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Middle Country

Mad Dogs win program’s first state semifinal game, fall in overtime in Class A state final

The Middle Country girls lacrosse team at a banquet upstate following the team's first Class A state semifinal win. Photo from Amanda Masullo

It wasn’t the ending the Middle Country girls lacrosse team had hoped for, but the Mad Dogs returned from the trip upstate with a few more firsts for the program.

The team had already nabbed the elusive Suffolk County Class A title with a 13-3 win over Northport, and another first with a Long Island championship crown following a 10-9 edging of Massapequa.

As a result, the Mad Dogs had the opportunity to take their first trip upstate. In the semifinals against North Rockland, the team continued its magical run, and the Masullo twins led the way. Amanda scored six goals and Rachel had four goals and two assists in a decisive 20-7 win at SUNY-Cortland June 9.

Amanda Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

“Helping my team win the semifinal game, and doing it along with my twin sister was a great experience, and it made me so proud of my team,” said Rachel Masullo, who added she knew she and her twin had to step up their game in the wake of Jamie Ortega and Ava Barry being face-guarded for much of the game. “Assisting my teammates is also a great feeling though, knowing that I was a part of our push forward on the field.”

She said she enjoyed sharing the moments she and her sister had together on the field, often assisting on each other’s goals.

“It’s easy for me and Amanda to connect on the field, because we’re always together and we know what each other is going to do,” Masullo said. “Making it this far with my team was what we’ve been striving for all these years, and to make it as a senior and to have my best friends by my side made it that much better.”

Amanda Masullo also had words regarding her sister.

“She’s the one that makes me work harder, and be better,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that.”

Although Ortega, the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse prospect who is bound for the University of South Carolina and also became New York’s all-time leading scorer during the Long Island championship win, was the main focus of the North Rockland defense, she still managed to make her presence felt, netting five goals and adding three assists. But the Masullos quickly put Middle Country ahead of North Rockland (18-3).

Rachel Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

“We always have plays to get me open,” Ortega said of being heavily guarded. “Usually I can get out of them, so I’m pretty used to it by now.”

Consecutive goals from Amanda Masullo late in the first half pushed the lead to 8-1, including a score in which she picked up a ground ball and sprinted around nearly the entire defense for a close look at the cage. Then, when North Rockland threatened by closing the deficit to four goals at 9-5, Rachel Masullo scored twice to push the lead back to six.

Those two tallies started a run in which Middle Country scored 10 of the final 12 goals. Barry scored each of her three goals in that span. Her second goal gave Middle Country a 16-6 lead with 12:44 remaining, prompting the running clock that comes with a 10-goal advantage.

“Our defense was very strong this weekend,” Rachel Masullo said. “And Jamie, Ava and Jen [Barry, Ava’s younger sister] dominated on the draw, which made it that much easier.”

Following the win, Middle Country battled Pittsford, another team that had yet to win a state title. Ortega sent a rocket shot on a player-up situation for the equalizer late in the game, and won the ensuing draw for the Mad Dogs, who held on for a final shot, but Pittsford’s Michelle Messenger saved a skip-shot with four seconds left to ensure overtime. Middle Country ended up losing, 10-9, in overtime.

“The game’s never over until the buzzer goes off,” said Ortega, who had four goals and an assist and finished her varsity career with 588 points, more than any girls lacrosse player in state history. “We know how fast we can score a goal. It could be 10 seconds.”

Jamie Ortega. Photo by Bill Landon

The run to tie wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all of the Middle Country starters. Pittsford led 5-2 before a 5-0 run spanning the end of the first half and the beginning of the second, bookended by Ortega goals that gave Middle Country a 7-5 lead. Ava Barry scored twice and assisted on both of Ortega’s goals — the second tied the game — and Sophie Alois, who scored the opening goal of the game, gave the Mad Dogs the lead for the second time, scoring the opening goal of the second half to bring the score to 6-5.

“I think it was a mood changer to score the opening goal of each half,” Alois said. “Our coach always says that energy is contagious, and today, my teammates all created an encouraging and energetic environment that everyone fed off of. I was just happy to add onto it.”

Alois said her team knew the pressure was on, and Pittsford answered with a 4-0 spurt of its own for the 9-7 lead that added extra weight back onto the Mad Dogs’ shoulders.

“We emphasized remaining calm, dodging and moving the ball quickly,” Alois said. “It’s easy to throw the ball away or rush a play when pressure is present. When I got the ball, I knew the importance of every possession. With this in mind, I made sure to fake my shot and place it to ensure a point for my team.”

Rachel Masullo fed Barry to pull within one, 9-8, and Ortega tied things up to force two three-minute overtime sessions. With the game still tied 9-9 at the end of the first three minutes, the teams switched sides, and a Pittsford (20-1) free position shot that was initially saved rolled in with 1:55 left to end the game.

Ava Barry. Photo by Bill Landon

“I think our mentality really helped spark a comeback,” Alois said. “Every timeout or stoppage of play, we all gave each other constant reminders that the game wasn’t over and that anything was possible. We kept playing until the final seconds.”

Following the final seconds, Ortega was still shaken up by the loss.

“I didn’t want my last game ever to represent Middle Country to end like that,” she said. “I just knew my team needed me and I needed to be there for them. Now that it’s over, it feels like a piece of me is gone, but I couldn’t be happier on how far we went and how hard we worked and pushed each other. These last few years have really been a journey.”

After the dust settled, Rachel Masullo said she thought some sloppy plays and minor mistakes contributed to the team’s collapse. Her sister said the team wasn’t used to battling against a tough defense, adding she was disappointed the team couldn’t pull through for who she thought really deserved it.

“No matter how much we were down, or how much time we had left, whether it be 10 minutes or two, our coaches never let us give up,” Amanda Masullo said. “The whole team not only wanted to win for each other, but for them, because they really deserve it. I’m just upset that we couldn’t pull through for them.”

Sophie Alois carries the ball to the crease. Photo by Bill Landon

Rachel Masullo said she thought the motivation and determination the team showed in battling back is what Middle Country athletics is all about, and she’s proud of how she’ll be leaving the program.

“This program has made me into not only a better lacrosse player, but a better person all around,” she said. “I won’t ever forget what this team has taught me these past five years, and I definitely made memories that will last a lifetime.”

Amanda Masullo said teams better continue to watch out for Middle Country.

“I’ve seen us go from the team who everyone knew they could beat, the team that would go crazy when we finally won a game, to the team who no other team wanted to play because they were afraid,” she said. “That’s something that amazes me, and thinking about it, it makes me realize that me and the other seniors have something to do with that. I’m grateful to have been able to play alongside these other amazing girls, and I will never forget how far we’ve come, and the history we made along the way.”

Middle Country’s Rachel Masullo hoists up her team’s new hardware after Middle Country outscored Northport 13-3 ofr the program’s first Suffolk County championship. Photo by Desirée Keegan

 

By Bill Landon

With 46 seconds left on the clock, it all came down to a single draw for Middle Country’s girls’ lacrosse team, which, leading 10-9, needed a crucial possession win to try and bring home the Mad Dogs’ first Long Island championship title in program history.

With Jennifer Barry taking the draw, her older sister Ava, a senior, said she spoke to her of the draw’s importance.

Jamie Ortegan drives to the goal. Photo by Bill Landon

“’You have to block everything out,’” Ava Barry said she told her sister. “’I told her, ‘you’re great at this, we’ve practiced this.’ She knew she had to get it, and she did.”

Senior Jamie Ortega was there to scoop up the ball, and with it, the school district’s first Long Island Class A title with a 10-9 win over Massapequa at Adelphi University June 4.

“It feels great — I’m so happy for them,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said of the win. “They grinded until the last second, and that’s what we needed them to do.”

It wasn’t the only title that Ortega grabbed Sunday.

The University of North Carolina-bound senior needed three points to become New York’s leading point-scorer. The nation’s top lacrosse recruit, who leads Suffolk County with 130 points off 89 goals and 41 assists, surpassed Northport’s Shannon Gilroy’s record of 570 points.

Ava Barry cuts up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

She did it fast, too, during Middle Country’s first three goals. First, she fed senior Amanda Masullo to tie the game, 1-1, and on a man-up advantage, passed to an open Sophie Alois, who found the back of the goal to retie the game 2-2. With the score knotted 3-3 after Ortega scored on an feed from senior Ava Barry, and her teammate returned the favor to help Ortega pass Gilroy and give Middle Country its first lead of the game. And Ortega didn’t stop there. She scored again as the Mad Dogs went on a 4-1 run to lead 7-4 at the break.

“When I beat the record it felt really nice, but winning that game was my biggest goal,” Ortega said. “Being recognized for my achievements makes me really proud, but the ride this entire team has been on has been one for the books.”

Barry scored on a cut, and fed Ortega her hat trick goal for a 9-4 lead to open the second half. Massapequa rattled off two unanswered goals before Ortega and Barry connected again.

That’s when things began to break down for Middle Country. The team wasn’t winning the draws, and the extra possessions led to a 5-0 Massapequa run.

“I was so nervous,” Barry said of the scoring streak. “We came out hard and we were racking up points, and then all of a sudden, we weren’t getting the draw like we were.”

She said she thinks her team lost focus, but said a timeout call settled the team down.

Rachel Masullo sends a shot toward the netting. Photo by Bill Landon

“We [started] to panic,” Ortega said. “We brought it in [during the timeout] and we knew we had to keep up our defense. We knew they could score again, and thankfully, we were able to hold them.”

Behind Ortega’s three goals and four assists, was Ava Barry with a hat trick and two assists. Alois netted two goals, and twin sisters Rachel and Amanda Masullo each scored once, with Rachel also feeding on a goal. Senior Emily Walsh made five saves between the pipes.

The Mad Dogs carry a potent offense into the state semifinal game June 9, where the Mad Dogs will take take on North Rockland in the state semifinals at SUNY Cortland at 4:30 p.m.

Dolson joked she’s not only hoping to pull out a win for her special senior class, but also for a little battle she has going on at home.

“My husband won his state championship with his wrestling team at Mattituck,” she said. “So now I need to get mine.”

Ortega thinks they’re on the right track to get there.

“I really think we could win states if we play to our full potential,” she said. “It’s something that I always dreamed about and finally bringing home that win means the world to me and to my team.  We worked so hard, we have such a talented team and we are so close. I know that we can continue to make history.”

Desirée Keegan contributed reporting

It was hammer time for Middle Country’s Jamie Ortega, as the sideline sang her goal-scoring song five times in the girls’ lacrosse team’s 13-3 win over Northport May 30.

“You can’t touch this,” they screamed louder and louder with each goal.

Ortega stepped out on the field Tuesday ready to finish what her older sister Nikki had started more than five years ago — win the program’s first Class A Suffolk County championship. Nikki Ortega had led the Mad Dogs further and further into the postseason over her six-year varsity career until she graduated two years ago, and her younger sister has been steering the wheel ever since.

“I wanted to do this for her,” Jamie Ortega said. “And I wanted to play for all those seniors that didn’t have the opportunity to. We finished it for them. We didn’t want that feeling again.”

That feeling she referred to was the devastation after each loss at the hands of West Islip over the last three seasons — twice in the semis and once in the finals.

This time, although the foe wasn’t as familiar, Middle Country knew it couldn’t take its opponent lightly. No. 5 Northport was fresh off an 8-7 upset over nationally ranked No. 1 Ward Melville.

“We were nervous,” said senior Ava Barry, who scored a goal and had five assists. “It’s hard to beat a team twice. Any team can win on any given day.”

Middle Country is also ranked nationally, featuring the top lacrosse recruit in the nation in Ortega. The senior pulled out a similar showing to when the Mad Dogs completed a 14-5 win over the Tigers May 8. Ortega finished that game with four goals and two assists.

She scored three goals and had one assist at the end of the first half in the final. She completed her hat trick when, after passing to Barry who couldn’t find a clear lane near the circle, sent a pass back to Ortega and who fired her shot home for a five-goal lead, 6-1.

“It’s my last year and I knew that this was the time to step up and play ‘all in,’” the University of North Carolina-bound midfielder said. “I’m so proud of this team.”

The team was “all in” from one end of the field to the other. The defense held Northport to 12 shots, and senior goalie Emily Walsh made nine saves. Jennifer Barry, Ava’s younger sister, led Middle Country to a 13-5 draw advantage, with Ortega also pulling away with some draw wins. The offense had nine assists on its 13 goals.

“Our defense was great, we came up so big on so many stops in goal and had so many extra possessions that we took advantage of,” Ortega said. “We knew if we got the extra possession and made them turn over the ball that we could calm down and make a good play out of it.”

Barry had passed to Ortega for her second goal and dished the ball to senior Rachel Masullo for a 7-1 lead. Ortega and Barry made another pass-back move on the opening goal of the second half, after Ortega forced a turnover behind Northport’s goal.

“My teammates were making great cuts, got open really well and helped me be able to make the passes to them,” Barry said.  “When the sidelines get involved in the game it’s fun, it’s exciting. You always want your sideline to be cheering your team on.”

After a brief second-half hiccup, with Northport’s Emerson Cabrera putting her team’s first goal on the scoreboard since the 11-minute mark of the first half, Middle Country got right back to work. Head coach Lindsay Dolson never slowed down her team, saying the girls like to use their speed, and the team racked up three more goals before Northport scored its final goal of the game. She also said the win gave the team some needed confidence. But Ortega said she told her team they were capable all along.

“I told my teammates we shouldn’t be nervous,” Ortega said. “This was our game, our time. I told them we’re not losing today, everyone believed it and we proved it.”

Twin sisters Rachel and Amanda Masullo added three goals apiece and Jennifer Barry assisted on two goals.

Middle Country will face the winner of the June 1 Massapequa-Port Washington game for the Long Island championship at Adelphi University June 4 at 7:30 p.m.

“Our mentality has been just putting in every ounce of effort and not stopping until we seal the deal,” Rachel Masullo said. “So many of our seasons got cut short. Now, we’re ready to barrel through anybody that gets in front of us.”

Jamie Ortega. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

For the fourth straight year, the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team will be making it to the semifinals of the Class A playoffs. But this time, West Islip won’t be standing in their way.

Amanda Masullo. File photo by Bill Landon

No. 3-seeded Middle Country outscored No. 6 Sachem North 9-5 May 22. Because of the seeding, No. 9 West Islip was on the opposite side of the bracket, and No. 1 Ward Melville took care of the dirty work for the Mad Dogs.

“With Ward Melville eliminating West Islip, I think it has taken some pressure off of the team, because we finally have West Islip out of our hair,” senior Rachel Masullo said. “But no matter who we verse, we can’t take our foot off the gas. We have to keep giving it our all.”

West Islip eliminated Middle Country the last three years — twice in the semifinals, and in the 2015 finals. Sophomore Sophie Alois said that with the team continuing to improve year after year though, the Mad Dogs weren’t as frightened of the Lions as they had been in the past.

“Although West Islip has been our kryptonite the last few years, they don’t intimidate us anymore,” she said. “We know we can play with them, and beat them, and we’ve shown that.”

The sophomore was referring to the team’s 13-9 win over West Islip April 20.

For now, she’s glad the team can continue its season.

“I know none of us are ready for it to end,” Alois said following the win over Sachem North. “Today was just another notch in the belt, and now we’re focused on Wednesday.”

Sophie Alois. File photo by Bill Landon

Alois led the team with four goals. Masullo had the most points, with five on two goals and three assists.

“Coming into this matchup we knew we had to limit our turnovers in the midfield and have a really strong defense, which we did,” Masullo said. “Our composure also played a big part in this win.”

The senior added that coming into the matchup, she replayed the loss to Sachem North, an 11-8 defeat May 2, over and over in her mind, and knew the Mad Dogs couldn’t let it happen again.

“It definitely wasn’t a feeling I wanted to go through again,” she said. “The loss really fired us up.”

Because a handful of the girls have been playing together for three or four seasons, the team has a strong connection. Having a few sister pairings, and the No. 1 women’s lacrosse draftee in the nation in Jamie Ortega, doesn’t hurt either. The University of North Carolina-commit finished with a goal and an assist. Senior Ava Barry added a goal and three assists, and Masullo’s twin sister Amanda rounded out the scoring with a goal of her own.

Sophie Alois. File photo by Bill Landon

Alois said that head coach Lindsay Dolson tells the team “your attitude is contagious, and all it takes is one person to get everyone going.”

The sophomore said now more than ever, the team is heeding those words.

“I know none of us are ready for this season to end,” she said. “We don’t want to feel how we have the last few seasons, having our runs cut short. We are sick of losing, we want to win. The energy from my teammates is motivating, and we’re all contributing to the exciting atmosphere.”

Middle Country faced No. 2 Smithtown East May 24, but results were not available by press time.

“It’s going to be hard to stop us,” Alois said. “We’re full steam ahead right now, and we won’t stop until we’ve won.”

The evening of May 16 was a good one for school boards across New York State, as residents cast their ballots overwhelmingly in favor of district budgets.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, the average proposed school district tax levy increase in 2017-18 will be 1.48 percent, more than half a percentage point below the acclaimed 2 percent property tax cap. It is the fourth consecutive year the tax cap growth factor will be below 2 percent.

Here’s how school districts on the North Shore of Suffolk County fared:

Commack
According to the Commack school district’s website, the district voted 2,019-555 in favor of the $187,532,818 proposed budget. Carpenter edged out Janine DiGirolamo 1,363 votes to 1,059, and Hender narrowly beat April Pancella Haupt 1,240 to 1,148.

Comsewogue
Comsewogue residents voted 789 in favor and 208 not against the $89,796,337 budget. Incumbents Ali Gordon and Jim Sanchez won back their seats in an uncontested race, with 882 and 846 votes, respectively.

Harborfields
Members of the district voted 1,224 to 249 for the $84.4 million budget. In a tightly-contested race, David Steinberg and Christopher Kelly won the two open seats with 800 and 741 votes, respectively. Sternberg won back his seat, while the third time seemed to be a charm for Kelly. Laura Levenberg finished with 623 votes while Anila Nitekman totaled 467.

Hauppauge
The Hauppauge school district passed its $107,965,857 budget 811-308, and its capital reserve fund proposition 869-248, according to the district’s Facebook page. James Kiley and Lawrence Craft were elected to the board of education, with 803 and 797 votes, respectively.

Huntington
Residents passed the $126.2 million budget and capital reserve proposition, according to the district website. Trustees Jennifer Hebert and Xavier Palacios were re-elected to three-year terms.

Kings Park
The Kings Park community passed its $88.5 million proposed budget with 1,360 yes votes to 533 no. Incumbent Joe Bianco won back his seat with 989 votes, while challengers Katy Cardinale and J.P. Andrade finished with 733 and 110.

“I just feel great,” Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagan said. “The budget passed with 72 percent approval. I’m just happy that the community is very happy with what we have going on here, and it’s just great to have their support. We’ve been fortunate the last couple of years. We’ve been 70 percent passing or higher.”

Middle Country
Residents chose to pass the $243,590,487 proposed budget 1,658-418. Runners Dina Phillips (1,523), Ellie Estevez (1,380) and Doreen Felmann (1,512) won their uncontested board of education seat races, with 17 write-in votes.

Miller Place
Voters passed the $126.2 million budget 763-162. With no challengers, Lisa Reitan and Richard Panico were elected with 726 and 709 votes. Other write-in candidates totaled 23 votes.

Mount Sinai
The $59,272,525 budget was overwhelmingly passed by residents, 1,007 to 251 and the library 1,111 to 144. Incumbents Robert Sweeney (1,013), Edward Law (866) and Peter Van Middelem (860) won back their seats, while Michael McGuire almost doubled his total from last year, finishing with 597.

“I’m very happy that it passed,” Mount Sinai Superintendent Gordon Brosdal said. “We have great programs here. We can maintain those programs. We made the AP Honor Roll two years in a roll. Almost every team right now is in the playoffs, our music program is better than ever, so to keep those programs is great, but we’re not resting on that. Now we can get to work on our elementary reading program, bolstering that, we have a new principal coming in who has high expectations. There are programs we want to put in place that a lot of our kids need in the elementary school.”

He was disappointed with the turnout, though.

“I’m not happy,” he said. “We’re 200 lower than last year. We have 9,000 eligible voters. I’d like to see 500 to another 1,00 approve it so we have everyone together.”

Northport-East Northport
Northport-East Northport residents said “yes, yes, yes.” With 2,074 votes for and 636 against, the $163,306,840 budget passed, while support was also strong for the capital reserve expenditure, with 2,197 votes for and 512 against. This will allow the district to use capital reserves to fund additional projects including resurfacing/replacing two tennis courts and replacing the fence at William J. Brosnan School, installing new operable gymnasium windows at East Northport Middle School, replacing circuit panels at Northport High School, replacing auditorium seating at William J. Brosnan School and replacing classroom ceilings at Dickinson Avenue Elementary School. Donna McNaughton beat out Thomas Loughran for the lone seat up for grabs with 1,750 votes to Loughran’s 769.

Port Jefferson
Community members passed the nearly $43 million proposed budget 338-74. Renovations and upgrades using the capital reserve funds was also passed, 368-43. Incumbents Adam DeWitt and David Keegan were re-elected to serve three-year terms, with 357 and 356 votes, respectively.

Rocky Point
Rocky Point residents voted to pass the $83,286,346 budget with 663 saying yes, while 246 said no. The district also sought voter approval to access $3,385,965 million from its capital reserve fund in order to complete facility renovations across the district. For that proposal, 600 voted for and 312 against.

“We are extremely grateful for the community’s support of our proposed budget and capital improvement plan,” Rocky Point Superintendent Michael Ring said. “The educational enhancements included in this budget are ones that we believe will further support the needs of Rocky Point students while also providing them with opportunities to succeed at even greater levels, while still maintaining our commitment to fiscal responsibility.”

Incumbent board of education member Sean Callahan and newcomer Joseph Coniglione, who is principal of Comsewogue High school, were elected with 713 and 641 votes, respectively.

Shoreham-Wading River
Voters approved the $74, 842,792 budget 1,112 for to 992 against, and passed the capital reserve fund with 1,282 yes’ to 813 nos. The people are calling for change, as Katie Anderson (1,318), Henry Perez (1,303), Erin Hunt (1,279) and Michaell Yannuci (1,087) won seats, while James Smith (1,015), Jack Costas (563) and John Zukowski (524) missed the mark. Yannucci, who has previously been on the board, will be taking the one-year seat left by Michael Fucito, and both incumbents have been ousted.

Smithtown
The community passed the proposed budget with 2,241 yes votes to 693 no. Incumbents Gledy Waldron and Joanne McEnroy, who were running unopposed, won back their seats with 2,095 and 2,090 votes, respectively.  Matthew Gribbin defeated incumbent Grace Plours with 1,835 votes to Plourde’s 1,155.

Three Village
Three Village residents voted 1,708 for to 719 against the proposed $204.4 million budget. With no challengers, incumbents Jeff Kerman, Irene Gische and Inger Germano won back their seats with 1,805, 1,794 and 1,753 votes, respectively.

Voting will take place at Newfield High School May 16. The high school is located at 145 Marshall Drive. File photo

Three — one an incumbent — are vying for three seats on Middle Country’s board of education. Current trustees Debbie Parker and Daniel Hill are not seeking re-election.

Doreen Feldmann

Doreen Feldmann

Doreen P. Feldmann, a 46-year resident, said she strongly believes in the value of community service.

An active member of the PTA, the nine-year board member is also the chairperson of the Selden Centereach Youth Association; serves on the Middle Country Education Foundation; and has served or is continuing to serve on district committees such as the audit, anti-drug coalition, policy, legislative, PPS advisory council, safe schools and school business advisory boards.

She particularly enjoys her work on the business advisory board.

“It allows me to advocate for a clean and safe environment,” she said, through the Green Career Job Fair and e-waste collections.

She and her husband, Bill, who are both graduates of Newfield High School, do work via their solar equipment distribution company. They supply no-cost solar energy equipment to Habitat for Humanity and other not-for-profit groups.

A mother of two, she received formal recognition for her child advocacy work and community service, such as the NYS PTA Jenkins Award and the Distinguished Service Award, but said the best recognition comes when she is allowed to serve on the board of education.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve Middle Country,” she said. “I want to continue my work supporting children and the school board.”

Dina Phillips

Dina Phillips

Dina Phillips, a 17-year resident and stay-at-home mother of two, was in the accounting field for 12 years.

Phillips attended Briarcliffe College, obtaining an associate’s degree in graphic design in 2008.

She has been an active member of the PTA for many years, holding the position of treasurer, and is currently vice president at Stagecoach Elementary School and recording secretary at Selden Middle School, which she said gives her the skills needed to serve on the Middle Country board.

Phillips has chaired committees like homecoming, book fair and staff appreciation. She is also a recipient of the NYS PTA Jenkins Award, and is currently serving on the Middle Country legislative/community outreach committee, and has served on the interview committee.

“I have been advocating against high stakes testing for the last four years and want to continue my work on the board of education,” she said.

Ellie Estevez

Eliness Estevez

Eliness “Ellie” Estevez is a three-year resident and a senior at Newfield High School. The president of the mock trial team is also a member of the jazz choir, jazz band, pit orchestra, Tri-M Honor Society and leadership club, and is also a volunteer at Stony Brook University Hospital.

A soon-to-be business major at Stern School of Business, Estevez looks to apply the knowledge she obtains of finance and management, to maintain fiscal responsibility.

“I want to continue to offer students opportunities for success and academic excellence,” she said. “As a Middle Country student, I offer the perspective of the students as the district moves toward greater success in the future.”


Budget breakdown

This year’s proposed budget of $243,590,487 for the Middle Country Central School District is a 1.21 percent increase from last year’s expenditures, with a tax levy increase of 1.929 percent. It would cost homeowners roughly $108.41 and is under the 2 percent cap.

“We look forward to continue offering our district-wide STEM programs — allowing students the opportunity to explore robotics, zSpace labs and 3D printing,” superintendent Roberta Gerold said. “These programs — along with our math literacy initiatives, music, arts and athletics programs — provide students with a well-rounded educational experience.”

There is $63,215,804 in proposed foundation aid. The district will look to expand upon AP and College Tie offerings, add lab space for eighth grade living environment, add math periods for students in sixth through eighth grades, increase K-5 literacy and continue the full-day, pre-K program.

Rachel Masullo fights her way up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Middle Country’s girls’ lacrosse team shut out Northport in the second half to cruise to a 14-5 victory May 8, and remain in a tie for the No. 2 spot in Division I with Smithtown East.

Jamie Ortega moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport midfielder Olivia Carner broke the ice on a penalty shot in the first minute of play, as the Duke University-bound sophomore stretched the net for the early advantage.

But the Mad Dogs answered with three successive senior goals. First, was Boston University-bound Ava Barry, then University of North Carolina commit Jamie Ortega and then Masullo twins Amanda and Rachel, both Long Island University Brooklyn-bound, teamed up for the 3-1 lead.

“I told my team to drop anything that we thought about this team and rely on our strength and determination,” Rachel Masullo said. “We really wanted this game. It was a confidence booster.”

Northport’s Emerson Cabrera, a University of Florida commit, drilled two shots past the goalkeeper in under a minute to make it a new game, but Middle Country kept attacking.

Barry and the Masullo sisters did it again, and Barry found Amanda Masullo on the cut for a 6-3 lead with just under seven minutes left in the half.

“They’ve always been good, so we always have to be ready to play Northport,” Amanda Masullo said. “We stepped it up in the second  half winning the draws on offense and we knew we had to settle in and not force it, so I think we really came to play today.”

Amanda Gennardo intercepts a Northport pass. Photo by Bill LAndon

Northport’s Natalie Langella, who is headed to Bryant University, cashed in on a penalty shot, and U.S. Coast Guard Academy-bound Brenna Farrington made it a one-goal game.

But the Tigers would come no closer.

A man up, Rachel Masullo dished the ball off to Barry for a goal, and then Ortega scored for an 8-5 advantage.

“It snowballed to hell from there,” Northport head coach Carol Rose said. “These girls have got to work harder — they’ve got to play with some passion and more energy — they’ve got to have some more fight in them. They kind of just gave up. It was hard to watch.”

When the Tigers did get the ball, they struggled to transition up the field and when they did, the Mad Dog defense was up to the task.

“We knew they’d be motivated and really hyped, and they came out strong, but we took over in the second half,” Ortega said of Northport’s senior day. “We limited our turnovers, didn’t make mistakes and won a lot of the draws. But from here on out, we have to play our best because everyone wants to beat you, and in the playoffs you don’t have a second chance.”

Boston University-bound Jennifer Barry, Ava’s younger sister, Amy Hofer, University of Michigan commit Sophie Alois and Camrynn Aiello all scored in the second half.

Sophie Alois fires a shot at the cage. Photo by Bill Landon

Rachel Masullo had one goal and six assists, Ortega finished with four goals and two assists, and Amanda Masullo notched a hat trick and added an assist.

“They played us tough, but I don’t think we played up to our potential,” Middle Country head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “In the second half we had more draws, better defense and shot selection on offense, so I was pleased. Amanda Gennardo did a really nice job on defense — she came up with a huge amount of ground balls for us and she transitioned it up the field with no turnovers and that was nice to see from our underclassman.”

With the win, Middle Country improves to 11-2 and sit under undefeated Ward Melville with two games remaining before postseason play begins.

“In the playoffs, if you lose, you’re out,” Ortega said. “I don’t want to lose in the playoffs.”

Across from left, David Ebanks, Michael Barnum, Abigail Jones and Logan Aybar were named Middle Country school district’s students of the month for March. Photos from Middle Country school district

The Middle Country Central School District honored students of the month for March at a recent Board of Education meeting.

Centereach High School senior David Ebanks, Newfield High School senior Michael Barnum, Dawnwood Middle School sixth-grader Abigail Jones and Selden Middle School sixth-grader Logan Aybar were recognized for their academic and athletic achievements, perseverance and positive attitudes.

“Each month, it brings all of us here at Middle Country Central School District such joy to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of our students,” Superintendent of Schools Roberta Gerold said. “Watching our students grow brings an overwhelming feeling of fulfillment. Their successes here are just the beginning, and we can’t wait to watch all they accomplish in the months and years to come.”

Ebanks was chosen for his academic excellence and consistent “can-do” attitude — even in the face of obstacles. Teachers and administrators have recognized him as a respectful young man who walks around the school with a smile on his face, brightening the days of all who interact with him. Despite his wide range of successes academically and in extracurricular activities, he has remained humble.

Last month, he was honored during the Town of Brookhaven’s Black History Month celebration, recognizing him for his outstanding academic accomplishments throughout his high school career. Ebanks continued to thrive academically even while challenging himself by enrolling in college-level statistics and English courses during the current school year. Due to his hard work, he will graduate this June with an Advanced Regents diploma.

Ebanks has also left an invaluable mark on Centereach High School through his efforts as a peer tutor and his active role in the Bible club.

Barnum’s journey during his time at Newfield has been one of great success and resilience. Following his freshman and sophomore year achievements, both in the classroom and on the basketball court, he received unimaginable news in March 2015. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He spent the next 11 months keeping up with his academics through home teaching — even while facing intense chemotherapy treatment.

His diagnosis never altered his steadfast commitment to his studies and trajectory of excellence. He is in remission, and will be graduating on time this June with a potential to graduate with over 18 college credits.

During her first two quarters of middle school, Abigail has maintained a 98 GPA, with high honor distinction, and is an active member of jazz band and art club. Outside of school, she finds time to participate in dance, Girl Scouts, volleyball and piano. Her favorite subject is science, because of the hands-on experiments and interaction with her peers.

Logan’s academic excellence during his first two quarters as a middle school student earned him high honor roll. Although he enjoys all of his classes, his favorite class is math because he relishes the challenge of solving complex problems. He is an active participant of the science club and also enjoys attending after-school fitness intramurals. In his free time, Logan plays in soccer and basketball leagues and volunteers to prepare and deliver meals to homeless shelters. He is recognized as an attentive, genuine student who is a pleasure to have in class.

President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education Betsy DeVos has been met with opposition from North Shore educators. Photo from Senate committee website

Many North Shore superintendents and educators are concerned with President Donald Trump’s (R) nominee for secretary of education: Betsy DeVos, chairman of The Windquest Group, a privately-held investment and management firm based in Michigan, to serve as secretary of education. According to her website, the Michigan resident has a history in politics spanning more than 35 years. She was elected as chairman of the Michigan Republican Party four times, and worked in a leadership capacity for campaigns, party organizations and political action committees, her website states.

DeVos went before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions for a confirmation hearing Jan. 17.

“Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it … do not have my support.”

—Paul Casciano

“I share President-elect Trump’s view that it’s time to shift the debate from what the system thinks is best for kids to what moms and dads want, expect and deserve,” DeVos said during her opening remarks at the hearing. “Why, in 2017, are we still questioning parents’ ability to exercise educational choice for their children? I am a firm believer that parents should be empowered to choose the learning environment that’s best for their individual children. The vast majority of students in this country will continue to attend public schools. If confirmed, I will be a strong advocate for great public schools. But, if a school is troubled, or unsafe, or not a good fit for a child — perhaps they have a special need that is going unmet — we should support a parent’s right to enroll their child in a high-quality alternative.”

DeVos’ views on public education created a stir around the country, and superintendents from the North Shore and county as a whole joined the chorus of those skeptical about the direction she might take the country’s education system.

“I have devoted my entire adult life to public education and believe it is the bedrock of our democracy,” Port Jefferson school district Superintendent Paul Casciano said in an email. “Any programs and initiatives that attempt to weaken public education by diverting funds away from it or that offer alternatives that are not subjected to the same strict standards and scrutiny that public schools must live by, do not have my support.”

Kings Park Superintendent Tim Eagen echoed many of Casciano’s concerns.

“I find President Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, to be unacceptable,” he said in an email. “Education in this country is at an important crossroads. As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education that will prepare them to be active, contributing members of society.”

“As an educational leader and parent of two public school students, it is my goal to provide our children with a globally competitive, rigorous, relevant and challenging education.”

—Tim Eagan

Eagen also has concerns about DeVos’ qualifications.

“I believe that Betsy DeVos is unqualified to run the U.S. Department of Education,” he said. “She is a businesswoman and politician without any experience in public service or public education. She does not have an education degree, has no teaching experience, has no experience working in a school environment, never attended public school or a state university, and did not send her own four children to public school.”

Middle Country Central School District  Superintendent Roberta Gerold stressed that she does not support the appointment of DeVos, stating that she believes all of DeVos’ actions to date evidence a lack of support for, and understanding of public education.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework,” Gerold said. “She couldn’t seem to, for example, understand or explain the difference between growth and proficiency — very basic concepts. And her answer to whether guns should be allowed in schools — please.”

The superintendent said, though, that she is most disappointed that DeVos would even be considered for the position.

“It seems clear to me that this is purely a political appointment, not an appointment that recognizes merit or values authentic education,” Gerold said. “John King — who I don’t believe was a great champion of public education, at least had credentials that deserved respect. The new nominee does not. It’s worrisome and disconcerting….and insulting to the public education system, K–12 and beyond.”

She said her teachers, several who are community residents, are preparing a petition that requests the board of education adopt of resolution in opposition to the appointment.

“I was disappointed with her answers during the hearing – she didn’t appear to do much, if any, homework.”

—Roberta Georld

“I believe that our board will be supportive of that request,” she said. “I know that our board president is in agreement with opposing the nomination.”

The Miller Place school district’s administration and board of education drafted and passed a resolution opposing DeVos’ appointment. Superintendent Marianne Cartisano addressed the appointment in an open letter on the district’s website.

“Our concerns are twofold,” she said. “The first reservation we have is regarding the candidate’s lack of first-hand experience as an educator or administrator within the public school system. Since the majority of the children in the United States are currently being educated within the public school system, we feel that this experience is very important for an effective Secretary of Education.”

Cartisano elaborated on her other issues with DeVos.

“Her record also shows a clear bias towards private, parochial and charter schools and the use of vouchers to attend these schools,” Cartisano said. “This bias leads us to our second overarching concern with Betsy DeVos as a candidate for Secretary of Education. The concern is that Betsy DeVos has been a strong advocate for the use of public funds to attend private schools through vouchers, and this would have a direct negative impact on our public school system’s fiscal stability if it is put into effect on a national level.”

The committee will vote to either approve or deny DeVos’ nomination Jan. 31.

Victoria Espinoza and Desirée Keegan contributed reporting.