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Comsewogue

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Cameron McNicol fires at the cage during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

One week into practice, head coach Pete Mitchell is liking what he’s seeing from his Warriors, showing the depth he hopes can carry Comseowgue into the postseason.

Seniors Richia Lacalandra on offense and Zach Gagnon on defense have filled the shoes left by Will Snelders and Ryan Dorney, and junior Thomas Heller will remain between the pipes this year.

Tom Heller makes a save during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

“This year, there’s a lot of competition,” Mitchell said, noting that he puts a lot of faith in his mostly-returning offensive unit and new faceoff taker Cameron MacNicol.

“He’s very good,” Mitchell said of MacNicol. “[We have] a good mix. We’ll be a lot deeper — we have a lot more kids — and I think that was one of our faults last year.”

Even as snow puts practice indoors, Lacalandra said the team is working hard.

“Coach is getting us there — we’re running every day, we’re getting bigger, stronger, faster; that’s key,” the Stony Brook University-bound four-year varsity player said. “As that happens, the play will come. The team has chemistry, and [I believe] we’ll get it done this year.”

Last year, Mitchell said few people expected the Warriors to make the postseason with a 7-9 record, let alone battle Eastport-South Manor in the Suffolk County Class B semifinal round. He thinks with his stronger defensive unit, especially with the blocking skills of his midfielders, the Warriors’ chances are that much higher.

“I have probably two of the best defensive middies that I’ve ever had in Reno Molina and John Felice, who is actually my backup goalie — he’s one of the fastest human beings I’ve ever seen,” said the coach adding junior Sean Kennedy will be another to watch.

Chris Spahr clears the ball during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Gagnon said it’s been tough to be stuck in the gym, but said the team is focused on facing Kings Park in the first game of the season March 27.

“[We’ve] got a lot of young kids, a lot of talented kids who push each other hard,” he said. “We just have to stay after it, keep our eyes on the prize. We need to be smooth, clean things up a little bit [because] some things are still a little sloppy, we have to start talking more, but besides that I think we look good.”

Heller, a University at Albany-commit, said his team will never settle with where it’s at until hoisting up a championship trophy.

“Everyone’s hustling — we’ve got a solid offense, we’re moving the ball well on defense and [creating those passing lanes],” he said, adding he sees Half Hollow Hills West being stiff competition, but likes Comsewogue’s chances. “I think we’ll beat them.”

Mitchell said he’s pleased with the dedication he’s seen so far, and seeing his team not take any practice lightly will provide good results out on the field.

“Everybody’s on their ‘A’ game,” Mitchell said. “We’ll be prepared [for that first game]. These kids know what Comsewogue lacrosse means to the school and to this community. When you play Comsewogue you know you’re going to play a lacrosse game.”

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Alan Dylan Smith reaches for the rim over the block. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Comsewogue’s 10 shots from beyond the arc accounted for almost half of the boys basketball team’s total points in a must-win game against West Babylon Feb. 2. The 71-53 victory puts the Warriors one win away from making the postseason.

Patrick Billings battles in the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

Despite the scoring frenzy, with six 3-pointers scored in the first half, three from senior Tom McGuire alone, that wasn’t what impressed head coach Joel Sutherland the most.

“It was our intensity on the defensive end,” he said. “Honestly, that’s the best defensive effort we’ve had all season.”

From opening tipoff West Babylon faced surmounting pressure, struggling to clear the ball which led to minimal looks at the basket. After the first eight minutes, the Warriors had already taken a commanding 26-9 lead.

“We definitely prepped for them more than last time — this time we worked on our 1-3-1 [defense] and stopping them at half court,” McGuire said. “The coaches really got us ready and it showed.”

McGuire made his fourth and fifth 3-pointers in the third quarter, ending the eight minutes with eight of his game-high 19 points. Pat Billings, who scored five points in the third, finished with a double-double on 12 points and 21 rebounds. He said the pressure has been difficult to manage, but his Warriors are motivated, and are ready to battle it out Feb. 8 at home against Half Hollow Hills West. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:45 p.m.

“It’s just coming down to the wire — we need to win two games and that was in our minds because we don’t want our season to end,” Billings said. “We’ll game plan, we’ll look at some film to see what they do best.”

Dylan Morris Gray lays up for two. Photo by Bill Landon

Comsewogue senior Rob Orzelowski, who scored 10 of his 13 points in the second quarter, went 5-for-6 from the charity stripe. He said he hopes his team can come into Thursday with the same preparedness so that he can keep playing with his Warriors.

“We were practicing a lot for this — we went over a lot of defenses and offenses, we were switching things up and it worked out today,” Orzelowski said. “We had chemistry, and the shots were falling tonight.”

Comsewogue improves to 10-9 overall and 5-6 in League IV. Half Hollow Hills West sits right above the Warriors in the standings at 7-4, with a 14-5 overall mark.

“We’ve got a tough one on Thursday, so we’re going to prepare for it,” Sutherland said. “[My team] executed in the half-court sets, the guys were rotating and playing together, they shared the ball offensively, it was a joy to see and it was just a total team win. [We have another winnable game ahead of us], and we’re going to come out and throw everything we have at them, and let the chips fall where they will.”

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Gabby Griffin. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Comsewogue’s girls track and field team’s abilities are regardless of age.

Senior Gabby Griffin, junior Brianna Quartararo and sophomore Daniella Barchi took home a combined five medals for the Warriors Jan. 28 at the Jim Howard Memorial Meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.

Griffin, who took home three, finished third in the 600-meter run and fourth in the 300 and 55 dash. Quartararo placed second in the 600 and Barchi took the top spot in the small school 1,500 race-walk. She broke her own record by three tenths of a second.

Daniella Barchi. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“A lot of the girls did very well,” said Comsewogue Assistant Coach Mike Denimarck, who filled in for head coach Matt Brown. “Overall, it’s a very positive meet. I think the girls feel real good about themselves.”

Barchi said despite walking fast for nearly eight minutes, her legs felt fine. She completed the distance in 7 minutes, 57.18 seconds.

“Great competition,” she said. “My legs feel good and they feel better than when I started the race.”

Quartararo sets the bar high for herself. She’s broken four records — in the 600, 4×400, 4×800 and sprint medley relay.

“It was a tough day,” she said. “In the 600, I ran against the two fastest girls in the county and I stuck with them.”

Griffin and Quartararo are two of the four girls who shattered the sprint medley record by 11 seconds earlier this season, with a time of 4:25. The other two runners were Alexa Murray and Cara Pouletsos. Pouletsos did not compete in Brentwood due to a torn labrum.

Griffin, who placed in each event she competed in, said crowd for Comsewogue gets loud every each time a runner makes a lap, which gives each runner a boost.

Brianna Quartararo. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“The intensity is really high,” she said. “We’re a really close team, so cheering for our teammates is a big part of everyone running well. It gets really loud in here.”

Griffin’s goal in her final season is to make it to the sate competition, indoor or outdoor, before she graduates. She’s never made it to that level, hoping to change that.

“We’ll see about my seed time if I can make it in there, but I’m definitely looking at running in college,” she said. “It is bittersweet that my high school career is ending, but I’m excited for my college career.”

Comsewogue junior Mya Darsan placed 22nd in the 1,500 and 13th in the 3,000 meter run. She was frustrated with her 12:34.16 time in the latter.

“I really wanted to break 12 minutes,” Darsan said. “It just wasn’t my day I guess. I’ll try better next time.”

Five other girls placed in the 600 for Comsewogue. Sophomore Sabrina Donoghue finished fifth, sophomore Sara Peterson 23rd, junior Brittany Savage 26th, classmate Jissel Colindres 27th and junior Gabrielle Savage 29th.

Sophomore Ejim Nnate placed 11th in the 55 dash for small schools, and junior Alexa Murray placed 24th. Nnante also placed sixth in the triple jump.

Denimarck said the races are preparation for the county meet back in Brentwood Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.

“The girls are working hard,” he said. “They’re also in multiple races, so that’s affecting them too. We are really trying to get them ready for next week at the county meet and then get to the state qualifiers.”

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Hannah Manetta. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The Warriors came up short against the cream of the crop for the second time this season, as the No. 2 Comsewogue girls bowling team fell to No.1 East Islip, 3-0. The Redmen clinched the conference title and improve to 9-0 in League III.

“They’re a great team,” Comsewogue 12-year head coach Bo Frimmer said, noting East Islip’s 11 county titles. “They’ve won states before. We are trying to get to that point. This is always who we try to beat every year. Coming into the match, we thought had a shot, and we did. We just didn’t close.”

Colleen McInerney. Photo by Jim Ferchland

The Redmen won each game by over 100 pins, with two bowlers exceeding 225 during the games. Junior Julianna Spina recorded a 256, and classmate Jenny Murphy scored 226 as East Islip took the games 1,043-935; 1,074-939; and 1,028-921.

“They work really, really hard,” East Islip head coach Harold Cooley said of his athletes. “They bowl all year round. They do what’s necessary to maintain where they are.”

Junior All-State bowler Hannah Manetta finished for the Warriors with 227 in Game 1, starting off the match with five strikes, a 234 in Game 2 and 246 in Game 3. Her consistent improvement led her to finish with the highest total score, a 707.

“Hannah bowled great,” Frimmer said. “Her goal for the year is to make the state team, which she did last year. She’s right on the cusp right now, so a day like today really helped her. It was a very important day for her.”

Senior Alex Gallo scored 202 in Game 1, 195 in Game 2 and 175 in Game 3. Sophomore Colleen McInerney bowled a 163, 153 and 163. Before the match, her average was a 177.

Alex Gallo. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“With East Islip, you’ve got to focus on making your spares,” McInerney said. “You have to put your head in the game more. Usually, when we bowl, we’re having more fun, but with East Islip, it becomes real serious.”

While the Comsewogue girls were struggling in the first two games, Frimmer spoke to his team about making the spare opportunities count, saying they can’t miss them in key situations.

“It’s the game of bowling,” Frimmer said. “You’re going to make your runs with your strikes, and if you don’t make your spares, it’s gonna kill your score.”

East Islip has been league champion since 2014. Two years ago, Comsewogue fell to East Islip by just three pins.

“We don’t usually beat them,” Manetta said. “We always come in second place in our league. I wasn’t expecting it to be easy. I wanted to show them that we are second in the league and we weren’t going down without a fight.”

Coming off a loss, Comsewogue has one more match before counties, and Gallo isn’t worried one bit. The Warriors traveled to Islip Jan. 17, but results were not available by press time.

“I have full confidence,” Gallo said. “I have no doubt in my team. If you feel confident, that’s the only way you’re gonna win.”

Comsewogue head coach Bo Frimmer explains to his team the importance of making spares against East Islip. Photo by Jim Ferchland

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Behind the relentless play of senior Patrick Billings and sophomore Jaden Martinez, the Comsewogue boys basketball team cruised to an 86-38 nonleague win over cross-town rival Port Jefferson Dec. 11. The Warriors duo shared a game-high 18 points and combined for 22 rebounds in the win.

“It took them a little bit of time to dig in, but once we got going we showed what we’re capable of,” Comsewogue head coach Joel Sutherland said. “We always try to dictate tempo — play at our pace — and I felt in the second quarter we gave up some dribble-drives and some kick-outs and started to fall short of what we wanted to do. We made some adjustments at halftime and came out and played our game.”

Billings scored 10 of his 18 points in the first quarter alone, as Comsewogue jumped out to a 26-13 advantage after eight minutes. Despite the slow second, the Warriors turned a 37-27 halftime lead into a 68-35 difference at the end of three quarters of play.

“We were passing the ball very well,” Billings said. “We came out of halftime ready to play ball. Defense is our top priority, and this is how we have to play every time. We talked each other up, brought up the energy and trusted each other.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Martinez, senior Dylan Morris Gray and eighth-grader Aaron Talbert disrupted the Royals’ offense, deflecting and stealing several passes. Upon gaining possession, the trio jump-started the Warriors’ fast break offense, knowing when to keep it, or who to dish it off to. Martinez, who finished with five assists and six steals, connected with Billings under the net for a few easy buckets.

“I feel comfortable out there,” said Martinez, who scored 11 points in the monster third quarter and had three 3-pointers in the win. “Our half-court traps, our defense helped us put it all together today.”

Senior Alan Dylan Smith scored 12 points, classmate Tom McGuire tacked on 11 and freshman Liam Gray caught fire in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes of the game on two threes and a perfect 4-for-4 finish from the free-throw line. Talbert came off the bench to add eight points in the win. Port Jefferson junior Grant Calendrille finished with a team-high 10 points. Comsewogue ended nonleague play at 4-2 while Port Jefferson fell to 2-3.

With Comsewogue moving up a league this year, Sutherland said he doesn’t see it as a problem. He expects his team to compete.

“I know what we’re capable of — it’s a matter of putting it together for a full 32 minutes,” he said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but as soon as they understand that when they play together there aren’t many teams as talented, we’ll be a dangerous one.”

The Warriors are back in action Dec. 19 hosting Bellport in the first League IV game of the season. Tipoff is scheduled for 5:45 p.m.

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Running back Richie LaCalandra scores a touchdown. Photo by Alex Petroski

Despite some tense moments late in the game, a fast start, a huge play on a fourth-and-25, and a key second-half touchdown drive propelled the Comsewogue football team to a victory in its homecoming matchup against Hauppauge Oct. 21. The Warriors move to 3-5 with the 28-21 win, which head coach Sean Tremblay called his team’s most complete performance of the season.

Quarterback Jaden Martinez throws a deep ball. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It was the first time we started and finished a game all year,” Tremblay said after the win.

Presumably riding the adrenaline rush that comes with playing in front of a packed out, electric homecoming crowd, the Warriors jumped out ahead of the Eagles (0-6) in the first half.

Junior running back Reno Molina found the end zone in the first quarter to put Comsewogue up 7-0. The Warriors took to the ground early and often, producing more than 300 yards rushing on the afternoon, though one big pass play might have been the key to the win.

On a third-and-17 from the Hauppauge 22-yard line early in the second quarter, running right on an option play, sophomore quarterback Jaden Martinez kept the ball and eluded several Eagles on his way to what he thought was a score to put his team up two touchdowns. A holding penalty backed Comsewogue up and wiped the touchdown off the scoreboard, and on fourth-and-25 from the Hauppauge 30-yard line, the Warriors went to the air.

“I had seen something in coverage and I knew [Richie LaCalandra] was going to be open — we just needed to protect it and we did, and Richie got in,” Tremblay said of the play, which he called a momentum changer. He said he never considered attempting a long field goal or punting on the fourth-down play.

Richie LaCalandra celebrates after a touchdown. Photo by Alex Petroski

Martinez took the shotgun snap and rolled to his left, uncorking a perfect pass to the wide open senior LaCalandra running a corner route, who made the catch and skipped into the end zone to put the Warriors up 14-0. The play accounted for all of Martinez’s yardage through the air for the game.

“Richie’s just a great athlete,” the quarterback said of his running back. “He got himself open and I rolled out of the pocket, and he was just wide open.”

LaCalandra had 90 yards rushing and a touchdown to go along with two catches for 30 yards and the fourth-down score through the air. His rushing touchdown came on a reverse handoff from the Eagles’ 21-yard line in the final minute of the second quarter, as LaCalandra made a few Eagles’ defenders miss on his way to the goal line, where he lunged in despite having his helmet ripped off.

“We came out and worked hard in practice this week, and it all paid off when it came to the game,” he said.

Reno Molina celebrates in the background as Richie LaCalandra scampers into the end zone. Photo by Alex Petroski

The Warriors took a 21-0 lead into halftime, but a strong third quarter from the Hauppauge offense and two Warriors’ fumbles left the door open for a comeback.

“Defensively they were throwing the ball underneath our coverage,” Tremblay said of Hauppauge’s effective third quarter on offense. “We were so worried about them throwing the ball vertically that at times we were bailing just a little bit too much.”

With less than a minute remaining in the third, Comsewogue got the ball back up 21-14, and with junior quarterback Tom Tommaso under center, the Warriors engineered a drive that ended in a 6-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Mike McGuire to put his team up 28-14.

“After we scored and made it 28, that kind of regenerated our fight,” Tremblay said of the key second-half drive. Molina intercepted a pass with seven minutes remaining in the fourth in Comsewogue territory to ice the game for the Warriors.

Comsewogue’s two turnovers were the fewest the team has had in any game this season, according to the head coach. He said it shouldn’t be a surprise that it led to a win.

The Warriors will be back in action Oct. 27 at East Islip for the final game of the season. Opening kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

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By Bill Landon

Comsewogue senior Hannah Dorney recalled the first time her field hockey team played Bay Shore, losing a close 2-1 game back on Sept. 13.

“We went into the game today thinking about last time, and just how devastating that loss was,” Dorney said. “It was a long bus ride home, and [the whole time] you’re thinking, ‘What could we have done better?’”

This time, the No. 9-seeded Warriors had the offense to support a solid defense, to pull away with a 3-2 win over No. 8 Bay Shore in the first round of the Class A playoffs Oct. 17.

Sophomore Kayleigh Mimnaugh had two goals in the win, scoring first on a flick pass from junior Sophia Azzara and the game-winner on a player-down opportunity and a feed from senior Gabriella Ventura.

With the teams tied 1-1 heading into halftime after her first tally, she said a pep talk from head coach Jacqueline Wilkom got her juices flowing.

“Our halftime speech from the coach really pumped us up, and I think that we just worked harder overall in that second half,” Mimnaugh said. “We played well defensively.”

Dorney took working harder to heart, and opened the second half with a takeaway, outrunning defenders behind her as she carried the ball from the 35-yard line to the front of the cage for a solo shot and a 2-1 advantage.

Comsewogue had trouble capitalizing on its opportunities though, as Bay Shore committed six fouls in the striking circle, leading to six consecutive penalty corner shots from which the Warriors came away empty.

Being a player down for a majority of the second half — 20 minutes — defense was the name of the game for Comsewogue, but Bay Shore finally broke through, retying the game with 15:38 left to play.

Azzara said she was somewhat surprised with how her team weathered the storm in the second half.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we’d come out here and do this well against them,” she said. “But I knew we had it in us — we work really well together and we’re very close, so I think that helped us.”

Comsewogue, on a five-game winning streak, improves to 12-3 and advances to face No. 1 undefeated Ward Melville on the road Friday, Oct. 20 at 2:30 p.m.

“We have a talented group of girls — they’re fantastic athletes, and it’s just a matter of them coming out and giving it all that they have,” Wilkom said. “And so long as we play our game, I don’t think that there’s any team we can’t beat.”

For the Warriors, this bus ride home will be different.

Much of the Port Jefferson Station community, and all of the Comsewogue Public Library’s past director’s were on hand Saturday for a day of celebration to commemorate the facility’s golden anniversary.

As part of the event, the library’s community room was dedicated to its first director, Richard Lusak, who served in that position from 1966 to 2002. In its 50-year history, the Comsewogue Public Library has had just three directors. The 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 14 also featured games, a bounce house, farm animals, crafts, giveaways, snacks, face-painting, balloon animals, music, a historical society photo gallery and tour and a new gallery exhibit.

“The program says ‘celebrating our past, present and future,’ so that’s what we’re doing all in one day, with the community,” the third, and current Director Debra Engelhardt said during the event. “We thought of it as a community thank you for the ongoing support that we’ve had since day one, across all three administrations.”

Engelhardt’s predecessor, Brandon Pantorno, who served at the helm of the library from 2003 through 2012 and is a Port Jefferson Station native, is a lifetime member of what they each referred to as the library family, as they all worked in several different capacities in the library’s hierarchy before becoming director.

“I remember when Blockbuster video came into the neighborhood right on Route 112 in Port Jefferson Station and people would say ‘videos, they’re going to be the end to libraries,’” he said. “Well, libraries started circulating videos in addition to books, in addition to library coordinated programs, and guess what? Blockbuster video is no longer here, but Comsewogue library and other libraries — the library world — is still stronger than ever. We have evolved; we have very cleverly metamorphosed into different things for so many people.”

Lusak was brought on to lead the library in its infancy in 1966 by its board of trustees at the time. During the summer of 1966, the Comsewogue School District board of education petitioned the community in 1966 to schedule a vote, in which five trustees would be elected and establish a budget of about $68,000. In November 1966, Lusak was hired, and the library’s original grounds were established in a portable classroom at the southern end of Terryville Road, which still exists today. By November 1967, the community overwhelmingly voted in support of funding the building of a 16,000-square-foot facility at 170 Terryville Road, where the library remains today, though it has grown exponentially over the years.

Lusak said he was honored and humbled to have the community meeting room dedicated in his honor.

“I think the community decides whether or not we did a good job,” he said. “I can say this: the community has always been supportive of the library. The board of trustees here has always been dedicated to this institution — totally dedicated.”

The library’s first director tried to sum up what his time at the community institution meant to him.

“The people just love this library for the community, and I take a tremendous amount of pride in being associated with that,” said Lusak, who is still a resident of Port Jefferson. “It made my life a pleasure.”

Lusak’s wife Rosalie also attended the ceremony to celebrate her husband’s lifelong work.

“It was never a job to him, it was just his passion,” she said. “It’s very, very moving that something would be dedicated to him and I’m glad he got to see it.”

The Cumsewogue Historical Society was on hand during the event to share stories of the library’s history. Historical society Vice President Joan Nickeson said the very first library card issued in 1967 was to Thomas E. Terry, the grandson of Edward Terry, who was one of the Terry brothers who founded Terryville.

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Mairead Micheline moves the ball into the circle amid a pack of defenders. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

For Paloma Blatter, confirmation counts.

Paloma Blatter dribbles the ball up the field. Photo by Desirée Keegan

With seven minutes remaining in a 0-0 game against Patchogue-Medford, the Comsewogue field hockey sophomore scored on a scrum in front of the cage to win it, in an away game for the Warriors Sept. 26.

“It felt great personally to know you won it for your team, but getting the pats on the back from your teammates is the best approval you could ever get,” the midfielder said. “There’s nothing more important than putting it all on the line for your team.”

Comsewogue had some chances in the first half, but the team came up empty on several corner attempts. Sophomore defender Olivia Fantigrossi said the team is working on that aspect of its game but is still struggling with communication and obstruction calls. She said she was impressed though with her team’s grit.

“Going into the circle we have hard hits and good accuracy,” she said. “I think we were also successful blocking hits and sending them off the sideline to prevent the other team from getting a goal.”

Comsewogue head coach Jacqueline Wilkom said Fantigrossi flies all over the field when needed.

“She was out on every ball,” she said.

Her captain, senior midfielder Hannah Dorney, also wowed the coach.

Hannah Dorney battles for the ball at midfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Hannah Dorney is a great athlete and really helped with leading the field,” Wilkom said. “She led the pep talk at halftime and they came out with a lot more intensity and they wanted to play.”

After losing nine seniors and the entire defensive unit to graduation after last season, Dorney said she too likes what she’s seeing from the young squad.

“We passed a lot better than we usually do,” she said. “We tend to get caught dribbling from one end of the field to the other, but today we worked the ball around more and from one side of the field to the other. We talked more in the second half, looked up, saw the options and we had the opportunities, we just weren’t finishing. We can’t let the ball slip past us as much.”

Wilkom said the team works hard and puts in the effort to improve. She said the girls are frequently seen dancing around the locker room before games, but she just hopes that energy can carry onto the field.

Olivia Fantigrossi gets in front to steal a Patchogue-Medford pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They pump each other up and they want to play,” she said. “And I think that’s important. They want to be a team to be reckoned with and our motto ‘surrender the me for the we’ will help us do that. We need all 11 players working together as a unit to get that win.”

Blatter said she agreed that motivation needs to be there from whistle to whistle.

“We always find a way to come together as a team, even in our losses,” she said. “We’re always together and lifting each other up, especially this season, but we need to work on stepping onto the field and putting everything in it from the minute the timer starts to the minute it ends. If we can come out like we know we can in the beginning we’ll be a tough team to beat this year.”

Wilkom said the rise in the standings has added extra incentive — especially after going from a 3-11 team last year, to now currently boasting a 7-2 Division I record.

“We went from being in the 20s to fifth in the standings,” she said. “That’s a big deal for us — to be a team that people want to come out and beat.”

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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.”

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