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Port Jefferson sophomore grabs gold in 100-yard backstroke, 200 individual medley for second season

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

By Desirée Keegan

Coach Mark Anderson asked Port Jefferson swimmer Kyra Sommerstad what her goal was heading into the 200 individual medley race at the Suffolk County championships Nov. 4.

“I want to go 2:04,” she answered, which would be a career best for the sophomore.

By the time she touched the wall, Kyra had completed the 200 yards in 2 minutes, 4 seconds, which also earned her a first-place finish.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Watching her swim, she looked great,” said Anderson, her Three Village Swim Club coach for the last two years. “She had gone a 2:04, and I thought that spoke to the kind of person she is. She’s incredibly driven, very positive and she goes into every race knowing what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. It makes me proud to see someone grow the way she has over the last couple of years to someone that is capable of setting a goal in her mind and achieving it.”

On top of placing first in the individual medley, Kyra also grabbed gold in the 100 backstroke.

“I knew from last year that I could win,” said Kyra of the county meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. “I really went into it determined and I really wanted to win the same events that I won the year before.”

Being the top seed gave her confidence going in that she could reclaim the county crown in both races, she said. She said Anderson and Port Jefferson head coach Mary Fleckenstein helped her work on her technique and mentality to get her ready to race. Prior to getting into the water, she stretched and listened to pop music to get in the zone.

“I swam some fast times before counties so I knew where I was going into it,” she said. “I get myself pumped up by listening to music. I just didn’t want to drop my spot.”

Port Jefferson athletic director Danielle Turner said seeing all that the swimmer has been able to accomplish at such a young age is inspiring.

Kyra Sommerstad represents Port Jefferson at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Sommerstad

“Kyra is an outstanding student and an overall great person,” Turner said. “She never looks for recognition or praise, however her accomplishments and incredible ability should absolutely be highlighted. She has represented Port Jefferson in the most positive of ways and on many stages.  We could not be more proud of Kyra, and we are excited to see what the future holds for this young talent.”

Fleckenstein shared a similar sentiment, adding that she’s been a joy to work with.

“She’s very impressive,” the coach said of Kyra. “She’s such a sweet girl. She’s gracious, she’s easy to work with. She doesn’t go in with an ‘I’m going to win because I’m the best’ attitude. She gets in the pool and does her job.”

Anderson and Fleckenstein have seen the sophomore mature over the last year, and said they think bigger and better accomplishments are ahead.

“She challenges herself every day,” Fleckenstein said. “She doesn’t like to miss practice. They’re all signs she’s headed in the right direction. There’s some untapped talent in there, and her club coach has been doing a great job bringing her along. By the time she graduates she’ll be sought after by many colleges.”

Kyra Sommerstad placed first in the 100-yard breastroke and 200 individual medley at the Suffolk County championships. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Her Three Village Swim Club coach has been focusing on underwater work with his swimmer, including off-the-block movements, hand speed, tempo and turns.

“I’ve been extremely happy with how she’s raced so far without having time to rest,” Anderson said. “In the next couple of weeks she has the state championship, the winter junior nationals down in Knoxville, Tennessee, and then she’s going to have our team’s travel meet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There’s a lot of fine-tuning this week that goes into hopefully putting together the perfect race this weekend and it’s going to be a real test to see how she’s prepared over the last couple of months.”

He added, with her attitude, he knows she’ll succeed.

“She is incredibly positive, incredibly hard-working, dedicated, she’s a great student in the classroom and just getting to know her and getting to see her grow up and mature has been a real enjoyment for me,” he said. “She is a coaches dream.”

Kyra validated Anderson’s comments, saying she’s ready for what lies ahead.

“I’ll be working really hard in the pool and perfecting my technique,” she said. “I’m getting ready to swim fast.”

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Handful of cross country runners compete at state meet

Port Jefferson's cross country team finished first in Suffolk County's Class C. Photo by Dick Olson

By Jim Ferchland

Coach Rod Cawley called runner Sam Walker a “take-charge kind of guy,” and at the Suffolk County Class C championship Nov. 3, the senior raced his team to its second straight title.

The Port Jefferson cross-country competitor finished first at the 5,000-meter Sunken Meadow State Park course, crossing the finish line in 17 minutes, 48 seconds.

Sam Walker, who placed first at the Suffolk County meet, rounds a corner before punching his state qualifying ticket. Photo by Dick Olson

Walker has claimed gold his junior and senior season and said placing first two years in a row to cap off his final county cross-country meet was icing on the cake. He also was quick to point toward it being more about the team than himself this time around.

“I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good,” Walker said. “This year didn’t entirely go as I wanted it to, but I was proud of myself because my main concern was if the team was going to qualify.”

The Royals finished 5-1 in League VIII, winning all but the final meet of the season with a loss to Shelter Island by a single point, 27-28. In all other meets, Port Jefferson dominated its opponents by 30 or more points.

“They worked very hard all season,” Cawley said of his athletes. “They did what they had to do.”

The head coach has led the Royals to 13 county crowns in his 25-year tenure. He said he gives all of the credit to his runners, especially Walker, who he said he’s had the privilege of coaching for four of them.

“He leads by example,” Cawley said. “He works hard and does what he has to do. He continued to improve each year.”

Walker said his focus this time around was on the underclassmen because of the fact the team hasn’t had many state qualifiers over his last four years.

“That whole race was trying to get the younger guys to the state meet and get that experience,” he said. “I know those guys have got a lot of talent and a lot of promise. And I know they’ll do the same for their younger guys.”

Grant Samara finished right behind teammate Sam Walker for second place. Photo by Dick Olson

The Port Jefferson team ran an average of 18:48.21, and had three runners place in the Top 5, with freshman Grant Samara placing second in 18:41 and freshman Cooper Schoch rounding out the fifth spot with a 19:05 finish. Right behind Schoch was Mike Ruggiero with a time of 19:06, and three others placed in the Top 15 — Brian Veit finished in eighth, Alex Rebic placed 11th and Owen Okst finished 15th.

“It’s amazing to see,” Walker said of the talented underclassmen. “I know when I go off to college, I’m going to be coming back to watch these guys. I know they have so much promise in this sport, especially since we are such a small school compared to the bigger Class A schools. We got so lucky with these freshmen that have such a future. I wasn’t even that driven when I first participated in the sport.”

Cawley said he too is liking what he’s seeing from his young guys.

“Samara’s an outstanding freshman,” Cawley said. “He came along quite a bit. He was the fourth guy in the beginning of the season and he ended up being the second. He improved considerably over the course of the season. For Schoch, he’s very talented and right there with Grant. Both of them ran as eighth-graders.”

Cawley said there were some challenges this year, but they were primarily a result of mother nature.

“It was a warm season — it was difficult to train sometimes and difficult to compete,” he said. “One meet got canceled because they ran out of ambulances, so I would say the weather was a difficult challenge for us this year. Cross-country is designed for the 50s and maybe the 60s, not the 70s.”

Cooper Schoch placed fifth at the Suffolk County meet. Photo by Dick Olson

With this, the weather once again became a colossal obstacle for Port Jefferson in the state meet at Wayne Central School District in Ontario Center just east of Rochester. The conditions were in the 20s with snow and wind, according to Cawley, a drastic change from what the Royals were getting used to. Port Jefferson finished the meet in ninth place.

“The ground was frozen,” Cawley said. “It wasn’t pleasant, and everyone had the same conditions, but the upstate schools are a little better handling that than us Long Islanders.”

Walker hit a major setback in the state meet as he suffered an injury in the tough conditions, costing him a Top 20 finish.

“I was feeling good,” Walker said of his confidence before his injury. “I tried catching up with the lead pack, but it was so muddy and there were foot tracks from the previous day that had frozen over. There were a bunch of holes and I rolled my ankle, fell, and it took a while to get back up. I knew that race was over. I couldn’t run as well as I wanted to, but it’s something to learn from.”

Despite the rough upstate experience, Cawley continues to remain optimistic about the future with his young, talented team.

“I’m very excited,” Cawley said. “I have very high expectations for the next few years.”

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By Bill Landon

Jack Collins was the king of the Royals’ homecoming court.

Port Jefferson senior Jack Collins passes the ball during the homecoming football game Oct. 21. Photo by Bill Landon

The senior quarterback completed 23 of 30 passes for a whopping 356 yards and four touchdowns to lead Port Jefferson to a dominating 42-13 win over Southampton/Pierson Oct. 21, which ensured the Royals a playoff berth.

“The kids in the locker room cannot wait for this game,” Collins said. “At Port Jeff there have been times where we’ve lost big to these teams, but it’s different. This year our team’s a lot stronger, and these guys want to prove that. I, do too.”

To do so, senior running back Thomas Mark returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown, and senior running Joey Evangelista capped it off with a 2-point conversion, also scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run of his own for a 14-0 Royals lead with just under five minutes left in the first quarter.

“We came out here knowing what we needed to do,” Evangelista said.

Collins threw three of his four touchdowns before halftime, on passes of 28 yards, 4 yards and 40 yards. A 2-point conversion was tried following all three, but only successful on the second, with senior running back Hunter Ginas running it in after Mark’s touchdown.

“It’s a great win; it’s a great feeling after coming off a tough loss last week,” Mark said, referring to Port Jefferson’s 45-8 loss at Elwood-John Glenn “During practice week all of the guys were really focused —put in a lot of work, and hard work pays off.”

Port Jefferson senior Marquis Feldman pushes to break free of a tackle during the homecoming football game Oct. 21. Photo by Bill Landon

Collins threw a 36-yard pass to Marquis Feldman for the senior wide receiver’s second touchdown of the game to open scoring in the third. Collins capped it off by throwing to Mark in the end zone for a 2-point conversion.

“It was awesome to see the fans come out, they really support us,” Collins said. “We came ready to play. It was a fun, good time.”

Feldman finished with 123 yards on eight receptions behind junior Jonathan Bachman’s nine catches for 154 yards. He said knows the importance of the Royals’ final game of the season at home against Shoreham-Wading River, especially for moving forward.

“This game’s in the past now, and we’ll get ready for the next,” Feldman said following the win. “We’ll work as hard as we can and won’t let up.”

Port Jefferson head coach Andrew Cosci said with Shoreham-Wading River being a little banged up he’s hoping it greatens his team’s chances, especially knowing the dominant history the Wildcats have over the Royals, but said not to count his team out of the Oct. 28 matchup.

“They’re a very good football team,” the coach said of his soon-to-be opponent. “We have our work cut out for us, but we have a different team this year — a team that believes they can play with the big boys.”

Port Jefferson's Aileen Schretzmayer moves through the middle of the pack during the St. Anthony's Invitational Oct. 6 at Sunken Meadow Sate Park. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

With Port Jefferson cross country runner Aileen Schretzmayer nagged by injury and Shoreham-Wading River superstar Katherine Lee out on a college visit, both teams struggled to perform up to par during the St. Anthony’s Invitational Oct. 6.

Since Lee, who ran the Sunken Meadow State Park course in 18 minutes, 10 seconds, currently the fastest girl in Suffolk County according to her coach, was visiting Stanford University to narrow down her college choices for next fall, junior Alexandra Smith was first across the 5K finish line for the Wildcats.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Alexandra Smith powers past opponents. Photo by Bill Landon

Out of 300 runners, Smith placed 11th with a time of 20:38.50 behind first-place finisher Maggie Maier, a sophomore from Sacred Heart who finished in 19:39.

“I was first [for my team] because Katherine wasn’t here, but it was my personal best,” Smith said. “The toughest part of the course for me was the down hills, but I’m pretty good at running up.”

Lee currently sits atop the Class B leader board and is ranked No. 8 in the nation and No. 2 out of all seniors, according to Shoreham Wading-River head coach Paul Koretzki.

The coach was pleased with his team’s eighth-place overall finish, especially given the outcome for a handful of his runners.

“The first five ran their fastest times today,” he said. “The only Class B team that beat us was Kings Park, by a couple of points, and with Katherine we would’ve been right up there, maybe even moved to third.”

Port Jefferson’s Schretzmayer was first to cross the finish line for the Royals in 24:51.14 placing 161st.

“It’s not her personal best,” Port Jefferson head coach Donald Slingerland said. “She’s been injured, so we’re trying to bring her back slowly.”

Second across the line for the Royals was junior Amanda Brosnan, who covered the distance in 28:23 for 250th.

Port Jefferson’s Amanda Brosnan sprints toward the finish line. Photo by Bill Landon

Slingerland warned his girls to drink plenty of fluids during the warm day, and to slow down when they thought they needed to, especially on what Brosnan said is tough course.

“It was a really big race,” Brosnan said. “There’s a lot of people running today and people came to this race from Connecticut. Cardiac Hill — it’s like a quarter of a mile long, it’s steep and it’s dirt and it’s right in the middle of the course, [so when you get to it], you’re already pretty winded.”

Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Nicole Garcia, who clocked in at 21:55.50 for 38th, also spoke to the course’s demands.

“Cardiac Hill was definitely the hardest [part],” Garcia said. “It’s a very steep hill and you think it’s never going to end; it’s very difficult.”

Smithtown’s Catherine Farrell placed second, Gabrielle Schneider placed 6th and Emily Ginty wasn’t far behind in 12th. The trio gave the Bulls enough points to finish 4th in the team standings. Kings Park’s Bridget Roell placed 15th while the Kingsmen came in 6th overall.

In the 1.5-mile run, Ward Melville’s Briana Grant was the top-place finisher and teammate Julia Stafford crossed just inside the Top 10 with a 9th-place time to help the Patriots take first in the team standings. Kings Park’s Tanner Richter rounded out the Top 10.


                

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Sam Walker. File photo by Bill Landon

By Charles Hamma

The Pierson-Bridgehampton team could do nothing but watch the Port Jefferson Royals run away with another cross-country victory Oct. 3 at Sunken Meadow State Park, winning 48-15 to bring the Royals’ record to a perfect 5-0 on the season.

Sam Walkerfinished first for Port Jefferson out of five top-finishing Royals at Sunken Meadow State Park Oct. 3. File photo by Bill Landon

Port Jefferson dominated this 2.8-mile run from start to finish, placing five Royals in the Top 5. As runners from both the Whalers and the Monarchs huffed and puffed, the Royals zoomed by, leaving kicked-up dust and the competition behind them. Senior captain and first-place finisher Sam Walker led the way, finishing with a time of 16 minutes, 12 seconds. Port Jefferson was eager to come out and set the same convincing tone that they’ve been setting throughout this cross-country season.

“Pierson and McGann gave it their all, but we just have a great thing going right now,” Walker said after the race. “Everyone’s staying positive and we’re all working together as a team. There isn’t one person who sticks out more than the other. We’re all doing great.”

While Walker finished first, it was a photo finish, with teammates stepping across the finish line right behind him. Cooper Schoch came in second in 16:13 and Grant Samara was right behind him, finishing in 16:14.

Port Jefferson head coach Rod Cawley was especially impressed with his team’s powerful performance.

“I can’t ask for anything more as a coach than a performance like the one I saw today,” he said grinning from ear to ear. “Hopefully this momentum will carry over into this weekend when we go to Disney World.”

The Royals are leaving to go to Disney World this weekend, but they are not going there to celebrate a recent Super Bowl victory with Mickey and Minnie. Instead, they will be traveling to compete in the Disney Cross Country Classic. Now in its 21st year, the competition brings together schools of all kinds, from middle schools up to colleges, to compete on the 5K and 8K courses at Disney’s 220-acre Wide World of Sports Complex. The races will take place Oct. 6 and 7. The top three schools and individuals will earn trophies, and those who place fourth through tenth will earn medals.

“I can’t ask for anything more as a coach than a performance like the one I saw today.”

— Rod Cawley

Port Jefferson will travel home for one final regular-season meet against the Shelter Island Indians Oct. 10. It’s a matchup to which Walker is looking forward.

“I think that this will be a great test for us to finish out the regular season,” he said. “They have a really good team, we have a really good team, so it should be interesting.”

After that, the road to the state qualifiers begins, with expectations sure to be high.

But for now, the Royals will celebrate this victory, possibly with a ride on the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster.

This version updates the length of the course and the spelling of Parker Schoch’s name.

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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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.”

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