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Members of state championship-winning field hockey team look to bring another title home this spring

Samantha Tarpey goalie, Ward Melville's junior goalkeeper, reaches to make a save during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Three Ward Melville multi-sport athletes are hoping to not only share knowledge of success through teaching, but through osmosis.

Lexi Reinhardt, Kate Mulham and Kerri Thornton, all veterans of the Patriots field hockey team, have tasted success at the highest level. After bringing home the school’s first state title since 2008, they returning starters are hoping to do it again, but this time, with the girls lacrosse team.

Ward Melville senior Shannon Brazier make a pass during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our core players are high energy, they’re high speed, high power, just go-go-go,” head coach Kerri Kilkenny said. “After those girls won the field hockey state title they were all texting me, ‘we’re doing it again in the spring.’”

Ward Melville ended its 2017 campaign 17-1. The Patriots powered through the regular season, going 16-0 in Division I before topping West Islip in the Class A quarterfinals. Going 17-1 would seem to be an accomplishment for any team, but for Patriots, the single-score loss to Northport in semifinals stung, and the pain still lingers. Ranked No. 1 in Division I heading into this season, Ward Melville has its sights set on a new objective.

“Our focus is working hard and getting better every day,” Kilkenny said. “This year I’m more concerned about making sure that we are taking care of ourselves — that we are becoming better, that we are improving and that we’re working hard every single day.”

The Patriots lost 13 seniors to graduation, spread evenly across the field — four attackers, four midfielders, four defenders and a goalkeeper. Kilkenny said with the girls playing on club teams over the summer, she’s not worried about filling in the gaps. Senior Shannon Coughlan will anchor the defense, the duo of Shannon Brazier and Shannon Berry will lead the midfield and Jill Becker will guide the attack.

Ward Melville senior Nicole Liucci moves the ball downfield during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Brazier said the bitter taste left in every girl’s mouth after the loss will be used as motivation.

“We’re all trying as hard as we can because a lot of us are seniors,” she said. “This is our last year, so we’re giving it our all. Even though we only had one loss last year, it ended our season. We weren’t happy about that, so we’re using that to fuel our season this year.”

Coughlan, who agreed with Brazier, said she is also looking to get her team up to speed.

“We have new personnel on defense, so we’re going to have to work on communication with each other to get to where we’re comfortable,” Coughlan said.

Ward Melville will scrimmage top Division III teams in Mount Sinai, Shoreham-Wading River, Eastport-South Manor and Bayport-Blue Point before the season opener against visiting Riverhead March 27 at 4:30 p.m.

“My senior class is a great, dynamic group — they’ve been with us a few years now and they all have tremendous potential,” Kilkenny said. “All of the girls are like sponges; they want to learn, they listen, they’re coachable. They really are a wonderful group of kids.”

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Alex Sobel goes up the the rim. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

The big man on campus can stuff the stat sheet in a variety of ways.

Ray Grabowski drives to the basket. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville’s senior 6-foot, 8-inch Alex Sobel said he would be 100 percent ready for the playoffs following a quiet appearance in the Patriots’ win over Sachem East Feb. 9 – he wasn’t kidding.

Sobel came back in a big way Feb. 17 against Half Hollow Hills West, scoring 21 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and blocking six shots in a 66-50 win in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.

“I felt really good honestly,” Sobel said. “I feel healthy. Blocking shots is one of the best parts of my game. It definitely felt good to get back in my rhythm that I was in earlier in the season.”

Junior Ray Grabowski had the hot hand in the first half, putting up 16 of his 20 total points. Classmate Robert Soto finished with 11 points.

Grabowski said the crowd and his teammates got him going.

“I thought the defense was very good,” Grabowski said. “Me, Trevor [Cronin] and even Rob [Soto] — we all played very good on [Derek] Brower. Sobel was big in help defense. He had a lot of blocked shots. The momentum ­— if we keep playing this good, I think we can go as far as we want.”

Alex Sobel leaps for the ball at opening tipoff. Photo by John Dielman

Hills West’s dynamic senior backcourt of Derek Brower Jr. and Jeff Terry combined for 30 points. Brower Jr. led the Colts with 17 points, but Ward Melville’s head coach had a game plan to wear them out.

“If we chased him around and ran off screens and had to run all over to get open, eventually his legs would get tired and then his shot would go,” Alex Piccirillo said. “We tried to take away their first option.”

At halftime, the Patriots had a comfortable 43-21 lead, outscoring the Colts 18-8 in the second quarter. Even with the advantage, Piccirillo told his guys that the game wasn’t over.

“I told them there’s no time to step on the brake,” Piccirillo said. “[I wanted them to] just try to continue to move forward, run the floor and defend. Our defense will lead to any offensive opportunities that we want.”

Ward Melville’s Soto, who went a 4-for-4 from the foul line, said his strategy was to draw contact and keep attacking the rim.

“I felt pretty confident taking the ball to the bucket,” Soto said. “I didn’t really think anybody could stay with me, so I kept driving to the basket.”

Ward Melville senior guard Brendan Martin had four points, but had the ball in his hands most of the game. Piccirillo said the team wouldn’t be where it is now without their playmaker.

Alex Mazzone shoots above a block. Photo by John Dielman

“He’s our floor general,” Piccirillo said of Martin. “He takes care of everything for us. He gets us into our offense, he’s the first one to communicate; without him, we don’t get this far.”

In his final home game, Sobel said the result was drawn up as expected.

“In the first quarter, we were up and we never looked back,” he said. “We never really let the game get close — that’s how you want every game to go. It’s been a great four years.”

Ward Melville is set to play at Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Hills East beat Ward Melville last year in the same round, 75-59.

“It’s the playoffs,” Piccirillo said. “Every team is good. It’s down to the final eight teams in Suffolk County. It’s going to be a battle, they have Savion Lewis, who’s the best player in the county. We know we have our hands full, but we have some pretty good players, too.”

Brendan Martin moves the ball. Photo by John Dielman

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Ward Melville senior Bre Cohn recorded a double-double on 11 points and 12 rebounds, adding five steals and two blocks to lead No. 12 Ward Melville to a 33-29 upset of No. 5 Eastport-South Manor in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Feb. 16.

Shannon Brazier had eights points nine rebounds, and Jamie Agostino and Noelle Richardson added six points each. Twelve of the team’s total points came off 3-pointers.

Ward Melville will face No. 4 Longwood on the road Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.

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By Jim Ferchland

The league-title winning drought is finally over for the Ward Melville Patriots.

With a 64-51 win over Sachem East Feb. 9, the boys basketball team nabbed a share of the bragging rights for the first time since 1990.

With only five players scoring, Ward Melville was efficient enough to hold down Sachem East in its final regular season game. Brentwood played Longwood the same night and lost, 53-49, leaving the Indians, Lions and Patriots all tied at 11-3 in League I play. Ward Melville had the best overall record at 16-4.

“All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

— Alex Piccirillo

“It’s all we’ve talked about in the offseason,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said about winning the league title. “We’ve gone all spring, all summer, all fall; we’ve played 100 games. All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

Senior Trevor Cronin, who averaged four to six points per game this year, finished Feb. 9 a game-high 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

“If you’re going to leave him open, that’s what he’ll do to you,” Piccirillo said of Cronin. “He’s worked his tail off and got tremendously better. He just works hard and does whatever we ask him to do.”

For Cronin, who barely touched the ball two years ago as a sophomore on the junior varsity team, he wasn’t the only one reviving the game’s vitality.

“My teammates have been there for me all year,” Cronin said. “When they needed me to pick them up, I was there to pick them up today. It’s all about my teammates.”

In the collaborative effort, senior Brendan Martin poured in 16 points with a team-high four 3-pointers.  Junior Robert Soto contributed 15, and junior Ray Grabowski came through with a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer Alex Sobel came back after missing three games with an ankle injury and scored four points.

Sobel said he felt a lot better being back on the court.

“It feels good,” Sobel said. “It wasn’t a very statistical game for me tonight, but it’s perfect because I have a week now to get ready for our next game. I expect to be 100 percent ready by the playoffs.”

Piccirillo said it was great to see Sobel back on the floor despite not putting up his usual numbers — he was averaging 16 points, 15 rebounds and almost five blocks a game this season prior to his injury.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together. That’s exactly what happened today.”

— Brendan Martin

“He blocks shots, he hinders guys from shooting layups,” the coach said. “He just changes the game.”

Sachem East seniors Ryan Panno and Ryan Sheehy combined for 30 points. Panno led with 18 points. Junior Ryan Kennedy had nine points off of three triples.

In a tale of two halves, the Patriots got scorching hot in the second, outscoring the Flaming Arrows 43-28 after being down 23-21 at halftime. Ward Melville went on a 12-2 run to conclude the third quarter. It was a big spark plug to finish strong.

“We started knocking down threes and getting stops,” Martin said. “Our stops led to early offense — big rebounds by Alex Sobel making blocked shots. We pushed the ball on the fast break and it got the home crowd fired up, too.”

Martin said Ward Melville strives to have every player contribute. He said he’s hoping having the team at full strength with help the Patriots get there this postseason.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together,” Martin said. “That’s exactly what happened today.”

Cronin enjoyed finishing the season with a league-clinching victory in front of family and friends.

“It feels great,” Cronin said of the win. “Hopefully, we can go far in the playoffs.”

No. 8-seeded Ward Melville hosts No. 9 Half Hollow Hills West Feb. 17 at 1 p.m.

This version has been updated to include who Ward Melville will be facing in the first round of playoffs.

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Robert Soto leaps up to the basket between two defenders. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Junior Ray Grabowski was attacking the basket at will, leading the charge for Ward Melville with 24 points.

Ray Grabowski reaches for the rim. Photo by Jim Ferchland

His counterparts Brendan Martin and Robert Soto each contributed 13 points in a comfortable 67-46 road win over Sachem North Feb. 6. The Patriots advance to 10-3 in League I while Sachem North falls to the very bottom of League I at 1-12. Ward Melville and Longwood sit in the No. 2 spot, one win behind Brentwood (11-2) in first place.

“League I is an absolute jungle,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said. “Any time you can go on the road and win, it’s amazing. We work hard. We planned for this. That’s what we do.”

Grabowski said he felt pretty good with his offensive game. He made three 3-pointers and six field goals. He also made seven trips to the foul line.

“I was hitting shots when I was open,” Grabowski said. “I realized right away that I was bigger than every single one of those kids and took them to the hoop every single time.”

At the end of the first half, Ward Melville was up 24-18. The Patriots poured it in from outside the perimeter in the second half, knocking down seven 3-pointers. They outscored the Flaming arrows 43-28 in the final 16 minutes.

“We were able to push the ball more and gets the shots that we wanted,” Piccirillo said, noting his team eventually found the pace of play it’s accustomed to. “We did a much better job in the second half.”

Brendan Martin calls a play as he moves the ball into Sachem North territory. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Without 6-foot, 9-inch leading scorer Alex Sobel, out with an ankle injury since Jan. 26, the team hasn’t seemed to miss a beat, going 2-1 in the last three games.

“We just play the same way,” Piccirillo said. “It’s a team game. We continue to do what we do. We’re going to rebound, defend, box out and we’re going be physical.”

Ward Melville’s point guard Martin only scored two points in the first half, but found his sweet spot in the second, also knocking down three triples.

“My teammates and my coaches told me to keep on shooting it,” Martin said. “I came out and made three in a row, so it felt pretty good.”

Even with the team in good standing without Sobel, Martin said he hopes to be competing alongside his comrade again this season.

“Sobel is a Top 5 player in the county,” he said. “We miss him a lot, and hopefully we’ll have him back before the playoffs.”

Sachem North junior Bradley Anacreon lead the Flaming arrows with 15 points. He was the only player in double figures.

Ward Melville is scheduled to play at home against Sachem East Feb. 9 at 6:15 p.m.

Ward Melville's Ivanna Zavala-Arbelaez, on left, was the only Patriot to top Newfield's Ally Hu. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The stakes were high for the Patriots Monday night.

The last time Ward Melville’s girls fencing team faced off against Newfield it won by a single point, which was too close for comfort for head coach Kyle Hempe. With an undefeated streak on the line, the Patriots showed they learned from their mistakes, making a statement with an 18-9 home win Jan. 22.

Ward Melville’s Julia Duffy swept her opponents, winning both of her épée bouts. Photo by Bill Landon

“They were really fired up at home,” Hempe said. “We know Newfield is the second best team in our league, and they were really coming for it. So we went out, we worked as hard as we could, won a little earlier than we thought we would and we’re happy about that.”

Early wins came in the form of all three weapons. Ward Melville (10-0, 6-0 League II) took the second two of three in each of the first rounds of sabre, foil and épée.

Ward Melville’s Lauren Cappello started things off for the Patriots, putting the first point in the win column. The junior swept her sabre matches, 5-1, 5-2 and 5-2. Fellow sabre specialist Bridget Becchina, a senior, did the same while outscoring her challengers 15-4.

”We knew what we were coming into — I don’t think any of us were too worried — we knew we would have to bring it in each bout,” Becchina said. “I had confidence in the team, we had confidence in ourselves, and knew they have to beat us. We go out there and we just fence, and that usually works.”

Newfield (9-3, 5-2) was toughest in foil. Senior Ally Hu, who finished the day 2-1, took home victories in her second (5-1) and third (5-0) appearances out on the strip.

“[She’s] their strongest fencer, so was very happy with Ivanna Zavala-Arbeleaz, to see her come out with a victory there,” Hempe said. “But Bridget and Lauren are always solid for us in sabre so I’m happy for them and their performances, too.”

Ward Melville’s Catherine Cao, on left, gets a touch her Newfield opponent. Photo by Bill Landon

Junior épéeist Catherine Cao and senior Julia Duffy also swept their Newfield challengers.

“I’m proud that we came out with the win,” Duffy said. “Newfield gave us a run for our money, but we lean on all of the hard work that we put in, and reap the rewards.”

Junior sabreist Olivia Calise, who had dropped her first two bouts, blanked her opponent, 5-0, in the meet-clinching matchup.

With three meets left before the postseason Hempe said he’s confident going down the stretch, especially since the Patriots won’t be matching up with the Wolverines over that span.

“We’re not as worried, but we’ll go full force,” he said. “We’re happy to be in the position that we’re in.”

Ward Melville is back in action facing Centereach (5-7, 2-5) today, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. Newfield will host Sayville today at 6 p.m.

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Patriots send some wrestlers upstate to compete, rest others in loss to Sachem East

Ward Melville's Chris Little battles for dominance. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s wrestling team looked to cap off its undefeated regular season with another win Jan. 12, but with key competitors away at Eastern States Classic, it was a tall order for the Patriots to fill, which fell to Sachem East 51-27 on their home mat.

“We knew it was going to be a little tight,” said Ward Melville head coach Garrett Schnettler, noting his five starters away at the tournament. “Once we got [beyond] 138 pounds we knew it was going to be tight.”

Eastern States Classic tournament

Away at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, All-County senior Rafael Lievano notched his 100th career victory at 132 pounds. Junior Tom Fitzsimmons and senior Richie Munoz also competed.

Ward Melville senior 160-pounder Nabeel Ahmed struck first for his team, winning the opening match 10-6. The Patriots gathered additional points with a pair of Sachem East forfeits at 170 and 182 pounds, and senior Kevin Vera won his match 8-2 at 195 pounds to put his team out front 14-0.

From there, the Patriot lead slowly slipped away, with losses in the 220 and 285-pound weights classes before eighth-grader Christian Lievano started off the lighter weights with a pin at 2:39 over Sachem East’s John Tietjan at 99 pounds.

Sachem East got back in the win column at 106, 113 and 120 pounds to give the Flaming Arrows their first lead of the match, 26-24, and never looked back.

Ward Melville senior Ryan Mc Namara said the loss will have no effect on him or his teammates in preparation for the postseason, even if the win would have set a regular season record.

Ward Melville’s Kevin Vera tries to stay on top of his challenger to avoid letting up any points. Photo by Bill Landon

“Tonight’s loss isn’t going to phase us,” said Mc Namara, who was bumped from 170 to 185 so a junior varsity player could compete. Mc Namara won by forfeit. “We didn’t have as much experience, but they gave it their best. We’ll have everyone back in their spots in the lineup and we’ll give it our all [Wednesday].”

Ward Melville competes in the opening round of the newly created Suffolk County dual championship Jan. 17. Bracket information was not readily available for who the Patriots will compete against. Matches are currently scheduled to take place at 4 p.m.

“The guys at Eastern States, they’re doing pretty well,” said sophomore Dan Cassera, who was able to execute a pair of takedowns to pull away with a 9-6 win at 138 pounds. “We’re going to work hard [to get ready for Wednesday], put in a lot of practice, see what we did wrong and correct those things.”

Away at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, All-County senior Rafael Lievano notched his 100th career victory at 132 pounds. Junior Tom Fitzsimmons and senior Richie Munoz were also away.

“We’re already looking forward,” Schnettler said following the loss. “We take it one match at a time, and now we’re getting ready for the next meet. The guys are focused. We could’ve made tonight’s match closer, but we thought long term — gave some guys the rest who needed it — because round one of the dual meet championship is way more important than us going undefeated in the league.”

Ward Melville’s Christian Lievano attempts to keep his challenger on the mat. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville's Lauren Hansen carries the ball up the court while Commack's Casey Hearns follows close behind. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Former WNBA player, Commack graduate and current Ward Melville girls basketball coach Samantha Prahalis was frustrated and emotional on some calls the referee made while facing her alma mater Jan. 2. She received two technical fouls and was ejected in the middle of the fourth quarter in a 75-59 loss.

“I thought [the referees] missed a lot of calls,” Prahalis said. “If you let a few travels go, let a few backcourts go in a crucial time — we’re trying to come back, [and] there were a few big calls that I didn’t think were made.”

This is Prahalis’ first year as Ward Melville’s head coach. She was embarrassed that she was tossed, and said she has to do a better job of maintaining her composure.

Ward Melville’s head coach Samantha Prahalis, a former Commack star, coaches the Patirots from the sidelines. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I can’t put myself in a situation and get a technical, and then [to] get another one,” she said. “Lesson learned. I learned from it and we’ll learn from it as a group and we’ll move on.”

Ward Melville junior guard Lauren Hansen felt that Prahalis was in hostile territory facing her old team.

“I felt that the refs were just gunning for her,” she said. “It’s Commack environment.”

Commack assistant head coach Russ Tietjen was with Prahalias at Commack last year when she was an assistant. He is aware of her emotions on the court that translated to her emotions as a player at Commack.

“Sammy was a great player here and you can see her intensity as a coach is very similar to when she played,” Tietjen said of Prahalis. “She had a Ward Melville team who was ready to play; they played hard. That’s what good coaches do — they get their teams to play hard.”

Commack had several offensive weapons with four players scoring 16 points or more. Meanwhile, for Ward Melville, Hansen recorded 39 points and was the only player in double figures for the Patriots.

Junior guards Amanda McMahon and Katie Kelly lead the Cougars with 18 points each. Senior Casey Hearns recorded 17 and classmate Kim Shalhoub added 16. They combined for 69 of Commack’s 75 points.

“We have a group of great shooters and we like to push the tempo,” Tietjen said. “When you’re making your baskets, it looks good. It looked good today. The level of competitiveness in these girls is second to none.”

Kelly enjoyed going up against her former assistant head coach. She says it ramps up the competition.

“Sammy is a very good competitor and loves to win as much as we do,” Kelly said. “It just makes the atmosphere that much better to play in. It make us want to win even more.”

Kelly’s learned her game from former player and point guard Jillian Spagnuola who graduated in 2016, when the team went 22-1. Kelly is doing her best fill Spagnuola’s shoes.

Commack’s Katie Kelley looks to make a play up the court. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I learned everything from Jill,” Kelly said about her play style. “I learned how to run the point and organize the offense.”

After being down by at most 30, the Patriots went on a big run in the four quarter and cut the deficit to 12 after Prahalis was ejected. Senior forward Shannon Brazier said her coach ignited the spark.

“We just weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Brazier said. “We wanted to do it for coach and wanted to come back for her.”

Hansen’s scoring prowess is nothing new to her. Brazier says that’s always how her teammate plays. But the junior’s main focus is to face Commack again in Ward Melville territory.

“The loss brings us motivation to come back and go harder and beat them next time,” Hansen said. “We’ll bring a crowd next time, too.”

With Prahalis as the opposition to Commack, she enjoyed battling in her old stomping grounds.

“It felt good,” Prahalis said. “Ward Melville is my home now. I love Commack, I grew up there, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Ward Melville’s next game is at Brentwood Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. The Patriots fall to 2-4 on the season with the loss while Commack improves to 7-1. The Cougars travel to William Floyd  Jan. 5. Tipoff is currently
scheduled for 4 p.m.

Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse

By Bill Landon

Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,  the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.

“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”

Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.

Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.

“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”

Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.

“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”

Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.

“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”

Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.

First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.

“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”

Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.

“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”

Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.

“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”

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Girls hoops will rely on speed, defense to remain zealous

Former Commack star point guard Samantha Prahalis, above playing for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, will be the head coach at Ward Melville this season. Photo from Facebook

By Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville is looking to maintain its competitive edge.

The back-to-back League I title-winning girls basketball team is readying for a new challenge following the loss of senior leaders Taylor Tripptree, Kiera Ramaliu and Hannah Lorenzen, with head coach Bruce Haller.

That’s where veteran Samantha Prahalis comes in. The former WNBA standout, who scored 2,372 points for Commack, the fifth-best total in Long Island girls basketball history, will lead her old high school’s rival team this season. After she steered Ohio State University to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2009 to 2012, she completed a two-year stint for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and played four years professionally in Europe. The 5-foot, 7-inch point guard said she was ready to return to her roots in New York, and decided it was time to give back.

Ward Melville’s Lauren Hansen moves the ball during a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“It’s cool because I can tell them I’ve been in their shoes and I know what they’re going through,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be with a great district, have some great support and some great kids for my first year. I think the best part about coaching for me right now is helping these kids, and its pretty unique, because I can help them in a way maybe others can’t.”

The Patriots are looking forward to learning from Prahalis’ experiences. Ward Melville senior Shannon Brazier said the team’s style of play is already changing.

“She brings a whole new level of style of play and intensity that I think we were all excited to learn,” Brazier said. “Every single one of us have been working hard since the summer to get ready for the season, because it’s a pretty new team, losing most of our starters and getting a new coach, and we’re really proud of the progress we’ve been making, working together.”

Brazier said her coach wants her new team to have a defense that matches its offense.

“It’s no question that in the past we have had really strong shooters and a strong offense in general, but this year she’s been teaching us a lot more about defense and really focusing on this aspect of the game,” Brazier said. “Her emphasis on this side of the game has already started to greatly improve our skills. With a great number of our team graduating a lot of us had to step up and fill in those holes, and I think we’re all doing a good job at that.”

Prahalis agreed, adding she’ll be leaning on Brazier to command the Patriots this season.

“She’s vocal, and probably our best defensive player,” the coach said of one of her two remaining seniors. “She knows where to be, she has really good instincts.”

Ward Melville’s Shannon Brazier shoots from the free-throw line during a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

The team will continue to rely on its speed and hustle in grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers. With work on the defensive side of the ball, more offense should come.

The other two captains this season will be juniors Noelle Richardson and Lauren Hansen. Rounding out the roster will be juniors Bre Cohn and Lauren Walters, and underclassmen Molly Cronin, Jamie Agostino and Sarah Bucher.

“Lauren is not the most vocal person, but she leads by example,” Prahalis said of Hansen. “I’m asking a lot of her on all sides of the ball and, so far, she’s responded. She’s special — I don’t think a player like her comes around too often. The way she dribbles a ball, her shot, you have to see it to believe it.”

Hansen was one of Ward Melville’s leading scorers last season, Prahalis said, with 22.7 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore and will be big for the team this season if she can repeat these statistics. Prahalis added the now-junior standout has more than just a natural ability.

“She’s skillful, and I think that’s a testament to her work ethic,” the coach said. “You don’t wake up that way. You get that way by being in the gym and working hard.”

Hansen said she’s looking forward to seeing what she can take away from her coach.

“Coach has done everything that I aspire to do, so for me I hang on every word that she says,” said Hansen, who has received offers from Ohio State and the universities of Miami, Georgia and Pittsburgh. “Her experience is something we all look up to and her ability to relate to us as players I think is extremely beneficial to our relationship with her. We all really understand that if we’re going to do any damage this year it’s going to start on the defensive end. I think the girls, myself included, definitely have to step up big this year and mature quickly on the court, but so far they’ve done a great job of that and I think we can hold our own and make a statement this year against top talents on Long Island.”

Samantha Prahalis brings experience

A six-year varsity starter for Commack is calling Division I rival Ward Melville her new home court.

Samantha Prahalis, 27, accepted the coaching job for the Patriots in September after an extended basketball career that included playing for four years at Ohio State University, two years for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — as the sixth overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft — and four years professionally in Europe.

“The professional experience was good — I got to play at every level, which is pretty rare, so I’m grateful for that,” said Prahalis, who averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 assists per game over four years at Ohio State, and holds the Big Ten’s career record with 901 assists. “But I’ve been traveling my whole life. I’m a big family person, and I don’t like being overseas for seven months out of the year.”

Previous head coach Bruce Haller stepped down citing scheduling conflicts as a professor at Molloy College.

“I just felt like I’d been through a ton in my career on and off the court that I can help other players who are coming up,” Prahalis said of throwing her hat in the ring. “I didn’t think I would want to coach when I was younger, but while I was overseas I realized I wanted to give it a try. I’m just as determined as I was as a player, but this time around its teaching my kids and helping them and the team succeed. This new chapter of coaching is special to me.”

Ward Melville athletic director Pete Melore said more than just Prahalis’ résumé stood out to him during the interview.

“She never talked about how good she was at basketball,” he said. “What impressed me the most is her humility. It was all about paying it forward.”

He said while Haller was outstanding, he’s hoping Prahalis’ experience playing for multiple coaches at different levels will help her be successful at the helm.

“I think she’s patient, she runs a good practice, but you can see that competitive fire there from when she was a player,” Melore said. “There’s a good knowledge base and she learned a lot overseas. Her goal getting into coaching is all about her giving back to the kids the same positive experience she had as a player.”