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Mattituck

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You had to see it to believe it. Joey Collins led his team out to the mat as the volume was raised on the sound system — the music blasted as WWE wrestler John Cena sang, “Your time is up, my time is now.  You can’t see me, my time is now.”

Collins, a senior with Down syndrome, has been on the Port Jefferson wrestling team for four years. He took center stage Dec. 22 during the Port Jefferson Bob Armstrong Tournament.

Facing a Riverhead opponent, Collins started the period on top before his opponent broke free. Face to face, his Blue Waves challenger grabbed his right leg, and instead of taking Collins down, fell on his back, where Collins jumped on the opportunity to hoist up his opponent’s leg for the pin and a win in the consolation match. He said the song he loves got him ready to compete.

Joey Collins gears up to compete. Photo from Joe Collins

“It got me more pumped,” he said. “It was the best moment of my entire career.”

As the mat was slapped three times to decide his fate, the cluster of wrestlers alongside him leaped up in celebration. Collins, engulfed by the excitement and cheers from the crowd, stood up and waved his hands, imploring the fans in attendance to keep up the noise.

“I love being a part of a team,” Collins said. “It’s exciting. I work hard and do something for me that betters myself.”

His father, Joe Collins, was moved by what he’d just witnessed, but said his initial thoughts were a little different based on his son’s reaction.

“Part of me was saying, ‘Jeeze Joey, you need to tone it down a little bit,’” he said, laughing. “He’s not the most gracious celebrator, but the reaction was so positive from everybody and I was really, really pleased that he was enjoying it so much. I felt proud of him and I loved the way he jumped into his coach’s arms and slapped hands with all his teammates. I also thought about how proud Joey’s mother would have been.”

Collins’ mother Mary Beth died last November following a lengthy battle with cancer. The father recalled the first time his son, who became an avid wrestling figurine collector in middle school after idolizing his cousin’s collection, took part in a wrestling match at the end of his freshman year. He had been practicing with the team, but finally competed in his first consolation match, which are matches that don’t factor in to a team’s score for a meet.

“My wife clutched my forearm, seeing his face against the mat looking up at her, and everyone was screaming for him to stay on his belly to keep from getting pinned,” Joe Collins said. “It was very exciting. We were nervous and proud to see him out there. We were thankful and grateful he’s getting the opportunity to play like that with other kids.”

Joey Collins practices for his next match. Photo from Joe Collins

Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he remembers when Joey Collins’ mother approached him following the Mount Sinai meet.

“She walked over to me very sternly, and I was afraid of how she was going to take it,” he said. “But she put her hand out and said, ‘Thank you,’ and walked away.”

From that moment Collins was hooked. He was used to cheering his teammates on from the side of the mat with Maletta, but finally got the opportunity to compete, although still frequenting the sideline to cheer on friend and teammate Matteo DeVincenzo, a prominent wrestler in the program who won county and state titles.

“It always warms my heart when I see Joey sitting next to the coach and yelling encouragement for kids like Matteo and his older brother Tristan,” Joe Collins said.  “It was a nice turnaround for Joey to be encouraging someone else. That was really neat to see.”

DeVincenzo also enjoyed it.

“I thought of Joey just like I thought of anyone else on the team — a wrestler,” DeVincenzo said. “He was a member of the team and deserved to be treated the same as everyone else. It felt great to have Joey’s support. It was evident that he looked up to me and that was gratifying and impactful.  Knowing that I was someone that he could use as a model and mentor was very self-fulfilling. It was inspiring working with Joey and watching him grow over the years. He truly grew into a young man on and off the mat. Joey was a symbol of hope and heart for the team. Whenever we were struggling or down in the dumps, one glance at Joey could enhance anyone’s day. If Joey could do it, anyone could.”

Joey Collins said he enjoys the camaraderie between him and his teammates, too, something he said he learned from Maletta.

“He taught me how to become a better wrestler,” Collins said. “He taught me how to train and how to work hard. I love to cheer my team on. I love getting involved with the sport. I love being a wrestler.”

Although Maletta said at first having Collins on the team presented a set of unique challenges, he and the wrestlers have warmed up to their fellow Royal.

Joey Collins shows off his WWE wrestling belt. Photo from Joe Collins

“The first year it was a handful,” he said. “I tried to think of how I was going to work with guys that were focused on winning state titles, but by his second year he got better at being in practice. He was able to stay on task longer, and I treated him like every other kid. We try to raise expectations and he wrestled some good matches.  Joey goes out there and he wrestles hard no matter what.”

He competed in multiple matches in his sophomore year, and was joined by his twin brother Jack Collins, a football standout who is also currently on the basketball team.

“Wrestling with Joe was a blast,” Jack Collins said. “At practice you could really feel the radiance he gives off when wrestling and learning. Wrestling is a huge part of his life. He loves it and the sport has been good to him. It taught him a lot as well about morals. Athletics have been a great way for me and Joe to connect.”

After missing some of his junior season when his mother passed away, Maletta said he was excited to see Collins return to the team his senior year, noting that he’s one of six “watchmen,” seniors who have been on the team since they were freshman. Last year, none of the seniors had been on the team all four years, and prior to that, there were just two.

“Wrestling was a good distraction for him,” Maletta said. “I told him he’s a senior now, and I’m putting him in matches for real. It would be a disservice for him to not ever really go out there and know what it’s like to win or lose and feel the emotions of the sport.”

Maletta said it’s been a pleasure to watch Collins grow.

“He’s matured in the room, he’s part of the team,” he said. “It’s sad he won’t be in the room next year.”

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Vin Miceli sizes up his opponent this past season. Photo from Mike Maletta

For the first time in five years Mattituck lost a wrestling met.

Port Jefferson handed the Tuckers their first loss in five years, 37-32, at an away meet Dec. 22. Port Jefferson also topped Mattituck its last loss five years ago, according to head coach Mike Maletta.

Matt Murphy won a 7-0 decision over David Jenkins in the deciding match at 170 pounds. Anthony D’Elia picked up a key 9-3 win over Sean Feeney at 99 pounds for the Royals, and Jack Niederburger won 1-0 at 195 pounds.

“The kids felt great about it, I felt great about it,” Maletta said. “We fought well.”

He said his athletes felt even better when he said he’d cancel practice the next two days before holiday break.

“I told them on the bus ride home,” he said. “I think they were more excited because I gave them the next few days off from practice.”

At the next tournament at West Islip, the Royals took second out of 11 teams.

“We fell short of matching Brentwood, but it’s 20 times the size of our school,” Maletta said. “I’m proud of how we did.”

Port Jefferson’s 138-pounder Vin Miceli claimed his fourth straight West Islip tournament win, and Joey Evangelista was named the Most Outstanding Wrestler for being the other Port Jefferson grappler to place first after coming in second the last couple years.

“The success I’ve had so far has really proven that all the extra hard work and long hours I put into this sport is what separates me from champion and runner-up,” Miceli said. “I have the same mentality going into every tournament or match, no matter who I am wrestling, that I am predator and not the prey.”

Other key seniors this season have been Chris Lepore at 182 pounds, Joe Longo at 160 and Robbie Williams at 120, according to the head coach.

“Chris Lepore is a senior that’s been very important to us,” Maletta said. “Robbie Williams does a lot of extra work.”

Port Jefferson hosted Babylon Jan. 3, but results were not available by press time. The Royals will face Center Moriches on the road Jan. 5 in a league title-deciding meet currently scheduled for 4:30 p.m.

“I feel very confident that we can beat Center Moriches,” Miceli said. “The way we train and the knowledge we have in our coaching staff really helps prepare us for a time like this.”

Mattituck beat Center Moriches, so if Port Jefferson wins, they’ll win the league title for the first time since 2012.

“You get nostalgic,” Maletta said. “I’ve coached Vin and Joey since they were eighth-graders, half of my time coaching here, and it’s been great to see them become young men. I only wish for good things for all of these guys. We have a lot more wrestling to go, and the countdown is on.”

By Kevin Redding

Since the untimely passing of Tom Cutinella in October 2014, the memory of Shoreham’s beloved student-athlete has lived on within the district, from the dedication of the high school’s athletic field in his name to a life-size bust and memorial wall close to it.

But perhaps no remembrance captures the kindhearted spirit of the fallen football player quite like the newly built “buddy bench,” to be installed on the playground at Wading River Elementary School.

“Character is what sets us aside from one another. This ‘buddy bench’ will inspire you all even more to be like Thomas and Kaitlyn … to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.”

—Kelli Cutinella

Adorned with the inscription “Be A Friend Make A Friend” underneath the dedication “In Loving Memory of Thomas Cutinella,” the bench serves to eliminate loneliness and promote friendship among children — when those feeling alone or bullied sit on the bench, other students are encouraged to take a seat next to them and ask if they want to be friends.

It was donated in Cutinella’s honor by Kait’s Angels, a North Fork-based non-profit started just weeks after Mattituck resident Kaitlyn Doorhy, a 20-year-old college student at Sacred Heart University, was struck and killed by a car in August 2014.

So far, the organization has installed more than 10 benches in her memory at every elementary school on the North Fork, including Cutchogue East and Greenport, as well as a senior center in Southold. This is the first one built in someone else’s name.

“This bench defines what Tom stood for,” Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s mother, told students, administrators and parents packed into the elementary school’s gym for the bench’s ribbon-cutting ceremony June 16. Speaking directly to the students, she said, “character is what sets us aside from one another. This ‘buddy bench’ will inspire you all even more to be like Thomas and Kaitlyn … to do the right thing, even when no one is looking … have that character that sets you aside from everyone and always let your peers know they have a friend and are never alone.”

“Their legacy has come together for a special reason and Kaitlin and Thomas will always be remembered here. Even though they’re not here in the flesh, their spirits live on.”

—Darla Doorhy

It was during his years at the elementary school that Cutinella started being recognized as someone special, who took the school’s teachings about trustworthiness, respect and caring to heart.

He was a kind, selfless kid who was quick to help others and make friends with anyone he crossed paths with, no matter who they were.

“[Tom] was a friend to everyone, and I mean everyone,” said Cutinella, who was joined at the event by her husband, Frank, and their children. “He was a natural helper and a best buddy.”

Cutinella’s life was was tragically cut short nearly three years ago following a head-on collision with an opposing player on a football field during a high school game.

Darla Doorhy, Kaitlin’s mother, reached out to Kelli Cutinella around Christmas time to discuss collaborating on the dedication, which took about six months to come to fruition. The bench was purchased by Kait’s Angels from Belson Outdoors in Illinois.

She said Tom and her daughter — who had been a Girl Scout ambassador, National Honor Society member, multi-sport athlete, musician and organizer for countless fundraising efforts — were very similar in their generosity towards others, right down to being registered organ donors.

“Their legacy has come together for a special reason and Kaitlin and Thomas will always be remembered here,” Doorhy said. “Even though they’re not here in the flesh, their spirits live on.”

“The truth is that every one of you has the power to transform the world in the decisions you make. If you see anyone sitting on that bench, that means you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can you come and play with me?’

—Louis Parrinello

Cutinella agreed there’s a special connection between their children, and said she was humbled to be approached by Doorhy and Kait’s Angels.

“Certainly there’s a commonality of the tragedies,” President of Kait’s Angels, William Araneo, said. “Although physically there will always be an empty chair, her presence remains strong … she continues to find ways to bring us together and this is one example of that. And just like Tom, Kaitlin reserved a place in her heart for those who may not have been popular, and persevered to make friends with those who might be developmentally challenged.”

Wading River Elementary School Principal Louis Parrinello called on a few students from each grade, starting with second, to place notes they wrote earlier in the day into a large basket next to the bench.

Scribbled on the notes were ways in which a student could make friends with another; one student wrote, “I can make a friend by playing with them,” while another student’s note said, “I can make a friend by talking to them about what they like.”

A small group of students who knew Cutinella personally were called up to cut the ribbon and be the first to sit on the bench.

“We learn about people in history, like Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross … people who have transformed the world,” Parrinello said to the room of students, “but the truth is that every one of you has the power to transform the world in the decisions you make. If you see anyone sitting on that bench, that means you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can you come and play with me?’ It’s about opening up and starting something new.”

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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's Courtney Lewis, who scored a double-double off a game-high 32 points and 10 rebounds, goes up for a layup in the Royals' 55-31 win over Southold/Greenport on Jan. 25 to extend their winning streak to six games. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Behind Courtney Lewis’ double-double Monday night, the Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team kept the ball rolling with a 55-31 victory over Southold/Greenport to extend the Royals’ winning streak to six games.

Port Jefferson's Courtney Lewis reaches up to the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Courtney Lewis reaches up to the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Lewis recorded 32 points, 10 rebounds and six assits.

“They’re starting to come together,” Port Jefferson head coach Ed Duddy said. “We started off slow in the beginning … [but] now I think everyone knows their role.”

Port Jefferson had trouble getting shots to fall until Lewis’ field goal at the 5:17 mark, which started the junior forward and guard’s 10-point tear in the first quarter.

“She’s a great captain,” junior point guard Jillian Colucci said of Lewis. “She boosts us all up and she’s so talented. Her scoring gets us all going and gets us working hard.”

Southold remained in the game by scoring seven points to Lewis’ 10, but Port Jefferson sophomore guard Annabelle Soucy nailed a three-pointer with 30.6 seconds left to extend the Royals’ lead.

Lewis tacked on a three-point play to start the second stanza and then added four more points while Colucci tacked on a three-pointer to put Port Jefferson up 23-20 at halftime.

But the Royals were just getting warmed up.

Port Jefferson's Annabelle Soucy drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Annabelle Soucy drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“Our coach’s halftime speech motivated us to come out stronger in the second half,” Lewis said. “I think our teamwork and team chemistry was great. We had a lot of assists and connected our passes a lot, and our fast breaks were great today.”

Those fast breaks and assists helped the Royals jump out to a 43-25 lead by the end of the third, with Lewis scoring 11 of the team’s 20 points and Colucci adding six.

In the final quarter, the Royals limited Southold to just two points by the 2:22 mark, while scoring eight more of their own. Southold added a field goal and two free throws in the final minutes, but Lewis added two free throws of her own to finish 9-for-10 from the charity stripe on the evening, and Soucy completed the scoring with a layup.

Colucci finished with 11 points and eight rebounds to help Port Jefferson to a 7-1 record in League VII.

“It’s Courtney, it’s Jillian, it’s a little bit of everybody,” Duddy said. “Jillian had a terrific game today. She did everything a point guard has to do with great passes and great defense and assists, but Annabelle and Jackie Brown have been playing very well, too. They’re all part of the team, but I think they all feed off of Courtney, and when she gets double- or triple-teamed she can kick it out to her teammates and they get easy layups.”

Port Jefferson's Jillian Colucci crosses the ball into Southold/Greenport's zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Port Jefferson’s Jillian Colucci crosses the ball into Southold/Greenport’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

As the team moves forward with only one loss in its conference, Colucci said the Royals have their sights on the top spot in the league, where Mattituck currently sits at 10-1.

But the point guard said she’s confident in her team’s ability after the Royals edged out Mattituck, 53-52, back on Jan. 11.

“That was a really good booster for us,” Colucci said. “But since we’re a core group of juniors that have been playing together for so long, the teamwork that we’ve developed helps us most.”

Lewis said the team had a rough first half the season, starting it off with losses to Comsewogue, Mount Sinai and Pierson/Bridgehampton, but has come together to propel the Royals to their winning streak.

“This is my favorite sport and my favorite team,” Lewis said. “They’re all so great and we all help each other do better. We had a rough first half of the season but we picked it up and we took off. We don’t want to lose another game. We want to finish the season on a streak.”