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Patriots

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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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Ward Meville's Anna Ma sends the ball back. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin doesn’t hesitate to mix up his tennis lineup. In fact, it’s been a recipe for success this season. The Sept. 25 matchup against Bayport-Blue Point proved no different, as the Patriots blanked their opponent 7-0 to remain undefeated atop the League V leaderboard.

Ward Melville’s Jade Eggleston serves. Photo by Bill Landon

“We lack the depth we had a year ago, and we’ve changed up our No. 3 and No. 4 singles several times this year,” the head coach said. “But we have strong four points [in No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and singles], and all you need is four points to win. That has allowed us to win all of these matches.”

Jade Eggelston’s No. 1 singles match was a breeze, sweeping 6-1, 6-0. The sophomore is typically a No. 2 singles starter, but her head coach said she’s one of the most consistent players, even with the pressure of the team being 8-0.

“You want to keep it up — you don’t want to let your school down,” Eggelston said. “I had to keep my rhythm and maintain consistency, but I thought my serve was pretty dependable today.”

Typically the No. 1 singles starter, junior Denise Lai won her match first doubles match with classmate Anna Ma, 6-0, 6-1.

“Starting in first doubles was a little different for me today,” Lai said. “[But] I look at it as just another match and try to play my best.”

Sussin said Ma hits with incredible pace on her groundstrokes and has a tough serve to break, which makes her a force to be reckoned with. She said she just continues to take each match one set at a time.

Ward Melville’s Natalie Ferretti volleys in her first varsity start. Photo by Bill Landon

“It adds pressure because you’re expected to win, but it also makes you play better,” Ma said, adding that she thought her forehand and serve helped her win the match. “We’ll have to be more consistent and keep our heads in the game — stay mentally strong.”

Senior Keren Collins, normally at first doubles, partnered with Isabella Anderes at second doubles and shut out their challengers 6-0, 6-0.

Collins, a returning All-County player since 2015, agreed with her teammates that being undefeated helps her focus and gives her more of a desire to give it her all.

“It makes you play better,” she said. “It gives you confidence that we can do this. We’ve done it before, so we can do it again.”

Dara Berman won her third singles matchup 6-2, 6-3 and Preeti Kota blanked her opponent 6-0, 6-0 in fourth singles, while Samantha Sloan and Natalia Ferretti’s results were much closer, edging their opponents 7-5, 6-4. Ferretti secured her first win in her first varsity start.

Ward Melville is back in action on their home court Sept. 27. The Patriots will host Sachem at 4 p.m.

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The Ward Melville girls volleyball team celebrates a point.

By Desirée Keegan

The Patriots are starting to roll, and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The Ward Melville girls volleyball team pulled away from Longwood 25-11, 25-20, 25-14 for its fifth sweep and sixth straight win of the season Sept. 19 to remain undefeated.

Allie Sturgess continues the volley. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Head coach Charlie Fernandes said he hasn’t been afraid his team was going to lose, but thought in earlier games this season the Patriots eased up on its opponents. As of late, he said he’s enjoying seeing his Patriots (6-0 overall, 4-0 League I) play with fire to the end of matches.

“We want to play everybody as hard as we can and I thought in an earlier match this year we were performing well, but we let up a little,” he said. “Today we played all out the whole time and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Ward Melville jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and scored four straight points before a Longwood hit slammed into the middle of the Patriots defense. The Lions hit out of bounds on the next serve and then an out-of-bounds hit handed Ward Melville two of its next three points before Longwood called timeout. The team still couldn’t regroup from there, and the Patriots cruised to the end of the set.

“Game one was very efficient and we started filtering the other kids in,’” Fernandes said. “I thought everyone did a great job.”

Ward Melville junior middle blocker Morgan Persky, who had four blocks, said her team wanted to bring the same high level of play and energy onto the court against Longwood that it did Sept. 15 at Smithtown West. After winning the first set against Longwood by 14 points, she said she thought her team again took its foot off the gas.

Molly Fernandes serves the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We came into the second set a little bit more relaxed, and we made some unforced errors,” she said.

The teams stayed neck and neck throughout most of the set. Ward Melville held advantages early and jumped ahead by five points at 11-6, but Longwood closed the gap over the next few minutes to tie the set at 12-12 and again at 16-16. Fernandes called timeout to get his players on the same page, and despite jumping ahead again, Longwood tied the game at 20-20 before the Patriots closed the set scoring the final five points. Sophomore libero Molly Cronin finished with 10 digs, and senior libero Molly Fernandes and sophomore outside hitter Jamie Agostino each had eight digs.

“After the timeout at 16-16 in the second set we realized that we needed to step it up,” Persky said. “I felt that we played much better after that and took control of the court from that point forward. This year, we have been very strong offensively from both the net and the service line.”

The team had holes to fill in the lineup after most of the starters were lost to graduation before this year, but senior setter Courtney Heaney said her team has adjusted well.

“A lot of us have been playing together for a long time,” she said. “We all play club together, and I think we have really good energy on the court, and togetherness, which helps to fill in those gaps left from last year.”

Courtney Heaney sets the ball up for an Anna Brun kill. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Fernandes said the return of two now senior outside hitters in Ashley Fuchs and Ryen Cinski has also put the team in the position it’s in.

“No one knows about them because they both sat out last year with ACL injuries,” he said. “On the court and off the court we have a tight-knit group and that always matters. I think something good is happening here.”

Heaney also gave a glowing review of her two teammates returning from injuries.

“They’re better than ever,” she said of the two outside hitters. “They’ve been doing really well — [they provide] big energy out there. Our biggest players are our outsides. We’re doing really great things this year and I’m really excited about it. We’re on a really great path.”

Persky said the team is working on maintaining its aggressiveness no matter who is on the other side of the court or what the scoreboard says, and Fernandes said he expects that killer instinct to come in time.

“We’re going to work on our defense,” he said, laughing. “It’s mid-September, so the coaches and I joke that there’s certain things we haven’t even worked on with the team yet in practice, and we’re already this good. For the first time in a long time we have a bench that I go to without blinking. We’re a good, strong volleyball team. Heck, this is a tremendous volleyball team, and I think we’re going to be in it at the end.”

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With the game-winning goal, Ward Melville’s Justin Seedorf got a promotion.

“Welcome to the starting lineup,” Ward Melville head coach Jon Stecker said to his sophomore center midfielder while he grabbed his shoulders as the two walked off the soccer field.

Seedorf helped the Patriots make light of what seemed to be a dark situation during the team’s first win of the season, a 2-0 blanking at home of Sachem East Sept. 12.

“We knew this was a must-win game and we had to give 200 percent to get this win,” Seedorf said. “We stayed in it, we didn’t give up.”

Through an unusually high volume of foul calls, changed calls and overruled whistles from the game’s two referees — which included two disallowed Ward Melville goals — the Patriots focus never wavered.

“They played very hard, they kept their heads in the game and I’m very happy with what they did today,” Stecker said. “The way they kept their composure — they took a step in the right direction and showed me they have the maturity it’s going to take in League I to get to the playoffs and get to the next level.”

Despite a 0-0 halftime score, the two teams came out firing. The first half even saw Ward Melville senior Justin Cahill fire at the net, knocking in a wayward kick with his head, but despite a defender being on the post, an offside call negated the goal.

Sachem East seemed to be running out of energy in the second half, and Seedorf sought to take advantage of it. With 19:21 left to play, he raced ahead of the mid-fielder and got his foot on the ball, knocking it between two of his opponent’s toughest defenders and into the goal.

“I saw there was a lot of space up in the top of the box so I made my run, and as I did that the ball came back to me and I finished it near post,” he said. “To see that ball hit the back of the net felt amazing.”

Ward Melville pressed on, and later senior Anthony Guglielmo had a goal removed from the scoresheet, also on an offside call.

“Teams in the past might have let what was going on today affect the outcome of this game,” Stecker said. “I think we needed this game more importantly for our own psyche than even our record. They played very hard despite some goals that were taken away.”

At the 1:44 mark, senior left wing Harry Radke got his body on a send-in from classmate Nick Honor for an insurance goal.

“I knew with Nick Honor that we were going to go front post,” Radke said. “I made the run at the right time and dove as far as I could.”

He said it was sweet to help seal the deal.

“I’ve played against a few of these kids when I was younger and it feels good to score against them,” he said. “We were resilient. Even when we got bad calls and lost two goals we pulled together and pushed through as a team.”

By Bill Landon

Shenendehowa has given the Ward Melville field hockey team a run for its money the last two seasons — outscoring the Patriots by one goal in the state semifinals last season and in double overtime in the state finals the year before. But this season, the Rocky Point field hockey team was first to press its luck with Ward Melville, forcing a shootout that the Patriots pulled away perfect from, 3-0, for the first win of the season.

“Respect to Rocky Point — they are a very aggressive and talented team, so I knew this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park,” Ward Melville head coach Shannon Sioss said of its nonleague opponent. “In fact, we like to schedule our nonleagues to be competitive games — it helps us see where our weaknesses are and what we need to work on.”

“We have a really experienced senior class and they’ve been down this road the last couple of years, so they’re on a mission right now.”

—Shannon Sioss

Rocky Point was first to find the back of the cage when senior midfielder Madison Sanchez dished the ball to senior forward Emily Molinaro.

The Patriots had to shake off the cobwebs when they found themselves battling a scrappy, in-your-face Eagles squad that caused several turnovers, and Ward Melville senior forward Kerri Thornton was first to break the ice. She evened the score for the Patriots with four minutes left until the halftime break, and rocked the back of the box on another solo with nine minutes left in the game for Ward Melville’s first lead.

“We have a really experienced senior class and they’ve been down this road the last couple of years, so they’re on a mission right now,” Sioss said. “I thought that Shannon Coughlan held the middle of our field today and Kerri Thornton is always up for a good challenge, so it’s fun to watch her play.”

Thornton said her team took the game very serious, knowing Rocky Point’s pedigree.

“I knew that Rocky Point was going to be good because they always battle with Miller Place in the county final,” the senior said. “So I wasn’t coming into this game thinking ‘oh, we’re going to win [this game easily, and as it turned out we had our hands full].”

Ward Melville drew a costly yellow card that led to Rocky Point defender Elizabeth Weiner scoring on a penalty shot to tie the game with four minutes remaining.

“We were right in this game and we deserved to be in this game,” said Rocky Point head coach Katie Bittner. “In the beginning we dominated, we scored first, and I think Ward Melville woke up a little bit, but we also got a little tired.”

“We were right in this game and we deserved to be in this game. “In the beginning we dominated…”

—Katie Bittner

Despite being a player down in the final minute of regulation, the Eagles held their own until the clock expired. Ward Melville, still a man up, tried to take home the win in sudden death overtime, but the Eagles returned to full strength two minutes in without Ward Melville getting a shot off. Rocky Point went down a player yet again in the final four minutes, but neither team could score.

“I don’t think that they played bad or that we got lucky — I honestly think that we were the better team,” Bittner said. “We made some mental mistakes that put us a man down, but when the field is this big, it’s huge that we held our own with our five field players to their six.”

Then came the best-of-five shootout, where Thornton and seniors Lexi Reinhardt and Kate Mulham helped Ward Melville to the 3-0 win, while goalkeeper Meghan Lorenzen guarded the Patriots’ cage to keep Rocky Point off the board.

Ward Melville will host Riverhead Sept. 6 at 4:15 p.m. Rocky Point opens its league season at home Sept. 7, hosting Sayville at 4 p.m.

Despite the loss, Bittner has realistic goals for her team this year.

“I’m not looking for an undefeated season by any means, I’m looking to get us to where [Ward Melville] got last year, which is a state championship,” she said. “And with this group, I know they can do it. This was truly a learning experience.”

Determined and gutsy in goal, Northport’s Emma Havrilla has her sights set on another successful season.

After prohibiting opponents from scoring in 13 matchups last year, the senior goalkeeper secured another shutout — a 1-0 victory in the Tigers girls soccer team’s first game of the season against Ward Melville Sept. 2.

“It felt really good,” Havrilla said of the away win. “Since we were reigning county champs last year this shows we’re ready to come out hard for it again this year.”

Even when the Patriots carried out multiple corner-kick attempts and pressured inside the box to try to avenge an overtime loss in last season’s Suffolk semifinals, Northport head coach Aija Gipp never questioned Havrilla’s abilities or her judgment calls.

“Having Emma back there — we trust her with every decision she makes,” she said.

And there were some close calls to be made. The senior leaped out and grabbed possession after each corner kick the Patriots took, and when Ward Melville sophomore midfielder Kiley Hamou had a breakaway opportunity with 30 minutes left in the game, Havrilla came out and tapped the ball to her right, and dodged to the left to secure possession of the ball on the rebound shot.

“I saw her take a bad touch, that’s when I come off my line,” Havrilla said. “Considering we tied them 0-0 and won in penalty kicks last year, it’s great to win against them this year.”

She too doesn’t have any doubt, as it pertains to her defensive line, despite the crop of younger competitors this year.

“We’ve put in a lot of work and I trust the girls in front of me,” she said. “We’re still just as strong.”

Senior midfielder Emily McNelis sealed the deal for Northport with 8:20 left in the first half, with the help of a penalty. Ward Melville was called for a handball, and Isabel Yeomans stepped up to send the ball into play. McNelis got a touch on the ball and sent it past Ward Melville senior goalkeeper Samantha Tarpey for the 1-0 lead.

“She was where she needed to be,” Gipp said. “Having Emily there, the goal, it was picture perfect.”

McNelis agreed with Havrilla that with Ward Melville being one of the toughest teams the Tigers will face, the win shows Northport is ready to rumble.

“Everyone played with so much heart and such a desire to win — we had great intensity and we kept it going,” McNelis said. “Ward Melville came out for blood today, and this shows that even though we lost a lot of key players last year, we’ve come out even better, and we’re still the top team to beat.”

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Ward Melville junior running back Nick Troy rushes with the ball during a practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville senior running back Nick Messina breaks free of a tackle during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

The stinging loss in the Suffolk County championship game last fall left an open wound on every member of the Ward Melville football team, and the only effective medicine is redemption.

The 2016 season was history making, as the Patriots won three straight games to propel them to the county title game for the first time in 29 years. Trailing William Floyd by a touchdown, the team marched down the field only to be turned away in the red zone in the final minute of the contest.

“Obviously the kids want to get back there again, and these guys this season think they have something to prove,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Boltrek said. “They want to show we didn’t just get there because of last year’s seniors, but that they were a big part of it as well.”

Ward Melville is the No. 5 seed in Division I heading into this season, with William Floyd taking the No. 1 spot. Lindenhurst, Longwood and Connetquot are also in the mix, but Boltrek said the Patriots won’t take any team lightly.

“They have a chip on their shoulder going into this season,” the head coach said of his players. “These kids put in the work in the off-season, they have the mentality that nothing is given to you — you have to go out and earn it every year.”

Ward Melville senior wide receiver Liam Davenport makes a catch during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior defensive end and offensive tackle Jimmy Small said reaching the county title game is something he won’t soon forget, taking that experience and applying it to games this year in the hopes of feeling the intensity and enthusiasm again.

“Me and the rest of the guys from last year — we got a taste of playing in front of all those people, that excitement and the whole town having their focus on us, and that hasn’t happened in a long time for football,” the co-captain said.

He said he thinks his team has the right tools to get back to the championship game and take home the title this time around.

“I think by far our brightest spot is our front seven on defense,” he said. “We have a ton of returning starters, but I think the question mark is our special teams, which was a big part of our game.”

Despite the loss of kick returner John Corpac, Small said the Patriots have two kids even faster than the Stony Brook University commit.

“If everything works out, I think we’ll be even better in that aspect,” he said.

Ward Melville senior quarterback Peyton Capizzi carries the ball during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior running back Nick Messina, a three-year varsity player, reflected on the amount of work that goes into reaching the championship round.

“Just to reach that goal last year — the people coming back know what it takes to get there and it makes us want it so much more,” the co-captain said. “I think we’re strongest on our offensive and defensive line, but we’re going to have to work on our defensive secondary where we have a lot of new players.”

Senior co-captain Thomas Kutchma said to prove to other teams that last season wasn’t a fluke, and show they aren’t out of gas just yet, the Patriots have their goals set even higher this time.

“If we can do what we’re capable of doing we could win a Long Island championship this year,” the guard and defensive tackle said. “We think about that loss every day in practice and we give it 100 percent. We love the sport of football and we want to take advantage of it before it’s over.”

Ward Melville kicks off the season with a 6:30 p.m. home game against Central Islip Sept. 1. The Patriots will travel to Connetquot Sept. 8 for the second game of the year. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Receives innaugural USA Fencing National High School Coach of the Year honor

Fencing coach Jeff Salmon receives the first USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award from former Penn State University head coach Emmanuil Kaidanov. Photo from Jennie Salmon

Jeff Salmon is an accomplished fencer in his own right, but he now he has proof that his prodigies are receiving coaching that is second to none in the United States.

The acclaimed fencer and head coach of the boys team at Ward Melville High School was named the inaugural winner of the USA Fencing High School Coach of the Year award.

“The word honor doesn’t even come close,” said Salmon, a Mount Sinai resident and owner of Mission Fencing Center in Rocky Point. “It’s a cool award, it’s an amazing honor and it makes you reflect on a lifetime of work.”

Jeff Salmon teaches his daughter Olivia out on the strip. Photo from Jennie Salmon

Eighteen individuals from high schools in six different states were nominated for the prestigious award.

Under Salmon’s leadership, Ward Melville’s teams have continued a winning tradition, including capturing the 2016-17 Long Island championship. The program has maintained a 158-match winning streak that ranks among the most impressive in interscholastic athletics nationwide.

“Jeff’s done so much for the kids here, but promoted the sport throughout Suffolk County, the state and the nation,” Ward Melville athletic director Peter Melore said. “Jeff’s a fantastic coach and he’s been honored in so many ways on local levels, it was time for him to be recognized at the national level.”

The Comsewogue High School graduate who originally competed in foil made the switch to sabre at Penn State University. Although he was a Suffolk County champion and Empire State Games gold medalist while he was a Warrior, the switch proved to work in Salmon’s favor.

“The Penn State team had strong foilers and could use a sabre fencer,” he said. “I was a little disappointed with my achievements in foil, so I was willing to accept the new challenge. It benefited me to switch and I adapted quite well.”

During his years as a Nittany Lion, he trained under Emmanuil Kaidanov, a five-time U.S. national team coach and Wes Glon, an Olympic and World Championship coach. Salmon placed in the top 12 as an individual in the NCAA championships and was one of two sabre fencers chosen for NCAA training at the German Olympic Center in 1987. He was an assistant coach for the Penn State fencing team during two national championship seasons before he brought his expertise to Ward Melville by starting a fencing club in 1995. In 1999, by popular demand, the club became a varsity team.

His athletes are consistently among the top on Long Island, and his team has won 13 league, county and Long Island titles. Salmon has won Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors seven times and USA Fencing Long Island High School Coach of the Year three times, but this is his first national achievement, one that many said they thought was long overdue.

“I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”

— Danny Solomon

“I know he is one of the best coaches in the country, so it is a no-brainer to choose him,” rising Ward Melville senior Danny Solomon said. “I wasn’t surprised because I know never to be surprised by what he does. His vast pool of knowledge and understanding of the sport and his nature of innovation is everything you need in a coach.”

Solomon, who is a county champion, has also won four national championships, including at this year’s Junior Olympics, one international competition and many national and international medals. He is a two-time USA Fencing cadet team member and has gone to the cadet world championships twice.

He credits all of his success to his, at times, intimidating coach.

“I was terrified of him,” he joked. “Imagine being a seventh-grader seeing this huge, scary, bald guy flailing swords around. It would scare anyone.”

But the sabre competitor said things drastically changed over time.

“He is the reason I am the fencer I am today,” Solomon said. “He has definitely pushed me everyday. He can be both serious and friendly, but is always trying to get the best out of you.”

Soon-to-be University of Notre Dame freshman Jack Rohan agreed.

“He always tries his best to relate to his fencers to the point where he is not a coach but a friend,” he said. “He has been a huge contributor to my improvement in fencing and definitely deserves such an award.”

The sabre fencer, who joined the Patriots in eighth grade, was named All-Long Island last year after finishing with the best record in the county (35-3). He also won gold in sabre at the Jeff Wolfe Holiday Tournament.

His older sister Alexa played for Salmon, so Rohan was familiar with his longtime coach, and said he decided to give up focusing on his primary sport, lacrosse, to fence.

“On the Ward Melville team we commonly refer to him as ‘the magic’ since talented fencers may graduate, but he is always able to put together a championship-caliber team,” Jack Rohan said of the decorated coach.

Jeff Salmon with acclaimed protégé Danny Solomon after he won the Konin Cadet World Cup in Poland last year. File photo from Ward Melville school district

Melore, who stepped in as athletic director a couple of years ago, is proud to have Salmon as part of the program.

“He’s poised, professional, smart, passionate about the sport and really good with the kids,” he said. “He’s a great teacher of the sport. A lot is done in preparation, before and during matches, and he knows just when to give support and strategy to our athletes. It’s reassuring to have a veteran, and rapport is everything. We’re very proud he have this great program and tradition that Jeff built and I feel confident that our kids are getting taught the right way.”

Salmon said the joy he gets in seeing his students achieve their goals means more to him than any award or achievement.

“As the years went on, I found that I had a lot more satisfaction just changing the kids lives and building the confidence in them and having them grow as human beings,” he said. “Certainly the tool is fencing, but I find that that’s been the real joy in the journey.”

He reflected on similar ideas when he gave his acceptance speech, after receiving the award from his former coach Kaidanov.

“Not everyone is going to be an All-American, not everyone is going to be an Olympian, but what we do as high school coaches is take kids that have their hat over their head, their hands in their pockets, and we have them stand up straight and be confident in themselves,” he said. “This sport is hard — really, really hard. Parents really need to understand how hard this is mentally, physically. And that little success that they had makes them the men and women that they become. It gives them the confidence to go on in life — whether they achieve great things in fencing or just get that ‘E’ [lowest fencer rating] that they’ve been wanting so badly. It’s so important.”

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