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Jillian Colucci

The Port Jefferson girls' basketball team experiences the thrill of winning the school's first-ever Class C Long Island championship title. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

A special class of seniors is leaving behind an unprecedented run of success at Port Jefferson High School.

Jackie Brown, Courtney Lewis, Jillian Colucci, Brian Mark and Corinne Scannell are just some of the athletes that have helped put the school back on the map in a variety of sports over their respective high school careers.

Jackie Brown. File photo by Bill Landon

“These seniors would be starting players at larger schools and on larger teams,” Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said. “They’re just great athletic talents in their sports regardless of the size of a school. They’d play anywhere.”

Brown, who played field hockey, softball and basketball at Port Jeff, is committed to play field hockey at Adelphi University. She was All-Conference as a freshman, All-County as a sophomore, and All-State and All-Tournament as well as a captain her junior and senior seasons. She helped lead the Royals to the county finals in 2016, and graduated as Long Island’s all-time leading scorer in field hockey. She was also a four-time New York State Public High School Athletic Association scholar athlete in all three sports.

“Most of us seniors are two-sport or three-sport athletes, which makes us so diverse,” Brown said. “We all use skills from one sport to be successful in another. I, for instance, use my field hockey vision to better see the basketball court. We’re also passionate, and give 100 percent and work hard.”

Lewis reached the 2,000 career point plateau last basketball season, and led the team to Suffolk County and Long Island titles, as well as the program’s first regional win and state finals appearance. She became the 22nd player in Suffolk County girls’ basketball history to reach the career milestone. She will be playing for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this winter.

Courtney Lewis. File photo by Bill Landon

Colucci was a standout soccer player, and also competed on the basketball team. She led Long Island in goals scored her junior year and propelled the soccer team to the state finals the last three years. The Royals brought home back-to-back Class C state championships in 2015 and 2016. She also holds the record at Port Jefferson for career goals (105) and assists (62). She will be taking her talents to Marist College this fall.

“There is nothing better than finding success in doing something you love,” Colucci said. “The best part is that it was all so unexpected. It felt really special to bring attention to the school, and the community supported us every step of the way.”

She said while she was always humbled by the attention, at times she felt embarrassed, because to her, it was about the team.

“We all experienced success because we’re all talented athletes with the same drive and passion,” she said. “Since Port Jeff is so small, we’re not just teammates, we’re friends.”

Her brothers, parents, aunts and uncles were all Royals, and Colucci said she’s proud to be able to carry on their legacy.

Mark, another three-sport standout — in football, lacrosse and basketball — helped each of his teams reach new heights. Despite the lacrosse program being just three years old, it’s made the playoffs every year, and the football team achieved its best record in the last six years during his senior season.

Jillian Colucci. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“While the program still isn’t on the same level as some of the other top schools, I’m confident that the program is heading in the right direction,” he said, reinforcing the fact that the bond and community support played a big part in the rise. “Our group of seniors — both boys and girls — has always been really ambitious in the goals we’ve set for ourselves athletically.”

Turner saw it, too.

“He was constantly putting himself out there, he was always in the wight room and going above and beyond to do something to improve his game,” she said.

Mark said he hopes he and the other seniors made an impact on the younger generations of athletes.

“I know that a lot of us took pride in representing our school well and providing a good example for the younger kids in our community,” he said. “We know that we were once those kids and remember how we idolized the varsity players so seeing younger kids in the stands watching us always gave us a little extra motivation.”

Brian Mark. File photo by Bill Landon

Scannell, who is headed to Wake Forest University in North Carolina, has not committed to playing a sport. She was a defender for the state championship-winning soccer team and helped the basketball squad to the state finals. Her family was also instrumental in paving the way for the first varsity lacrosse team. After several failed attempts to launch a program at Port Jeff, the team competed for the first time this year, narrowly missing the playoffs by one win.

“My dad was a big proponent — it started in my backyard,” she said of her dad who coached youth lacrosse. “The fact that we can pave the way, it’s nice we can give others the opportunity to play. They can color in the lines we drew this season.”

Turner lauded the athletes not only for their skills, but also because “they’re just great kids.”

“They have such good values and I think those values they hold are what make them great athletes,” Turner said. “They come from great families, they’re committed, they put the team first, they’re always willing to sacrifice, they’re dedicated, and that’s in all facets of their life.”

One instance in particular Turner recalled was when the girls’ basketball team was upstate competing for the state championship. She said, although Scannell didn’t want everyone to know about it, if the team had lost in the semifinals, the 2017 class president was going to travel home to compete in a half marathon to raise funds for children with cancer on the day of the finals. She was frequently caught with Brown, the vice president, hosting bake sales or raising money for a charity or school event.

Corinne Scannell. File photo by Andrew Wakefield

The athletic director said Colucci was always in her office asking how she could earn more community service hours. Colucci won the Butch Dellecave award for her dedication to athletics and academics, coupled with completing 160 hours of community service. Mark won the Golden Eleven Award, which is presented to the top 11 academic scholars in Suffolk County, and the LaBue Award, which is presented to the top scholar-athlete is Suffolk County football.

“They put everybody else before themselves, they’re all going to great schools, and they’re mature, great kids,” Turner said. “And most of all, they grew with the kids in their class. They learned from each other and acted as role models to each other. Those values and bonds became stronger, and there’s nothing I would change about them. I feel I got so lucky to step in when I did [as athletic director] even just to know these kids.”

Scannell said she agreed the bond the girls created playing together for so long was crucial to achieving every milestone.

“Playing together at such a young age, especially with soccer, we knew how someone was going to touch the ball, who was going to send a long ball, when someone would pass, and it’s not just knowing the soccer or basketball style, but knowing each other’s personality and how their thinking goes,” she said. “It takes a history to understand. Our relationships made it so strong, but we all also wanted it. As long as you love what you’re doing that’s the most important thing.”

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The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team following its Class C state semifinal win over South Seneca. Photo by Danielle Turner

Despite coming up just short of their ultimate goal, the 2016-17 Port Jefferson girls’ basketball season won’t soon be forgotten.

It wasn’t securing the final win that mattered. As the dust settled after Watkins Glen scored a buzzer-beating layup to edge out the Royals, 65-63, in the Class C state finals, the legacy the five senior starters will leave behind and their incredible run, will remain on everyone’s mind.

Every win since the Royals’ 46-43 nail-biter over Pierson-Bridgehampton has been historic. With that victory, Port Jefferson brought home the first Suffolk County championship crown in 90 years. The team then outscored East Rockaway, 67-49, for the Long Island title in school history. The Royals have continued to improve on a 6-9 2013-14 record over the last three seasons, but made a giant leap this year. Port Jefferson won a regional title in the school’s first appearance in the state tournament March 9 and followed it up with a state semifinal victory March 18, to reach the finals.

The Royals were coming off a high heading into the state finals matchup March 19 against Watkins Glen. Port Jefferson had crushed South Seneca 71-53, which senior standout Courtney Lewis said was a big boost of confidence for the team.

“We had never played a team outside of Suffolk before this season, and I think winning by such a large margin on Saturday made us realize we could win,” she said. “We belonged upstate.”

After scoring 31 points in the semifinal game, Lewis tallied 11 of the team’s 15 first-quarter points to help the Royals to a 15-10 lead in the finals. By halftime, the advantage diminished just slightly, to 29-24, with the 2,000-point scorer adding five more points.

“I felt great going into the game,” she said. “I really felt like I could attack their man defense and our offensive plays worked well.”

Freshman Sam Ayotte filled in for Lewis in the third when she was in foul trouble, and she and senior Corinne Scannell came up big in Lewis’ absence. Ayotte capped off a 20-4 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner, extending Port Jefferson’s lead to 53-37 entering the fourth. She scored 12 points in the game, and Scannell added 11.

“Corinne Scannell was making her layups and foul shots, and freshman Sam Ayotte stepped up her game and was driving to the basket,” senior Jackie Brown said. “It gave us the energy we needed.”

But that energy came to a sudden halt, as Watkins Glen’s 28-10 fourth quarter was the difference.

“Our defense was most intense in the third quarter, and our foul situation really hurt us in the fourth,” Lewis said.

She returned to action 50 seconds into the fourth quarter with her team leading 56-42. By the 1:24 mark, Watkins Glen had pulled within two. Watkins Glen added a free throw, but senior Jillian Colucci hit one of two free-throw attempts with 33.1 seconds left to push the lead back to two points, 63-61. With 13.7 seconds on the clock, the game was tied 63-63. Port Jefferson had the ball but couldn’t take the lead. Watkins Glen gained control and Hannah Morse hit a layup at the buzzer, ending the Royals’ 20-5 season just short of a state championship.

“I feel great knowing that even though we didn’t win, we still will go down in history at our high school,” said Lewis, who knocked down a game-high 23 points. “Basketball has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and just playing with these girls and getting this far in the playoffs is the best way I could have imagined ending my high school career.”

Lewis, who first started on the team as a seventh-grader, was part of three losing season before the Royals started experiencing success.

“Playing on the team since seventh grade has been such a positive influence in my life, and a shaping one, too,” she said. “Basketball means so much to me and playing for Port Jeff was nothing short of a perfect experience, especially my senior season.”

Brown reflected on her time with her teammates.

The Royals game plan before the start of the fourth quarter in the state finals matchup against Watkins Glen. Photo by Danielle Turner

Senior Gillian Kenah is a threat on the boards, Brown said, always below the basket to “clean up the trash,” grab rebounds and score putbacks. Brown said Scannell’s bubbly spirit and positive attitude puts a smile on everyone on the team. The All-Tournament basketball selectee and recipient of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Award has a strong shot from all over the court.

Colucci, an All-Long Island and All-State soccer player who was named Suffolk County Player of the Year is quick on her feet, with a determination to win that, according to Brown, gets the girls fired up.

“She’s a game changer,” Brown said.

Lewis, as one of the only starters who focuses solely on basketball, has a great sense of the game.

“She is truly an amazing basketball player,” Brown said. “From CYO to senior year, she’s a talent. I could always count on her to get things done.”

The many multisport athletes on the team  only enhanced its winning attitude, with Colucci and Scannell bringing the soccer team’s state-championship mentality to the court the last two seasons. Brown, a field hockey standout, further added to the team’s athleticism.

The Royals have not only made an impression on the district, but also left newcomers like athletic director Danielle Turner in awe.

“I have been involved with countless teams in my career as a player, coach and observer; I can’t remember a team that I am more proud of,” she said. “Right before our eyes, these girls have changed basketball in Port Jefferson. Not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a cultural perspective. Their unwavering commitment to each other, their mental toughness and their maturity were evident throughout the season, and especially throughout their playoff run. It’s something that will be talked about for years to come.”

Brown hopes making history will inspire future teams to come.

“I’ve never been part of a championship team, so I’m honored to be a part of it with this group of girls,” she said. “This has been an incredible experience and I’m so proud of what this team has done over the past five months. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m also excited for the younger girls. It gives them motivation to go get it next year.”

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By Bill Landon

Gillian Kenah’s focus may have shifted from defense during one game, to offense the next, but the senior showed she performs when the pressure is on.

“We gave Gill the responsibility last game of playing against their biggest threat, and she stepped up,” Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said. “Today, she didn’t have that same pressure on her, and she played a phenomenal game.”

That’s because instead of guarding, Kenah was under the boards mopping up when her teammates’ shots weren’t falling, scoring 10 of her 12 points in the second half to give her Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team the push it needed to outscore Haldane 43-30 in the Class C state regional final at SUNY Old Wetsbury March 9. The squad becomes the first basketball team in Royals history, boys’ or girls’, to punch a ticket to the Final Four.

“You dream for these things to happen, you don’t expect for these things to happen. We’ve put in so much hard work, we’ve been looking forward to this for years and we’re finally here.”

—Gillian Kenah

“It’s so incredible — it’s another dream come true,” said Kenah, who averaged 3.1 points per game heading into the matchup. “You dream for these things to happen, you don’t expect for these things to happen. We’ve put in so much hard work, we’ve been looking forward to this for years and we’re finally here.”

The heavy lifting first fell onto senior Courtney Lewis, who scored all seven of the team’s first-quarter points, although they were down 8-7 after eight minutes. Jillian Colucci, a three-point scoring threat who drew double coverage outside, was able to space the floor and create opportunities for her classmate Lewis.

Lewis still led a more balanced second-quarter attack, and with her second 3-pointer of the game, helped her team retake the lead, 15-14, and the Royals never looked back.

Port Jefferson’s defense was everywhere, using a zone defense that bottled up shooters and got deflections to upset Haldane’s rhythm. On the team’s last possession of the first half, Lewis picked off a pass and went end-to-end for a field goal that put the Royals up 21-16 heading to the locker room.

“We’ve been working on our defense all week leading up to Monday’s game — even yesterday and the day before it’s just defense, defense, defense,” said Colucci, who had six points and five assists. “If you can prevent the other team from scoring, you’re going to win the game.”

Kenah was also a factor on the other end of the court, grabbing 13 rebounds while converting those possession into six of her own points to help turn a five-point halftime lead into a nine-point advantage, 27-19, at the end of three quarters.

“It’s incredible this journey with these girls — it’s an amazing experience I can’t even describe the feeling and the emotions that I feel before every game, during every game and after every game,” Colucci said. “It’s just amazing.”

Lewis went to the line three times in the final stanza, going 4-for-6 from the line overall, and, although she missed a shot from beyond the arc soon after, Kenah was there to finish with another put-back.

“I can’t even tell you how much this means — wanting this win,” Lewis said. “We’ll celebrate this win tonight, but tomorrow we’ll be right back at it and practice 10 times harder.”

Rosen struggled to find the words the describe the season’s success.

“It’s excitement,” he said. “This scene, not only for the team, but the kids who traveled here, their passion to want to be here and support the girls it just goes to show you why Port Jeff is such an awesome place.”

 

By Bill Landon

In his book The Precious Present, Spencer Johnson wrote: “I can chose to be happy now, or I can try to be happy when, or if.”

The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team chose to live in the moment during their March 6 Long Island championship title game, stepping onto a court no Royal had walked on before. Senior Jillian Colucci was no stranger to the limelight, though. The soccer standout, used to throwing the ball inbounds during the fall season, swished a long distance shot that was just three feet inside half court to close out the first half. The buzzer-beater before halftime that capped a 9-0 run sent the crowd into frenzy, and the Royals dancing into the locker room. That happiness carried through the second half, as Port Jefferson outscored East Rockaway 67-49 for the school’s first Class C crown.

“We’re just soaking it in,” senior Corinne Scannell said of the win. “Precious Present … it’s all about living in the moment, so I guess we’ll enjoy the moment and take it from here.”

East Rockaway’s defense focused on shutting down senior Courtney Lewis all across the SUNY Old Westbury court, but it didn’t matter. Lewis fought through double-teams most of the way to score a game-high 30 points. She drove the lane over and over, and even if she didn’t score, she drew fouls to find points from the free-throw line instead. The senior went 9-for-10 from the charity stripe.

“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team.”

—Corinne Scannell

“We knew they were going to key on Courtney, and we needed our other shooters to be willing to step up and take their shots,” Port Jefferson head coach Jessie Rosen said. “They gained confidence throughout the course of the week, and today when the opportunity was there for them. They did what they needed to do.”

Jackie Brown was first to step up, hitting long distance shots seemingly at will. The senior banked four of them in the first half. Then, it was Colucci’s shining moment. With Lewis cornered, sophomore Jocelyn Lebron passed Colucci the ball. As Colucci sprinted just beyond half court, she let the ball go as the buzzer sounded, and hit nothing but net, giving her team a 36-22 advantage heading into the break.

“There was time for one more, and I heaved it up and it just went in,” Colucci said. “I’m just absolutely speechless. To make it this far with these girls is absolutely amazing.”

Defensively, the Royals hands were everywhere. And they made their steals count. Scannell intercepted a pass, and dished it off to Colucci, who went coast to coast for the score that helped the Royals break out to 43-27 lead with 4:41 left in the third.

“It feels really good knowing that we did it as a team,” Scannell said. “The things we worked on in practice were tailored to this game. It’s nice to see it all come together.”

For Brown, who chipped in 14 points, the magnitude of her team’s accomplishment hasn’t set in yet.

“I hoped we would be here at the beginning of the season — it’s awesome that we won it,” she said. “It’s really cool that we’ll have that 2017 LIC banner to hang in the gym.”

Senior Gillian Kenah echoed Brown’s sentiment.

“At the beginning of the season it was definitely a dream — I imagined us at the counties, but I wasn’t sure about this,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a dream come true.”

I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”

—Jesse Rosen

Lewis credited the success to her team’s daily preparation.

“I knew we’d come out with intensity,” she said. “But I didn’t think we’d win by this margin.”

Rosen said he could see the team’s determination early on when he took over mid-season as the team’s head coach.

“This is an exciting group of girls — they work their absolute hardest every day,” he said. “I know that sounds like a cliché, but when you practice like you play and play like you practice, it’s nothing short of awesome.”

When the buzzer sounded, the Royals erupted in celebration as they experienced the taste of a Long Island championship for the first time. Thinking back to the short story they read prior to the game, they realized they attained that precious present.

“It is wise for me to think about the past, and to learn from my past, but it is not wise for me to be in the past for that is how I lose myself,” Johnson wrote. “It is also wise to think about the future and to prepare for my future, but it is not wise for me to be in the future for that too is how I lose myself, and when I lose myself, I lose what is most precious to me.”

Kenah said her team will savor the moment , and get back to work preparing for the next game. The Royals will face the winner of the Section I Haldane vs. Section VIIII Pine Plains in the regional finals March 9 at SUNY Old Westbury at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re going to condition tomorrow,” she said. “We have another game on Thursday, so we’ll enjoy tonight, but we’re right back at it tomorrow.”

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Courtney Lewis drives the baseline. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Although the small school matchup may not hold much postseason weight, you couldn’t tell, as Port Jefferson and Mattituck’s girls’ basketball teams duked it out for the third time this year.

Jillian Colucci scores from beyond the arc. Photo by Bill Landon

Each had grabbed a win over the other in the regular season, but this time, the larger school prevailed as the Suffolk County Class B champion bounced back in the game’s final minutes to edge out its Class C rival, 58-54, Feb. 24 at Riverhead High School.

Scoring stalwart Courtney Lewis did what she’s done all season, as the 2,000-plus-career point scorer led her team with 29 points — the only Royal in double figures.

The senior sank two from the foul line to retie the game at 25-25 with 2:12 left in the first half, and classmate Jillian Colucci hit a field goal to retie the game at 29-29, but Mattituck 3-pointer at the buzzer gave the Tuckers a 32-29 lead.

“We knew who their good players were and we knew how they pressed and the plays that they run,” Lewis said. “I think that we prepared as well as we could have.”

She went back to work driving the lane and muscling her way to the basket drawing foul after foul, scoring 11 points from the charity stripe on the afternoon. Colucci hit a 3-pointer, followed by freshman Samantha Ayotte, for a five-point lead at the 3:15 mark of the third.

Corinne Scannell shoots from the free-throw line. Photo by Bill Landon

During the final eight minutes, senior Corinne Scannell scored back-to-back field goals and Colucci sank her second trey of the game for the Royals to remain in control, 49-42. Both teams trade points at the free-throw line, but momentum shifted Mattituck’s way. Junior Liz Dwyer scored seven of the team’s nine straight points to take a 53-51 edge.

Again, both teams were back at the charity stripe with seconds on the clock, but Mattituck made more of its opportunities to give the game its final score.

Despite the loss, Port Jefferson will take on East Rockaway in the Class C Long Island championship semifinals March 6 at SUNY Old Westbury at 5 p.m.

“I think that with the group of girls that we have here — with the athleticism that’s on the court — we always have a shot in a close game like that,” Port Jeff head coach Jessie Rosen said. “But to have the type of scorer that Courtney is — and she can take over a game at any point — having that as a coach you always appreciate that. We had faith that we could grind it out, but Mattituck wound up on top tonight.”

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Royals reign over Suffolk for first time since 1927

By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan

Jillian Colucci and Corinne Scannell know what being a part of a Port Jeff powerhouse is like. They were both on the two-time state champion girls’ soccer team. Now, they can say they are a part of another team that made history with total team dominance.

The Royals basketball team earned the school’s first Suffolk County Class C title since 1927 Feb. 18. Despite being the first team to take Port Jefferson all the way this year, the Royals hadn’t had success is the finals in seasons past. The girls went 11-1 in League VIII last season, and 10-0 the year before that, but lost to Pierson-Bridgehampton and Babylon, respectively in the final game.

This year, the girls not only made history; they got redemption with a 46-43 win over Pierson.

Senior Courtney Lewis, who scored a team-high 12 points, was limited well below her 27.3 points-per-game average. She and classmate Jillian Colucci were forced to watch the final minutes of the game from the bench, after fouling out as the 13-point lead they entered the fourth quarter with slowly shrank.

“Honestly, it was very stressful and everyone else on the team stepped up,” Lewis said of watching the end of the fourth quarter transpire. “They just played really well today.”

The Royals led 38-25 heading into the final eight minutes of regulation. That’s when momentum shifted the Whalers’ way. The team slowly chipped away at the deficit, with Nia Dawson, who scored a game-high 17 points, leading the way.

With two of the team’s primary ball handlers sidelined, Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said his bench players were remarkable.

“They may not have been comfortable in the situation they were put in on the court — especially in a pressure situation — but they stepped up and did a nice job,” he said.

Protecting a six-point lead at that point, Port Jefferson was sent to the free-throw line, but couldn’t cash in. Pierson had the same opportunity on the other end, and used it to lessen the Royals’ advantage to four points. Coming down to the wire, Pierson’s Isabel Peters went to the stripe and sank both of her free throws with 17 seconds left in the game.

Port Jefferson sophomore Jocelyn Lebron added a free-throw to extend Port Jefferson’s advantage to three points. Port Jefferson senior Corinne Scannell had an opportunity to put the championship away when she was fouled with eight seconds left, and she didn’t disappoint.

“No matter how much they were gaining on us, we still had the lead and we had to keep that in perspective,” Scannell said. “We put pressure on ourselves, we played as a team and we pushed ourselves.”

Lebron said despite being one of the younger members of the squad, she too knew what her Royals had to do.

“When they got close, we just had to slow this game down a little bit, but keep our energy up,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier with this experience.”

Rosen said he gave his girls some words of advice during the fourth quarter.

“I said to them that runs are inevitable,” he said. “Things like that are going to happen and the key is to be able to weather the run.”

Colucci credited her teammates for how they handled the game’s final minutes, but not before she tipped her hat to her opponents, especially for being the team to top the Royals last year.

“It’s always a tough game against Pierson — they never give up and they play us really hard — but we just had to keep our composure,” she said. “We all made eye contact, we relaxed and we slowed the game down. We tried not to let the crowd get us frazzled and we kept our heads in the game.”

Behind Lewis were Colucci and Scannell with 11 points each. Colucci swished two 3-pointers and Scannell had a double-double with 12 rebounds. Senior Gillian Kenah finished with five points, Lebron added four and freshman Samantha Ayotte scored once, with a shot from beyond the arc.

Port Jefferson will take on Class B’s winner of the Feb. 21 Mattituck and McGann-Mercy matchup for the small school championship title at Riverhead High School Feb. 24 at 4 p.m.

While the team is to get ready for the next game, Rosen said just wants his team to take in the moment first.

“I told them to just savor the win,” he said. “We’ll talk X’s and O’s another time.”

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Port Jefferson take share of League VII title after senior day win

Courntey Lewis looks up under the rim amid a swarm of Pierson opponents. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Courtney Lewis drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Entering Port Jefferson’s final regular season game just 34 points away from becoming the 22nd player in Suffolk County girls’ basketball history to reach 2,000 career points, Courtney Lewis admitted she was anxious.

Her Thursday afternoon home game was rescheduled for Friday afternoon, only to be pushed back to a Saturday morning matchup as a result of last week’s snowstorm.

“It was stressful,” she said. “There was this build up, and I was so excited to finally get to the game.

When Lewis joined Port Jefferson’s varsity basketball team six years ago, she couldn’t have predicted the feat she would eventually achieve.

Jillian Colucci moves the ball into Pierson’s zone. Photo by Desireee Keegan

She reached 1,500 career points earlier this season, and at that point she said the thought of reaching 2,000 became a goal. The dream became a tangible milestone when she scored a field goal in the fourth quarter of her team’s 64-30 senior day win over Pierson-Bridgehampton Feb. 11. She finished with 39 points to move her to 2,005 for her career.

“Going into the game I knew I was 34 points away, so I told myself I wouldn’t think about it,” Lewis said. “But then, my coach pulled me out when there was two minutes left in the third quarter and said, ‘Do you know how many point away you are?’ and I said no. He told me I was three points away. I had no idea I was that close.”

Lewis scored the first nine points of the game for the Royals, on two field goals and a three-point play. In the second, she sank six more after converting a turnover and two offensive rebounds into three buckets.

Senior Jillian Colucci said she’s always marveled at what her teammate has been able to do on the court.

“Courtney is absolutely phenomenal,” she said. “When I dish the ball off to her she makes these nearly impossible shots and I just stand there in amazement.”

Jackie Brown looks to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lewis credited her teammates for her success.

“We did really well pushing the ball and looking for open girls,” she said. “We prepared all season and we’re ready to take on the playoffs.”

Several assists and multiple turnovers caused by the Royals’ defense helped her chip away at the 34 points until her goal was met.

“It was on today,” senior Corinne Scannell said. “We were working on our defense a lot in practice and it just shows that hard work pays off. We were able to get more traps and read their offense better. On the press we were also really good.”

Lewis needed three points heading into the final quarter, and after assisting on the first field goal of the quarter, she made a layup at the 5:49 mark to pull her within one point. She sank her 2,000th career point a minute later.

“It’s one of my best memories of basketball so far — being my senior year, my last home game, it’s great,” she said.

Corinne Scannell leaps for the ball at tipoff. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Colucci said the culmination of Lewis’ achievement, senior day and the team’s last game of the regular season made the victory sweeter.

“Being with these girls for the last time on this court, to win, it just tops off the season,” she said. “We had a lot of steals and we played really tough. This is my last sport, my last time playing in the Port Jefferson gym and it’s surreal, but it’s great to do it with these girls.”

With the win, Port Jefferson ended the regular season 15-1 and earned a share of the League VII title with Sayville.

“That was definitely our goal, so it feels incredible to have accomplished it,” Colucci said. “We’re working as hard as ever and I think we’re going to go far. We’re hoping that this isn’t the end.”

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Royals will march down Main Street in parade Nov. 20

Port Jefferson's girls' soccer team is all smiles as they walk off the field winners. Photo by Andrew Wakefield

Trailing by a goal, the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team found itself in a familiar situation. Although this time the stakes were a little bit higher.

The senior-laden Royals were competing for a second consecutive state title Nov. 13, and, down 1-0 to Geneseo at halftime, the girls admitted for once they were worried.

“The team was very nervous,” senior midfielder Brittany Fazin said. “We had a lot of pressure on our backs to win it again, especially with most of us being seniors. But we knew all the hard work paid off for this moment.”

Brittany Fazin slides for the ball. Photo by Andrew Wakefield
Brittany Fazin slides for the ball. Photo by Andrew Wakefield

The team was characterized by frequent comebacks throughout the course of a 31-3-1 two-year run. So at halftime, the team came together to figure out the solution to its problem.

“At halftime, we all spoke up, got on each other, calmed each other down and told each other that this is our game,” Fazin said. “We were playing down to their level, and not playing our game.”

That’s when Jillian Colucci — the team’s spark plug — did her thing.

First, her longtime teammate, senior forward Clare O’Connor, came close to tying the game with a strike over the crossbar 10 minutes in. Two minutes later, she found an opening and passed to Colucci, who scored the equalizer.

“Once that one goal came, that was all they needed,” Port Jefferson head coach Michele Aponte said. “It fueled their fire. It motivated them.”

Port Jefferson kept pressing for the go-ahead goal, and with 24:26 left to play, Fazin scored what would become the state title clincher.

“My goal that put us in the lead felt incredible,” Fazin said. “I beat out two girls down the middle, I took a shot from the 18-yard line and it went into the bottom right corner.”

Mikayla Yannucci battles for the ball. Photo by Andrew Wakefield
Mikayla Yannucci battles for the ball. Photo by Andrew Wakefield

While heading to goal, she said she remembered the mistakes the team had made throughout the course of the first 40 minutes in the back of her mind, to make sure she executed.

“As I was dribbling, I kept repeating ‘get over the ball, get over the ball,’” she said. “Most of our shots skyrocketed over the net, and I knew if I got my shot low and on target, I would have a better chance.”

She put the team to the lead, but got the Royals some breathing room when she scored three minutes later on a strike from 35 yards out, assisted by Colucci, and finished the game with a hat trick goal from the 25-yard line to cap a 4-1 Royals victory.

“I was just having an amazing time playing the sport that I love,” Fazin said. “I’m so glad we got to end it this way.”

Colucci said she hopes other Port Jefferson athletes will continue to take the program on its positive trajectory.

“It was hard not to be nervous with the added pressure after last season, but we focused on taking it one game at a time and we were so pumped to know we had one more opportunity to step out on the field together again in the finals,” the senior forward said. “Looking back on previous seasons and games, going down a goal was not an unfamiliar situation for us. We just knew it was time to shake off the nerves, settle down and work together. I hope we can inspire the players behind us, and the program continues to have this kind of success for many years to come.”

The Port Jefferson girls' soccer team topped Geneseo, 4-1, for the program's second consecutive state title. Photo by Andrew Wakefield
The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team topped Geneseo, 4-1, for the program’s second consecutive state title. Photo by Andrew Wakefield

Fazin was named most outstanding player in the playoffs, and junior goalkeeper Brianna Scarda was named outstanding goalkeeper.

“Ending with a state title was surreal, but to be named an outstanding player made it a moment I will never forget,” Fazin said. “Most people can’t even say they have one state title, and the fact that I get to say I have two is incredible.”

Colucci said to be able to take home the title with nine other seniors in their final season was icing on the cake for her high school career.

“We are just so lucky to be able to do all of this together — who knew this is how our soccer journeys would end when we started playing intramural soccer at 4 years old?” she said. “It has without a doubt been an incredible journey, and making history just tops it off. It doesn’t get any better than sharing this success with this particular group of girls doing what we love and having fun. It’s truly unforgettable.”

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History might be repeating itself. The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is taking another trip upstate.

After a 3-0 Class C regional final win over Haldane Nov. 5 for the team’s third straight title, the Royals are back in the state semifinals for the third consecutive year, and are looking for back-to-back state championships.

Right out of the gate, Port Jefferson was able to assert itself as the more physical team, but Haldane’s defense kept the Royals at bay for the first 14 minutes of the game.

Senior midfielder Brittany Fazin scored the opening goal with 25:04 remaining in the first half after beating two defenders and the Haldane keeper one-on-one. With 9:09 left before halftime, senior forward Jillian Colucci added a goal off a corner kick from senior forward Clare O’Connor.

Senior forward Grace Swords added the final goal of the game from 18 yards out off an assist from senior midfielder Amelia Zamek 31 seconds into the second half.

The back line of seniors Kaitlin Connolly, Corinne Scannell, Alexa Wakefield and Camryn Ward had another strong showing, along with junior goalkeeper Brianna Scarda, who made six saves, for the team’s third straight shutout and sixth of the season.

Port Jefferson (15-1-1) will compete against Little Falls in the Class C semifinals Nov. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Cortland High School.

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Although it may sound cliché, the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is more than a team — the Royals really are a family.

The current group of seniors has seen very little change over the last three years. They’ve formed a cohesive unit, bought into coaches Allyson Wolff and Michele Aponte’s system and specialize in doing the little things necessary to win. Having lost just two seniors to graduation in the last two years, they’ve created a unique atmosphere that’s helped them see state playoff action each of the last two seasons. Now the defending state champions are hungry for their second consecutive title.

On Oct. 28, the Royals took the next step toward achieving that goal. After going three straight seasons without a League VII loss, and losing just once the season before that, Port Jefferson claimed another county crown with an 8-0 blanking of Southold.

“In my opinion that was the best game we’ve ever played,” said senior co-captain Jillian Colucci, who netted a hat trick and two assists on five shots. “Our possession was on point and our connections were there.”

“When we played them earlier in the season they were really tight on defense, so we practiced pulling back our defense and spreading them out to have more room with the forwards.”

—Grace Swords

The Royals were relentless — producing 39 shots and eight corner kicks. Clearly Port Jefferson learned from their 1-1 tie to Southold back on Sept. 23.

“When we played them earlier in the season they were really tight on defense, so we practiced pulling back our defense and spreading them out to have more room with the forwards,” said senior Grace Swords, who scored once and assisted twice in the win.

Colucci was first to light up the scoreboard after her teammates made several attempts to knock one in past Southold’s junior goalkeeper Hayley Brigham. She scored on a through ball from senior defensive midfielder Mikayla Yanucci.

“She always finds the ball no matter where I kick it,” Yanucci said of her teammate. “I knew if I passed it in between players she’d go from wherever she was to get to it. She found the ball, and she finished it. That was a great way to start off the game.”

Once Port Jefferson gets the ball rolling it’s difficult to slow down their momentum.

Two minutes after scoring, Colucci added another goal off an assist from senior forward Brittany Fazin.

“We needed to possess the ball,” Fazin said. “We knew not to force it. They’re bigger than us and they’re better in the air, so we tried to keep it down on the ground, keep it low and move the ball around until we scored.”

Fazin moved to Port Jefferson last year, but she fit right in quickly with the other forwards. She was second on the Royals in goals in both of her seasons with the team.

“Playing together for the last few years helped us grow a connection with each other,” Fazin said. “We know where each other is going to go and where to pass to each other; who plays best where. Coming to Port Jefferson I never expected any of this. Being this successful with a team is something I never thought I’d experience in my life.”

“Playing together for the last few years helped us grow a connection with each other. We know where each other is going to go and where to pass to each other; who plays best where.”

—Brittany Fazin

Senior Alexa Wakefield and eighth-grader Hailey Hearney also added goals, before Colucci finished the game with her hat trick goal. While she receives the spotlight for scoring, Colucci said the team atmosphere and her surrounding Royals play major roles in her success.

“I’m playing with 10 other people I grew up playing with,” she said. “We have our own quirky things — our cheers and song for each season. It’s crazy that it’s our last ride, but we’re making memories to last a lifetime.”

Because of their bond and level of play to this point, Yannucci said if the team continues to play like it did in the county title game, they’re going to be back upstate this month. The defense put together another solid showing from the back line, led by senior co-captain Corinne Scannell. Junior goalkeeper Brianna Scarda barely saw any action, and neither did sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Hull in the game against Southold. Each had to make just one save. Despite the score, Brigham made 27 saves for Southold.

Port Jefferson will play in the Long Island championship game Nov. 5. The Royals do not know who their Nassau opponent will be, and the time and place has yet to be announced.

“We’re going to go out hard and never give up, because that’s how Port Jeff plays — we never give up,” Yanucci said, looking ahead to the next round. “These girls are literally my family and I’m going to be so upset when this is all over. I’m just so happy to share this experience with all of my best friends.”

Swords echoed her teammate’s sentiments.

“The pressure is on, but we are a good team,” she said. “This is our final year playing together and if we just keep our heads in the game and put everything we have into it, we’ll go far. This is all so surreal. We’ve become a family over the last three years and to finish it off with a state title is all we want.”

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