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Middle Country

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Team takes Division I title in Syracus, three Middle Country girls place in Top 10 in scoring

Middle Country’s girls bowling team took home its first state title since 2013 March 11 in Syracuse. Photo from Nicole Lettich

With a difficult oil pattern on the lane, the Middle Country girls bowling team knew what it was going to take to win a state title — and it had the talent to spare.

“We knew it would be tough bowling on a more challenging pattern, but we knew spares were going to be so important,” senior Nicole Lettich said. “As most of us say, strikes win games, but spares win tournaments. We are a strong team and knew we could take on whatever was thrown at us. We just needed to focus each game and make good shots. That’s exactly what we did.”

Amanda Scarfogliero leads off for Middle Country’s girls bowling team. Photo from Amanda Scarfogliero

Lettich, noted by head coach Mandy Dominguez as the most consistent bowler on the team, averaged a 191.67 over six games.

“She did great, she’s steady,” Dominguez said of his one of four seniors.

With her team up by just 118 pins heading into a crucial Game 6, she bowled a 223 to help seal the deal and a state title March 11 in Syracuse.

“My parents tell me all the time that I bowl with a poker face and don’t let bad scores phase me,” Lettich said. “I don’t really put any added pressure on myself, I just focus on making my spares and throwing good shots. When I throw a bad shot, I shake it off and get ready for the next frame.”

Lettich, who finished Sunday ranked fourth in New York, was one of three Middle Country bowlers to rank in the Top 10 in scoring. Junior Amanda Scarfogliero (No. 7) and freshman Hannah Skalacki (No. 2) were the others.

“I’ve never had a team improve in the offseason the way that this team did,” Dominguez said. “Last year we only had one 200 bowler, and this year I had five. The girls really stepped it up, and have so much grit and determination. We had a 280-pin lead at one point in the tournament and to lose that lead is hard for any team in any sport, losing a lead late in the game. They gut it out and brought it back. It says so much about their resiliency and willingness to never give up.”

Middle Country’s girls bowling teammates were all smiles on the bus ride home after being crowned state champions. Photo from Nicole Lettich

Middle Country won a state title in 2013 and since lost three battles to East Islip and one to Sachem for a ticket upstate. This year the girls took the league title before overcoming that county hurdle with a 43-pin win, and weren’t going to let an oil pattern stop them from going all the way. Scarfogliero said the team practiced for the 41-foot Tower of Pisa Kegel pattern, asymmetric in design with a shift to the inside, in the weeks leading up to the tournament. After averaging 215 at the county tournament, Middle Country finished with a 180 average upstate, according to Dominguez, proving even with practice how difficult the sport pattern can be.

“It was a whole new atmosphere,” said Scarfogliero, who leads off for her team. “It took us by surprise, but we worked together as a team so the oil pattern wasn’t as hard. We helped each other and with the oil pattern being so hard I didn’t even think I was going to make it up there [in scoring], but that wasn’t even a priority for me. I wanted to put my team in the best position to win states.”

For Skalacki, her freshman status shouldn’t be misunderstood. The three-year varsity team member bowled a 193.83 average, just about three pins under first. As the team’s anchor, she said there’s a lot of pressure when her team needs extra points at the end of each game, but she thrives under it.

Middle Country’s girls bowling team hoists up the state championship banner. Photo from Middle Country school district

“If we need a certain amount of pins to win, I have to get them, but I love the attention and the competition,” said Skalacki, who was strongest in the first three games, bowling a tournament-high 226 for Game 1. “It’s heart-dropping, and I love knowing I play a big part in helping the team come out with a win.”

She said after finally topping East Islip, she knew Middle Country had a lot to prove, and the team wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a perfect finish.

“We had the biggest motivation to win,” she said. “Now people know Middle Country and know how good we are. We wanted to prove people wrong — to show we have what it takes — and we did it.”

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Bowling right up twins’ alley

Bowling is how the Lettich twins roll.

The duo each competed for a state title last weekend in Syracuse, and clean swept their senior season with gold medals in their respective tournaments.

“It’s honestly breathtaking to make it this far and win it all,” Nicole Lettich said, noting that she was on the 2013 state championship winning team, but didn’t yet have the skills to be invited to compete. “Going to the state tournament with my brother who I’ve been so close with was probably the most amazing thing I could have done in my senior year.”

Middle Country twins Nicole and Thomas Lettich took home state gold. Photo from Nicole Lettich

The twins’ mother bowled in high school, and found they had their own itch to compete after competing in a league in second grade.

“Bowling is such an underrated sport in high school, and to finally win it all proves to schools that bowling shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet, but actually acknowledged more because it is a very difficult sport,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see it that way.”

Middle Country finished with a grand total 5,332 pins, nearly 200 ahead of second-place finisher Orchard Park (5,157). Her brother Thomas Lettich competed on the Section XI boys All-Star team. He’d averaged 224 during the regular season, and said even though he’d won his team’s MVP awards, and was named an All-Star, All-County and All-League bowler, he was most confident competing because of the last month’s worth of practicing six day a week.

“I have grown so much over the years, improving my physical and mental game,” he said. “Since I am a lefty and had an advantage and disadvantage since I’m the only one on the left side. The lanes were brand new, so I knew it was going to be difficult, but being chosen to compete on this team with a group of boys that I was very close with and were fun to bowl with was a goal of mine.”

He said it was a unique experience competing alongside his sister.

“When I am bowling bad she supports me and helps me, and when she’s bowling bad I support her and help her,” Thomas Lettich said. “She unfortunately didn’t have the ability to watch me, but I was able to cheer her on in her match and it was exciting to have the chance to be together. We had great accomplishments and it’s a great way to go out.”

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Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider will be inducted into Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame in May

Middle Country track and field coaches Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider are being inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this May. Photo from Facebook

It was once said kids would run through a brick wall for Bob Burkley, and Harry Schneider would show them how.

Middle Country school district’s dynamic duo co-coached the track and field programs for more than 30 years, leaving behind a legacy of winning streaks, championships and motivated athletes, nearly 100 of whom have gone on to become coaches. As a result of their accolades and achievements, the pair are being inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this May.

“They have very different personalities — the way they interacted with athletes — and somehow they blended,” said 1972 Centereach High School graduate Harold Schwab, owner of Schwab’s 2nd Wind shoe store in East Setauket. “Coach Schneider was very much a one-on-one coach, while coach Burkley was very high energy, and you got caught up in that. As an athlete you sensed there was no limit to how hard they were ready to work, how much they were willing to sacrifice for the team, how important the team’s success was — and the athletes reciprocated that.”

Harry Schneider. Photo from Facebook

Schwab raced for his coaches, who began at Newfield in the late 1960s, and moved with them to Centereach once the new school opened. As a sprinter and jumper, he said he saw firsthand his coaches’ qualifications to lead the team to success in any event.

“Some coaches may not know anything about the high jump or the triple jump, so they don’t compete in those events,” he said. “Every event was coached thoroughly at Centereach High School. There was never an event where we weren’t taught the right technique and supervised so we knew what we were doing.”

According to Bay Shore head coach Steve Borbet, who began a push for more track and field hall of fame inductees, the pair continued to learn.

“They also went to clinics and read up wherever they could get more knowledge of the sport,” said Borbet, who began coaching against the Cougars in 1975. “I watched how they won and I wanted to emulate that. Their winning attitude that they instilled in the
players was huge.”

Strategic thinking was a driver behind the pair’s successes. When Burkley, for instance, saw another team didn’t have a triple jumper, he’d pull his top triple jumpers out, let younger kids compete for the points and then use his standouts in other events. Schwab said every athlete received a performance write-up after meets, pointing to areas that were strong as well as areas in need of improvement.

“Nobody wanted to be pointed out for not living up to expectations,” Schwab said, laughing. “We were always trying to maximize our points, and we’d do whatever we could to help the team. Coach Schneider and Coach Burkley really did run a very hard practice, and there’s something about when you share that kind of sacrifice on a daily basis, when you share pain in practice, it brings the group together. It created a bond, not far from what soldiers feel.”

Harry Schneider, on right, with the 1995 Suffolk County championship-winning cross country team. Photo from Harry Schneider

A team-first mentality is not always preached in track and field, but for Burkley and Schneider, it was first and foremost.

“We were a team in the truest sense,” 1994 graduate Charles Crowley said. “We were an unusually tightly knit group. They had a vision of what we were capable of and they were committed to everything we did. They created a culture where we didn’t want to let them down.”

The year after Schwab graduated was the start of Centereach’s 26-year, 158-match dual meet winning streak. Crowley was on the team when its streaked was snapped, coincidentally, by Borbet’s Bay Shore team. Despite the loss, Borbet said the team was gracious about it, and Crowley said the unit remained resilient.

“That was a hard day, but [our coaches] were so positive and helped us rebound,” Crowley said. “They both have such passion for seeing athletes push themselves further than they thought possible.”

The pair combined for 95 league titles, 25 division titles and 42 county titles. Because they assisted each other in the spring and winter seasons, and Burkley headed the cross-country team, Borbet said that to the hall of fame board, they diluted their success. Previous hall of fame inductees Borbet (2014) and Schwab (1993) felt the pair of coaches should have been inducted long before they were.

“They were who everyone was going after, and you pick up from the best,” Borbet said. “Those guys were successful from the beginning. They were able to really reach their kids — a lot of coaches can’t say that. It’s been a goal of mine and a movement of mine to nominate track coaches every year. These two guys certainly deserve to be in there. They’re the best track coaches around, and two of the best coaches out of any sport in Suffolk history.”

Bob Burkley. Photo from Facebook

Every individual on the team was coached to be the very best that person could be, according to Schwab.

“When you know that the coach cares deeply about your individual success as well as the team success, to know we were all seen as equals, it created this hunger to succeed,” Schwab said. “Everybody on the team saw how being part of the team made them a better person. Whether they were going to be a star or not, they wanted each person to achieve his potential.”

Crowley was one of the athletes coached by Burkley and Schneider to go on to lead his own team. An Ironman triathlete who has raced in 28 marathons, he’s the head coach of the JackRabbit Sports marathon team in New York City. He said Burkley and Schneider taught him how to be a captain and a motivator.

“They taught me that success takes commitment and discipline — that there were no limits to what you can achieve if you are mentally tough and work hard to achieve goals,” he said. “They molded so many athletes both on and off the track. I try very hard to impart these lessons onto the athletes that I coach.”

Schwab remembered Schneider teaching him about being a student of the sport, and said it’s a skill he has applied in every aspect of his life.

“You didn’t just show up to practice and go through the motions,” he said. “If you were in a hurdle event, he encouraged you to read about the hurdles, to dig into it for yourself. We treated the sport just like we did any of the other academic classes we were in. That attitude has followed through in just about anything that I do now. Any time I’m involved in something, rather than just learn enough to get by, I try to be an expert at it. It’s not just about winning competitions. It’s about learning how to succeed in every endeavor.”

Hans Wiederkehr, a former athlete, NFL player and football coach at Babylon and Shoreham-Wading River, is a member of Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame's 2018 induction class. Photo from SSHOF

Seeing coaching as an action, not a title, has yielded great success, and now a prestigious honor for a few local leaders.

Former Babylon head football coach and Shoreham-Wading River assistant Hans Wiederkehr, and Middle Country track and field coaches Bob Burkley and Harry Schneider were named members of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame’s 2018 induction class, announced by the organization Feb. 13. The three will join eight other selectees at the induction ceremony May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

“I’d like to thank all the kids that played for me — they’re the main reason I’m here,” Wiederkehr said. “I love the kids. I’d do anything for them.”

Former Middle Country head track and field coach Bob Burkley, currently an assistant at Northport, is one of 11 to be inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame this year. Photo from SSHOF

After a successful career as a lineman at Syracuse University, Wiederkehr spent a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an offensive lineman in 1985-86. From 1986 until 2002 he served as a physical education teacher and director at Babylon, and coached varsity football from 1987 to 2002. The Panthers won 10 league crowns, six Suffolk County titles and two Long Island championships during his tenure. From 2014 to 2016 he was an assistant coach at Shoreham-Wading River. The Wildcats won three Long Island championships and two Rutgers Trophies, given annually to Suffolk’s top football team.

“I had tremendous parents, tremendous support, and then I took the time to coach my own son at Shoreham and dealt with the same type of people,” Wiederkehr said. “I’ve been very lucky to have that support, and I think that’s the foundation of amateur athletics.”

The former Division I athlete and NFL player is also one of the longest tenured athletic administrators of any coaches association in Long Island history. He has served as president of the Suffolk County Football Coaches Association since 1999, known for its famed awards dinner that draws more than 900 guests annually. Widerkehr is also an inductee of the East Lyme High School Hall of Fame (2004) and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame (2009).

Burkley was the varsity track and field coach at Newfield High School from 1964 to 1970, and at Centereach from 1971 to 1998. He won 28 league championships and 10 county championships. Following his time in Middle Country, he was an assistant at Bayport-Blue, from 1999 to 2004, at Center Moriches from 2005 to 2009, and has been at Northport since 2010. Burkley has coached 60 student-athletes who went on to have their own track and field coaching careers. He coached five national champions, two national record holders and five New York state record holders. Burkley’s teams went 26 years and 158 matches without losing a dual meet. He was also a lifeguard captain at Jones Beach for 42 years and was named New York State Lifeguard of the Year in 2010.

“I’ve been very lucky to have [the parents’] support, and I think that’s the foundation of amateur athletics.”

— Hans Wiederkehr

“I’d like to thank my wife for letting me spend all this time the last 55 years coaching student-athletes,” Burkley said, smiling. “I still love it, and I love it because of the athletes — their dedication, responsiveness. It’s so rewarding to work with kids that love what they’re doing and stick with it.”

Much like Burkley, Schneider taught physical education in the Middle Country school district for 32 years, coaching boys cross country, boys winter track and boys spring track and field during each of those seasons and beyond. Since retiring from teaching and moving to Sedona, Arizona in 2000, he has continued to coach boys and girls cross country and track and field.

Schneider’s boys cross country teams at Middle Country won 10 division titles, 18 league championships and 11 county titles. His dual meet record was 165-20. In 1995, his team was ranked No. 8 in the nation. Boys winter track teams at Middle Country won seven division titles, 21 league championship and 11 county titles under Schneider’s guidance, which also produced a 103-3 overall record. Burkley coached 85 individual champs, two national champs and 11 state champs. In the spring, he won eight division titles, 28 league championships and 10 county titles. His record was 189-4-1. He coached 78 county champs, four national champs and 15 state champs among his spring track campaigns. He won more than 80 coach of the year awards and more than 65 of his student-athletes went on to coach throughout the United States.

Ed Morris, former executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, is being inducted into it this year. Photo from SSHOF

Among other coaches, referees and players to be inducted is Miller Place native Matt Ryan, noted as one of the greatest handball players in American history. The 1996 U.S. Olympic captain was a three-time U.S. Handball Player of the Year, and his 225 official international matches are an American record. Ryan also played professional handball overseas and starred in multiple world championship tournaments. His athletic prowess, however, began on the basketball court. As a senior in 1984, Ryan was named New York Basketball Player of the Year. As a junior, he was second team All-Long Island and won a gold medal at the Empire State Games with the Long Island squad. In 2013, he was inducted to the Miller Place Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was honored with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America National Service to Youth Award.

Former executive director of the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame, Ed Morris, is also in this year’s class. He served on the executive board since 1992 prior to taking over the organization in 2000. A Sachem alum, he is also the first recipient of his namesake award, the Edward J. Morris Lifetime Achievement Award. He has also served on the board of directors of Suffolk County PAL.

Half Hollow Hills graduate Stephen Bowen, who spent 10 seasons in the NFL, and Shannon Smith, a three-time first-team lacrosse All-American who is among the most decorated players in the sport, and is also the head women’s lacrosse coach at Hofstra University, also highlight this year’s class.

“When I found out that I was one of the new members I almost felt guilty, because there are so many wonderful men and women coaches in Suffolk County,” Wiederkehr said. “There so many that work hard, and sometimes don’t achieve some of the success some other coaches have, but that doesn’t bother them, they just keep working and working and working.  I’m very honored and humbled to be a part of this induction class.”

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Centereach's cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

All the girls wanted was to hear Centereach’s name called. When they heard they were going straight through to the Universal Cheerleaders Association national championship finals, they couldn’t have predicted the chain of events that would occur.

The Cougars had never reached the national finals. As the high of hearing they were in wore off, and they had to hit the stage the next day, the nerves started to kick back in.

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

“Nobody really talked,” junior Lynda D’Alessandro said. “We weren’t hyping each other up like we were the day before, we weren’t hitting — we weren’t confident in what we were doing.

It was just a different vibe. But as soon as we were getting ready to compete, everyone was saying, ‘C’mon, we’ve got this. Everyone’s been working so hard. It’s only 150 seconds, we can do it.’ At that point, I said to myself: ‘We’ve got it.”’

Centereach nailed its routine, and knowing they were up against three previous nationally-ranked Division II Large Varsity teams from Long Island, the girls weren’t sure where the chips would fall.

“We were shaking,” sophomore Corinne Michalski said as her team waited for the results to come in. “If you were sitting by that semicircle our team was probably the loudest because we were hysterically crying.”

The girls sat uneasy, fingers squeezed between one another as they heard team after team get called before them. Once the judges reached the Top 5, the Cougars couldn’t contain their excitement.

“If you ask me or anyone else, we would say ‘I don’t know how it looks; I don’t know if we’re going to do well,’” D’Alessandro said of her team’s mentality heading down to Florida to compete. “Hearing two national champion team’s names get called before us, I thought, ‘How does Centereach, a team that’s never made it past the preliminary round, go straight through and place ahead of them?”’

With two teams left, Centereach was finally called, and for the first time in school history Feb. 11, the cheer team placed at nationals.

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

Naturally, yelling and screaming ensued.

“It was a feeling like no other,” Michalski said. “None of us went down there expecting to do what we did. Every single week at local competitions we never even placed. We [faced] teams we never in our wildest dreams thought we could beat. It still feels like a dream; it doesn’t feel like I’m awake.”

Centereach had several members drop out at the beginning of the season, and pulled up an eighth-grader to fill the squad. Over the course of competition, the team was never at full strength, with a cheerleader or two usually sitting out due to injury or illness. Watching her team compete on the national stage in the preliminary round, head coach Stephani Catalano said she couldn’t believe her eyes. Her team was one of two from the field of 14 to hit a perfect routine.

“The first 26 seconds of our routine are the hardest part of our routine,” she said. “We say the second the arabesques hit, we know the rest of our routine we can hit without even thinking about it. It was amazing to see them use all their energy and finish a flawless routine. It truly left me speechless.”

She said her girls were determined moving into the finals. She said they never rested on their laurels.

Centereach cheerleaders excited after hitting their routine. Photo from Middle Country school district

“We wanted to earn that trophy,” Catalano said. “We didn’t want to rely on making it straight through past semifinals. We had a lot to prove. We didn’t get there by luck — we’re in a hard division, and we proved we deserve to be there. I know now their fire is going to burn brighter and bigger than it ever has.”

D’Alessandro said it’s Catalano who was the catalyst behind Middle Country school district making history. The four-year varsity coach graduated from Centereach. A former cheerleader for the Cougars, Catalano never made it to nationals, and was finally able to take her team the last two seasons. In 2017, the girls didn’t make it past the first round.

“Before her, we never placed at competitions; it was never possible,” the three-year varsity cheerleader said of her coach. “Stephani’s attitude and her heart and her passion for the sport made a complete difference. She has a lot of faith in us doing well, and that we’ll make her proud. She’s helped me not only become a better cheerleader, but a better person with the lessons that she’s taught me and my team.”

With the core of the Cougars returning next season, the girls are confident, despite the added pressure associated with finishing second. Catalano said the girls are already asking to start practicing.

“We can start off with more confidence instead of working up to it,” Michalski said.

Her teammate took it a step further.

“There’s no reason we can’t be national champions,” D’Alessandro said. “People keep coming up to me and congratulating me and all I can say it, ‘Thank you.’ Maybe in a week or two it will hit me — we’re second in the nation. I never expected us to make history for Middle Country, and we did it.”

Centereach’s cheerleading team competes at UCA nationals. Photo from Middle Country school district

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Girls top East Islip for first time in three years, boys team places fourth

For the first time in three years, Middle Country's girls bowling team bested East Islip for the county crown. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The intensity was up and the noise level high as Middle Country and East Islip found themselves in familiar territory — duking it out for the county title for seven hours Feb. 3. Middle Country won by 42 pins after erasing an 43-pin deficit heading into game six to finally overcome East Islip after coming in second to the Redmen the last two years.

With emotional hugs and tears, Middle Country won its final game 1,147 to 1,062 after being up in games one through three. Amanda Scarfogliero finished with a 1,317 series, and saved her best for last, a 256 in Game 6, the team’s second highest score. No one on Middle Country bowled lower than a 202 in the final game. Scarfogliero was in tears as the final scores were being calculated.

Middle Country’s Julie Acosta. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“My heart dropped honestly,” Scarfogliero said. “I made a promise to this team and my parents that I’d get Middle Country up to Syracuse. That’s exactly what we did. I needed to get that last game-high, and I did it.”

Middle Country rallied back to win 6,454 to 6,412 in a thriller at Bowlero in Sayville, winning four of the six games.

Middle Country’s 69-year-old head coach Mandy Dominguez announced he will be retiring after coaching for 28 years and in Middle Country for 18.

“I’m so proud of these girls,” Dominguez said. “The girls did not give up. They all had 200s in the final game. They’re resilient, and a tough group of girls.”

East Islip came out on fire in Game 4 and Game 5, out-bowling Middle Country 1,131 to 1,020 in the latter to turn a 248-pin deficit into the 43-pin lead.

“I knew we could come back,” Dominguez said. “We were just hoping that East Islip wouldn’t get hot. The [Middle Country] girls came through and that’s the main thing.”

Freshman Hannah Skalacki came in with the highest average in the county for Middle Country at 223. She said there was a lot of pressure taking down East Islip. She rolled a 255 in Game 1 of a 1,330 series.

“I love competition,” Skalacki said. “When everything was going on, I felt the tension going everywhere.”

Middle Country’s Hannah Skalacki. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Senior Julie Acosta was the last bowler in starting rotation for Middle Country. She finished the last game with a 225 and had the team’s high game with a 279. Middle Country had mathematically already won before she bowled her final frame.

“I was so nervous,” Acosta said finishing up her game. “Knowing that we won, I just wanted it to be over with and be able to celebrate with my team.”

The last time Acosta went to states, she was in seventh grade, which was her first season with Middle Country.

In Dominguez’s final season coaching, he said going to the states is icing on the cake. The team will compete at The Oncenter March 10 at 9 a.m.

“I’m so happy, especially very happy for the girls,” Dominguez said. “East Islip has beat us every year for the past three or four years. This year, the seniors came through and they worked hard. They’re a great bunch of girls and a great bunch of talented bowlers.”


In other county bowling news:

Middle Country’s boys bowling placed fourth with 6,294 points.

East Islip claimed first by a landslide with 6,829 points to earn back-to-back county titles. In second was West Babylon with 6,353 and Sachem in third with 6,346.

Comsewogue’s. Hannah Manetta. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Middle Country junior Noah Axinn bowled a 300 in his second game. He’s never bowled a sanctioned 300 before.

Senior Thomas Lettich finished sixth in the county in with a 223 average for Middle County. He has the fourth highest series in the county at 783. He will go to Syracuse to play in the All-Star game.

Comsewogue girls bowling team placed fifth in the county championship with 5,612 points. The Warriors won three of their six games.

“It’s kinda where I thought we would be,” Comsewogue head coach Bo Frimmer said. “I was hoping that we would somehow come in third, because it’s always tough to beat East Islip and Middle Country.”

Junior Hannah Manetta has the seventh highest average in the county at 216. She bowled an average of 221 in the tournament. Last year, Warriors finished in sixth.

“This year we bowled against a lot of the harder teams, which is when you bowl against harder competitors, it leads you to bowl better,” Manetta said. “It was pretty tough this year.”

This post was updated Feb. 5 to correct the deficit Middle Country overcame for the win.

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By Jim Ferchland

Middle Country All-County seniors Thomas Lettich, Peter Puglia and Tom Hussey led their team to its final win of the season at their home alley Jan. 25, sweeping Harborfields 3-0 to finish 10-2.

Lettich, who has the best Mad Dogs average with a 224, finished with a 630 on the afternoon. Bowling a 209, 225 and 196, he said he was not pleased with his results, adding he wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

“I knew what I had to come in and do today, and wanted to be an all star,” he said. “I was in the fifth spot and I needed a 675, and shot a little lower than that. I’m confident that I can probably still get in.”

Middle Country head coach Mike Messana said he knows how bad Lettich wanted to finish in the Top 5 spot. Lettich needed a 240 in his final game to put himself on pace for his average.

“It was the mental game,” Messana said. “He had a number in his head. Once you get that number in your head, it’s over.”

The Mad Dogs, which handily won 1,045-582, 1,013-660 and 1,035-594, received the best scores from junior Noah Axinn, who finished with a 701 — bowling 258, 217 and 226. His average is 214. Like most bowlers, he’s his own biggest critic.

“I felt I did pretty good,” Axinn said. “I could have done better. Overall, it was a pretty nice series.”

Hussey shot above his 192 average on Thursday (201, 163 and 204) rounding himself a 568 on the afternoon. Puglia finished with a 619 (182, 202 and 234). His average is second best behind Lettich at 212.

“I didn’t bowl good the first game,” Puglia said. “Then, I made adjustments … I bowled really good the third game. I wanted to end on a high note.”

Harborfields senior Ashton Madden had the best score for his team with a 482, rolling well above his 144 average with a 185 in game two. Michael Fellmeth, who has the highest average for Harborfields (161), finished at 460. He bowled at his best, a 163, in game one.

The Mad Dogs lost two matches all season, to Smithtown East and Northport. Messana said the most important part of the season is upon his team with the upcoming county tournament.

Middle Country is scheduled to bowl in the division finals Jan. 30 at Bowl Long Island in Patchogue at 3:30 p.m. The county tournament is Feb. 3 in Sayville at 9 a.m.

“The whole season really from the first practice in November to our last match today is just preparation for countys,” he said. “It just matters that you make the county tournament. If you make it, you have a shot to win. If you don’t make it, you’re out.”

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Allison Burfeindt. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The Mad Dogs were down after dropping their second game all season, the first of three, 996-863, at home at AMF Centereach Lanes against Sachem Jan. 9.

Nicole Lettich. Photo by Jim Ferchland

But Middle Country’s girls bowling team was not going to let the loss snap their winning ways, and the team got hot scoring 924 in the second and 1,017 in the third for a 2-1 victory to remain undefeated (6-0).

The team was thinking it might have lost its mojo after it was forced to change lanes. When playing games at home, the Mad Dogs play on lanes 29 and 30, but according to the AMF staff the lanes were down, leaving Middle Country and Sachem to compete on 25 and 26. Middle Country head coach Mandy Dominguez said this ruined the girls’ at-home advantage.

“Our top bowlers struggled on lanes 25 and 26 today,” he said. “They didn’t bowl as high as they usually do but it’s just one of those things you can’t control.”

Dominguez, who has been at the helm for nine years, has led the team to eight straight league titles. He has high expectations and was unhappy with how his team performed in the first game.

“It was our worst game of the year,” Dominguez said. “I was a little disappointed
and depressed, but I knew that the girls had the ability to come back and win.”

Amanda Scarfogliero. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Sachem came to play in the first, and even Sachem coach Diane Groneman was really impressed with her girls’ performances. Sophomore All-County bowler Amanda Naujokas scored 246, which really gave Sachem the advantage.

“This is one of the better games we’ve had this season,” Groneman said. “You’re always pumped to go against the first-place team.”

Middle Country senior Nicole Lettich, who is sixth on the team with a 205 average, led Middle Country with a 181 in game one, and then caught fire in the next two. She bowled a 213 and 258, slamming home seven strikes in a row in the third. For Lettich, it was quite a surprise.

“I haven’t bowled over a 200 in my third game in so long,” Lettich said, as she usually bowls around a 170 late in the game. “[It] felt really good … I really haven’t bowled that well lately. It was exciting.”

Senior Allison Burfeindt has been bowling for Middle Country since seventh grade, so she knows the bar is set high every year. She said she and the three other soon-to-be graduates average over 200, along with most of the rest of the Mad Dogs because they know what needs to be put in to get results.

Julie Acosta. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“All of the girls on the team put in so much work,” Burfeindt said. “We practice every single day.”

Middle Country may have won by over 100 pins in game two, but Dominguez said his team still wasn’t at its best with all the spares.

“We are used to getting a lot more strikes than spares,” Dominguez said. “It wasn’t our best day, but we did enough to win.”

Freshman Hannah Skalacki, who bowls the highest average on the team with a 224, did not play because of personal reasons. Senior Julie Acosta fell shy of meeting her 207 average, finishing with a 165, 160 and 191.

“Even though we struggled in the first game, we just came back hard and fought for the win,” she said. “We didn’t give up and came together as a team. We just fought to the end.”

Dominguez said that despite the win, his Mad Dogs can’t play like they did again if they want to beat Longwood Jan. 11. Longwood gave Middle Country their first dropped game back on Dec. 19. The game is set for 3:30 p.m. at Coram Country Bowl.

“If we bowl like we did today, we’ll lose to Longwood on Thursday,” Dominguez said. “They are very good. We have to bowl better.”

Middle Country’s girls bowling team celebrates its win. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Middle Country's Shauna Singh continues the volly. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Middle Country ended the regular season on a high note.

Rocky Point’s Katie Barber sends the ball over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

The Mad Dogs girls tennis team invaded Rocky Point Oct. 2 and took home a 6-1 League VI win over the Eagles. Middle Country is ranked No. 3 in the standings with a 6-4 record behind Mount Sinai and undefeated Port Jefferson.

“We were pretty evenly balanced today in singles — they kept the ball in play and they didn’t make the mental mistakes [to] beat themselves,” Middle Country head coach Mike Steinberg said. “Our doubles [had a good outing]. They worked well together.”

What the coach has liked seeing most from his team this season is consistency, and hopes that carries into tournament play.

“We’ll get some doubles in for the tournament,” he said. “Hopefully we can get one or two singles [players into the mix].”

Middle Country’s Olivia Zhu serves. Photo by Bill Landon

After dropping her first two games, Middle Country’s No. 1 singles player Olivia Zhu, a five-year varsity starter, swept the next 12 to shut the door on her opponent, winning 6-2, 6-0.

“I had a little bit of a slow start in those first two games, but after that it was smooth sailing,” the senior two-time All-County player said. “I thought I did a really good job at pushing her deep — keeping her towards the baseline — to attack to finish off points.”

Rocky Point senior duo Katie Barber and Allison Kasper had their hands full in No. 1 doubles, dropping the match 3-6, 4-6.

“We ended up losing, but it was a really strong match,” Barber said. “We were strong at the net. I’m tall, so it’s hard to get it around me. It’s a powerful shot [if I can hit] down at them and that gets you a lot of points.”

Kasper said she and Barber will now prepare for postseason play where it’s anybody’s match, especially not knowing who your opponent is until game time. Rocky Point ends the season with a 2-8 team record.

“It all depends on the draw — hopefully we get an easier team so that we face them first and from there work our way up,” Kasper said. “I was pleased with my backhand today, but I need to be more aggressive on my net play.”

Rocky Point’s Allison Kasper slams the ball back over the new. Photo by Bill Landon

Middle Country’s Haylie Budd said she was satisfied with her play in No. 1 doubles against the pair, adding it wasn’t the first time the two teams had squared off.

“We were good at volleying at the net and hitting it away from them,” Budd said. “I expected a strong match and they were better than the last time we faced them.”

Rocky Point head coach Jim Buonconsiglio said he’s also been pleased with the progress his team has made.

“The girls have just been a delight to work with,” he said. “All around I’ve seen tremendous growth from the start of the season through today. Record-wise it doesn’t really show that, but as their coach I can see that the growth has been there and all aspects of their game has improved.”

Leukemia survivor Aubri Krauss collected Band-Aid box donations for Stony Brook University Hospital’s hematology and oncology unit. Photo from Darcy Krauss

By Jenna Lennon

Three years ago, Jericho Elementary School student Aubri Krauss decided to start a Band-Aid drive to benefit Stony Brook University Hospital’s hematology and oncology unit.

She had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2011. At just over 3 years old, she toughed out the treatment, and when finished, decided she wanted to do something to help others.

“[I want to] bring smiles to other kids who are going through what I went through,” she said.

Leukemia survivor Aubri Krauss collected Band-Aid box donations for Stony Brook University Hospital’s hematology and oncology unit. Photo from Darcy Krauss

“We were at the pediatrician’s office, and she saw all the Band-Aids they had and she was like ‘You know what mom? We used so many Band-Aids when I was sick — wouldn’t it be great if we could get a bunch of Band-Aids for all the kids that are still sick?’” Aubri’s mother Darcy Krauss said. “When they have to get their finger pricked, those plain Band-Aids are boring. That was one of the great things for Aubri was she got to pick her own fun, kid Band-Aid.”

Last year, Aubri decided to try something different and hosted a wrapping paper drive for the events that the clinic holds for the children during the holidays.

Aubri decided to return to the Band-Aid drive this year because “she thinks it’s more personal to the kids,” Krauss said. When she began, she hoped to beat her collection of 700 boxes from her previous Band-Aid drive, and she’s done just that, collecting over 800.

“And they’re not all the little 20 packs,” Krauss said. “Some people brought boxes that have hundreds of Band-Aids, some people bought boxes that have 200 Band-Aids in it. So it’s a lot of Band-Aids.”

Middle Country Board of Education member Dina Phillips met Aubri in 2012 when her father was the assistant coach of her son’s baseball team.

“When I met Aubri, she endured countless tests, procedures, chemo treatments and much more, yet managed to do so without ever losing her sense of joy,” Phillips said. “She had to learn what it means to live part of her life in a hospital room, to lose her hair, and to lose some of the freedoms that other kids her age get to enjoy.”

“She endured countless tests, procedures, chemo treatments and much more, yet managed to do so without ever losing her sense of joy.”

Dina Phillips

She said she was blown away by how Aubri did not let her circumstances define her.

“With a maturity far beyond her years, Aubri turned her illness into an opportunity to help other kids like her, and turned her pain into a way to bring smiles to others,” Phillips said. “I am extremely proud of her. I hope we can all do a simple gesture and help her achieve her goal.”

Band-Aid drives were held at Aubri’s elementary school, Raymour & Flanigan Furniture and Mattress Store in Lake Grove, and Stagecoach Elementary School, where Phillip’s son goes to school. The students there decorated the box for a collection at Stagecoach’s 50th Anniversary celebration on June 9th.

“I think when you go through something so hard and you can come out on the other end and be empathetic and understanding … it just makes me very happy and blessed to be her mom,” Krauss said. “Everyone is like ‘she’s so lucky to have you as her mom,’ and I’m like no, I definitely think I’m the luckier one to have her as my daughter.”

By Desirée Keegan

Although North came out on the losing side, falling 16-15 to South July 1, Long Island athletes helped propel North to the first overtime game in Under Armour All-America girls’ lacrosse tournament history. The all-star game pits the best graduating high school lacrosse players in the country against each other every year.

Local lacrosse players Kelsey Huff, Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Jamie Ortega, Shannon Kavanagh, Molly Carter and Hannah Van Middelem. Photo from Emily Vengilio

Mount Sinai’s Emily Vengilio and Hannah Van Middelem, Shoreham-Wading River’s Sophia Triandafils, Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega and Smithtown East’s Shannon Kavanagh were all local leaders chosen to play in the senior game.

“I was so excited when I got the call from Under Armour,” Triandafils said. “Long Island is one of the best areas for lacrosse. Everyone was so skilled and we all meshed together. This game was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve done involving lacrosse.”

The girls were treated like celebrities, being provided gear and getting their photos taken all weekend. Kavanagh was just excited to get out on the field one more time before traveling to the University of Florida.

“To have one last hoo-rah before heading off to college was the cherry on top of a great high school career,” she said.

University of North Carolina-bound Ortega and soon-to-be teammate Alli Mastroianni from New Jersey led North, which never trailed in the game, with three goals each. Kavanagh added a goal in the loss.

“We came out strong and really played fast and competitive, and didn’t stop fighting,” Ortega said. “I was happy with how I played and was even happier to add points to help our team compete against the South.”

Smithtown Easts Shannon Kavanagh carries the ball for North. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

Mastroianni opened the scoring and positioned herself for game MVP honors, finishing with three goals, two assists and four draw controls. North built its early lead, going on a 4-1 run and upping its cushion to 9-5 with six minutes left. The lead, however, was thanks in large part to goalie Riley Hertford’s nine saves in the first 30 minutes — one shy of the record for most in the girls’ Under Armour All-America game.

South twice had to come back from significant deficits; they trailed 11-7 at halftime but came out of the gates strong, scoring five of the first six goals in the second period to knot things at 12-12. North again built a significant lead, going up 15-12 with 10:19 remaining after a pair of free position shots and an unassisted goal.

North had two opportunities for a late game-winning goal after Mastroianni won the last draw of regulation. Kavanagh shot high with one minute remaining, then Vengilio, who is headed to Pennsylvania State University, picked up a ground ball with six seconds remaining, but the team couldn’t get a look at the cage.

“We moved the ball in transition nicely and everyone was looking for that one more pass — we had some pretty nice defensive stops,” Kavanagh said. “But everyone was so good, so it was so much fun to be able to play against such good competition. If I could do the whole thing over again I would in a heartbeat.”

Van Middelem made five stops for North in the second half.

Sophia Triandafils, Emily Vengilio, Kelsey Huff and Shannon Kavanagh lisen up during halftime. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh

“We really got after it in the little time we had together,” she said. The team had three practices Friday before playing the game on Saturday. “It’s not hard to come together though when you have such talented lacrosse players playing together. I felt confident between the pipes knowing I had the top defenders in the country in front of me. It was an honor to be selected for such a prestigious event.”

Her Mount Sinai teammate was one of them, and Vengilio said she was glad to have shared the experience with her.

“It was really amazing to represent Long Island with all the girls I played Yellow Jackets with, and it was awesome that Hannah and I got to represent our hometown,” Vengilio said. “You’re out there playing with 44 of the best players in the country so obviously people are going to score goals and people are going to get stopped on defense. It was a great experience.”

Mount Sinai was the only school to have two players competing on the same team.

“With Mount Sinai being such a small spot on the map it’s great to be out there,” Vengilio said.

The win is just South’s fourth in the 12-year history of the game, and vengeance for North’s win last season.

“Lacrosse has meant the world to me since the day I picked up a stick for the first time,” Van Middelem said. “I have made lifelong friendships and memories from this sport.  It has helped me grow into the person I am today and has taught me so many life lessons. I couldn’t picture my life without lacrosse.”

The Under Armour 2017 senior girls lacrosse team representing the North contained a large amount of Long Island lacrosse players. Photo from Shannon Kavanagh