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Jay Negus

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Dylan Pallonetti, left, and brother Ryan, right, holding the state championship plaque in 2017. Photo from Kevin Pallonetti

By Desirée Keegan

Trading in their hockey sticks for lacrosse ones changed the lives of Ward Melville’s Pallonetti brothers.

Recent graduate Ryan and soon-to-be senior Dylan were fundamental pieces to a Patriots team that pulled out back-to-back state championship titles the last two seasons.

Dylan and Ryan Pallonetti when they were younger with their father, Kevin. Photo from the Pallonetti family

The success was sweeter for Ryan, a Franklin & Marshall College-bound two-way midfielder, after having his stellar sophomore season cut short and missing all junior year rehabbing from a hair fracture in his hip and a torn meniscus. In his last game in the green and gold, he scored three goals and added an assist in Ward Melville’s dominating 15-2 win over West Genesee in the state finals.

“He works extremely hard — it was his time,” head coach Jay Negus said. “We saw he had that kind of stuff in him all along. Had he not been injured I think we would’ve seen all that that much sooner. But I also don’t think Ryan has reached his full potential. I think he’s ready for the next step, and I think he’s going to flourish in college.”

The injuries also changed Pallonetti’s life forever.

“I was beyond excited to finally be a part of such a great program,” he said of making the varsity team as a sophomore. “Getting injured and having it all be so short-lived sucked, but it motivated me to come back better than I was. The journey it took to get to that point — where hoisting up the championship plaque felt even better than scoring the goals — is irreplaceable. I made sure to stay disciplined with what I had to do to recover properly, and I didn’t let anything get in the way of that.”

At 4 years old he was playing hockey in the driveway with his brother. The pair also played baseball, basketball and football, and said they weren’t into lacrosse after first trying it. But they quickly grew fond of the game’s fast pace and worked well with one another.

Ryan Pallonetti gets pole checked in a 2018 game. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s a competitive game that takes a lot of practice and hard work,” Dylan Pallonetti said. “Ryan and I definitely have a feel for each other on the field. That chemistry developed in the driveway and on the front lawn.”

That competitive side started for the dynamic duo with Ryan growing up as a New York Rangers hockey fan, his younger brother rooting for the Islanders. That spirited side led them to test one another, especially during home games.

“Both are very fast and athletic, have great hands,” Negus said. “That’s very important in lacrosse, and I think that also can be credited to their time playing hockey.”

Ryan Pallonetti will continue to compete out on the ice, hoping to contribute to Franklin & Marshall’s club team. Dylan will be taking to the Ward Melville Patriots Ice Hockey Club team once more before heading to the University of Massachusetts in fall 2019.

The Pallonetti’s father Kevin said he and his wife Michele have been in awe of what their sons have been able to do out on the turf while also balancing their studies and time training.

“They have the confidence to go against these bigger players, and they find success,” he said. “Ryan is more of a warrior getting to ground balls and sets up the plays, always thinking and analyzing before he acts, and Dylan finishes those plays — he’s more free-flowing and just goes for it. They’re able to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.”

Dylan Pallonetti shoots in a 2018 game. Photo by Bill Landon

Dylan is a top scorer. The attack finished second on the team and 14th in the county in points with 53 goals and 21 assists behind Patriots superstar Matt Grillo, who ranked sixth in Suffolk.

“He pushed me to always play my best and his contribution to the team was very important,” Ryan said of his brother. “He has a very quick release with his shot and has a great lacrosse IQ.”

Negus said he’s hoping Dylan, his soon-to-be captain, can steer the ship in the right direction after 21 Patriots were lost to graduation.

“Dylan has been outstanding throughout his career, he’s really stepped up on the offensive side — he makes people around him better, and that’s the sign of a good leader,” Negus said. “And Dylan has never played like he’s been the younger sibling. He steps out on the field and constantly plays bigger than he is.”

Negus said he’s excited to have at least one brother for one more year.

“They’re two brothers that we’ve loved having a part of this program,” the coach said. “They’ve set their mark on it.”

Teammates Dylan Pallonetti, Matt Grillo and Dominic Pryor swarm Eddie Munoz in celebration of one of his three straight goals that put Ward Melville back in the game. Photo from Matt Grillo

It was a special game the Patriots, or anyone who follows the program, won’t soon forget.

Matt Grilllo hoists up the state championship plaque after scoring the game-tying and game-winning goals on his birthday June 10. Photo from Matt Grillo

In a come-from-behind rally, the Ward Melville boys lacrosse team scored six straight goals — five during regulation and one in sudden death overtime — to claim the program’s first Class A state championship title since 2013 with a 10-9 win over Pittsford. In the final minute of regulation, senior Eddie Munoz scored three straight, and Matt Grillo tied it, then scored the game-winner on a solo dodge from behind the cage with one second left in overtime, during the June 10 game at St. John Fisher College.

It was the ninth state title for Ward Melville (20-2), which finished the 2017 season on a 15-game win streak, and the first for head coach Jay Negus, who took over the program when Mike Hoppey retired following the 2013 title. Hall of Fame coach Joe Cuozzo won the first seven.

“We’ve joked around all year long saying we’re the ‘comeback kids’ because we had a great second-half performance in each game we played, but that was a little too close for me,” Negus said, laughing. “We do what we have to do. Eddie [Munoz] is our emotional senior leader and he took over the game, he took over the locker room. He has the ability to rally and lead people to a place you can’t get to yourself. He got us to where we needed to be.”

For Grillo, who was also celebrating his birthday, those last minutes made for a dramatic day with extreme swings of emotion.

“This is the best birthday present I could ask for,” he said. “It went from the worst birthday of my life to the best birthday of my life within 53 seconds.”

Eddie Munoz and Matt Grillo celebrate Ward Melville’s come-from-behind win over PIttsford for the Class A state championship title. Photo from Matt Grillo

Ward Melville was trailing 9-4 with 3:43 left to play when Grillo received a pass from senior Liam Davenport to close the gap. Junior faceoff specialist Michael Giaquinto, who won 19 of 22 faceoffs, won the ensuing battle at the ‘X,” and every one thereafter down the stretch.

“At that point, there was no margin for error,” Giaquinto said. “I knew I had to win them all.”

With 1:01 remaining, after already having a shot saved at the 1:29 mark and following a Patriots timeout call, Munoz began his hat trick streak over a 34.4 second span.

“My teammates made great plays, and I felt, being a captain, that I owed my teammates a service,” Munoz said. “I told them I wasn’t going to let them lose.”

He scored his first goal on a sidearm shot, tallied a man-up goal on a feed from Grillo after a Pittsford slash call with 34 seconds left, and after a Giaquinto faceoff win and pass down the alley, scored his third 7.4 seconds later, to pull the Patriots within one, 9-8.

“The goals were all reacting to the situation,” Munoz said. “It was the heat of the moment and I saw my chances and took them. It feels amazing to pull through for my team, but I give all the credit to my teammates for supporting me all year and for setting up those plays.”

He agreed with his head coach, who said his Patriots never counted themselves out, having preached all season about never giving up, and knowing Ward Melville has always been more of a second-half team.

Matt Grillo hugs his family following the victory. Photo from Matt Grillo

“It was honestly scary, I was a little nervous at first, but we stayed poised, kept our composure and played hard until the final whistle,” Munoz said, “And now we’re champions, so it paid off.”

Giaquinto kept the ball rolling with another faceoff win, and after one errant shot, Grillo got open and converted a pass from senior Andrew Lockhart to tie the game with just eight seconds left.

Lockhart said they were running his play — called “22 Pop” for his jersey number and eventual position shift.

“I popped, they collapsed,” he said. “I dropped it off to Grillo, who of course finished it. It’s something we’ve done all season. But without Mike Giaquinto, we would have lost the game. Faceoffs never get credit, but that kid put the team on his back.”

Early in overtime, after a long Ward Melville possession, goalkeeper Gavin Catalano (11 saves) made a stop on Munoz and the Panthers (19-2) headed the other way. They had a clean look, but Ward Melville’s senior goalkeeper Perry Cassidy made his best and most important save to give Ward Melville the ball one more time. Munoz shot it wide, putting the ball in Grillo’s stick on the restart.

“In the moment, I wasn’t thinking,” Grillo said. “Coach called a play, and I didn’t think there was enough time for it. I saw that there was no slide, and I got to the cage and finished. It was the most amazing moment of my life. So many emotions were running through my mind at that moment. It’s something that I will never forget.”

Ward Melville’s boys lacrosse team scored six striaght goals to pull away witha 10-9 overtime win over Pittsford for the program’s first state championship since 2013. Photo from Matt Grillo

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After outscoring Section I's Lakeland-Panas 16-6, Patriots will take on Section V's Victor

By Bill Landon

Looking at the Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team now, you would never guess that it struggled early in the season.

On Wednesday at Hofstra University, the Patriots scored 16 goals against Section I challenger Lakeland-Panas in the New York State Class A semifinals, to earn them a spot in the championship round Saturday.

“We had our ups and downs this season, which started very quickly,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said following the win. “We knew we weren’t doing what we needed to do to play up to our potential, so we had a meeting and we said we have to start playing Ward Melville lacrosse. And that’s what we did tonight.”

Once again, it was junior attack Eddie Munoz who stole the show, scoring five goals in the 16-6 victory. But he too said things started off a little shaky for the Patriots.

“At the beginning of the year, we had trouble finishing,” he said. “That first game against Smithtown West we took 31 shots and scored just one goal, so there’s no excuse for that.”

This time, the team had no problem lighting up the scoreboard.

The Rebels may have hit the the board first, four minutes into the contest, but the Patriots countered with four unanswered goals with less than four minutes left in the opening quarter to take the 4-1 advantage. Pryor, who led the team with six points off a hat trick and three assists, scored twice during that run, while senior attack Chris Grillo found the net off an assist from senior midfielder Owen McAvoy, and senior defender Sean Thornton stretched the net off a feed from Pryor.

“At the beginning of the season you always have the mindset that you’re going to [make it to] states, but early on we weren’t playing at the level,” Grillo said. “As the season progressed we played better and that hope of making it to states became more of a reality.”

Lakeland-Panas countered with two quick goals in the closing minute to cut the deficit to trail by one, and sophomore midfielder Zach Hobbes opened the scoring in the second quarter with a solo shot before a penalty put the Patriots down a player. Lakeland-Panas cashed in on the man advantage to trail 5-4, but Munoz’s stick spoke next when he split the pipes to take a two-goal lead.

“Eddie Munoz comes out and snipes one left, and he’s worked hard at it, and he’s elevated his game,” Negus said.

From there, the Patriots never looked back.

“Our offense works — especially when you’re dodging, you’re banging around the outside because it gets everyone energized and we spread the scoring around,” Munoz said. “Earlier in the season it was tough to find the back of the net, but this game was the best we’ve played all year.”

A loose ball caused a scrum in front of the Rebels’ goalkeeper, and freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti swatted in the ball for a three-goal lead.

Ward Melville outscored Lakeland-Panas 4-1 in the third quarter. Grillo notched two goals during that spurt for the hat trick, and Pryor added his second before assisting on junior attack Andrew Lockhart’s shot.

Munoz drilled home his hat trick goal early in the final quarter to help the Patriots break out to a 12-5 lead.

“It’s un believable what they’re capable of,” Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus said. “We’re trying new things and it’s working.”

Lakeland-Panas managed one more goal in the game, but the Patriots dominated the final period of play.

Pryor finished with his third goal of the game when he did a spin move just outside the crease and drilled his shot past the keeper, and junior Dylan Krieg scored his first goal of the season with the final goal of the game.

“At the beginning we were forcing some shots and I had to keep telling them ‘it’s not the first thing, it’s the best thing’ and that takes experience and maturity. I’m starting to see that,” Negus said. “They’re buying into the game plan and early in the season we didn’t know our team’s identity. But I’ve seen some flashes of brilliance throughout the playoffs.”

Ward Melville will face Section V’s Victor High School on June 11 at Middletown High School at 4 p.m.

D.J. Kellerman said the Syosset fans kept him entertained all night.

“I don’t even want to repeat it,” he said of what his opponent’s fans were shouting to him while between the pipes. “Everyone was frustrated with me and my defense, our offense and our faceoff guy — we just dominated.”

The Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team held Syosset to its lowest amount of goals in two years, outscoring the team 9-5 for the Patriots’ 17th Class A Long Island championship title on June 4 at Hofstra University.

Kellerman made 11 saves and the defense was smothering, silencing fans quickly as Ward Melville jumped out to a 4-0 lead midway through the second quarter.

“I was dialed in,” Kellerman said. “We pride ourselves on our defense. We elevate our play from each other and that’s why this unit is successful.”

Both teams came out with intensity, but with Ward Melville’s leveled offense, four different players were able to score while Kellerman made three saves before Sysosset got on the board. Kellerman made his final save of the first half with 8.2 seconds left during a man-down situation.

“We wanted to jump out early on them,” said junior midfielder Eddie Munoz, who earned a hat trick. “We got the momentum going and then, when they made defensive stops, it got us a little juiced up and motivated to put some more goals in. Every time they get a little bit of life, you’ve got to take it right back and my teammates found me the open looks.”

Kellerman made another big-time save with seconds left in the third stanza, and Munoz followed it up with scoring seconds into the fourth, off an assist from senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe.

“This is the greatest day of my life right now — I said that on Wednesday when we won counties, but this is 10 times better,” said Grippe, who finished with two goals and two assists. “Each game I come in with an open mind, not thinking about it being my last game, but thinking ‘on to the next one.’”

He too thought his team’s defense, with help from players like Kellerman, John Day, Andrew McKenna and Sean Thornton, were key in the game plan to take the title home.

“These guys lock out every single opponent,” he said, also noting the correlation between the defense and offense’s success. “Once the defense makes the stops, it gets us going and it’s a recipe for success.”

What head coach Jay Negus said is the reason for his Patriots’ triumph, on top of the team’s defensive coach and the boys executing his game plan, is the Patriots’ progress.

“The effort, the heart and the accepting of all of the things we throw at them on a daily basis to rise them to the level they need to be at — to see their growth from the first day of practice to now — they really are peaking at the right time,” he said. “I told the guys we need to absorb [Syosset’s] energy because this is a game of momentum and we need to dig in and then counter attack, and we did a good job of doing that today.”

But as Negus said, and the boys know, it’s back to work until the team takes on Lakeland-Panas in the state semifinals at 8 p.m. on June 8 at Hofstra University.

But Munoz just wanted to bask in the moment a little longer.

“Last year a lot of people said we had a better team, but I feel like this year it’s been more of a team effort, and it feels really good to come back here,” Munoz said. “This is where we belong, and we’re going to be here for a while.”

Patriots defeat Walt Whitman in semifinals, 9-3, to make it back to final round

The game may not have started off the way they wanted, but it sure did end like it.

The No. 4 Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team turned a no-score first-quarter Wednesday into a 4-1 halftime lead, and held No. 8 Walt Whitman scoreless until the final seconds of the game, earning a trip back to the Suffolk County Class AA finals with a 9-3 win.

“We’re really excited,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said. “We worked so hard for this all season and we can’t wait for counties.”

After the first, senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe said his team knew it needed to figure out a way to turn things around.

“The first quarter we didn’t play Ward Melville lacrosse,” he said. “Our coaches keep preaching to us to play a full four quarters and we really came back and put it all together. We were hitting our shots, we were moving the ball, our defense played outstanding, our goalie D.J. Kellerman played a hell of a game and we won the faceoffs.”

Grippe said the coaches made some adjustments to the Patriots’ pre-existing zone plays, which helped them get some open shots and inside looks.

Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus credits his assistant coaches Chris Murphy and Chris Muscarella for the turnaround.

“The defense has been outstanding, the faceoffs have been outstanding — and it’s because of them and the kids buying into what they’re talking about,” he said. “Our offense did a nice job once they started clicking to relieve some of that pressure, but I’m so appreciative of the two assistant coaches I have because they really, on the defensive end of the field, do an outstanding job.”

Junior goalkeeper Kellerman made two saves in the first, and tipped another shot upward to open the second. At the 8:18 mark the Patriots’ opponent finally found the back of the cage for a 1-0 lead.

The Patriots’ intensity was there in the first, but it didn’t match that of the Wildcats. On top of that, dropped passes in the offensive zone and turnovers all over the field deflated the team. But that all changed in the second quarter.

The Patriots pride themselves on their defense, and the boys held it down on that end of the field following the first goal.

At the 4:35 mark, the offense repaid the defense for its hard work, when Grippe fired a shot from 10 yards out to tie the game. He then assisted freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti on his shot from the same position, but on the opposite side of the cage.

“Once we got one, we rallied from there,” Pallonetti said. “I feel like we did a great job riding and clearing. Our defense did great. They stripped the ball a lot, got the ball in the offensive zone and then we did our job.”

At the 1:51 mark, Pryor snagged a rebound off a save in mid-air and buried the ball for a 3-1 lead.

“As soon as we figured out their defense, we started putting in goals and that’s really when we started rolling and knew what we needed to do the rest of the game,” he said.

Junior attack Andrew Lockhart forced a turnover and, on a fast break, fed the ball to Pallonetti in front of the net for what proved to be the game-winner to end the scoring for the first half.

Grippe added two more assists on the night, Pryor scored his second goal and Lockart, Eddie Munoz, Chris Grillo and Zach Hobbes each added a goal. With 33 seconds left, Walt Whitman managed to score back-to-back goals but ran out of time to make a comeback.

“Last year we unfortunately lost in the counties in double overtime, so anything for us to get back to that position is great, and hopefully we’ll come out on top,” Grippe said.

Ward Melville is back in a familiar position, but this time faces a new opponent. Smithtown East topped the Patriots last season, but since the Bulls fell to Connetquot in overtime in the their semifinal game on Wednesday, Ward Melville will instead be facing that team, to whom they lost twice in overtime the last two seasons.

“I definitely think we will have to adjust,” Grippe said. “It’s a revenge game for us. We’re always fired up to play them, they’re a big rival and it should be a good game.”

He said their faceoff player is arguably one of the best in the county, so his team will need to game plan to stop him and limit transitions.

Negus said his team will be prepared for its June 1 matchup at Stony Brook University at 8 p.m. against what will be an athletic, strong opponent.

“We can’t take them lightly, and we’ll be ready,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of depth, but we’re watching them on film and we’ll continue to look for their tendencies. We have some tricks up our sleeve. As a No. 4 seed a lot of people were looking past us and when we execute on both sides of the ball we can be a very dangerous team.”

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