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First Royal Division IV MVP break school records this season

Port Jefferson outgoing quarterback is officially royalty.

Jack Collins is the school’s first football player to be named MVP of Division IV. But if he had his way when he was young, the Royals senior wouldn’t even be a quarterback.

“I was a wide receiver,” he said, explaining how he played the position for almost two years before being told the middle school team was in need of a field general. “We had a little contest, and I ended up getting the job.”

Port Jefferson quarterback Jack Collins broke three school records this year and became the first Royals football player to be named the most valuable player in Division IV, an honor bestowed by the results of a vote by the division coaches. File photo by Bill Landon

Collins didn’t want to be a quarterback because being the center of attention seemed like too much for him. He’s quiet, reserved, qualities not normally associated with successful quarterbacks. But as the years passed he grew to love it, and others respected the way he played the position.

In his senior season, Collins broke school records for touchdowns (18), completions (143) and yards in a season (2,261). Being the first MVP, which is voted on by division coaches, also qualifies him for the Hansen Award, which goes to the most outstanding high school football player in Suffolk County, and the Boomer Award, which is awarded to the top quarterback. The winners will be announced at a Section XI dinner Dec. 4 at the Hyatt Regency Long Island in Hauppauge.

“We knew Jack had all the capabilities to handle the physical part of the position,” Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said. “What stood out even more was his maturity mentally. We knew he could handle anything we threw at him, and his work ethic early on was just one of those un-coachable things.”

Collins was called up to the varsity team his sophomore year and played in a handful of games toward the end of the season before being named the starter as a junior. He said the honor was unexpected, but felt encouraged after being recognized.

“I worked hard in the offseason — put my heart and soul into it — and getting called up made me feel more comfortable and prepared to be the leader of a team,” he said. “I think my coach made the right decision. It was a good learning experience.”

Cosci said the coaches immediately began tailoring routines and strategies so that the offense revolved around Collins. The quarterback had worked with an outside coach to enhance his accuracy, power and consistency, but also learned about leadership. The changes were noticed immediately.

As a result of the MVP nod, Jack Collins is automatically in the running for the Hansen Award and the Boomer Award, which will be given out at the Section XI football dinner Dec. 4. File photo by Bill Landon

“Jack is like no other quarterback I’ve played with,” senior wide receiver Marquis Feldman said. “He knows everything that’s happening on the field before it happens. It’s honestly like playing with a college quarterback.”

The senior’s head coach went one step further in his praise of Collins.

“He watches tons of film, tries to understand things better and fully, he never rests on his laurels — he thinks about what he has to do to get better and he continues to get better because of that,” Cosci said. “As a true leader and a true great player does, he made everyone around him better.”

Marquis said he saw his teammate develop on the field firsthand.

“Everyone on my team gave 110 percent every snap of every game — we were relentless,” he said, adding that he only just moved to the district in August. “To see Jack get recognized for his efforts is phenomenal, because we all knew he was an MVP. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my quarterback and already a very close friend on and off the field.”

To Collins, success is not about him, but more a reflection on his coaches and teammates, he said.

“At first, I didn’t see the good in it as much as I was afraid of the bad,” he said of taking on the quarterback role. “My teammates made me see it’s not that bad. It’s awesome to see the other coaches respected what we were doing, but honestly, we’re all putting in the work together and our coaches are putting game plans out that work. I’m the one that gets a lot of the credit for it, but it was definitely a team effort.”

Collins’ successes have also served to shine a light on the program.

Jack Collins broke school records for touchdowns (18), completions (143) and yards in a season (2,261). File photo by Bill Landon

“You can always look at the bigger schools and shake your finger and say ‘We’re too small, we’re never going to win anything,’” Collins said. “But we’re proving everyone wrong.”

Another important aspect of being a varsity football player is having young kids on the sidelines at games, according to Collins. They reminded him of himself when he first watched the Royals, wishing to one day emulate what he saw.

“I wanted to be like them in every single way,” he said. “I hope when the kids look at me they think that and that I set a good example.”

It’s a mentality he has already instilled in all facets of the program, according to Cosci.

“Jack has been the cornerstone for us in taking the next step,” he said. “He’s definitely more of a lead by example, but when Jack opens his mouth everyone listens. He never really talks about himself, he’s grounded, and it’s refreshing. The first thing out of other coaches’ mouths was ‘What a quarterback you have.’”

Kerrin Maurer reflects on time playing for team Italy in World Cup

Kerrin Maurer competes in the World Cup for team Italy. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

A Setauket native is spreading her love of lacrosse across the globe.

Kerrin Maurer, a St. Anthony’s High School and Duke University graduate, arrived home from Guilford, England with a revived passion for her favorite pastime after playing for team Italy in its first Federation of International Lacrosse Rathbones World Cup appearance. Despite her competitive nature, she said she enjoyed her time teaching Italian children about the game more so than the actual tournament.

“Being able to play the sport I love while traveling and helping to grow the game was a unique opportunity,” she said. “We want to help Italy sustain the sport in the country for as long as possible.”

Kerrin Maurer earned a most valuable player nod following one of team Italy’s wins. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

When she did step onto the field, Maurer shined.

The midfielder earned Most Valuable Player honors twice during pool play, and concluded the World Cup tournament with 61 draw controls. The former Duke All-American tallied 21 goals and 20 assists for the second-most points in the tournament. In the eight games played, she caused three turnovers.

“She killed the draw,” team Italy head coach and University of Massachusetts women’s lacrosse head coach Angela McMahon said. “She was scoring a ton, setting up her teammates, communicating and being a leader. We don’t get a lot of practices so it was a work in progress and she helped the whole team improve. She really stepped up.”

Maurer performed especially well in an 18-17 win over Haudenosaunee. The teams battled back and forth, entering halftime tied 10-10, but Italy pulled through with an 18-17 victory. Maurer turned in three goals, four assists and eight draw controls to help spearhead the attack.

“I haven’t got to play in a while, so just playing again was a ton of fun,” Maurer said. “Every game was super competitive, which was awesome.”

The two-time All-American graduated from Duke in 2014 as the program’s leader in assists with 119. A three-time Tewaaraton Award nominee, an award given to the best collegiate player, Maurer graduated second in Duke history in career points with 280 and tied for fourth in career goals with 161, while finishing on a 47-game point scoring streak. She helped the Blue Devils to four NCAA quarterfinal appearances, and reached the semifinals in 2015 after topping Princeton University in the quarterfinals.

Since graduating with a degree in political science, she was named an assistant coach at Division I Mount Saint Mary’s University in Maryland, and this month, will begin a new venture as an assistant at Princeton. Maurer is currently completing her master’s degree in sports management, and said she was excited to also be able to hone her coaching skills during the FIL tournament.

“Learning the proper technique from successful coaches has helped me grow my love for the game and want to teach others the way I’ve been taught.”

—Kerrin Maurer

“I think seeing the game on an international level, seeing what everyone else is doing and the different systems is helpful,” she said. “You see these different strategies and plays and it’s good to learn and study.”

Her teammate Gabby Capuzzi from Pennsylvania, who is currently a coach at the United States Naval Academy, thought the team benefited from having coaches on its roster. She first met her Setauket friend during tryouts in Italy when she let her borrow a pair of her gloves.

“She’s a tough, hard-nosed Long Island player,” Capuzzi said. “She’s not selfish, she fed me most of my goals and she’s a team player, but she’ll take her looks. She’s a good heads-up player.”

Maurer said she’s thankful for her time spent playing lacrosse in Setauket at an early age. Because of the coaching and guidance she received, Maurer said she felt like she was able to bring a lot of skill over to Italy and the team.

“I think I’m really fortunate that Setauket is such a hotbed for lacrosse,” she said. “Feeding off a ton of knowledge within the area about lacrosse and the excitement around the game has helped fuel my passion along the way. Learning the proper technique from successful coaches has helped me grow my love for the game and want to teach others the way I’ve been taught.”

Team Italy wasn’t sure if it would even be able to compete in the FIL. There were concerns as to whether Italian Americans would be allowed to play for the team, and when the news broke they would be allowed, the midfielder couldn’t be happier.

“It was surreal,” she said of being a small-town girl playing on such a big stage. “When they did make the decision and I was chosen to play, it was a dream come true. It’s the highest level you can play at.”

Kerrin Maurer teaches native Italians in Italy. Photo from Kerrin Maurer

Italy finished 11th out of 25 teams. It was the only country making its first appearance to finish in the top half of the list, with other first-timers like Switzerland (19), Mexico (20), Sweden (21), China (22), Spain (23), Columbia (24) and Belgium (25) also making inaugural entrances.

“Coming in 11th, even though it may not sound like a big deal, was huge for us,” Maurer said. “We finished the highest out of any team making its debut ever in the tournament’s history. I think that in itself, and seeing the Italian citizens improve over the course of this process, that’s what it’s about for us.”

Her teammate agreed, adding that the changing atmosphere is current exciting for lacrosse.

“The most rewarding part of all of this is growing our sport to hopefully make a push for the Olympics in a few years,” Capuzzi said. “In January 2013 we were teaching 20-year-olds how to catch and throw who had never picked up a stick before. We’re usually working with youth at camps here in America and it’s exciting to get youth and club programs up and running in Italy. I think we sparked that.”

For now, Maurer is just focused on continuing to spread the love.

“We’re trying to keep it fresh,” she said. “We’re trying to get viewership up and spread it around the world. Everyone’s excited to learn the sport and it brings a renewed energy when I step out onto the field with them — remembering why you play the game.”

Smithtown East lax player scores three goals, SWR's Chris Gray adds two

Smithtown East's Connor DeSimone hoists up his Under Armour All-America MVP trophy. He scored three goals and added two asssits in North's win. Photo from Connor DeSimone

By Desirée Keegan

In a game that was likely to feature a potent offense — with 44 of the country’s best rising college men’s lacrosse freshmen on the field — it was Smithtown East’s own Connor DeSimone that led the way.

He tallied a hat trick and two assists, and was among 11 scorers that were part of an aggressive North attack that beat South, 18-16, in the Under Armour All-America senior boys all-star game at Towson University July 1. The victory snapped the South’s six-game win streak.

Smithtown East’s Connor DeSimone looks for an open lane. Photo from Connor DeSimone

“My teammates were just looking for me the entire time,” DeSimone said. “They definitely did most of the work, and I give them a lot of credit.”

North went on a 9-1 run in the first half to go into halftime up by six, and the Johns Hopkins University commit helped pace that burst. After  North withstood a man-down situation four minutes into the second quarter, DeSimone picked up a turnover deep in his own offensive end and pushed it into the goal to tie the score at 6-6.

Soon after, DeSimone gave North its lead off an assist from attackman Tehoka Nanticoke, who will play next season at the University at Albany. Then, DeSimone widened the advantage to two when he fed midfielder Matt Licciardi, a Cornell University commit, for a score.

“I was just in the right place at the right time,” DeSimone said. “Competing against the best in the country was something special. Being there was such a great experience.”

Navy commit Nate Buller later powered through the zone with a defender guarding close to his shoulder for an overhead score, but South, which opened the second-quarter scoring in less than a minute, didn’t register another point for the remainder of the half.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray races into South’s zone with the ball. Photo from Chris Gray

Instead, DeSimone completed his hat trick and four of  North’s 10 first-half scorers added points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray and teammate Jackson Reid followed DeSimone with one apiece in the span of about a minute.

After Gray found the back of the net, the entire North team congregated in South’s defensive territory, even the bench players, and played duck-duck-goose with the Boston University-bound attackman. It was one of the multiple elaborate celebrations North rolled out during the win.

“It was on the fly,” Gray said of the celebration. “My teammates did a great job all game passing me the ball and every time I shot the ball I tried to use the best angle I had, wether it was a regular shot or a backhand shot. The celebrations play a big part in the UA game because its all about having fun.”

The attackman said he also liked practicing and competing with, and against the top talents in the nation.

“Practice was awesome because everyone was so talented drills were very fast paced and the ball rarely hit the floor, which was very cool to see,” Gray said. “During the game I felt our team did really well sharing the ball and hustling. Everyone was giving it 110 percent and looking for the open man, which made the game so much fun.”

DeSimone made the underclassmen rosters as a sophomore and a junior. The midfielder capped off his high school career being selected as a senior and bringing home the MVP trophy tied for a game-high five points.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Chris Gray plays duck-duck-gooose with his teammates following a goal. Photo from Chris Gray

“It was a life-changing, incredible experience,” he said. “It’s a little taste of what college lacrosse will be like and I just loved being out there. There’s no better way to end my high school career.”

The stands were packed with people from all over the country, including every underclassmen group competing during the weekend. Seeing the younger fans there brought back memories for DeSimone, who was in the stands in 2011 when his older brother was on the team.

“Growing up you look at the kids in the senior game, and say, ‘I wanna be that guy,’” DeSimone said. “We’re the best players from our class, from our schools, so seeing a bunch of kids there and knowing I was once in the same shoes, it’s inspiring.”

He said being so passionate about the sport, earning the selection, competing and contributing during the winning game was a humbling experience.

“This event is the best event I’ve ever been at, and knowing I got selected to play with the best players in the country, it means the hard work has finally paid off,” DeSimone said. “Hopefully it’s just the start.”

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Mustangs' suffocating defense holds off Skaneateles, while offense racks up 12 goals in win, to prove these girls are just as strong as those on last season's squad

By Adrian Szkolar

Even though Saturday was her birthday, Hannah Van Middelem was focused on other things.

The Mount Sinai junior goalkeeper’s mindset was instead the same as her teammates’, and all they were thinking was: officially prove the many doubters wrong with the last game of the season.

Playing against Section III’s Skaneateles in the Class C state final at SUNY Cortland, the Mustangs played their usual strong defensive game, shutting down the Lakers’ offense on their way to a 12-3 win and second consecutive state title.

Mission accomplished.

“We just wanted to come out, play as a team and win,” said Van Middelem, who made five saves and was named the tournament’s MVP after the game. “No one ever picked us to win any games. We just wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

All in all, the MVP award and the state title were pretty good birthday gifts.

“It’s special to me, but really my defense helped me win it,” she said. “We communicated with each other and listened to each other. We just played a great team game today.”

After graduating seven players from last year’s state title-winning team, including last year’s state tournament MVP in Kasey Mitchell, few gave Mount Sinai the thought of being able to repeat.

To start, the team’s younger players had to step up to fill the void on offense, and the team would have to improve defensively.

“People doubted us all year, and rightly so, but it’s a testament to our program that our kids have been able to step up and fill the breach,” Mount Sinai head coach Al Bertolone said. “We didn’t rebuild, we re-loaded. We pushed them all year, and they accepted the challenge and every week, we kept getting better.”

The improvement the team made since the start the season was especially evident against Skaneateles.

After Mount Sinai senior midfielder Caroline Hoeg and Skaneateles’ Abby Kuhns exchanged goals to start the game, the Mustangs opened the floodgates.

First came a goal from senior midfielder Erica Shea, who took a feed from Hoeg in front while unmarked and easily finished at the 13:22 mark.

Then there was a goal from sophomore Camryn Harloff. Then senior Meghan Walker. Then junior Leah Nonnenmann. Then sophomore Meaghan Tyrrell.

The Mustangs went into halftime with a 6-1 lead, with six different goal scorers.

“From the beginning, we knew we had to come out strong because [Skaneateles] wasn’t going to let up,” said Shea, who is also the team’s primary draw taker. “We had to come out of the box roaring, and that’s what we did.”

Harloff, an attack, and junior midfielder Rayna Sabella tacked on two more goals to start the second half to put the game out of reach.

Tyrrell, an attack, finished with three goals for the second straight game, and added an assist. Shea also had three goals, Harloff netted two goals and an assist, and Hoeg contributed a goal and an assist.

While Mount Sinai, which came into the game ranked third in Class C in the New York State Sportswriters’ Association rankings, and was the favorite coming into the finals, that was far from the case back at the start of the playoffs.

Most observers saw Bayport-Blue Point, an unbeaten team featuring All-American Kerrigan Miller, along with Nassau County’s Cold Spring Harbor, a team with wins against bigger lacrosse powerhouses such as Garden City and Rockland County’s Suffern, as the favorites for the state title.

Back in April, the Mustangs were dismantled by Bayport-Blue Point in a 10-2 loss.

“When you have adversity in your season, it can either galvanize and make you stronger or break you up,” Bertolone said. “It made us stronger. We believe in pressure defense, and our kids bought into it.”

A month later, the Mustangs turned heads by shocking Bayport-Blue Point in the county final, and followed that up with an upset over Cold Spring Harbor in the Long Island championship to get back to Cortland.

After that, the road to the championship was paved. Before Saturday’s game, the Mustangs got a comfortable 10-3 win over Section V’s Honeoye Falls-Lima in Friday’s state semifinals.

“It feels good to be the underdog and come out on top,” Shea said. “This year, it’s really special; no one believed in us, and we proved people wrong, from counties all the way to here. And now we’re state champs.”

After Saturday’s game, Van Middelem said that the team’s celebration of the title win, her birthday and proving the non-believers her team could remain its own powerhouse, would be relatively low-key.

“We’ll just have a fun bus ride home,” she said.

A fine way to celebrate proving the critics wrong.

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Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

By Rich Acritelli

Yogi Berra may have grown up playing baseball in Missouri, but when he was a catcher for the Yankees he was Mr. New York.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The legend died a few weeks ago at 90 years old, but he will be remembered by Long Island baseball fans for years to come.

Born in 1925, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra grew up in the Italian section of St. Louis, the son of immigrants who worked many hours to make ends meet for their family. As a kid, Berra discovered his love for baseball and would play at every opportunity, though his equipment was not always very advanced — coming from a poor family, he used old magazines as shin guards.

The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis produced outstanding ball players such as catcher Joe Garagiola, who played against Berra. However, the legend did not get to the major league right away.

Berra’s grades were poor and education was considered a luxury during the Great Depression, so he went to work in a coal mine. But Berra was meant to play baseball — he lost his job because of his habit of leaving work early to play the game with his friends. His parents did not understand or like baseball, but their son excelled and became one of the best players from their neighborhood. In 1942, the New York Yankees brought him into their dugout.

At 17 years old, Berra was away from home for the first time. His career began slowly, and he committed 16 errors in his first season as a catcher, although his hitting was consistent. Times were tough for the young man — he made $90 a month, before taxes were deducted, and there was little leftover after covering his living expenses. There were times Berra was close to starving. At one point, his manager loaned him money to buy cheeseburgers and adoring fans made Italian heroes for him to eat. He sold men’s suits in the winters to get by.

“What you have to remember about Yogi is that all he ever wanted was to be a baseball player.”
— Jerry Coleman, hall of fame broadcaster

Soon into his career, America’s priorities changed. With World War II raging, Uncle Sam started to draft baseball players into the military. Berra joined the U.S. Navy and was in the middle of the action in Europe on one of the most important days for the Allied war effort: June 6, 1944. On D-Day, Berra was on a rocket boat that fired armaments against the German fortifications at Normandy.

That August, the catcher aided landing troops during the amphibious invasion of southern France through Operation Dragoon. After fighting on D-Day, Berra said he was scared to death during those landings, because he realized the Germans could have killed his entire crew due to their proximity to the beaches. Despite his fear, he fought valiantly and went back behind home plate with a Purple Heart.

By 1946, with the war behind him, Berra returned to the ball park. He was one of the toughest and most talented players in the league, a three-time MVP who hit 305 homeruns and earned 10 World Series rings. Don Larsen, who in the 1956 World Series threw a perfect game to Berra, believed the catcher was the best pitch caller in baseball.

Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain
Yogi Berra was an iconic major league baseball catcher for the New York Yankees. Public domain

The all-star was at the center of many historic plays, including when Jackie Robinson famously stole home during the 1955 World Series. Berra, who was catching for pitcher Whitey Ford, attempted to tag out Robinson, but the umpire deemed the runner safe — a call Berra did not agree with.

Once he hung up his catcher’s gear in the 1960s, Berra became a coach and manager for the Yankees, the Mets and later the Houston Astros, among other business ventures.

For a man who did not earn an education past the eighth-grade level, Berra accomplished much during his lifetime, included being known for his creative sayings, commonly known as “Yogi-isms,” such as his famous quotes, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” and “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He was an American and athletic icon who represented the grit and character of his unique nation.

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