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Mustangs fall short of back-to-back county titles with loss to Hauppauge

Brooke Cergol never counted her team out. With her Mount Sinai girls basketball team down from opening tipoff, the junior continued to let shots fly, scoring five of her team-high 13 points in the first half to try to keep her Mustangs in it. She went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line to end the first half, turning a 15-9 deficit into a one-possession game, but Mount Sinai couldn’t come any closer. The Mustangs’ undefeated season came to an end in a 51-40 Class A county final loss to No. 6 Hauppauge Feb. 23 at Farmingdale State College.

“Hitting those three free throws to get us back into the game felt amazing — it gave us hope, and we started playing more like how we usually play,” Cergol said. “Our strategy going in was to have a strong defensive position, get out on shooters and rebound. We tried to stay with that game plan as much as possible — sometimes it didn’t work the way we wanted to, but we definitely gave it everything we had.”

Cergol broke up another Hauppauge scoring streak to start the third and cut the deficit to 10, but the Eagles were soon at it again. Junior Gabby Sartori (11 points) was next to break up a scoring spurt, hitting her second 3-pointer of the game and two free throws. She continued to try drawing fouls while driving the lane, but was denied the opportunity in most cases. Lone senior starter Olivia Williams (eight points) capped off the eight minutes with a 3-point play to give her No.1-seeded team another shot in the arm.

“We knew we were still in it,” Cergol said. “We never got down on ourselves, and knew we just needed to play in the moment. We all pushed ourselves. Obviously, the game did not turn out the way we wanted, but each player left everything on the court, and that’s what I love about this team.”

Cergol scored on a layup and Sartori on an offensive rebound to trim Hauppauge’s lead to four, 32-28, but the Mustangs fell behind the rest of the way.

“I think the game was a good challenge for us,” Williams said, noting the loss of Margaret Kopcienski to injury in the third had a direct impact on the team. “I don’t think going down early got in our heads because we had been in similar situations before, but it took a while for us to get into the swing of things.”

Mount Sinai comes short of completing back-to-back county title-winning seasons, claiming the program’s first last year, but finished the regular season undefeated for the first time in school history. Williams is thankful for the opportunity to be a part of momentous seasons.

“Being out on the court as a senior was surreal to me because I have been a part of this program for so long,” she said. “I was motivated to give it my all every game knowing it was my last season, and being on this journey with my team has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Being a Mustang has taught me so much about not only athletics, but the importance of having good character and leadership. I’ve had the chance to develop great relationships with my teammates and coaches over the years and have made memories that I will cherish forever.”

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Mustangs take Division I team title with seven top-two finishers, Port Jeff's Vin Miceli places first

Mount Sinai had four first-place finishers and three second-place grapplers to take him the Suffolk County Division I team title. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Mount Sinai senior Mike Zarif knows how to get the job done. The 138-pounder surrendered a 3-2 lead midway through the third period, and went into overtime tied at three against Center Moriches’ Donald Wood. As the two scrambled for position late, Zarif countered a Wood takedown attempt and spun behind the Red Devils wrestler for the two points and a 5-3 win. Of seven competing in the finals, four Mount Sinai grapplers came out on top.

“My coach was telling me ‘all heart, all heart’ especially when I was getting tired,” Zarif said. “I was just trying to push the pace and just push myself as much as possible. Being a county champ been my goal since last year. I’ve been working every day for it. Winning this is such a great feeling I’ll always remember.”

Mike Zarif with his county bracket. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Zarif, who picked up his 86th career win, was named the tournament’s Champion of Champions.

The strong showing helped the Mustangs to a first-place Division II finish for the first time in over a decade at the Suffolk County wrestling championships Feb. 11 at Suffolk Community College’s Brentwood campus. Mount Sinai tallied 241 points. Center Moriches, which earned the team title last year, finished second with 222 points.

“We have a really special group of kids,” head coach Matt Armstrong said. “They just worked so hard this year. It really payed off. It’s great when you can have kids excel and do well.”

Freshman Brendan Goodrich fell just short in a 2-1 decision to Bayport-Blue Point’s Joe Sparacio at 99 pounds.

“You know it’s going to be a 2-1 match either way,” Armstrong said of Goodrich’s match. “Unfortunately, Brendan was on the wrong side of it. He’s a young kid. We’ll see him back here for the next couple of years.”

Sophomore 120-pounder Michael O’Brien picked up his 76th career victory with a 5-1 decision over Shoreham-Wading River’s Eddie Troyano, who has a career record of 91-21 as a junior.

Three matches later, Mount Sinai’s Matt Campo (126 pounds) and Joe O’Brien (132 pounds) lost in decisions.

Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli won the 126-pound title and his 127th career win with a 4-0 decision over Campo who, finish third in the state last year.

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli proudly displays his bracket atop the county podium. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“It feels awesome honestly,” Miceli said about being a county champ. “It’s quite an experience to have my hand raised in front of that crowd. All the work I put in — it showed off on the mat.”

The Royals, which fell on the other side with four wrestlers losing their county matches, placed third overall with 210 points. Miceli said it felt bittersweet that he was only finalist to win for Port Jeff.

“My team put in a lot of work as well, but it honestly comes down to the mental game,” he said. “You’ve got to want it. You gotta want every minute in your match. You got to work for every takedown. Every move matters.”

Rick D’Elia was pinned by Shoreham-Wading River’s Connor Pearce in 3:40 at 113 pounds. D’ Elia is 72-21 in his career after the loss. Three matches after Miceli’s win, Port Jeff junior Joe Evangelista took the mat against Mattituck’s Jack Bokina. Evangelista lost in a 12-4 decision. He said he has no excuse for losing.

“I’ve been working for this for a while and it’s not what I planned,” Evangelista said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Mount Sinai junior 182-pounder Mike Sabella and senior 195-pounder Jake Croston both won off early pins against Port Jefferson. Sabella took out Port Jeff’s Chris Lepore in 1 minute, 52 seconds. Croston pinned Harry Cona in just 39 seconds.

The victories come just weeks after the Mustangs took the county and state team titles. The individual winners automatically advance to the state championship Feb. 23 and 24 at Times Union Center in Albany.

“The kids all support each other,” Armstrong said. “They’re a tight-knit group, and the kids that are going upstate are the upper-echelon kids. I think that we are going to represent Suffolk County very well — they truly do have a legitimate chance of placing.”

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Someday other teams may be able to say they did it, but this Mount Sinai girls basketball team can say they did it first.

The Mustangs completed a perfect 20-0 regular season for the first time in school history with a 68-23 win against Hampton Bays at home on senior night Feb. 8.

Junior guard Gabby Sartori scored 21 points to lead Mount Sinai. She netted 17 points in the first half alone, going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the first quarter and banking 11 of 12 attempts from the charity stripe by halftime.

“I don’t think we quite know yet what we just did,” Sartori said, laughing. “I didn’t know how to react at first. It’s just so surreal right now. It’s been such a long season and to see it culminate in this is amazing.”

“I don’t think we quite know yet what we just did.”

— Gabby Sartori

Senior Kayla Repperger put Mount Sinai on the board first on the way to an early 14-4 lead after eight minutes. By halftime, the Mustangs extended the advantage to 37-9 after a monster second stanza, outscoring Hampton Bays 23-5.

After the last few games the Mustangs wanted to clean up their act. Eleven players scored in the total team win. Kylie Budke finished with nine points, Casey Campo added eight and Brooke Cergol contributed seven.

“I’m very happy for the girls, and very proud of them, because they worked so hard,” head coach Jeff Koutsantanou said. “They wanted to set the right tone heading into playoffs, so they came out with a new intensity tonight — they really wanted to prove to everybody they’re back. I always believed in this team and knew if they worked hard anything can happen. They earned this.”

Mount Sinai was a step ahead of Hampton Bays all game, getting in the passing lane and stealing the ball, converting transition opportunities into points.

“They have great instincts,” Koutsantanou said. “My girls have the ability to see things — that’s what we do best sometimes. Everyone was scoring, everyone was passing the ball, they played the way we’re capable of, and when they play like that the sky’s the limit.”

“They wanted to set the right tone heading into playoffs, so they came out with a new intensity tonight — they really wanted to prove to everybody they’re back.”

— Jeff Koutsantanou

Although going undefeated wasn’t the primary goal for this season — the Mustangs are focused on defending their Suffolk County title — as the unblemished season started to take form there was some fear of history repeating itself. Mount Sinai fell in a close last game of the 2016-17 season to Shoreham-Wading River.

“It was in the back of my mind — I was thinking about it all day,” Sartori said of the potential of losing in the last game. “But we played like a team today, got the job done early and that’s what really got us on top. It’s a sigh of relief.”

Senior captain Olivia Williams said this was just another step in the direction of her team’s ultimate goal.

“This historic run is something I’m going to remember forever,” she said. “We’re definitely going to have to put in extra work, but I feel confident that if we come together we can do it.”

The Mustangs will compete Feb. 17 in the Class A quarterfinals at home. The time is to be determined.

Sartori said even though every game presents a new challenge, she thinks her team has the talent to beat anyone.

“We’re not perfect right now,” she said. “Our record may show it, but we’re definitely going to face tougher competitors. I think we can’t dwell on this for long. We’ll celebrate for the time being, but we have to get back to work tomorrow. That’s what’s great about our team — we can shift gears quick. Playoffs are definitely going to be a different atmosphere and we need to be ready for it.”

This version was updated Feb. 9 at 11:30 a.m. with additional information.

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Mustangs are one win away from historic perfect season

Gabby Sartori drives the lane. Photo by Desirée Keegan

By Desirée Keegan

Gabby Sartori turned in her strongest showing of the season at the right time.

Mount Sinai’s junior guard tallied 15 of her game-high 28 points in the third quarter to put the contest out of reach in her girls basketball team’s 56-25 win at Miller Place Feb. 2. She also  finished with seven rebounds and five assists.

Olivia Williams muscles her way to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I thought Gabby had an unbelievable game,” head coach Jeff Koutsantanou said of the starter who eclipsed 1,500 career points earlier this season. “Best of the year.”

After Mount Sinai raced to a 10-0 start, Miller Place’s Ally Tarantino amped up the intensity, scoring all 11 of her points in the first half to get her team back within striking distance. The Panthers closed within one point twice, the second time, coming on a Tarantino buzzer-beater to bring the halftime score to 19-18. Sartori, who was guarding senior Jess Iavaroni in the first half, holding her scoreless, switched her focus to Tarantino, keeping her off the stat sheet in the second.

The Mustangs used five forced turnovers to swing the momentum back in its favor to open the third. Sartoti said her team never counted itself out.

“You can’t lose hope,” she said. “You have to keep your head up, especially when people are looking up to you. Our coaches did a good job of keeping us composed, we didn’t read into things. When the game gets close, we embrace it. I have so much fun in a game like this.”

Casey Campo carries the ball into Miller Place’s zone. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Mustangs finished with seven total turnovers and outscored the Panthers 37-7 in the second half. Junior guard Brooke Cergol, who added seven points and four assists, said the team used halftime to get a better game plan in place.

“At halftime, we all listen to each other talk about what we should keep doing, and what we need to change, and coming out in the third quarter we went after it,” she said. “What I love about this team is we all give our maximum effort. We have been in close games before, and we know how to handle it.”

Even when Mount Sinai wasn’t forcing turnovers, heavy defensive pressure was enough to disrupt Miller Place’s offensive flow.

“We like creating transition opportunity off turnovers — we like getting steals — and if we don’t get a steal or we don’t force a turnover, they’re 15 seconds into the shot clock, at which point, they don’t have a lot of time to execute,” assistant coach John Mees said. “It manifested into some good results today.”

With one game left this season, Mount Sinai is one step closer to making history. Last year, the Mustangs were one win away from a perfect season, dropping the last match of the regular season to Shoreham-Wading River. Mount Sinai improved to 19-0 overall and 15-0 in League VI with its latest win, and will host Hampton Bays Feb. 8, at 5:45 p.m., with the hope of becoming the first Mustangs team to complete a perfect season.

Brooke Cergol maintains possession. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Mees said the younger athletes in the district are already motivated to emulate what they see upperclassmen doing out on the court. Sartori said she already sees it in the girls who come to clinics and to watch games.

“These girls are so confident in their abilities that they have loftier goals than just 20 wins and being undefeated, and they’d rather take a loss and hold up that state championship trophy,” Mees said. “Where it’s most impactful is how it affects the younger girls in the community. They look up to these girls as heroines. When it’s written up in the paper ‘Mustangs go undefeated,’ it inspires the younger girls to want to play, and that makes our program stronger going forward.”

Even though the victory would be a cherry on top of an already great season for the upperclassmen on senior night, the girls said they already have a playoff mindset, looking to defend their Suffolk County title.

“We were talking about it happening, but have no idea how it’s going to feel, but we’re excited,” Sartori said. “To see where we are now and how far we’ve come, it shows the amount of hard work we put into this season. It’s all coming to fruition now.”

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Rocky Point easily landed at the top spot in Division II Medium at West Babylon Jan. 27. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The Eagles are soaring all the way to nationals.

Rocky Point’s cheerleading squad once again came out on top, with a 92.5 Division II Medium first-place finish at West Babylon Jan. 27. The Eagles were ahead of No. 2 Northport (77) and No. 3 Newfield (66.5). Head coach Anna Spallina said that competition is practice for nationals, where Rocky Point will be seeking its fourth national title.

Samantha Ferrara. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“When we won nationals in the past, we were beating teams by 20 plus points,” Spallina said. “We’re in a good place.”

Rocky Point keeps its standards high. Spallina, in her 14th year at the helm, has taken her team to the top of the Orlando scoresheet in 2011, 2012 and 2014. In the last two years, the Eagles finished second and third, respectively.

“It’s so much pressure,” Spallina said of maintaining the team’s ranking. “To climb to the top, I can tell you, is not as hard as staying at the top. Staying on top, no one wants you to take first place anymore. I don’t blame them.”

Before awards were announced, senior Julieanna Joy said she was confident her team would take first.

“I think we were pretty confident,” she said. “We knew that if we just hit our routine, we would end up on top.”

Junior Samantha Ferrara, who has been on the cheer team since seventh grade, is the only cheerleader on the current roster who has won a national title.

Mount Sinai placed first in Division I Large at the West Babylon competition Jan. 27. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I want to give a boost to my team,” she said, “so they can feel what I felt a few years ago.”

Joy pointed to the coaching staff as a reason why the team’s been so successful.

“They push us to do our best and keep us relaxed,” she said. “They are always pushing us.”

Scanlon said that she is tough on the girls, knowing the standard having won five national championships with Hofstra University. To help the team perform to its level of difficult with percision, the Eagles practiced their routine over 100 times a year.

“This program is at the same level as a college program,” Scanlon said. “Spallina runs this program just as hard Hofstra cheerleading runs their program. We’re tough, and the kids know that.”

Mount Sinai continues to rock the top spot in Division I Large after requesting to compete outside of Division II, with no other challengers in that section. The Mustangs finished with a 91.05 ahead of No. 2 West Babylon (84.9) and No. 3 Sachem North (83.8).

Rocky Point’s cheerleading team sees each competition as practice for nationals. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Mount Sinai head coach Kara Bochicchio said it took a lot of preparation for the Mustangs to get where they’re at.

“We started open gyms back in April — we’ve been preparing for a while,” she said. “We’ve been working around the clock since. It’s been a long time coming.”

Mount Sinai senior captain Charlotte Fiordalisi competed in her first competition in over a month after she had surgery on her broken nose.

“I just want to thank all my coaches, my teammates and my doctors for being so understanding,” Fiordalisi said. “It’s unexplainable the joy I feel to be back out there with my team. I don’t really know what to say. I’m just so happy. It’s a fun day for me.”

Mount Sinai has one competition left on Long Island at Smithtown West  Feb. 3.

The teams will compete at nationals Feb. 10 and 11 before returning home to take part in the Suffolk County championship at West Islip Feb. 24.

“The big goal is nationals,” Spallina said. “These girls want to claim the national title, and we’re excited about that.”

This version correctly identifies what years Rocky Point won national titles.

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Wrestling team has four grapplers go undefeated

The Mount Sinai wrestling team took first place at the inaugural wrestling team state championship Jan. 27. Photo by Melvyn Jacoby

Despite being just 126 pounds, Mount Sinai sophomore wrestler Matt Campo is someone his teammates can lean on.

When every win counted, Campo went 4-0 with four pins during the inaugural state dual meet championship Jan. 27, helping the Mustangs claim the first title.

“We know we’re a great team with a lot of heart, but I don’t know if any of us really felt we could win the whole thing,” Campo said. “We all work so hard during the season and sacrificed a lot, so to win this as a team means the world to all of us. I just feel very grateful to be part of this team and to have played a role in clinching this victory.”

Matt Campo. Photo by Melvyn Jacoby

He wasn’t the only underclassmen to make a big statement at Onondaga Community College. Freshman 99-pounder Brendan Goodrich, who also went undefeated, sealed the semifinal match win, 34-32 against Tioga, with a 9-0 decision.

“It was a huge win over a very tough wrestler,” said Campo, who pinned his Tioga challenger in 24 seconds to close Mount Sinai within 10 points overall. “Sometimes you just need to get the momentum to swing in your team’s direction, and I was glad to be able to get the pin and get us back in the match. Everyone started to believe we could win.”

Senior Mike Sabella’s also contributed four important wins. His pin, which came after another by teammate Adham Shata, helped keep the momentum set by Campo and put Mount Sinai back on top, 30-26.

“The team was energized,” Campo said of his team following the pins, the boys screaming from the side of the mat.

Even though getting the lead was a big boost after Sabella’s win, the senior was quick to point out the total team effort needed to take home a state dual meet title.

“Going into this tournament, coach [Matt] Armstrong made one thing clear above all else — it’s not going to be our county champion wrestlers and team captains that win us these tough matches,” Sabella said. “The fact that not only our hammer wrestlers can go out there, step up their game and get big wins in matches like that is what pushed us so far through this tournament. Kids like Adham are why we were able to take home gold.”

Behind 7-0 to start the final against Canisteo-Greenwood, Campo, who pinned all four of his challengers in a combined time of 3:31, secured his fourth win to put Mount Sinai down just a point, 7-6, and ignited another spark.

“In these types of meets, every point matters,” Campo said. “So I approached each match with the hope for a pin. Those bonus points are huge.”

Victories by Ryan Shanian and Mike Zarif (4-0) put Mount Sinai ahead 15-11, but the lead was short-lived.

“Some other teams on the Island are just a bunch of kids all looking for their own personal success, and nobody else’s, but this group is different.”

— Mike Sabella

A major decision tied it up, and a Greenwood pin put the team back in front 21-15. Like in the semifinals, it was a seesaw, back-and-forth affair. Sophomore 170-pounder Joe Goodrich escaped with a 6-5 decision, Sabella won 9-4 to tie the match 21-21 and Jake Croston got points on a forfeit.

“I’m so proud of how we wrestled,” Zarif said. “To be the best you have to do what your opponent isn’t doing, and we’ve been putting in the double workouts and extra practices to get to where we are.”

Junior David Mazzella’s 7-0 decision at 285 pounds and Brendan Goodrich’s resiliency to pull away with a close 5-3 decision and 33-24 lead ultimately earned the win. Mount Sinai was able to forfeit its final contest having already sealed the deal.

“Greenwood was a phenomenal wrestling team, and we knew from the beginning that it was going to be a dog fight,” Sabella said. “Our coaches did a fantastic job scouting out everybody we had to wrestle. We knew exactly who we were up against going into every match, and that advantage was huge.”

He said the matchups, coupled with his team’s closeness, helped the Mustangs come out on top with a historic win.

“Some other teams on the Island are just a bunch of kids all looking for their own personal success, and nobody else’s, but this group is different,” Sabella said. “Not only are we a wrestling team, but we’re a family. We all have each other’s back and are always there to pick one another up when it’s needed most. The bond we have all built with one another throughout the years we’ve wrestled is what makes us such a special group, and that bond is what makes being a Mustang so special.”

This version corrects the spelling of Ryan Shanian’s last name.

Mount Sinai grapplers are all smiles while showing off the new hardware. Photo by Melvyn Jacoby

Mount Sinai beat out Port Jeff, 45-28, for the county Division II title. Photo from Mount Sinai wrestling

By Jim Ferchland

Two quick pins ignited a spark for the Mustangs, and now they’re off to Syracuse.

The Mount Sinai wrestling team earned big wins from 195-pounder Mike Sabella and 220-pounder Jake Croston en route to a 45-28 victory over Port Jefferson for the Suffolk County Division II title. The Mustangs will travel upstate to compete in the first state title team championship Jan. 27 at Onondaga Community College.

Mount Sinai’s Mike Sabella puts pressure on his Port Jeff opponent. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“We wrestled two of our better kids,” Mount Sinai’s 18-year head coach Matt Armstrong said of the Jan. 20 meet at Bay Shore. “They have been steady, and that really got us going. We knew we had to come out and win those matches. Now, our goal is to place well in states — that would be exciting for a town like Mount Sinai.”

Sabella, ranked No. 1 in Division II with a 26-4 record, said for him, getting that first win for the Mustangs lifted a huge weight off his shoulders.

“It’s always stressful starting out the first match in any dual meet,” Sabella said. “Going out there and getting a win for my team was awesome. It was going to encourage the rest of my team to hopefully do the same.”

From weight classes 138 through 160, the Mustangs scored 18 consecutive points, giving them a commanding 45-18 advantage.

Mount Sinai’s Mike Zarif escaped from Port Jefferson’s Joe Evangelista to win a close match. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Junior Joseph O’Brien pinned Ryan Robertson in 3 minutes, 47 seconds in the 138-pound weight class. Senior Mike Zarif won a tight 2-1 decision over senior 145-pounder Joe Evangelista. Yusuf Azeem, a junior 145-pounder, beat Joe Longo with a 9-6 decision and sophomore Joseph Goodrich pinned Lucas Rohman in 2:36 seconds.

Zarif, right behind Sabella ranked second in Division II with a 28-3 record this season, usually fights at 138 pounds. He said he was asked by his coach to wrestle Evangelista, one of Port Jeff’s big guns.

“My coach came up to me and said, ‘We need you to knock off one of their best kids,’ so our team could have a better chance of winning,” Zarif said. “I just got ready with no preparation. Joe’s a great opponent. It was a good match.”

Port Jeff head coach Mike Maletta said Evangelista is one of the best wrestlers he’s ever coached, but his match was a turning point for Port Jeff.

“He is one of the best guys I’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been coaching,” Maletta said. “He gets called for a slam. It is what it is. The guy fell on his head and it changes the match. The guy escaped on him, and that’s the match.”

Maletta said he wanted to win one more match than Mount Sinai. Port Jeff won six matches to Mount Sinai’s nine.

Mount Sinai’s Joe O’Brien dominates before pinning his challenger. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“Once we feel we hit a certain spot in our lineup, we know we are going to win,” Armstrong said. “We definitely have solid kids. They stepped up and they did well.”

With two major decisions and two pins, Port Jeff trimmed the deficit to nine, 27-18, but couldn’t contain Mount Sinai the rest of the way.

Maletta said Mount Sinai was a great opponent, but he knows his team is full of competitors.

“We’re a good Port Jeff team,” he said. “We got pinned in six places — our best guys didn’t do what they were supposed to do. For us to beat Mount Sinai, everything had to work out right. It didn’t happen.”

Despite the loss, Maletta is confident in his guys competing at the league and county individual championships in February. For Sabella, his eyes are set on the matches this weekend. No. 2-seeded Mount Sinai will be  facing Falconer (No. 7) and Gouverneur (No. 10) in Division II pool play. Out of the four pool plays of three teams each, the winners will compete in the semifinal round and then move through the bracket from there.

“I think we should be a team others are scared of,” he said. “We are going to go up there to make some noise.”

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Mount Sinai's girls lacrosse team won its first indoor national championship after besting the No. 1 and No. 7 teams in close games. Photo from Al Bertolone

The Mustangs will remain in good hands this spring.

The Mount Sinai indoor girls lacrosse team — led by sister sets Meaghan and Emma Tyrrell on offense and Meaghan and Kristen Scutaro on defense — claimed the school’s first national title this month. The Mustangs outlasted Bishop Ireton, Virginia’s BigLax 13-12 in a sudden-death victory in the final Jan. 7 to grab gold at the second annual high school IL Women Indoor Lacrosse National Championship.

“My girls played six games in two days and were warriors,” head coach Al Bertolone said. “They played hard and never wavered — came back from being behind in the final — it was great to see them win because they are the first Long Island team to win this tournament and to beat No. 1 McDonogh.”

Mount Sinai, the tournament’s No. 5 seed, was one of eight teams to advance out of pool play, going 3-0 to get to the quarterfinals. Over that stretch, the Mustangs scored 59 goals and let up 36. The team advanced to the semifinals with a 17-11 win over North Fork and beat McDonogh, Maryland’s Orange Crush, last year’s finalist, 13-12, to advance to the championship game.

“This really tested our team offensively and defensively, and our team definitely rose to the occasion, which is huge for us so early in the season,” senior Meaghan Scutaro said. “To beat the No. 1 team, McDonogh, has always been a goal of our team since I was in eighth grade. To finally have the chance to play such an outstanding team was surreal, and then to win it all was the cherry on top. We were all tired from playing such amazing teams, but we were excited, and knew that we wouldn’t come this far to not win.”

Bertolone pointed to the sister bonds as the glue that holds his team together. The competition had an added dose of intrigue as in the Mustangs’ first game of the tournament, against Run n’ Gun, five future Syracuse University teammates toed the line against one another.

“Playing with them shows you how it’s going to be in college,” junior Emma Tyrrell said of competing against future Orange teammates. “It’s great to play with them.”

Senior Meaghan Tyrrell’s lefty finish shined at attack, and her sister was consistently found unmarked at eight meters. Guarding by the University of Notre Dame-bound Scutaro twins, and blocking in goal by Sienna Massullo (2018, Pace University) and Emily Lamparter (2021, University of Maryland) also impressed.

“You know exactly how your sister plays, and you can depend on her to help you finish plays, which works in our favor having sisters on the offense and defense,” Scutaro said.

Seeing the chemistry continue to build now is just a taste of what’s to come this season when the Mustangs head outdoors, and, at the collegiate level.

“The culture we have established combined with the friendships they have has created a bond that is family-based,” Bertolone said. “It’s unreal how connected we are.”

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Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team, a county, state and national champion, bounced back after having its seven-year streak of first-place Empire Regional finishes snapped, to win the first meet of the regular season. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

For the first time in seven years, Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team fell short of a first-place finish at the Empire Regional championship. The girls could have sulked, hung their heads and given up the idea of maintaining their national prowess. Instead, the Mustangs used the slip to second place to fuel their fire.

“We put out an amazing routine that we were very proud of,” senior captain Alexa Tabile said of Mount Sinai’s 88.1 score Dec. 2 at Nassau County Community College that still earned the team a bid to nationals. “We took a step back and saw we need to be better, because the team that beat us was better. It’s just as simple as that.”

The girls went into the next practice asking what they could do to get back on top, and worked at it.

Mount Sinai sticks a routine. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

“I try to motivate my teammates before practice and tell them we need to be supporting each other,” Tabile said, adding that the team takes everything in stride. “It’s something I felt we did, and it led to our next first-place finish. We focus on what’s coming up next, but always have the big picture in mind.”

The Mustangs ended up in the No. 1 spot Dec. 11 at Longwood, redeeming themselves from a bobble in the pyramid at the regional competition and a fall at the  meet.

Tabile said she was still afraid of once again coming in second, because more points are deducted for a fall.

“There was a little bit of doubt,” she said. “We thought maybe the fall really put us back, but we knew we put out a routine that was clean, and everything else in the routine we hit beautifully. We kept going.”

Mount Sinai placed fifth in the state championship earlier this year after taking first in the inaugural state competition in 2016. The Mustangs won the county title last season and have a history of placing at nationals, coming in third in February and in 2015, and first in 2016 and 2014.

“They feel a great amount of pressure knowing that we have a long tradition of winning,” said first-year head coach Megan Wesolowski, who coached the district’s middle school team for the last five years and took over for long-standing leader Samantha Melella following the birth of her child. “They want to make the people that made this program proud. They’re proving that one fall or one mishap never carries through an entire routine, and Alexa Tabile is leading the team through everything. She’s one of our best back spots with great tumbling skills. Cheer-related or not, she’s there for every girl that needs her.”

Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team earned a bid to nationals next yea.r Photo from Megan Wesolowski

Mount Sinai, as Suffolk County’s only Division II Large team, competed against Division I Large schools, which made the win this time around even sweeter. Wesolowski petitioned for her team’s step up in competition.

“It’s great to have teams to compete against, and especially to be able to compete against schools with a bigger pool of girls to choose from,” she said. “Competing against yourself you kind of lose that competitive edge. We didn’t want to end up going down to nationals next year with a false sense of security.”

Tabile said the jump has not only forced her team to improve its skills and routine, but it has also been more fun.

“Now, we go to competitions and we know we have to be on point,” she said. “Going out there last year, it didn’t matter if we were doing forward rolls on the mat for two-and-half minutes, we were still getting first place. Now, we’re driven to put in the extra work because we’re competing against other teams with national titles.”

After new and old players quit the team, and through injuries and adjusting to a new coach, Mount Sinai worked to remain competitive, and Tabile said this learning experience is only making the Mustangs stronger.

“We’ve clicked very well,” she said. “Coach Wesolowski motivates us in every way and we want to do better for her. It hasn’t been the easiest season for us — we’ve had our fair share of challenges throughout the season — but I feel like we’ve never had a team with this kind of bond, where we pick each other up and say, ‘Hey, things haven’t been going as we’ve planned, and we’ve had our hardships, but we can move on from this.’”

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Junior's 22 points leads Mustangs to sixth straight win

Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou meets Gabby Sartori at halfcourt after she scored her 1,000th career point a the start of thes second quarter. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Gabby Sartori shines no matter the stage.

The Mount Sinai junior and three-sport standout scored her 1,000th career point Dec. 12 in a 45-21 nonleague win over Shoreham-Wading River. She finished with a game-high 22 points, eight rebounds and six steals, and basketball isn’t even her primary sport of choice. Sartori started her athletic career playing soccer but has committed to play lacrosse at Brown University.

Brooke Cergol passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“When it’s soccer season, I focus on soccer, when it’s basketball, basketball, and when it’s lacrosse season, it’s crunch time,” Sartori said, laughing. “But I treat them all the same. It keeps me more versatile.”

The junior’s dedication to each sport is the key to her success, according to one of her biggest fans.

“She’s often the last one to leave, staying after practice to take extra shots; always doing
the extra,” her father Jim Sartori said. “This has been going on since she was a varsity player in seventh grade. She understands nothing worth achieving is easy.”

Sartori needed five points to reach the career milestone heading into the contest against the Wildcats. She started the first quarter slowly, scoring on the back end of two free-throws at the 4:27 mark, and adding a field goal a minute later for a 5-2 Mustangs lead. She was fouled on her next drive to the basket with less than a minute left in the quarter and again scored on her second shot to pull within one point of 1,000 and put Mount Sinai up 11-2 heading into the second quarter.

Throughout the first eight minutes of the contest, she said achieving the feat was all she could think about.

“I tried not to pay attention to it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she said, adding that she looked up at her parents in the stands once during that span.

Sartori cashed in a layup to open the scoring just seconds into the next stanza, and looked up at her parents once more and smiled.

Olivia Williams battles under the board. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“It hit me once coach called timeout and I got the ball,” she said of being handed over a special Spalding to recognize the achievement. “It shows my hard work. I make sure I’m the first one shooting and the last one at practice, until they’re annoyed I’m still there.”

Her father smiled back at who he calls a “fantastic kid and special athlete.”

“It’s a proud moment,” he said of seeing his daughter’s success. “It’s plenty of hours of practice and training to get to the point that she’s at. It didn’t come easy, clearly, but by way of hard work. I told her to do whatever it takes to help the team win and stay humble.”

Although Sartori stood out with her aggressiveness on both sides of the ball, she was quick to credit her teammates for making her look good.

“The chemistry on this team is very, very good this year,” she said. “We all love each other, and it’s great to see that, especially on the court. I’m glad I can always lean on them — they have my back, and I have theirs.
Without a doubt, any one of us are always willing to give up the ball without flinching.”

Mount Sinai head coach Jeff Koutsantanou had plenty to say postgame about his star player, though he didn’t focus just on her ability to score points.

“She did a great job getting to the basket, she did a nice job incorporating everybody and defensively she had six steals and eight rebounds, so she had a great all-around game,” he said of Sartori. “She was a little under pressure because she was worried about the 1,000 points, but she really settled in.”

Holly McNair races toward the net. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The guard led a balanced attack the rest of the way, scoring six more points in the second and six in the third to help Mount Sinai to a 39-14 lead before sitting most of the fourth quarter.

Juniors Holly McNair and Margaret Kopceinski finished with eight points each, and classmate Brooke Cergol added four. All three played strong defense, stealing some passes and forcing the Wildcats to make sloppy ones that led to more turnovers.

Losing key starters Victoria Johnson and Veronica Venezia wasn’t easy for Mount Sinai, which won its first county crown last season, but Koutsantanou said the girls are filling in the holes nicely. The Mustangs have a perfect 6-0 record so far to show for it.

“I thought Holly McNair did a nice job on the boards, she played great defense, was strong rebounding,” he said. “But I thought on the whole the girls did exceptionally well and played great as a team, especially on
defense. I really loved Margaret and Holly’s effort, I thought Brooke was outstanding with her passes and her choices. As a group they all played well together, and I think that’s a compliment to them — how they look out for each other, help each other on defense. They really do a great job together.”

Mount Sinai opens league play today, Dec. 14, at Amityville at 4 p.m. Sartori said the milestone is only the start of what she hopes she and her team can achieve this season.

“We want to prove we can do it again,” she said of winning the county title. “We have to repeat history.”