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Port Jefferson's Devin Rotunno volleys in her first singles set against Comsewogue. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Precision protected Port Jefferson girls tennis’ undefeated League VI streak.

Junior Devin Rotunno’s accuracy was a much different style than that of her junior opponent, Comsewogue’s Nikita Katukota, whose hard-hitting forehand forced Rotunno to cover every inch of the court. One point between the two players spanned 40 hits in the volley, and in the end, Rotunno prevailed, winning 7-6, 7-5 to lead the Royals to a 6-1 outscoring of host Comsewogue Sept. 18.

Comsewgoue’s Nikita Katukota slams the ball back over the net against Port Jefferson’s Devin Rotunno. Photo by Bill Landon

“I haven’t [seen] her before, but my coach told me she’s good, she hits hard, so I came in knowing it was going to be a tough battle,” Rotunno said. “I felt that I had consistency and I really think that gave me an advantage today.”

Katukota said she looked forward to facing the Port Jefferson lineup because she wanted to test herself against a formidable opponent.

“She’s a really good player — she hits the ball really hard, which I really like because I want to challenge myself against players who hit the ball with pace,” she said of Rotunno. “She has a lot of top spin, she moves her feet around the court so I just had a great time playing her.”

In second singles, Jillian Lawler also won her match in two sets, topping Comsewogue’s Kaitlyn Musmachev 6-2, 6-4, but the third singles matchup took three sets to decide.

Port Jefferson seventh-grader Nicolina Giannola battled Comsewogue’s Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, and hung on after dropping the second set to win the decisive third, for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 edging.

The bright spot for the Warriors came in fourth singles play. Trisha Sandhala recovered from a 1-6 loss to take the next two sets 6-4, 6-4 snatching Comsewogue’s lone singles victory.

“I think they’re better than I thought they’d be,” Comsewogue head coach Michael Taheny said of Port Jefferson. “I liked our fight. My singles players are good, but [Port Jefferson is] hands down better than every other team we’ve played so far. It was a little shock to our system in that ‘wow, these [Port Jefferson] girls are really good.’”

Port Jefferson’s Jillian Lawler reaches for the ball in her second singles match. Photo by Bill Landon

The Royals also dominated doubles play, taking all three matches in two sets each. Although Taheny noted his team’s young new doubles squad is going through an adjustment period, Port Jefferson head coach Keith Houghtaling also noted an adjustment to be made in relying on depth, especially when the Royals next face Middle Country. With the win over Comsewogue, Port Jefferson’s fifth straight to put the team at 5-2 overall, it puts a target on the team’s back, but things could change the second time around against some of the teams.

“[Middle Country is] a tough team with a deep lineup — we beat them 5-2, but all three doubles went three sets, and one of the singles went three sets, so we could’ve just as easily lost that 4-3,” Houghtaling said of the Royals’ Sept. 8 win over the Mad Dogs. “We beat Mount Sinai 5-2 [Sept. 13], but one of their singles was out, so again that could be tough [when they’re back to full strength].”

Houghtaling said the pressure of being the No. 1 team in the league isn’t going to stop his Royals.

“We may have been able to sneak up on some teams earlier in the year based on last year’s record, but now that we are in first place, I fully expect each opponent will bring their very best lineup and effort against us,” he said. “I can assure you that our girls are fully aware of this, and they are up for the challenge.”

Comsewogue junior Kaitlyn Musmacher makes contact in her singles matchup victory at Mount Siani Sept. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was the strength of Comsewogue’s singles play that was the difference in a Sept. 11 matchup against Mount Sinai girls tennis, which the Warriors pulled away from 4-3 on the road.

Mount Sinai junior Alexis Gergely sends the ball over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

Nikita Katukota, a junior, led the way for Comsewogue, outscoring her opponent 7-5, 6-2, which set the tone early.

“I thought I played pretty well — I was hitting the ball pretty hard, so I was happy with that,” she said. “I was more consistent. The first set was really tight, I was leading 2-1 on the second set but because of injury issues my [opponent] had to leave the court.”

Classmate Kaitlyn Musmacher, who had to dig her way out of a hole, rebounded from her first-set loss to win 6-4, 6-1.

According to Comsewogue head coach Mike Taheny, Musmacher, a three-year varsity starter, is the best athlete and net player on the team. Natukota, he said, has the best strokes, is the most skilled and hardest hitter. The two are co-captains on a young team that fields no seniors.

The Mustangs fell to Eastport-South Manor 5-2, but turned the corner in a 5-2 match against Rocky Point for their first league win of the season.

“A lot of the girls did a fantastic job, even in some of the matches where we ended up losing they were close, so the girls are having a great start for the year,” Mount Sinai head coach Tom Duffy said of the last few matches. “We have young girls stepping in — we have a couple of freshman and an eight-grader [Glorianna Gennaro] who played first doubles for us today, and the eight-grader played fourth singles for us at Rocky Point, so we have a lot of flexibility.”

Comsewogue junior Nikita Katukota volleys. Photo by Bill Landon

Mount Sinai’s strength was in its first doubles play, where the Mustangs paired junior and three-year varsity starter Alexis Gergely with Gennaro, who won handily in two sets, 6-3 and 6-2.

“I thought we played well at net,” Gergely said. “We won in our opening match against [Bellport], but I’ve got to focus on getting better on my serves.”

Taheny said Port Jefferson will give his team a run for its money. Comsewogue will face off against the Royals Sept. 18 at 3:30 p.m.

“Rumor has it that Port Jeff has a very good singles lineup — I don’t know because we didn’t play them last year,” the coach said. “But I think our team is very strong, and honestly, it’s going to be a tight league.”

Ankita Katukota, Nikita’s twin sister, answered the call in third singles, defeating her challenger 6-3, 6-4, and Trisha Sandhala was right behind her, besting her foe 6-3, 6-2 for the sweep.

“I went up to the net more, but not as much volleying,” Ankita Katukota said. “I was pleased with my serving and I had more winners down the line.”

Mount Sinai senior Kaitlin Chen said she had to battle her way through her singles sets, but was upbeat despite the outcome.

Mount Sinai eight-grader Glorianna Gennaro smacks the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“Although I lost my match today, I played pretty well and I was pleased with my forehand,” the co-captain said. “I’ll work on getting better with my back hand. I lost against Eastport-South Manor in our first match, but I won against Rocky Point on Friday.”

Taheny said his team’s challenge this year will be in doubles play, which boasts all new faces.

“We lost six seniors to graduation — I lost my entire doubles squad — but this year they’re new and they’re fresh, and getting better every match,” he said, noting that on the flip side his one through four singles players are returners.

Mount Sinai co-captain Alexandra Suslan said she had too had a tough singles match, but was also pleased by how close it was.

“I lost today, but I played well in the first set,” the senior said. “I was satisfied with my serves and some of my angle shots, but I need to get better at hitting higher over the net.”

With the win Comsewogue improves to 2-0 and will host Middle Country on Wednesday.

Mount Sinai drops to 1-1 in League VI play, but will look for redemption when the Mustangs also take on undefeated Port Jefferson next at home at 3:30 p.m.

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Port Jefferson's Gina Lucero attempts to deflect a Babylon pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Port Jefferson’s girls soccer team came close to racking up two 6-0 losses to start the season, but Hailey Hearney had other plans against Babylon Sept. 5, breaking away with the ball with four minutes left to score the first goal for the Royals in 155 minutes of gameplay during a 6-1 loss.

Port Jefferson’s Reece Koban sends the ball into play. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“So happy, I’m thrilled,” Port Jefferson head coach Michele Aponte said of her team breaking the ice. “There’s a lot of nerves, because there’s high expectations for them. To not get on the board with Southold last week was a little disheartening, so I think it helps boost their confidence. It may only be one, but they see that score on the board.”

Eyes are on Port Jefferson after back-to-back state titles in 2015-16 and a state semifinal appearance the year prior. The Royals are a much different team than the last few seasons, with just three returning varsity players — all non-starters — from last year’s squad.

“Because they’re new to working together as a team, they need to build that trust with one another, whereas the past few years those girls have been playing together for seasons and seasons, since they were little kids,” Aponte said. “They need to talk to each other, they need to communicate. They have to learn how to trust one another, telling each other if there’s a man on them, calling that they’re open — that’s lacking right now.”

During the first half of the game against Babylon, Port Jefferson eased its way into becoming familiar with its foe.

“We didn’t come out very aggressive, but as the game went on we picked it up and got a little more comfortable,” said freshman forward and co-captain Hearney, one of the three returning members. “Pressuring the ball in the midfield is a weak point for us.”

Port Jefferson’s Morgan Bullis battles for possession. Photo by Desirée Keegan

As Babylon’s strong feet continued to send chances over Port Jefferson’s goal, the Royals continued to rack up opportunities for possession, but missed on first and second-chance looks.

By halftime, the Panthers led 4-0. After two more Babylon goals to open the second half, Hearney had her second chance at a goal, but her shot went just wide to keep the Royals scoreless.

“They stepped it up in the first half for sure, and in the second half they started getting a little tired,” she said. “I also have quite a few injured girls, so I’m hoping we can get through this season without having too many more injuries. But I think they did alright considering Babylon is our toughest competition.”

Some areas for the team to focus on in the weeks ahead — besides communication and trust — are conditioning, passing and just getting used to the nuances of playing at the varsity level, according to the head coach.

“A lot of the time we’re not looking as to who we’re passing to and they’re either incomplete or we’re passing to the other team,” Aponte said. “We’re getting used to the space, most of these girls were on the junior varsity team last year so they’re not used to playing on a bigger field, but they’re a young group, so we have time. The bar is set pretty high, but we have plenty of time to mold them, to work with them and get them to be that top-notch playing team that I think they can be.”

Port Jefferson’s Lena McFarland dribbles downfield. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The team is strongest on defense. Sophomore and co-captain Gina Lucero, a returner, and Reece Koban have been solid on the back line, deflecting the ball and pressuring to regain possession for Port Jeff.

“They are machines the two of them,” Aponte said. “They don’t back down to anything and I’m glad we have them back there because so far the defense is the section that needs to step up right now, just because of the competition we played.”

She said the pair has been consistent and key to keeping opponents out of the box.

“I feel bad because they’re doing so well I’m not subbing them out, and they’re probably exhausted and need a break, but I’m just a little nervous to pull them out right now,” the coach said, laughing. “They stepped up last week in our first game, and they did it again today.”

Hearney finally found the back of the net with 4:04 left to play. She said she is looking forward to seeing the team grows from here.

“Now that we have one goal, hopefully we can progress and win a game,” she said. “Since there’s only three returning players it’s kind of hard, because we learned a lot from the former seniors, and we’re just trying to share that knowledge. Hopefully this is a rebuilding year and we can work back up to what we once had.”

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By Bill Landon

Port Jefferson’s youngest football players practiced alongside the Royals varsity squad Aug. 26 during a camp designed to teach the fundamentals of the game while stressing the do’s and don’ts of safety in the sport.

Royals head coach Andrew Cosci had players break into groups of running backs, receivers, quarterbacks and linemen during the camp for which the idea he said was long overdue.

“I think it’s extremely important to involve the younger players, especially with the way football is being looked at across the nation, along with the NFL, with the emphasis on safety,” he said, also adding the desire to get the younger kids enthusiastic about and interested in the program. “It shows that we’re all in this together. The game is a great game, it teaches a lot of life lessons and you want to share it with the little ones because that’s where a lot of the fear is. When the young kids come up, [they can] see how we teach the athletes the right way to play the game.”

“I think it’s extremely important to involve the younger players … with an emphasis on safety. The game is a great game, it teaches a lot of life lessons and you want to share it with the little ones.”

— Andrew Cosci

For senior wide receiver and strong safety Thomas Mark, practicing with the younger players has been special.

“It’s definitely really important because when I was a kid coming to all the games I looked up to those players,” Mark said of seeing previous varsity athletes. “So to be out here and to see these kids look up to us is really rewarding.”

Port Jeff sixth-grader Shane Wardell said the reason he was at the camp was simple.

“To have fun and to see the varsity team,” he said. “I want to play on varsity some day.”

Senior running back Joey Evangelista echoed Mark’s sentiment, and said he thinks the camp is an important one.

“It shows them what we do up here at this level and it gets them ready for it,” Evangelista said, and then assessed his team’s chances this season. “We have a lot of our backfield coming back, which is awesome. A lot of our line left us last year, but we have some big guys, so I think we can do it.”

Cosci will rely on all 14 of his seniors to set the example for the younger generations and the underclassmen on the team. The hope is to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“From year to year you never know and you always get surprises, but hopefully they’re good surprises,” Cosci said. “We have a couple of holes that we knew we’d have to fill up front because of guys who graduated last year, but every day they’re getting better and they’re working hard and that’s all you can ask of them.”

“I remember when I was that age and we didn’t have a Port Jeff youth program, so it’s nice to be part of … it’s nice to be able to give back to the community and I’m happy that I’m able to be part of it.”

— Jack Collins

The Royals look to improve on the 5-3 conference season from last year, and have a new weapon in their arsenal to get the job done, according to senior quarterback Jack Collins.

“This year we have athletes like we’ve never had before,” the third-year varsity player said. “We have some new kids who are really good outside. We’ve lost some tonnage from last year’s team, so we’re going to have to work on getting the blocks down, but we got players to do it — we have the size to do it.”

Mark said he also likes what he sees in this year’s lineup.

“We have a lot of skill players — our receivers, running backs, quarterback — we’ve got a good bond so far and a lot of really athletic kids, so I’m looking forward to seeing how many big plays they can make,” he said. “But it’s knowing who to block and when, and knowing our schemes.”

Collins reflected on what it means to be involved with the local youth football players in their formative years.

“It’s very important to involve the younger players [because they] are the ones who keep the program going,” he said. “I remember when I was that age and we didn’t have a Port Jeff youth program, so it’s nice to be part of [it]. It’s nice to be able to give back to the community and I’m happy that I’m able to be part of it.”

The Royals will pick up where they left off as they open their season on the road against Miller Place, the team that ended their season in the playoffs last year. The Sept. 8 matchup has a kickoff time slated for 7 p.m.

Cosci said he is optimistic about Port Jefferson’s chances to go further.

“What I like a lot is our skill positions — they’re very dangerous on the football field,” the head coach said. “Even on defense our linebackers and our secondary, we’re very, very strong and as long as we keep going in that direction we’re going to be a dangerous team. Shoreham is the team to beat — we’ve always had a tough time with them, but we’re not just looking to make the playoffs, we’re looking to make some noise when we get there.”

The Port Jefferson girls' basketball team experiences the thrill of winning the school's first-ever Class C Long Island championship title. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

A special class of seniors is leaving behind an unprecedented run of success at Port Jefferson High School.

Jackie Brown, Courtney Lewis, Jillian Colucci, Brian Mark and Corinne Scannell are just some of the athletes that have helped put the school back on the map in a variety of sports over their respective high school careers.

Jackie Brown. File photo by Bill Landon

“These seniors would be starting players at larger schools and on larger teams,” Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said. “They’re just great athletic talents in their sports regardless of the size of a school. They’d play anywhere.”

Brown, who played field hockey, softball and basketball at Port Jeff, is committed to play field hockey at Adelphi University. She was All-Conference as a freshman, All-County as a sophomore, and All-State and All-Tournament as well as a captain her junior and senior seasons. She helped lead the Royals to the county finals in 2016, and graduated as Long Island’s all-time leading scorer in field hockey. She was also a four-time New York State Public High School Athletic Association scholar athlete in all three sports.

“Most of us seniors are two-sport or three-sport athletes, which makes us so diverse,” Brown said. “We all use skills from one sport to be successful in another. I, for instance, use my field hockey vision to better see the basketball court. We’re also passionate, and give 100 percent and work hard.”

Lewis reached the 2,000 career point plateau last basketball season, and led the team to Suffolk County and Long Island titles, as well as the program’s first regional win and state finals appearance. She became the 22nd player in Suffolk County girls’ basketball history to reach the career milestone. She will be playing for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute this winter.

Courtney Lewis. File photo by Bill Landon

Colucci was a standout soccer player, and also competed on the basketball team. She led Long Island in goals scored her junior year and propelled the soccer team to the state finals the last three years. The Royals brought home back-to-back Class C state championships in 2015 and 2016. She also holds the record at Port Jefferson for career goals (105) and assists (62). She will be taking her talents to Marist College this fall.

“There is nothing better than finding success in doing something you love,” Colucci said. “The best part is that it was all so unexpected. It felt really special to bring attention to the school, and the community supported us every step of the way.”

She said while she was always humbled by the attention, at times she felt embarrassed, because to her, it was about the team.

“We all experienced success because we’re all talented athletes with the same drive and passion,” she said. “Since Port Jeff is so small, we’re not just teammates, we’re friends.”

Her brothers, parents, aunts and uncles were all Royals, and Colucci said she’s proud to be able to carry on their legacy.

Mark, another three-sport standout — in football, lacrosse and basketball — helped each of his teams reach new heights. Despite the lacrosse program being just three years old, it’s made the playoffs every year, and the football team achieved its best record in the last six years during his senior season.

Jillian Colucci. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“While the program still isn’t on the same level as some of the other top schools, I’m confident that the program is heading in the right direction,” he said, reinforcing the fact that the bond and community support played a big part in the rise. “Our group of seniors — both boys and girls — has always been really ambitious in the goals we’ve set for ourselves athletically.”

Turner saw it, too.

“He was constantly putting himself out there, he was always in the wight room and going above and beyond to do something to improve his game,” she said.

Mark said he hopes he and the other seniors made an impact on the younger generations of athletes.

“I know that a lot of us took pride in representing our school well and providing a good example for the younger kids in our community,” he said. “We know that we were once those kids and remember how we idolized the varsity players so seeing younger kids in the stands watching us always gave us a little extra motivation.”

Brian Mark. File photo by Bill Landon

Scannell, who is headed to Wake Forest University in North Carolina, has not committed to playing a sport. She was a defender for the state championship-winning soccer team and helped the basketball squad to the state finals. Her family was also instrumental in paving the way for the first varsity lacrosse team. After several failed attempts to launch a program at Port Jeff, the team competed for the first time this year, narrowly missing the playoffs by one win.

“My dad was a big proponent — it started in my backyard,” she said of her dad who coached youth lacrosse. “The fact that we can pave the way, it’s nice we can give others the opportunity to play. They can color in the lines we drew this season.”

Turner lauded the athletes not only for their skills, but also because “they’re just great kids.”

“They have such good values and I think those values they hold are what make them great athletes,” Turner said. “They come from great families, they’re committed, they put the team first, they’re always willing to sacrifice, they’re dedicated, and that’s in all facets of their life.”

One instance in particular Turner recalled was when the girls’ basketball team was upstate competing for the state championship. She said, although Scannell didn’t want everyone to know about it, if the team had lost in the semifinals, the 2017 class president was going to travel home to compete in a half marathon to raise funds for children with cancer on the day of the finals. She was frequently caught with Brown, the vice president, hosting bake sales or raising money for a charity or school event.

Corinne Scannell. File photo by Andrew Wakefield

The athletic director said Colucci was always in her office asking how she could earn more community service hours. Colucci won the Butch Dellecave award for her dedication to athletics and academics, coupled with completing 160 hours of community service. Mark won the Golden Eleven Award, which is presented to the top 11 academic scholars in Suffolk County, and the LaBue Award, which is presented to the top scholar-athlete is Suffolk County football.

“They put everybody else before themselves, they’re all going to great schools, and they’re mature, great kids,” Turner said. “And most of all, they grew with the kids in their class. They learned from each other and acted as role models to each other. Those values and bonds became stronger, and there’s nothing I would change about them. I feel I got so lucky to step in when I did [as athletic director] even just to know these kids.”

Scannell said she agreed the bond the girls created playing together for so long was crucial to achieving every milestone.

“Playing together at such a young age, especially with soccer, we knew how someone was going to touch the ball, who was going to send a long ball, when someone would pass, and it’s not just knowing the soccer or basketball style, but knowing each other’s personality and how their thinking goes,” she said. “It takes a history to understand. Our relationships made it so strong, but we all also wanted it. As long as you love what you’re doing that’s the most important thing.”

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Sophomore finishes sixth in state tournament

Shane DeVincenzo swings away during the state Federation golf tournament in Bethpage, where he placed fifth. Photo from Matt DeVincenzo

Intense focus is a common characteristic among many successful golfers.

For Port Jefferson golfer Shane DeVincenzo it’s no different. On a whiteboard in his room, he wrote down five goals back in January — place in the Top 10 in the American Junior Golf Association preview tournament, rank in the Top 20 among New York State high school golfers, win two tournaments this summer, become a Suffolk County and state champion, and sign a letter of intent to play golf in college.

Shane DeVincenzo with his fifth-place medal following the state Federation tournament at Bethpage. He became the first Royal since 1962 to be named All-State. Photo from Matt DeVincenzo

The standout athlete clearly has a laser-like focus on his goals, as he has already checked off the first two items on his list, and the sophomore isn’t stopping there.

“My whole summer is going to be golf,” Shane said. “I’ve progressed really quickly, and the better I get the more I like it.”

Shane started swinging a golf club during the summer before eighth grade. As a freshman, he traveled upstate to compete for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association title, and finished 60th. Returning this past season, he placed ninth in the AJGA preview tournament; finished second in the county, losing in a sudden-death playoff hole; and moved up to sixth in the state and fifth in Federation, which earned him All-State honors. The 16-year-old is the first Royal since 1962 to achieve the feat.

“I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet — to me, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal,” Shane said of his huge turnaround in the state tournament. “But it pushes me to keep going.”

Although he may not notice how big the boost up in the rankings really is, especially being that there are no classes or divisions in New York high school golf, his head coach at Port Jefferson was there to reassure him he’s growing in the sport, and fast.

“The first few days he came down to tryouts, you could see he had some ability, it was just a matter of where he was going to go from there, and how hard he was going to work,” Port Jefferson head coach Chuck Ruoff said of his initial impressions of Shane. “I’ve seen tremendous progression. The trajectory he’s taken in the past three years — the improvement — I’ve never seen anything like it.”

He has come a long way not only individually, but he has also helped make a name for the school, as he joins recent Port Jefferson athletes who have turned in some stellar performances in wrestling soccer, basketball and now golf recently.

“We’ve been fortunate this year to have a couple of kids that put Port Jeff back on the map in a lot of different ways,” Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said. “It’s changing the whole athletic scape of the district. He’s been a light switch.”

“I’ve seen some kids among other teams we play — a lot of great players — and Shane is certainly putting himself right up there. He’s the best player to come through Port Jeff, definitely in my time and probably ever.”

— Chuck Ruoff

Besides working with Ruoff for the past three seasons, Shane signed up for lessons with Port Jefferson Country Club head professional golf instructor Bill Mackedon, who competed in PGA tour events, won three Player of the Year awards and still holds three course records. Mackedon’s father was also a head pro at country clubs for 35 years.

“He has fantastic fundamentals,” Mackedon said. “We’re fortunate that we come across children that are gifted athletically, and he’s certainly one of those kids. Shane’s developed so nicely.”

The pair has also been working together for three years, in the hopes of becoming more competitive over the last two.

“He has exceptional talent and I think he can play at the highest level if he continues to improve,” Mackedon said. “I think the future is certainly bright for him.”

Shane has learned to properly grip the club from his coaches, successfully complete pulling back on the iron, lowering it and swinging away, and now he’s working on rotating his lower body to gain maximum distance.

“I give credit to both of them,” Shane said of his coaches. “They’ve taught me a lot of things. They’ve brought me a long way.”

Mackedon said given Shane’s age and current skill level, his future success will come down to conditioning, which they work on twice a week. His Port Jeff coach said his athlete never stops working.

“Shane is a perfectionist,” Ruoff said. “Until he feels he’s comfortable with it, he won’t stop. He’ll continue to work at that skill, continue to address that problem. By the second year of him playing, he was clearly the best player we had. He was making a name for himself among other players in the league, and took even another step forward this year, and clearly established himself as the best player in our league.”

Shane was taking on players from top teams like Ward Melville, Northport and Middle Country. He used his work ethic and drive to help Port Jefferson outscore Ward Melville twice this past season, for the first time in school history. The Patriots had previously gone on an 88-match win streak that ended last year.

Shane DeVincenzo tees off during the the state Federation tournament at Bethpage. Photo from Matt DeVincenzo

“I’ve seen some kids among other teams we play — a lot of great players — and Shane is  putting himself right up there,” Ruoff said. “He’s the best player to come through Port Jeff, definitely in my time and probably ever.”

In Ruoff’s eyes, Shane’s greatness is evidence of his dedication to the sport, and the changes he has made to continue to reach his goals.

During the state tournament, Shane was one shot off the lead going into the back nine. He got into an unlucky situation where his ball was buried in a bunker, and his score rose as a result.

“At that point, he could’ve done one of two things — he could have let that be the end, and let it continue to bother him, or push through it,” Ruoff said. “And he didn’t let it affect his game. That poise, confidence and consistency is something we’re striving for. He has all the tools — the physicality and the skills. He’ll be our team leader this fall and we’re hoping to go back to Cornell [University] and make our way to the top of the leaderboard.”

Shane’s father Matt DeVincenzo, athletic director in the Comsewogue School District, who has seen two of his sons go on to make names for themselves in wrestling, couldn’t help but smile thinking about all his son has achieved in such a short time.

“It turned out to be the best choice for him,” he said of Shane, who also played middle school football, baseball and basketball, and continues to wrestle. “He’s matured so much since last year — he doesn’t get as rattled when he doesn’t make a good shot — he looks like a seasoned kid out there.”

DeVinenzo recalled the first time he took his son to the Country Fair after they returned from a golf camp, which is where he got hooked on swinging the club.

“I recorded him because I thought it was fun,” DeVincenzo said. “Now, Shane and I look at the video to see how far he’s come.”

Shane DeVincenzo, second from left, with the top eight golfers in the state. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

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Corinne Scannell reaches for possession on the draw. Photo by Bill Landon
Sophia Knapp moves the ball up the field. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The seed of there being a Port Jefferson girls’ lacrosse team was planted by former athletic director Deb Ferry and has began to grow with current leader Danielle Turner. According to head coach Allie Franklin, three seniors, who have been playing the sport since they were little, were the catalyst for this new varsity team.

What’s impressive about the Royals, who are among five teams in Class D, is that they finished fourth this year, narrowly missing the postseason by one spot.

“You don’t see many [first-season] teams nowadays, so to know that you’re part of the very first team, it’s an accomplishment,” said senior Clare O’Connor, one of those three seniors who was also part of the two-time championship-winning soccer team. “And we do have some very strong players.”

Port Jefferson wrapped up its inaugural season on the road May 9 against division powerhouse Bayport-Blue Point. The Royals competed in Division III and, despite it being their first season, managed to win two games and narrowly lost another by a point.

After a nail-biting finish March 24 against Copiague, where they lost 14-13, the Royals breakthrough performance came six days later when they defeated McGann-Mercy, 18-7, at home to ink the first-ever varsity lacrosse victory. From there, they faced the top teams in the division, but notched a second win May 1, a 13-9 win over visiting Hampton Bays.

Clare O’Connor reaches for a pass. Photo by Bill Landon

For freshman Sophia Knapp, who was called up to be a part of the team, it’s an honor to be starting out her high school career with a new team.

“[I was so excited] when I found out I was going to be able to play with people that I played with in PAL,” Knapp said. “I was nervous coming into the actual game, but once I got out there I felt that I was at home again, so it’s very special for me to be part of this team.”

The significance of the history-making season showcased this year wasn’t’ lost on Alexa Wakefield, another senior who helped kickstart the program.

“It means a lot honestly — we started with the PAL teams and we all stuck with it,” she said. “And all of the younger girls are getting a lot better so in the next few years we’ll have a solid team and I’m very excited about that.”

Franklin said she’s encouraged by her younger players, and with the prospect of a dedicated goalkeeper — something they didn’t have this season.

“I think the big piece next year is that we’ll have someone who’s a true goalie,” she said. “This year we had four field players stepping into that role rotating through and that was difficult for us, but next year [we’ll have] somebody who has been in the pads, and that’s their true position. That will help us tremendously.”

Alexa Wakefield defends. Photo by Bill Landon

Besides her, the final senior, Corinne Scannell, is looking forward to seeing what eighth-grader Katelynn Johnston can do.

“She’s just good,” she said. “I can see her being the next leader of our program.”

Scannell, already a three-sport athlete already playing on the state championship-winning soccer team and history-making Long Island championship basketball team, continues to make history with the school.

“We’ve been playing since we were little, so it’s definitely exciting to pioneer it,” she said. “I’d say that the best part of it is being on the field — all of the teams practice there — and it’s really cool to see all the younger girls playing,” she said. “Yeah, we had a few rough games this year, but we’re paving the way for them to succeed.”

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Jack Collins makes a play at the plate. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Late errors proved costly for Port Jefferson’s baseball team as Pierson-Bridgehampton turned in an eight-run fifth inning en route to an 11-1 defeat of the Royals April 28.

Kris Cheslock rips the ball over the fence. Photo by Bill Landon

The Whalers struck first when, in the top of the second, a Royals throw to home plate was just late. But Port Jefferson’s leadoff hitter in the bottom of the inning, senior Kris Cheslock, knocked the third pitch he saw deep to left field that cleared the fence and then some, to make it a new game.

“It was a 2-1 count, I was looking for a fastball and it came to me right down the middle,” Cheslock said. “I had a nice swing on it, and I knew it was gone.”

Port Jefferson senior starting pitcher Sean Griffin had his hands full in the top of the third when the Whalers advanced two runners to scoring position with no outs, but he challenged the next three batters and the Royals defense did its job, as Pierson-Bridgehampton stranded both Whalers on base.

Port Jefferson sophomore Jordan Suarez hit a blooper to shallow right field next, and capitalized on the right fielder’s bobble to stretch a single to a double, but the Royals failed to bring him home. The Whalers plated a runner in the top of the fourth to break the tie.

“We saw them the last two games, so we knew we had to play a clean game, and we didn’t do that,” Cheslock said. “We need to work on our defense and it needs to be better.”

Sean Griffin throws a heater. Photo by Bill Landon

In the fifth inning, a pickoff throw to first fell into the dirt and rolled by the first baseman. Two pitches later, another pickoff attempt rolled by second base this time, to help the Whalers runner advance to third. Pierson-Bridgehampton slammed home hit after hit thereafter, and drew timely walks with the bases loaded to score eight runs by time the Royals tallied three outs.

“The way baseball is, you’ve got to take in one day at a time — the mistakes we made today can’t be mistakes we carry with us into Wednesday’s game,” Port Jefferson head coach Jesse Rosen said. “We’re 7-8 and we have games ahead of us that are winnable games for us. We need to go 10-10 to put ourselves in the playoffs, and truthfully that’s not an unreasonable thing.”

Despite the defensive mistakes, the Royals hit the ball hard in the bottom of the inning. Senior Nick Andriani smacked a leadoff single, and Suarez followed with a shot through the gap, and bother runners advanced on a wild pitch with one out. But the Whalers’ defense came through for the win.

“Granted not the way you want to step into the last quarter of your season — our defense was far from optimal today,” Rosen said. “Baseball’s a game where you [shake off a loss like today’s] and get ready for your next game.”

The Royals look to get back to .500 when they hit the road to take on Southold May 3 at 4:30 p.m.

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Port Jefferson's Annabelle Soucy slides slides home. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Siobhan Petracca’s solid pitching and Jackie Brown’s timely hitting propelled Port Jefferson’s softball team to its first win, a 12-0 shutout of Shelter Island April 7.

Port Jefferson’s Siobhan Petracca hurls a pitch from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Shelter Island (0-3) struggled early on, allowing unearned runs with passed balls at the plate. After the first inning, the Royals were up 4-0.

Sophomore shortstop Taylor Catoggio’s bat spoke next as she hit the ball into the gap for a standup double that drove home teammate Ji Won Woo to make it a five-run game.

“Today’s win was very important — it brought us all together because the losses can break us down,” Catoggio said. “I had confidence that [Siobhan Petracca] could put the ball over the plate, and confidence in my team that we’d get the first or the easiest out.”

Ashley Catoggio, Taylor’s twin sister, did her job with a sacrifice fly that plated Brown, a senior, and a passed ball scored the runner from third.

“We’re upbeat and happy for this win, it gives us confidence going forward,” Ashley Catoggio said. “We fielded really well today and we didn’t have a lot of errors.”

Following the list of young Royals making their presence known was sophomore Gabriela Sanchez, who smacked a grounder through the gap, bringing home senior Annabelle Soucy for an 8-0 lead in the bottom of the third.

Port Jefferson short stop Taylor Catoggio makes a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Shelter Island mounted its first serious threat in the top of the fourth with runners in scoring position, drawing a walk to load the bases with one out, but Petracca fanned the next two batters to get out of the jam.

“I was nervous, but I was confident I could do it, especially with my team cheering me on,” Petracca said of the bases loaded situation. “It’s been a little bit rough with the games that we’ve played, but this will help us from here on out.”

Brown, who was catching for Petracca, never doubted her pitcher’s poise.

“We have a lot of confidence in each other, “ Brown said. “She puts it over the plate and we strike them out.”

In the bottom of the sixth, Soucy crossed the plate on another passed ball, as did senior Chiara Rabeno, forcing Shelter Island to make a pitching change.

The change didn’t halt Port Jefferson though, as Brown blasted the ball to right field for a home run that put the Royals ahead 11-0.

Port Jefferson head coach Deb Brown, Jackie’s mom, was relieved to record her team’s first win of the early season.

Port Jefferson’s Jackie Brown rounds the bases during her home run. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’ll take the ‘W,’” she said. “We did some positive things today — we only had two errors which is better than our last couple of games — and the girls are getting to know each other. Their confidence is building with each at bat and with each play they make.”

Another passed ball that brought the 12th runner home, and triggered the mercy rule in the bottom of the sixth inning. Petracca finished the game with seven strikeouts, eight walks and one hit.

Jackie Brown finished 4-for-4 with a home run, three runs and four steals.. Taylor Catoggio was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, a run and a stolen base, and her sister Ashley added two RBIs, a run, a steal and two putouts. Sanchez finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs, a run, a stolen base and two putouts.

Deb Brown said she was pleased with her younger players’ performances, some who are playing softball for the first time.

“We have a new person at third base, Ji Won Woo, she did a great job, and we have someone new at second, Gabby Sanchez, and she’s doing an awesome job,” she said. “This is also a confidence builder for Siobhan, because this is the third time she’s pitched this week. It’s cold, and she did a great job.”

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The Port Jefferson girls’ basketball team following its Class C state semifinal win over South Seneca. Photo by Danielle Turner

Despite coming up just short of their ultimate goal, the 2016-17 Port Jefferson girls’ basketball season won’t soon be forgotten.

It wasn’t securing the final win that mattered. As the dust settled after Watkins Glen scored a buzzer-beating layup to edge out the Royals, 65-63, in the Class C state finals, the legacy the five senior starters will leave behind and their incredible run, will remain on everyone’s mind.

Every win since the Royals’ 46-43 nail-biter over Pierson-Bridgehampton has been historic. With that victory, Port Jefferson brought home the first Suffolk County championship crown in 90 years. The team then outscored East Rockaway, 67-49, for the Long Island title in school history. The Royals have continued to improve on a 6-9 2013-14 record over the last three seasons, but made a giant leap this year. Port Jefferson won a regional title in the school’s first appearance in the state tournament March 9 and followed it up with a state semifinal victory March 18, to reach the finals.

The Royals were coming off a high heading into the state finals matchup March 19 against Watkins Glen. Port Jefferson had crushed South Seneca 71-53, which senior standout Courtney Lewis said was a big boost of confidence for the team.

“We had never played a team outside of Suffolk before this season, and I think winning by such a large margin on Saturday made us realize we could win,” she said. “We belonged upstate.”

After scoring 31 points in the semifinal game, Lewis tallied 11 of the team’s 15 first-quarter points to help the Royals to a 15-10 lead in the finals. By halftime, the advantage diminished just slightly, to 29-24, with the 2,000-point scorer adding five more points.

“I felt great going into the game,” she said. “I really felt like I could attack their man defense and our offensive plays worked well.”

Freshman Sam Ayotte filled in for Lewis in the third when she was in foul trouble, and she and senior Corinne Scannell came up big in Lewis’ absence. Ayotte capped off a 20-4 run with a 3-pointer from the right corner, extending Port Jefferson’s lead to 53-37 entering the fourth. She scored 12 points in the game, and Scannell added 11.

“Corinne Scannell was making her layups and foul shots, and freshman Sam Ayotte stepped up her game and was driving to the basket,” senior Jackie Brown said. “It gave us the energy we needed.”

But that energy came to a sudden halt, as Watkins Glen’s 28-10 fourth quarter was the difference.

“Our defense was most intense in the third quarter, and our foul situation really hurt us in the fourth,” Lewis said.

She returned to action 50 seconds into the fourth quarter with her team leading 56-42. By the 1:24 mark, Watkins Glen had pulled within two. Watkins Glen added a free throw, but senior Jillian Colucci hit one of two free-throw attempts with 33.1 seconds left to push the lead back to two points, 63-61. With 13.7 seconds on the clock, the game was tied 63-63. Port Jefferson had the ball but couldn’t take the lead. Watkins Glen gained control and Hannah Morse hit a layup at the buzzer, ending the Royals’ 20-5 season just short of a state championship.

“I feel great knowing that even though we didn’t win, we still will go down in history at our high school,” said Lewis, who knocked down a game-high 23 points. “Basketball has been such a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, and just playing with these girls and getting this far in the playoffs is the best way I could have imagined ending my high school career.”

Lewis, who first started on the team as a seventh-grader, was part of three losing season before the Royals started experiencing success.

“Playing on the team since seventh grade has been such a positive influence in my life, and a shaping one, too,” she said. “Basketball means so much to me and playing for Port Jeff was nothing short of a perfect experience, especially my senior season.”

Brown reflected on her time with her teammates.

The Royals game plan before the start of the fourth quarter in the state finals matchup against Watkins Glen. Photo by Danielle Turner

Senior Gillian Kenah is a threat on the boards, Brown said, always below the basket to “clean up the trash,” grab rebounds and score putbacks. Brown said Scannell’s bubbly spirit and positive attitude puts a smile on everyone on the team. The All-Tournament basketball selectee and recipient of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association’s Sportsmanship Award has a strong shot from all over the court.

Colucci, an All-Long Island and All-State soccer player who was named Suffolk County Player of the Year is quick on her feet, with a determination to win that, according to Brown, gets the girls fired up.

“She’s a game changer,” Brown said.

Lewis, as one of the only starters who focuses solely on basketball, has a great sense of the game.

“She is truly an amazing basketball player,” Brown said. “From CYO to senior year, she’s a talent. I could always count on her to get things done.”

The many multisport athletes on the team  only enhanced its winning attitude, with Colucci and Scannell bringing the soccer team’s state-championship mentality to the court the last two seasons. Brown, a field hockey standout, further added to the team’s athleticism.

The Royals have not only made an impression on the district, but also left newcomers like athletic director Danielle Turner in awe.

“I have been involved with countless teams in my career as a player, coach and observer; I can’t remember a team that I am more proud of,” she said. “Right before our eyes, these girls have changed basketball in Port Jefferson. Not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a cultural perspective. Their unwavering commitment to each other, their mental toughness and their maturity were evident throughout the season, and especially throughout their playoff run. It’s something that will be talked about for years to come.”

Brown hopes making history will inspire future teams to come.

“I’ve never been part of a championship team, so I’m honored to be a part of it with this group of girls,” she said. “This has been an incredible experience and I’m so proud of what this team has done over the past five months. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m also excited for the younger girls. It gives them motivation to go get it next year.”

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