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Bill Landon

Smithtown east's Matthew Wertheim goes up for the kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Daniel Murphy serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Led by the power hitting of Matthew Wertheim and Daniel Murphy, Smithtown East got the best of the Northport’s boys volleyball team, taking the away victory in four sets 25-17, 25-21, 22-25 and 25-21 in Division I action Sept. 19.

“We kind of let up a little bit — we didn’t play as well as we did in the first two sets, but we found a way to get back,” Murphy said. “Northport was a challenge, they came out hard. At first we had them, but then we slumped a little bit.”

Both teams came to the court with identical 3-1 records. The Tigers, coming off a five-set comeback win over Ward Melville the night before. Northport struggled to contain Murphy (14 kills) up front as the outside hitter nailed back-to-back kills to put the Bulls out front 15-11 in the first set. Wertheim (18 kills) made his presence known, and added a pair of his own kills to put the Bulls one point away from winning the match. The Tigers were able to score three unanswered points before the Bulls shut the door.

Smithtown East’s Kyle Shaffer sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East  had momentum on its side coming into the game, having won three in a row. The Bulls only loss of the season was the season opener against Walt Whitman Sept. 5. Looking to build on their momentum, the Bulls jumped ahead 9-5, only to have the Tigers claw their way back to tie the set 10-10. Smithtown East libero Bryan Kaplan slammed home four straight aces to get ahead once more. Both teams traded points, and Smithtown East edged ahead 23-20 before putting away set two.

Northport came out fast in the third set, and mental errors cost Smithtown East the lead, falling behind 14-9. Murphy, equally dangerous from the service line, scored three aces to close within one point.

“I don’t think they were playing to the best of their ability in the first two sets, but then we fell flat, we were overconfident in that third set [and it got away from us],” Smithtown East setter Kyle Shaffer said. “They were better than I’d thought they’d be — their middles are very good and they have great blocking.”

Northport setter Ben Sandt turned the tide with a pair of monster kill shots and the Tigers finished the job to take the third.

Northport’s Ben Sandt spikes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“We stepped it up and they were a little flat,” Sandt said. “We passed better, we had a lot more energy and our setter Ryan Parker pushed the ball up front so we could get some kills. We kept our serves in and we rallied off that.”

The Tigers looked to duplicate what they did the night before — winning three in a row — and found themselves in a 12-12 stalemate in the fourth set. Northport mistakes put the Bulls out front 19-17, and then 23-20 before Northport called timeout.

“Yesterday they  went down two but came back, and we were worried that they were going to do the same thing to us,” Smithtown East head coach Ray Preston said. “But we were able to battle through.”

The Tigers, desperate to force a final set, scored next, but it was too little too late.

Northport head coach Amanda DiPietro said she saw weakness in her lineup that will be addressed going forward.

“I knew they were going to be tough — we saw them in some tournaments previously and they’re a tough team, they have a lot of talent,” she said. “Our service was pretty strong today, but we need to get better at blocking.”

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Port Jefferson's Devin Rotunno volleys in her first singles set against Comsewogue. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Precision protected Port Jefferson girls tennis’ undefeated League VI streak.

Junior Devin Rotunno’s accuracy was a much different style than that of her junior opponent, Comsewogue’s Nikita Katukota, whose hard-hitting forehand forced Rotunno to cover every inch of the court. One point between the two players spanned 40 hits in the volley, and in the end, Rotunno prevailed, winning 7-6, 7-5 to lead the Royals to a 6-1 outscoring of host Comsewogue Sept. 18.

Comsewgoue’s Nikita Katukota slams the ball back over the net against Port Jefferson’s Devin Rotunno. Photo by Bill Landon

“I haven’t [seen] her before, but my coach told me she’s good, she hits hard, so I came in knowing it was going to be a tough battle,” Rotunno said. “I felt that I had consistency and I really think that gave me an advantage today.”

Katukota said she looked forward to facing the Port Jefferson lineup because she wanted to test herself against a formidable opponent.

“She’s a really good player — she hits the ball really hard, which I really like because I want to challenge myself against players who hit the ball with pace,” she said of Rotunno. “She has a lot of top spin, she moves her feet around the court so I just had a great time playing her.”

In second singles, Jillian Lawler also won her match in two sets, topping Comsewogue’s Kaitlyn Musmachev 6-2, 6-4, but the third singles matchup took three sets to decide.

Port Jefferson seventh-grader Nicolina Giannola battled Comsewogue’s Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, and hung on after dropping the second set to win the decisive third, for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 edging.

The bright spot for the Warriors came in fourth singles play. Trisha Sandhala recovered from a 1-6 loss to take the next two sets 6-4, 6-4 snatching Comsewogue’s lone singles victory.

“I think they’re better than I thought they’d be,” Comsewogue head coach Michael Taheny said of Port Jefferson. “I liked our fight. My singles players are good, but [Port Jefferson is] hands down better than every other team we’ve played so far. It was a little shock to our system in that ‘wow, these [Port Jefferson] girls are really good.’”

Port Jefferson’s Jillian Lawler reaches for the ball in her second singles match. Photo by Bill Landon

The Royals also dominated doubles play, taking all three matches in two sets each. Although Taheny noted his team’s young new doubles squad is going through an adjustment period, Port Jefferson head coach Keith Houghtaling also noted an adjustment to be made in relying on depth, especially when the Royals next face Middle Country. With the win over Comsewogue, Port Jefferson’s fifth straight to put the team at 5-2 overall, it puts a target on the team’s back, but things could change the second time around against some of the teams.

“[Middle Country is] a tough team with a deep lineup — we beat them 5-2, but all three doubles went three sets, and one of the singles went three sets, so we could’ve just as easily lost that 4-3,” Houghtaling said of the Royals’ Sept. 8 win over the Mad Dogs. “We beat Mount Sinai 5-2 [Sept. 13], but one of their singles was out, so again that could be tough [when they’re back to full strength].”

Houghtaling said the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the league isn’t going to stop his Royals.

“We may have been able to sneak up on some teams earlier in the year based on last year’s record, but now that we are in first place, I fully expect each opponent will bring their very best lineup and effort against us,” he said. “I can assure you that our girls are fully aware of this, and they are up for the challenge.”

By Bill Landon

Harborfields settled the score Saturday as the Tornadoes invaded Rocky Point and avenged last year’s homecoming loss by outscoring the Eagles 20-13 during a homecoming celebration of their own. Rocky Point senior Petey LaSalla bulled his way up the field for two touchdowns to help tie Harborfields with eight minutes left in the game, but a Tornadoes touchdown and stop sealed the Eagles’ fate Sept. 16.

“The juniors on last year’s team remember that loss,” Harborfields head coach Rocco Colucci said. “I mean, hats off to Rocky Point, they’re a great football team and with good teams it usually does go down to the last minute, but what better way than to [come here] and return the favor at their homecoming game.”

Harborfields dominated the time of possession in the opening half, but the Eagles’ defense held the team to just one touchdown after senior quarterback P.J. Clementi found a hole into the end zone at the 10:58 mark of the second quarter. With a failed point-after attempt, the team took a 6-0 lead into the break.

“Our defense [played well] in the first half to hold them to just six points when they had possession like 90 percent of the time,” LaSalla said. “We lost a close one last week and this obviously sucks going 0-2, but we have power points [given to teams that face top-ranked opponents] and we have a big game next week at Comsewogue, which is their homecoming, and hopefully we can do to them what Harborfields did to us.”

The Eagles opened the second half by marching the ball down to a fourth-and-one, but Harborfields’ defense plugged the hole and took over on downs. The Tornadoes used the possession to strike with just two minutes left in the quarter. Clementi took another keeper across the goal line, and Harborfields senior Ethan Krauss split the uprights this time to put his team ahead 13-0.

“Our offensive and defensive lines were unreal today — they were making holes, they were clogging holes,” Clementi said. “To have those big guys up front, it’s a blessing, but I knew [Rocky Point was] going to try to get [Petey LaSalla] the ball. because he’s their playmaker.”

The Eagles’ offense opened the final quarter with a new look, putting LaSalla in shotgun formation. The running back plowed up the field until he crossed into the end zone for Rocky Point’s first touchdown of the day. Senior Jack Costa nailed the extra-point kick attempt to pull within six, 13-7. LaSalla scored again, but a missed kick blew Rocky Point’s chance at taking its first lead of the game.

With the score tied 13-13, Clementi hit senior wide receiver Chris Dluginsky bolting down the left sideline 56 yards to Rocky Point’s 22-yard line. Senior running back Jimmy Bifulco finished the job with the final touchdown of the game for the 20-13 win.

“I know they’re a great team, well-coached, but we came out here and we played our best,” Bifulco said. “We’re a family, we stick together the entire way and when it comes down to the last minute, we’ll finish it.”

Harborfields did just that, holding off Rocky Point on its final attempt deep in Harbrofields’ territory with 14 seconds left until the time expired.

“I was sitting on the sideline and and I couldn’t watch,” Clementi said. “I walked back to the track and turned around. I was just waiting for that [last] play to be over.”

Rocky Point head coach Anthony DiLorenzo said he wishes he’d have taken a timeout when a first down was signaled following Rocky Point’s first possession of the second half.

“Unfortunately, at the end of the game, that came back to bite us,” he said. “We came up short on the two-yard line.”

Colucci said he couldn’t be more proud of his players, especially despite not being at full strength.

“This was the ultimate team win,” he said. “Even at halftime people were looking at each other and saying ‘we still got this.’ I have a couple of guys who weren’t feeling well and I told them ‘don’t play for yourself, play for the guy next to you because next time they’re going to do it for you,’ and that’s going to win us some close games.”

By Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River was on a hot streak — scoring 27 goals in the first three games of the field hockey season, all of which were shutouts. That spotless streak came to an end with a 3-1 loss to a tough Harborfields team Sept. 12.

“We were very worried and concerned about Shoreham,” Harborfields head coach Lauren Desiderio said. “They were blowouts, and that’s beyond impressive.”

The Tornadoes showed no worry or concern, as midfielder Gianna Bifulco dished the ball off to forward Jenelle Bennardo for the first goal of the game 11 minutes in. Not used to playing on grass, the Wildcats seemed to struggle.

“The ball moves very slowly on grass, and everyone reaches the ball more quickly. but I think we adjusted well in the second half,” Shoreham-Wading River junior Michele Corona said. “We just needed to talk more towards the end and we need to work on that in our next game.”

Opportunity came knocking again for Harborfields, and Sarah DeVito answered for a 2-0 lead with 11:26 left in the half.

“I’m not going to lie, I was really intimidated when we were told what their record was coming in,” DeVito said. “And all day in school, especially in math class, every couple of questions the numbers zero, three and 27 would pop into my head.”

On a penalty shot, Harborfields Sarah Gray put her team out front 3-0.

“We thought we were on the lower end,” said Gray. “But we were excited to get in the game and show them that we’re here to play.”

The Wildcats had no answer by halftime, but with 16:03 left in regulation, Harborfields went a man down, and Shoreham-Wading River looked to capitalize, but squandered the opportunity.

“They have a lot of skilled players and they’re very fast,” Harborfields Desiderio said. “They have skilled players and they did a good job putting pressure on us. I was pleased with our transition.”

Shoreham-Wading River found the box nine minutes later when Corona’s solo shot took the zero off the scoreboard to close the gap, but the team would come no closer.

With the win Harborfields improves to 2-1 and will see action today, Sept. 14 at Greenport-Southholdat 4:30 p.m. Shoreham-Wading River hits the road the same day to face Miller Place at 5:45 p.m.

“We’re so used to playing on a smooth surface we’re a passing team and that’s much more effective on turf,” Shoreham-Wading River head coach Jenna Stevenson said. “It’s our first loss of the season and we’ll look to see where our weaknesses were in this game and improve — get back on a winning streak.”

Comsewogue junior Kaitlyn Musmacher makes contact in her singles matchup victory at Mount Siani Sept. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was the strength of Comsewogue’s singles play that was the difference in a Sept. 11 matchup against Mount Sinai girls tennis, which the Warriors pulled away from 4-3 on the road.

Mount Sinai junior Alexis Gergely sends the ball over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

Nikita Katukota, a junior, led the way for Comsewogue, outscoring her opponent 7-5, 6-2, which set the tone early.

“I thought I played pretty well — I was hitting the ball pretty hard, so I was happy with that,” she said. “I was more consistent. The first set was really tight, I was leading 2-1 on the second set but because of injury issues my [opponent] had to leave the court.”

Classmate Kaitlyn Musmacher, who had to dig her way out of a hole, rebounded from her first-set loss to win 6-4, 6-1.

According to Comsewogue head coach Mike Taheny, Musmacher, a three-year varsity starter, is the best athlete and net player on the team. Natukota, he said, has the best strokes, is the most skilled and hardest hitter. The two are co-captains on a young team that fields no seniors.

The Mustangs fell to Eastport-South Manor 5-2, but turned the corner in a 5-2 match against Rocky Point for their first league win of the season.

“A lot of the girls did a fantastic job, even in some of the matches where we ended up losing they were close, so the girls are having a great start for the year,” Mount Sinai head coach Tom Duffy said of the last few matches. “We have young girls stepping in — we have a couple of freshman and an eight-grader [Glorianna Gennaro] who played first doubles for us today, and the eight-grader played fourth singles for us at Rocky Point, so we have a lot of flexibility.”

Comsewogue junior Nikita Katukota volleys. Photo by Bill Landon

Mount Sinai’s strength was in its first doubles play, where the Mustangs paired junior and three-year varsity starter Alexis Gergely with Gennaro, who won handily in two sets, 6-3 and 6-2.

“I thought we played well at net,” Gergely said. “We won in our opening match against [Bellport], but I’ve got to focus on getting better on my serves.”

Taheny said Port Jefferson will give his team a run for its money. Comsewogue will face off against the Royals Sept. 18 at 3:30 p.m.

“Rumor has it that Port Jeff has a very good singles lineup — I don’t know because we didn’t play them last year,” the coach said. “But I think our team is very strong, and honestly, it’s going to be a tight league.”

Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, answered the call in third singles, defeating her challenger 6-3, 6-4, and Trisha Sandhala was right behind her, besting her foe 6-3, 6-2 for the sweep.

“I went up to the net more, but not as much volleying,” Ankita Katukota said. “I was pleased with my serving and I had more winners down the line.”

Mount Sinai senior Kaitlin Chen said she had to battle her way through her singles sets, but was upbeat despite the outcome.

Mount Sinai eight-grader Glorianna Gennaro smacks the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“Although I lost my match today, I played pretty well and I was pleased with my forehand,” the co-captain said. “I’ll work on getting better with my back hand. I lost against Eastport-South Manor in our first match, but I won against Rocky Point on Friday.”

Taheny said his team’s challenge this year will be in doubles play, which boasts all new faces.

“We lost six seniors to graduation — I lost my entire doubles squad — but this year they’re new and they’re fresh, and getting better every match,” he said, noting that on the flip side his one through four singles players are returners.

Mount Sinai co-captain Alexandra Suslan said she had too had a tough singles match, but was also pleased by how close it was.

“I lost today, but I played well in the first set,” the senior said. “I was satisfied with my serves and some of my angle shots, but I need to get better at hitting higher over the net.”

With the win Comsewogue improves to 2-0 and will host Middle Country on Wednesday.

Mount Sinai drops to 1-1 in League VI play, but will look for redemption when the Mustangs also take on undefeated Port Jefferson next at home at 3:30 p.m.

By Bill Landon

Smithtown West had a score to settle, as the girls volleyball team opened the season on the road at Newfield, the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. For the Bulls, redemption was sweet as the girls swept the Wolverines in three straight sets Sept. 5, 25-10, 25-22, 25-23.

“We know they’re a tough team, they’re scrappy defensively and they’re not going to give up,” said Smithtown West head coach Deron Brown. “We came out really strong in the first set — we put a big number on the board to start.”

“I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

— Christy Innes

Anchoring the outside hitting game for Smithtown West were senior Peri Allen from the right side and freshman Sally Tietjen from the left.

“Last year — they crushed us in three,” said Allen, who notched 16 digs and eight kills. “So to win today in three proved that we [are capable] of beating them, so it was a big win for us.”

For Tietjen, the scoring was almost reversed, recording 15 kills and eight digs for the formidable scoring duo up front.

The Bulls barreled through the Newfield  in the first set, and despite being ahead 13-6 in the second set, Newfield slowly chipped away at the deficit. As the momentum shifted the Wolverines’ way, with the help of some Smithtown West miscues, Newfield rallied to close the gap to 22-19, forcing Smithtown West to call timeout. Out of the break, the Wolverines scored two unanswered points to trail by one before the Bulls closed the door, 25-22.

Newfield head coach Christy Innes said she anticipated a tough match and said her team had to shake off the first set and focus on playing mistake free the rest of the way.

“[Smithtown West] did very well today — they played a very aggressive game, but we expected that,” the coach said. “I was happy with how we picked ourselves up in the second game. We got aggressive and had good communication out on the court.”

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through. We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard.

Sally Tietjen

The Wolverines once again got off to a slow start to open the third set, falling behind 5-0 before they could answer. Madison Wenzel set to her outside hitters — senior Naomi Ruffalo-Roman and junior Olivia Bond — as the three battled at the net to claw their way back, tying the set 14-14. It was a see-saw battle the rest of the way with Newfield taking its first lead of the day, edging ahead 15-14, but the Bulls rallied back too, to make it a new game at 18-18.

“In that third set I just wanted to make sure we kept pushing through,” Tietjen said. “We fell behind a little bit and this happened to us last year, so we had to really fight through that game, and we pushed hard. We were so determined to beat them after last year, so we didn’t let up.”

The Wolverines scored, but the Bulls answered. An out-of-bounds serve gave the lead back to Newfield for 20-19 advantage, and both teams traded points before Smithtown West scored the final two to win.

Newfield is back on the court Sept. 7 when the team travels to Riverhead for a 4 p.m. match.

“They pulled together,” Innes said. “They got aggressive, had good communication and they played well in the last two games. We’ll be back at practice tomorrow and work on the individual skills stuff for each girl and we’ll focus on cleaning up the technique.”

Smithtown West will host crosstown foe Smithtown East Sept. 7 at 5:45 p.m.

“Our lineup is not really set yet — we’re still trying different kids in different spots — but everybody responded well,” Brown said. “They went out on the court with energy and they stayed positive, even when the match got tight.”

By Bill Landon

Shenendehowa has given the Ward Melville field hockey team a run for its money the last two seasons — outscoring the Patriots by one goal in the state semifinals last season and in double overtime in the state finals the year before. But this season, the Rocky Point field hockey team was first to press its luck with Ward Melville, forcing a shootout that the Patriots pulled away perfect from, 3-0, for the first win of the season.

“Respect to Rocky Point — they are a very aggressive and talented team, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park,” Ward Melville head coach Shannon Sioss said of its nonleague opponent. “In fact, we like to schedule our nonleagues to be competitive games — it helps us see where our weaknesses are and what we need to work on.”

“We have a really experienced senior class and they’ve been down this road the last couple of years, so they’re on a mission right now.”

—Shannon Sioss

Rocky Point was first to find the back of the cage when senior midfielder Madison Sanchez dished the ball to senior forward Emily Molinaro.

The Patriots had to shake off the cobwebs when they found themselves battling a scrappy, in-your-face Eagles squad that caused several turnovers, and Ward Melville senior forward Kerri Thornton was first to break the ice. She evened the score for the Patriots with four minutes left until the halftime break, and rocked the back of the box on another solo with nine minutes left in the game for Ward Melville’s first lead.

“We have a really experienced senior class and they’ve been down this road the last couple of years, so they’re on a mission right now,” Sioss said. “I thought that Shannon Coughlan held the middle of our field today and Kerri Thornton is always up for a good challenge, so it’s fun to watch her play.”

Thornton said her team took the game very serious, knowing Rocky Point’s pedigree.

“I knew that Rocky Point was going to be good because they always battle with Miller Place in the county final,” the senior said. “So I wasn’t coming into this game thinking ‘oh, we’re going to win [this game easily, and as it turned out we had our hands full].”

Ward Melville drew a costly yellow card that led to Rocky Point defender Elizabeth Weiner scoring on a penalty shot to tie the game with four minutes remaining.

“We were right in this game and we deserved to be in this game,” said Rocky Point head coach Katie Bittner. “In the beginning we dominated, we scored first, and I think Ward Melville woke up a little bit, but we also got a little tired.”

“We were right in this game and we deserved to be in this game. “In the beginning we dominated…”

—Katie Bittner

Despite being a player down in the final minute of regulation, the Eagles held their own until the clock expired. Ward Melville, still a man up, tried to take home the win in sudden death overtime, but the Eagles returned to full strength two minutes in without Ward Melville getting a shot off. Rocky Point went down a player yet again in the final four minutes, but neither team could score.

“I don’t think that they played bad or that we got lucky — I honestly think that we were the better team,” Bittner said. “We made some mental mistakes that put us a man down, but when the field is this big, it’s huge that we held our own with our five field players to their six.”

Then came the best-of-five shootout, where Thornton and seniors Lexi Reinhardt and Kate Mulham helped Ward Melville to the 3-0 win, while goalkeeper Meghan Lorenzen guarded the Patriots’ cage to keep Rocky Point off the board.

Ward Melville will host Riverhead Sept. 6 at 4:15 p.m. Rocky Point opens its league season at home Sept. 7, hosting Sayville at 4 p.m.

Despite the loss, Bittner has realistic goals for her team this year.

“I’m not looking for an undefeated season by any means, I’m looking to get us to where [Ward Melville] got last year, which is a state championship,” she said. “And with this group, I know they can do it. This was truly a learning experience.”

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Ward Melville junior running back Nick Troy rushes with the ball during a practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville senior running back Nick Messina breaks free of a tackle during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

The stinging loss in the Suffolk County championship game last fall left an open wound on every member of the Ward Melville football team, and the only effective medicine is redemption.

The 2016 season was history making, as the Patriots won three straight games to propel them to the county title game for the first time in 29 years. Trailing William Floyd by a touchdown, the team marched down the field only to be turned away in the red zone in the final minute of the contest.

“Obviously the kids want to get back there again, and these guys this season think they have something to prove,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “They want to show we didn’t just get there because of last year’s seniors, but that they were a big part of it as well.”

Ward Melville is the No. 5 seed in Division I heading into this season, with William Floyd taking the No. 1 spot. Lindenhurst, Longwood and Connetquot are also in the mix, but Boltrek said the Patriots won’t take any team lightly.

“They have a chip on their shoulder going into this season,” the head coach said of his players. “These kids put in the work in the off-season, they have the mentality that nothing is given to you — you have to go out and earn it every year.”

Ward Melville senior wide receiver Liam Davenport makes a catch during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior defensive end and offensive tackle Jimmy Small said reaching the county title game is something he won’t soon forget, taking that experience and applying it to games this year in the hopes of feeling the intensity and enthusiasm again.

“Me and the rest of the guys from last year — we got a taste of playing in front of all those people, that excitement and the whole town having their focus on us, and that hasn’t happened in a long time for football,” the co-captain said.

He said he thinks his team has the right tools to get back to the championship game and take home the title this time around.

“I think by far our brightest spot is our front seven on defense,” he said. “We have a ton of returning starters, but I think the question mark is our special teams, which was a big part of our game.”

Despite the loss of kick returner John Corpac, Small said the Patriots have two kids even faster than the Stony Brook University commit.

“If everything works out, I think we’ll be even better in that aspect,” he said.

Ward Melville senior quarterback Peyton Capizzi carries the ball during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior running back Nick Messina, a three-year varsity player, reflected on the amount of work that goes into reaching the championship round.

“Just to reach that goal last year — the people coming back know what it takes to get there and it makes us want it so much more,” the co-captain said. “I think we’re strongest on our offensive and defensive line, but we’re going to have to work on our defensive secondary where we have a lot of new players.”

Senior co-captain Thomas Kutchma said to prove to other teams that last season wasn’t a fluke, and show they aren’t out of gas just yet, the Patriots have their goals set even higher this time.

“If we can do what we’re capable of doing we could win a Long Island championship this year,” the guard and defensive tackle said. “We think about that loss every day in practice and we give it 100 percent. We love the sport of football and we want to take advantage of it before it’s over.”

Ward Melville kicks off the season with a 6:30 p.m. home game against Central Islip Sept. 1. The Patriots will travel to Connetquot Sept. 8 for the second game of the year. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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With nine returning starters Kingsmen have eyes set on postseason play

Kings Park goalie Nick VanDuesen sends the ball into play during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Kings Park’s Matt Anderer heads the ball during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Last year Kings Park needed to win the final game of the regular season to make the postseason, but after two overtime periods that left the game resulting in a tie against Hauppauge,  the Kingsmen were held back from making that playoff appearance — by a single point.

But that was then, and the Kings Park boys soccer team has shaken off the stalemate and is looking to make strides toward a better start to the season and not leave a postseason hope hanging in the balance. With nine returning starters, the chance of achieving that goal increases this season.

“We lost seven seniors to graduation, but what’s great is that we have those returning starters, which is tremendous,” Kings Park head coach Bill Hender said. “They all had big minutes last year, and our bench guys are also tremendous and I think they’re much stronger than they were last year, so we have a lot more depth.”

Because of reduced enrollment, Kings Park moved down to League V as a Class A team this season but won’t escape its nemesis because Hauppauge also dropped down in the division standings.

“We’re considered a Class A school now, which is good,” the head coach said. “When we go into the playoffs we won’t go against the Brentwoods, which have four times as many kids as we do, so it’ll be a little bit more fair for us.”

Kings Park’s Eoghan McGovern and James Sicardi fight for possesion during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

He said he’ll be leaning on Eoghan McGovern, Liam Thompson and Matt Anderer to steer the ship, but said he’s hoping junior Connor Brady can contribute some guidance.

“He really turned it on in the second half of last season,” Hender said. “In a game against Eastport-South Manor he scored two goals in a span of about 48 seconds — they were both beautiful shots.”

Thompson, a two-year varsity center back, said he thinks his team has its best chance to pick off Hauppauge this year.

“We’ve always been close with Hauppauge — we’ve always been right there but never actually made it over the hump — we’ve always wanted to beat them,” he said. “I think we have it this year with this team — we have returning guys and we’ve all been best friends forever, so we’re excited.”

Senior center midfielder Robbie Catoir agreed with Thompson in that the Kingsmen’s pros this season could help them get the better of the team who ended their last season early.

“It makes us hungrier,” Catoir said. “We’ll have to work on our communication to start, but Hauppauge is still the team to beat.”

Kings Park’s Eric Escobar catches a pass during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Defensively, the team returns three out of the four core from the back line.

Guarding the net will be starting goalie Nicolas VanDuesen, who didn’t see action last year due to an injury, but is now at full strength.

“I’m most pleased with our defense,” McGovern said. “I think we have to focus on just scoring goals. We’ll see once the games start up if we can finish.”

Hender agreed his team’s defense is a force to be reckoned with, pointing to McGovern as the biggest driving force to back up his claim.

“We have a three-year All-Conference player in Eoghan McGovern, and I think he’s the best center back in the county — he’s that good,” the head coach said. “Other coaches have made comments about how good he is. And Alex Graci is a junior who came in and gave us a lot of minutes in a lot of different positions last year, so he’s looked great throughout training camp this year. He’s really come into his own.”

Kings Park will play a pair of nonleague games, against Wyandanch and Shoreham-Wading River, before its season opener at home against Rocky Point Sept. 6 at 6:30 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

Port Jefferson’s youngest football players practiced alongside the Royals varsity squad Aug. 26 during a camp designed to teach the fundamentals of the game while stressing the do’s and don’ts of safety in the sport.

Royals head coach Andrew Cosci had players break into groups of running backs, receivers, quarterbacks and linemen during the camp for which the idea he said was long overdue.

“I think it’s extremely important to involve the younger players, especially with the way football is being looked at across the nation, along with the NFL, with the emphasis on safety,” he said, also adding the desire to get the younger kids enthusiastic about and interested in the program. “It shows that we’re all in this together. The game is a great game, it teaches a lot of life lessons and you want to share it with the little ones because that’s where a lot of the fear is. When the young kids come up, [they can] see how we teach the athletes the right way to play the game.”

“I think it’s extremely important to involve the younger players … with an emphasis on safety. The game is a great game, it teaches a lot of life lessons and you want to share it with the little ones.”

— Andrew Cosci

For senior wide receiver and strong safety Thomas Mark, practicing with the younger players has been special.

“It’s definitely really important because when I was a kid coming to all the games I looked up to those players,” Mark said of seeing previous varsity athletes. “So to be out here and to see these kids look up to us is really rewarding.”

Port Jeff sixth-grader Shane Wardell said the reason he was at the camp was simple.

“To have fun and to see the varsity team,” he said. “I want to play on varsity some day.”

Senior running back Joey Evangelista echoed Mark’s sentiment, and said he thinks the camp is an important one.

“It shows them what we do up here at this level and it gets them ready for it,” Evangelista said, and then assessed his team’s chances this season. “We have a lot of our backfield coming back, which is awesome. A lot of our line left us last year, but we have some big guys, so I think we can do it.”

Cosci will rely on all 14 of his seniors to set the example for the younger generations and the underclassmen on the team. The hope is to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“From year to year you never know and you always get surprises, but hopefully they’re good surprises,” Cosci said. “We have a couple of holes that we knew we’d have to fill up front because of guys who graduated last year, but every day they’re getting better and they’re working hard and that’s all you can ask of them.”

“I remember when I was that age and we didn’t have a Port Jeff youth program, so it’s nice to be part of … it’s nice to be able to give back to the community and I’m happy that I’m able to be part of it.”

— Jack Collins

The Royals look to improve on the 5-3 conference season from last year, and have a new weapon in their arsenal to get the job done, according to senior quarterback Jack Collins.

“This year we have athletes like we’ve never had before,” the third-year varsity player said. “We have some new kids who are really good outside. We’ve lost some tonnage from last year’s team, so we’re going to have to work on getting the blocks down, but we got players to do it — we have the size to do it.”

Mark said he also likes what he sees in this year’s lineup.

“We have a lot of skill players — our receivers, running backs, quarterback — we’ve got a good bond so far and a lot of really athletic kids, so I’m looking forward to seeing how many big plays they can make,” he said. “But it’s knowing who to block and when, and knowing our schemes.”

Collins reflected on what it means to be involved with the local youth football players in their formative years.

“It’s very important to involve the younger players [because they] are the ones who keep the program going,” he said. “I remember when I was that age and we didn’t have a Port Jeff youth program, so it’s nice to be part of [it]. It’s nice to be able to give back to the community and I’m happy that I’m able to be part of it.”

The Royals will pick up where they left off as they open their season on the road against Miller Place, the team that ended their season in the playoffs last year. The Sept. 8 matchup has a kickoff time slated for 7 p.m.

Cosci said he is optimistic about Port Jefferson’s chances to go further.

“What I like a lot is our skill positions — they’re very dangerous on the football field,” the head coach said. “Even on defense our linebackers and our secondary, we’re very, very strong and as long as we keep going in that direction we’re going to be a dangerous team. Shoreham is the team to beat — we’ve always had a tough time with them, but we’re not just looking to make the playoffs, we’re looking to make some noise when we get there.”

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