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Patriots

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.”

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Patriots claim county crown for first time in three years

Ward Melville’s swim team may have thought it was a rebuilding year, but the Patriots proved they’re faster builders than some might have expected.

After claiming the Suffolk County crown 23 years in a row, the Patriots had placed fourth and fifth at the last two county meets. This year, Ward Melville returned to form, taking home the League II title with a perfect 6-0 record, and retrieving the county championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 4 with 269 points, well ahead of Connetquot with 231 points and Northport-Commack with 225.

“I don’t think going into the season we were looking at a possible county championship to be honest,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said. “We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me. We still had depth, which has always been a team strength at Ward Melville, but some of these young girls shined.”

The team’s 200-yard medley relay opened the meet and finished first in 1 minute, 47.86 seconds to beat a 2012 school record. First off the block was senior Victoria Bogdanski.

“We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me.”

—Chris Gordon

“I just thought about trying my best and being there for my team,” she said. “We didn’t know we were close to the record, so once we finished the race, we were all so excited. We all had this motivation and excitement that carried through the meet.”

Riley Gavigan, Sydney Boals and Kaitlyn Ehlers finished out the relay with personal-best times. Gavigan said she too was only thinking about her team.

“I wanted to score points, so I was going as fast as I could,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t just let down myself, I’d be letting down my whole team. We had to be in the right mindset, and we got each other pumped and ready to win.”

Gavigan qualified for three individual events, the 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley but could only compete in two, forgoing the backstroke.

The sophomore placed second in both, finishing the individual medley in 2:08.22 and breaststroke in a school-record time of 1:04.98, just a hair off first-place finisher Margaret Purcell of Southampton, who won in 1:04.34. Gavigan said she was not expecting to break a Ward Melville record that had stood since 1990 in the individual medley, the only record Gordon had not seen broken during his tenure.

“I want to improve every year,” she said. “So heading into the meet I had tunnel vision. I was focused on myself and not everyone else around me.”

Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example.”

— Chris Gordon

Boals qualified to compete in four events — the 100 and 200 freestyles, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke — deciding to take part in both freestyles. She placed first in the 100 in 53.13 seconds and second in the 200 in 1:54.14.

“I was shocked I won the 100 freestyle — those girls were a lot older than me,” she said. “I’m usually a mid-distance competitor, so I was excited to get that time.”

She broke a 2009 record in the 100 freestyle at the league meet and outdid her time on the county stage. She said it only motivates her to dig deeper.

“We knew we had to show we were ready and we weren’t afraid of losing,” Boals said. “Now I know I can get even faster than I am now.”

Gordon said Boals and Gavigan mean a lot to the team, and noted their impact on the other girls.

“They’re both mentally tough kids and they like to compete and they like to race,” he said. “Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example. Whatever I ask her to do, there’s never a problem. It’s never an issue.”

Ward Melville’s 400 freestyle relay team, which comprised Gavigan, Boals, Ehlers and Kylie Kramer, also qualified. The quartet finished third with a time of 3:40.13. Ehlers also finished ninth in the 100 butterfly; Kramer finished sixth in the 500 freestyle; and the 200 freestyle of Kramer, Hope Farrell, Frances Clever and Sophia Swanson finished third in 1:45.02. Bogdanski reached the finish line eighth in the 100 backstroke.

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores.”

— Chris Gordon

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores,” Gordon said. “At this point in the season, for them to be swimming as fast as they are and as young as they are, it’s exciting. We will be graduating 10 or 12 seniors, but right now we’re gathering steam and all of the sudden everyone is dropping time and everyone is doing really well.”

The season started off with a bump in the road for the Patriots. Ward Melville lost its opening nonleague meet to a tough Connetquot team, now the county runner-up for the last three seasons, but bounced back to top rival Half Hollow Hills, the defending county champion from last year.

“We worked our hearts out and tried to do our best,” Boals said. “We wanted the seniors to leave with a county championship. We wanted them to have fun and coach to be proud and once we beat Half Hollow Hills and we won the league, we knew we had counties in the bag.”

Gavigan said the momentum will propel the team toward success this weekend in the state finals Nov. 17 and 18 at Ithaca College.

“We were the No. 3 seed heading into counties, so it was good to win and show the other teams that we’re right there with them,” she said. “We’re in the right mindset to place well at states.”

If the county meet was any indication, Gordon said, the girls are peaking at the right time.

“They work very hard, they get along very well in and out of the pool and they’re just a great bunch of girls,” he said. “Some of their siblings have been past members of the team, so there’s some legacy there and they take this seriously. They’re very dedicated, which I appreciate. I’m hoping everyone has a little more left in the tank to go a little faster this weekend.”

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Patriots powerhouse wins two 1-0 games for first state crown since 2008

Kerri Thornton has become a thorn in the side of her opponents.

The senior standout scored Ward Melville’s game-winning goal in overtime to help the Patriots bring home the first Class A state title in field hockey since 2008 with a 1-0 win over Maine-Endwell on their field Nov. 12.

“At first, I honestly did not think it went in,” Thornton said. “When Kate [Mulham] got the back ball, I ran back into the circle and got ready for her to send it in. When she did, I received it, and just turned around and shot it hard hoping that it would go in.”

As Thornton’s teammates surrounded her in celebration, she said she knew what she’d done.

“I let out a huge shout in relief,” she said as she saw the smiling faces racing toward her. “It has been our dream ever since we were kids to win a championship like this. The journey this season — as a senior this year — this was what I wanted. I’m just so proud of my team for putting in the time and effort to get to where we got. It’s incredible that we finally pulled it off.”

The game-winning goal was scored with 4:37 left in overtime. Mulham said despite the team’s perfect 21-0 record, losing in the state final and semifinal games in extra minutes in the last two years lingered in the back of their minds. She said despite coming up just short in recent years, she knew the qualities her surrounding teammates possessed.

“What makes Ward Melville field hockey different is that we field a team where every girl is extremely talented,” she said. “Overtime is a high-pressure situation, but I was confident. That’s what makes us so successful.”

She said when she heard her classmate calling for the ball from the circle, she knew what she had to do.

“All I could see was a swarm of defenders when I passed the ball to Kerri,” Mulham said. “But I heard her calling for it, and I trust her, so I sent it to her. When I saw it go into the net, I broke down — tears of joy, and I rushed to hug her so tightly. I never wanted something so badly, and to accomplish something like this with your best friends is a feeling I can’t even put into words.”

With the intensity up and with a huge target on its back, Ward Melville began its journey upstate Nov. 11. With a second trip to the finals in three years on the line, junior Lexi Reinhardt was the first Patriot to jump for joy. Long Island’s leading goal scorer (33 points on 24 goals and nine assists) found the back of the cage in another pressure-filled situation. With 23 seconds left in the first half of a 0-0 game with Baldwinsville, she scored off an assist from senior Shannon Coughlan to send Ward Melville to the finals.

“The play was on a corner and in these games corners are precious,” Reinhardt said. “It was just a great pass from Shannon Coughlan and I was in the right position to finish it.”

She said the Patriots wanted to make a statement being back in the state semifinal game for the third year in a row.

“Heading in, there was definitely some nerves, but I think we channeled that and we were able to play off of the energy of the situation,” she said. “During the game we didn’t focus on that though, we were just focused on playing our game, and winning. The joy and happiness that we feel has radiated throughout the entire program. I will never forget this team.”

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By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s girls tennis team’s unbeaten, 14-0, regular season record is unmatched by any of the 52 varsity squads in Suffolk County. Add to that four playoff victories, the last one leading to a Suffolk County championship title, and the Patriots are in rarefied air.

Head coach Erick Sussin said the remarkable winning streak is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement.

“No other team in Suffolk County has gone undefeated, in all leagues — all the others have at least one loss,” he said. “Now every team plays different schedules and sometimes you’re comparing apples and oranges, but we did have a tough schedule and not to drop a match.”

The Patriots tasted defeat for the first time when they fell to Port Washington, 5-2, in a rain delayed Long Island championship finale at Half Hollow Hills West Nov. 1.

Ward Melville junior Denise Lai had her hands full at first singles, but ultimately prevailed against seventh-grader Thea Rabman 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Section XI had a surprise in store for the three-year varsity player after the match. Lai, who was been name All-State the last two seasons, learned she had captured the sportsmanship award for the season, as voted by Suffolk County coaches.

“There’s no doubt about, its humbling,” Lai said, overwhelmed. “I’m just happy I’m acknowledged for how nice I am.”

Sussin was quick to point out what his junior standout has meant to the team.

“Denise is not just our captain, she’s the team leader at the highest position,” the coach said. “She’s been top notch all year and she plays well under pressure. She represents our team at first singles.”

Ward Melville junior Anna Ma, a three-year varsity player who usually competes in first doubles, found herself competing in fourth singles and won her match 7-5, 6-3.

Sussin said his strategy for the match was to get to four wins as soon as possible. To try to do this, he continued to move some of his star doubles players to singles spots, like Keren Collins, who ultimately won the county championship for her team.

The senior, who usually pairs with Ma, competed in third singles throughout the postseason.

“We know that in our [matchups] we can get four points in other ways,” Sussin said. “They prefer doubles, and in doubles their hands get better, their volleys get better, and you can use that in singles play.”

Collins said she had confidence in her team throughout the playoffs no matter where her teammates were slotted.

“It didn’t matter who we were playing, everyone in every position had the ability to get it done —we all did our part we just kept pushing through,” Collins said. “We had confidence going out there each time, knowing we could do it. And every time we won, we’d have a quick 10-second celebration and move on to the next match. We set our goals and we conquered them.”

Julia Hu attributed her team’s remarkable season and its rise to Long Island level to the depth of Ward Melville’s roster.

“Reaching this game says so much about how deeply talented our team is from our first singles to our third doubles,” Hu said. “Our girls are so disciplined with their training throughout the year, and with their effort and support of the entire team — we all contributed to that 18-0 record.”

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By Bill Landon

Lexi Reinhardt wasn’t concerned about being down 1-0, even with just 12 minutes left in the game.

Poised and prepared, Ward Melville’s junior field hockey standout slammed home the Patriots’ two goals in 2-1 come-from-behind win over Sachem East  Oct. 28 for the program’s third straight Suffolk County Class A title.

“We were just trying to stay positive, keep the pressure going,” she said. “It took us a little while to come back, but we knew we had to work together and get the ball in the net. And that’s what we did.”

After a scoreless first half, Sachem East’s Emily Rodriguez broke the ice at the 25-minute mark.

The Flaming Arrows’ defense proved it was up to the task of guarding against a Ward Melville attack that outscored opponents 62-13 during the regular season, but senior midfielder Kate Mulham said she knew it was only a matter of time until her Patriots would strike.

“Our team prides itself on its composure and our ability to be resilient even when faced with adversity, like being down 1-0 to a really strong team like Sachem East,” the co-captain said. “We all know our individual strengths and our team’s strengths, and we knew that if we kept up our style of play eventually the goals would fall.”

Reinhardt relished in a penalty shot attempt, and fired home a goal to tie the game with 11:27 left to play. With 4:50 left in regulation, junior forward Caitlin Evans scooped up possession amid a pile of players off a corner attempt, and flicked a pass to Reinhardt, who put the game away with the go-ahead goal.

“It was great to get that stroke to break the ice a little bit and to keep our attack pushing and pushing,” Ward Melville head coach Shannon Sioss said. “[Sachem East’s] defense was extremely strong today, and we were just lucky that we had a lot of opportunities. We had our fingers crossed that hopefully we would be able to break through that defense at least once.”

The Patriots extend their undefeated streak to 18-0, and will represent Suffolk in the Long Island regional championship game against Massapequa Nov. 1 at Newfield High School at 2:30 p.m.

“Winning county championship brings a lot of pride to us — it’s a confidence booster and we’re going to carry it on to our next game,” Reinhardt said. “Hopefully win and keep this streak going with this positive vibe as we go on.”

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Keren Collins is surrounded by her teammates following her three-set win to propel Ward Melville to a county team title. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Patriots had been in this position before, but this time, all eyes were on senior Keren Collins.

Keren Collins returns the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

The Ward Melville girls tennis team’s chance at redeeming last season’s finals loss to Commack for the Suffolk County team title came down to the third singles match, and Collins came from behind 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 to claim the crown for the No. 1 Patriots with a 4-3 edging of No. 2 Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 23.

“At first, the pressure was nonexistent, but when I found out [I was in the last match of the day] and up by three or four games, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to use that advantage and get this, right here,’” Collins said. “Last year we made it to the finals and lost to Commack, but this year we were determined to make it happen and I wasn’t going to let the chance slip away.”

While Collins was competing on the William Floyd court, third doubles pair Ellie Berger and Sam Sloan were playing alongside her. The Patriots duo dropped the second set 1-6 after winning a commanding first 6-1, and eked out a 6-4 win in the third over Lauren Kornfeld and Emily Me taxas.

Denise Lai volleys. Photo by Bill Landon

After the win and even with the mounting pressure, Collins kept her pace and her power stroke strong as she wore down her opponent.

“I was able to hit down the middle and I kept going to every possible corner that I could,” she said. “But [Melissa Chen] was extremely athletic — she was able to get to almost everything, she was like a ball machine, so I had to tire her out as much as possible.”

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin said his three-time All-County player was a game-changer.

“Keren was able to change the dynamic of the game. What she lacks in mobility on the court she makes up with power,” he said. “With power — putting the slice in every so often — she mixed it up so that pace went from really fast to really slow, and that caught her opponent off=guard.”

Earlier in the match, Anna Ma won her fourth singles match 6-3, 6-1 and Denise Lai did her part in first singles, defeating Alexis Huber in convincing fashion 6-0, 6-2. But the two-time All-State player admitted she was nervous about whether her team could pull out a victory.

“I had some doubts,” Lai said. “Last year was kind of sad, we lost big time, but I’m so happy that we finally won.”

Julia Hu serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Sussin said that changing wind conditions presented a problem, especially during Collins match, but said she seemed to take the gusts of wind in stride.

“It was a factor early on, especially in that second set, and she used the wind when she needed to —when the wind was at her back her slice was dropping in,” Sussin said. “And when the wind was at her face she was able to hit through it with all her pace.”

Julia Hu, a three-time All-County player, said she did not doubt Collins in the nail-biting contest, even through standing still in silence with her teammates.

“I knew she could pull it out — she has that amazing mental strength,” Hu said. “She’s been playing tennis for so long and she knows she has to get the job done, and won’t let her emotions interfere with what she has to do.”

Ward Melville now turns its attention to winning the Long Island title. The undefeated, 18-0 Patriots will play Port Washington at Half Hollow Hills West Oct. 25 at 3 p.m.

The Ward Melville girls tennis team took the Suffolk County team title with a 4-3 win over Half Hollow Hills East Oct. 24. Photo by Bill Landon

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Arianna Barbieri strikes the ball past a William Floyd defender. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville’s soccer team has an advantage most teams don’t: the connection between twin sisters Kerri and Nicole Liucci.

On their senior night, in a 3-0 win over William Floyd Oct. 16, the two scored a goal apiece, and assisted on each other’s tallies to help the Patriots (10-3-2, 9-2-2 League I) power through.

“We have twin telepathy,” Kerri Liucci said. “We work hard together.”

Nicole Liucci passes the ball downfield. Photo by John Dielman

Nicole Liucci was first to find the back of the net after her twin received a pass from the corner, and moved the ball front and center in the box. With a mid-air knock-in, the Liucci sisters made it an early 1-0 advantage.

“We have a really strong bond and we know where each other is at all times,” Nicole Liucci said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I need to get the ball in the net.’ My sister passed it to me and I kicked it right in.”

More than 25 minutes passed before the Patriots propelled the ball into the net a second time. On a strike from 30 yards out, midfielder Arianna Barbieri found the far left corner, which was a surprise even to her.

“I decided to just wing it,” she said. “Watching it sail over and into the net felt really good. We were pushing the ball as hard as we could trying to score early and shut them down.”

Ward Melville’s defense held down the Colonials in the second half, despite losing returning All-County defender Kayla Winicki to a torn ACL in the first game of the season against Northport. Liv Halvorsen has stepped up to fill her place on the back line, knocking away chances and battling for crucial possession, which she’ll need to continue if Ward Melville wants to win a League I title.

“We had some girls step in and take over and they’ve been great and adjusted well,” Ward Melville head coach John Diehl said. “We’re gelling now and coming together in different ways.”

Kerri Liucci moves the ball across midfield. Photo by John Dielman

Kerri Liucci put the game out of reach with 12 minutes left when she sent the ball into the corner from close range. She had a chance at a goal seconds earlier, when she pushed the ball past a fallen William Floyd goalkeeper, but a defender batted it away. She said she was overjoyed to finally get on the stat sheet.

“I really wanted to score on senior night,” she said. “I tried, put all my effort behind the ball and it went in, and it felt amazing because I was working hard the whole game to get a goal. It was rewarding.”

The three seniors that scored on Ward Melville’s senior night are the three longest tenured members of the team.

“The girls get so excited for this day,” Diehl said of his 14 upperclassmen. “Their energy is high, their spirits are high and they ended up doing well. They’ve endured a lot and they’re a nice group of seniors. I love seeing them happy — it makes me smile.”

After what could potentially have been the last home game for Ward Melville this season, the Patriots soaked it in as the bench cleared in celebration of a successful shutout. Ward Melville travels to Brentwood for the final game of the regular season Oct. 18. If the Patriots come away with a win, they’ll also grab a piece of the League I title for the first time in years.

“Brentwood is always a strong team,” Diehl said. “It’s always tough against Brentwood at their house, too, because they play on grass and we’re not used to that surface, but heading into this last week I like where we are.”

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Running back Nick Messina may stand out to the crowd, but his heroics on the football field are no longer a surprise to his teammates.

The Ward Melville football star’s Oct. 7 showing was more of the same, as the senior scored three touchdowns and accounted for 233 yards in a 32-0 homecoming blanking of Sachem East in front of nearly 1,000 fans.

“Messina played unbelievably, as expected,” junior Nick Troy said of his teammate, who also plays cornerback. “He is such an explosive player on both sides of the ball.”

Messina didn’t waste any time getting the Patriots on the board. He returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a score, setting the tone early for the blowout victory.

“It really gave us the momentum right out of the gate and took Sachem off-guard,” Messina said. “There’s nothing better than scoring the opening kickoff. My coach saw that they didn’t have anybody on the outside and he trusted the line to do their jobs, and all I had to do was follow my blocks.”

The Patriots scored on the opening drive of the second quarter, when senior quarterback Peyton Capizzi found junior wide receiver Marcus Velez for a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Ward Melville a 12-0 lead.

The 6-foot, 4-inch Velez was a matchup nightmare for Sachem East, gaining 89 yards on seven catches.

Messina made it 18-0 on a 40-yard dash into the end zone with 4:16 left in the first half. The extra-point kick attempt on the first touchdown was missed, as well as two 2-point conversion tries.

One of the biggest plays of the game came when senior lineman Stephen Torrico threw a great block to spring Messina for a 21-yard gain on a fourth-and-4 from Ward Melville’s 45-yard line.

“Personally, my favorite highlight was when Stephen Torrico laid a huge hit on one of their backs,” Messina said. “We spent a lot of time recognizing all of their different formations on offense and it really paid off because they rarely caught us with any surprises.”

Three plays later, he scampered into the end zone on a 2-yard run. Messina ended the day with 140 yards rushing on 17 carries.

“It was everything we could’ve hoped for as seniors playing in our last homecoming game,” Messina said of the win. “I think that everybody was contributing and doing their job the best they possibly can and that’s what really led us to victory. I think that every game we are getting closer and closer as a group and we’re learning to trust each other more and more, which really helps us during game time.”

Capizzi — who was 10-for-16 passing with 110 yards through the air and added 63 yards on 10 carries on the ground — hit Troy, a wide receiver and running back, for a two-point conversion following Messina’s touchdown for a 26-0 advantage.

“It felt sweet to catch the pitch from Peyton,” Troy said. “He’s patient and can find the window for the shovel passes.”

After Ward Melville senior cornerback Christian O’toole recorded his second interception of the game, Troy cashed in a 20-yard touchdown run for the final six points.
“The coaches really prepared us well for Sachem,” Troy said. “I think the team really started to click well in the game, especially the defense — they did a great job stopping the runs.”

Winning over Sachem East was a huge move for Ward Melville, which is now tied with Sachem East at 4-2 for No. 2 in the Division I standings behind undefeated Lindenhurst and William Floyd. The Patriots will tackle Longwood Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. before traveling to Lindenhurst Oct. 27.

Port Jefferson's Shane DeVincenzo. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Two years ago, Port Jefferson’s boys golf team handed Ward Melville a loss that broke a 88-match win streak. The Patriots returned that favor at Port Jefferson Country Club Oct. 3, winning the round by a single stroke to snap the Royals’ undefeated streak this season.

Port Jefferson junior Shane DeVincenzo, a two-time All-County and All-State golfer, came in at one over par in the first wave. Although it wasn’t his best round, shooting a 37, he was pleased with his result.

“My personal best on this course for nine holes is a 32,” DeVincenzo said. “I think it takes confidence more than anything — you go into these matches saying you’re going to win and [that] helps you believe it. If you go into it thinking you might not win, it’s going to be a lot closer.”

Ward Melville’s Palmer Van Tuyl. Photo by Bill Landon

The match was a lot closer than it was the first time the two teams met, and that didn’t surprise Port Jefferson head coach Chuck Ruoff. Either way, he was wowed by what DeVincenzo continues to do out on the course. Last time the two teams met, the junior shot a 34.

“He’s unbelievable,” Ruoff said of his Suffolk County runner-up from last season.  “For the remaining matches, if we go out and play the way we’re capable of, I think we’ll end up with the result we want.”

The Patriots may be a young team, with just one senior on the roster, but Ward Melville’s underclassmen were right behind the rest of the pack, like sophomore Palmer Van Tuyl, who shot a 41.

“I hit a bunch of good shots, but Shane DeVincenzo is a tremendous golfer,” Van Tuyl said. “He started off with a few medium-length par putts, so I was down early. And toward the middle of the round I had a couple of ups and downs for par.”

Port Jeff junior Josh Gelfond, a two-time All-League player, struggled with his ball contact. He shot 40,  edging his opponent by  two strokes, but has done better than his plus four performance on his home course.

“My best is a 34, so today I was pretty good around the greens and scrambling, but my ball striking wasn’t the best,” he said. “Normally around the greens is one of the strongest parts of my game, but I need to work on consistency with my iron play.”

Ward Melville Gavin Gerard. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville head coach Bob Spira said the narrow win was especially gratifying for him after losing to the Royals earlier in the season.

“We practice chipping and putting — the short game is really important,” Spira said of his team’s many workouts at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, the Patriots’ home course. “The kids golf a lot themselves [outside of the team], and that creates a lot of depth, [despite how] very young we are.”

Ward Melville junior Alexander Korkuc had his short game working for him, but after shooting a 44 left a few strokes out on the green. He looks to improve with four games left in the regular season.

“I thought my chipping and pitching was very good today, but I left a couple of putts short,” he said. “I just misread a couple of putts. As a team we just have to practice harder, work on our drills better and stay positive.”

Ruoff attributes a large part of his team’s success — the Royals went on a 6-0 run to start the season —  to the association with Port Jefferson Country Club.

“They love being around the course; the facility provides a lot for them,” Ruoff said. “They’re able to practice and play, get instruction basically whenever they want, so it’s a very strong relationship.”

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 5-1, but Ruoff said despite the blemish, he sees big things happening for his Royals this season.

“They just want to compete,” he said. “I set them in the right direction, and they’re taking care of the rest.”

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