photo by Desirée Keegan

By Clayton Collier

After serving as an integral part of the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team that went undefeated in the regular season, Christine Gironda will continue her playing career at Iona College.

The 6-foot 1-inch All-County defender said Iona was an easy choice for her.

“Everybody always talks about the feeling they get and after visiting so many schools,” she said. “I didn’t get it until I went to Iona. Everything from the coaching staff, players, campus, academics and atmosphere made my decision very easy.”

Michael Gironda, Christine’s father, said the location is perfect for all parties.

“We’re really proud of her,” he said. “And it’s great because it’s far enough where she feels she is away, but close enough where we can still make her games, or even do her laundry.”

For Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson, she said she is happy for her senior, but also sorry to see her go.

“She’s been taking the draw for us for the past three years,” she said. “We don’t have anyone near her height coming up, so it’ll definitely be a big miss.”

Gironda’s father said he originally thought soccer would end up being his daughter’s primary sport, but, eventually, she began to gravitate more toward lacrosse. Because Gironda became fully committed to lacrosse later in her high school career, her father said he believes the best is yet to come.

“Because she started so late, I honestly feel her best lacrosse is in front of her,” he said. “She hasn’t peaked; she has more upside.”

Also as a result of joining lacrosse later on, Iona did not get a look at Gironda until the Under Armour All-American tryouts, where she caught the eye of head coach Michelle Mason. It was there that they invited her to practice at the program’s camp, where Mason said Gironda shined.

“She just crushed it,” Mason said. “She just kept getting better throughout the whole day; like every drill we ran, she was picking it up really quick.”

Now that Gironda is committed to attend Iona in the fall, Mason said she will look to get her new player involved in a variety of roles, including potentially moving the Middle Country product to the midfield position.

“I think she’s got a great finish to her shot and her decision making and lacrosse IQ are great,” she said. “There’s a really good foundation for us to build on.”

Mason said she hopes to increase the aggression of Gironda on the field come this fall.

“If we could get her to be a little more aggressive and not as much of a gentle giant, then I think she could be a real dominant force on offense for sure,” she said. “She has a lot of intangibles that really set her apart.”

Gironda listed her aggression as one of her biggest improvements over the course of a banner year for the Mad Dogs in which the lacrosse program made it to the Suffolk Class A finals, falling in double- overtime to West Islip, 11-10.

Overall, Dolson said it was the senior leadership of Gironda — as well as fellow seniors Nikki Ortega, Ashley Miller, Serena Ruggiero and Alison Dipaola — that proved to be crucial in putting together as successful of a season as they did.

“This group has been dedicated and hardworking in and outside the classroom, on the field,” she said. “They really bring everyone together on the field.”

As for Gironda, although she said it will be hard to leave her second family behind, she is excited for the opportunity ahead at Iona.

“A new chapter is always so bitter sweet,” she said. “I will miss this team so much, but will always have these memories. I am so excited to go on this new journey and now I will get to experience two amazing teams.”

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Nick Fanti turns down Marist College scholarship after agreeing to terms with Philadelphia Phillies

Nick Fanti hurls a pitch during the Grand Slam Challenge. File photo by Alex Petroski

Hauppauge graduate and star left-handed pitcher Nick Fanti, who was selected by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 31st round of the 2015 MLB Draft, agreed to terms on a contract with the club this week. He chose to forgo an opportunity to play at Marist College on a baseball scholarship, and will instead begin his minor league career with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in Clearwater, Florida, Philadelphia’s rookie-ball affiliate.

Fanti said the decision was very tough on him, but he’s confident he made the right one.

“I really felt at home at Marist and comfortable with the coaches and players that I was going there with, but in the end, I followed my heart and made a decision that I wanted to make,” he said.

Hauppauge head coach Josh Gutes was thrilled with his former player’s decision.

“Since he was a little kid, all he’s wanted to do was play baseball for a living, and now he’s going to get the opportunity to do so,” he said. “It wasn’t an easy decision at first, because of Nick’s loyalty to Marist, but he had the chance to pursue his dream and he’s going to do everything he can to make that dream come true.”

Fanti had an outstanding senior season for the Eagles. He went 7-1, with a 0.67 ERA, a 0.63 WHIP and 87 strikeouts over 52 innings. He also threw two consecutive no-hitters. Fanti won the 2015 Carl Yastrzemski award as Suffolk County’s best player, and started on the mound for the Suffolk County team in the Grand Slam Challenge, Long Island’s annual Suffolk County versus Nassau County All-Star game.

“I would have probably fainted from excitement,” Fanti said about the thought of his 10-year-old self receiving the news that one day he’d be a professional baseball player. “I can remember being told by teachers to stop writing and drawing about baseball during projects because that’s all I ever thought about, and still think about.”

Fanti grew up in a family of lifelong New York Yankees fans, though his Dad, Nick Fanti Sr., said in an interview in June, following draft day, that wearing a Phillies uniform one day wouldn’t be a problem.

“I’m just so happy for him,” Fanti Sr. said. “He’s going to make it anywhere he goes.”

The Phillies organization declined requests for comment, pending Fanti’s signing becoming official this week.

Fanti said on Twitter Monday night that he was “ready for this challenge” of taking on professional competition, which is obviously a step up from the high school competition that he’s used to, and the college competition that he bypassed.

Being selected in the MLB Draft, especially in the 31st round or later is far from a guarantee that an opportunity will present itself for a young player in the Big Leagues. However, New York Mets legends Mike Piazza and Keith Hernandez were both selected far later in their respective drafts than Fanti. Left-handed pitcher Kenny Rogers had stints with both the Mets and Yankees, and he was selected in the 39th round.

Some other notable 31st round picks include pitchers Scott Erickson [1990] and Pedro Feliciano [1995], who both played for the Mets and Yankees in their careers. Erickson went in the 31st round in his fourth time being in the MLB draft. Sean Gillmartin, a southpaw currently on the Mets’ roster, was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft, although he was again drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft.

A few Major League all-stars also got their start in the Gulf Coast League over the last decade. Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman and Pittsburgh Pirates centerfielder and 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen each played full seasons in the GCL.

After the Grand Slam Challenge game in June, before he had made his decision, Fanti said how different it would be playing alongside strangers as opposed to his teammates from Hauppauge, who became his best friends. Fanti will have no trouble making friends in the Phillies organization if he pitches for them anywhere near the way he did in high school.

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