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Ryan Pallonetti

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Dylan Pallonetti, left, and brother Ryan, right, holding the state championship plaque in 2017. Photo from Kevin Pallonetti

By Desirée Keegan

Trading in their hockey sticks for lacrosse ones changed the lives of Ward Melville’s Pallonetti brothers.

Recent graduate Ryan and soon-to-be senior Dylan were fundamental pieces to a Patriots team that pulled out back-to-back state championship titles the last two seasons.

Dylan and Ryan Pallonetti when they were younger with their father, Kevin. Photo from the Pallonetti family

The success was sweeter for Ryan, a Franklin & Marshall College-bound two-way midfielder, after having his stellar sophomore season cut short and missing all junior year rehabbing from a hair fracture in his hip and a torn meniscus. In his last game in the green and gold, he scored three goals and added an assist in Ward Melville’s dominating 15-2 win over West Genesee in the state finals.

“He works extremely hard — it was his time,” head coach Jay Negus said. “We saw he had that kind of stuff in him all along. Had he not been injured I think we would’ve seen all that that much sooner. But I also don’t think Ryan has reached his full potential. I think he’s ready for the next step, and I think he’s going to flourish in college.”

The injuries also changed Pallonetti’s life forever.

“I was beyond excited to finally be a part of such a great program,” he said of making the varsity team as a sophomore. “Getting injured and having it all be so short-lived sucked, but it motivated me to come back better than I was. The journey it took to get to that point — where hoisting up the championship plaque felt even better than scoring the goals — is irreplaceable. I made sure to stay disciplined with what I had to do to recover properly, and I didn’t let anything get in the way of that.”

At 4 years old he was playing hockey in the driveway with his brother. The pair also played baseball, basketball and football, and said they weren’t into lacrosse after first trying it. But they quickly grew fond of the game’s fast pace and worked well with one another.

Ryan Pallonetti gets pole checked in a 2018 game. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s a competitive game that takes a lot of practice and hard work,” Dylan Pallonetti said. “Ryan and I definitely have a feel for each other on the field. That chemistry developed in the driveway and on the front lawn.”

That competitive side started for the dynamic duo with Ryan growing up as a New York Rangers hockey fan, his younger brother rooting for the Islanders. That spirited side led them to test one another, especially during home games.

“Both are very fast and athletic, have great hands,” Negus said. “That’s very important in lacrosse, and I think that also can be credited to their time playing hockey.”

Ryan Pallonetti will continue to compete out on the ice, hoping to contribute to Franklin & Marshall’s club team. Dylan will be taking to the Ward Melville Patriots Ice Hockey Club team once more before heading to the University of Massachusetts in fall 2019.

The Pallonetti’s father Kevin said he and his wife Michele have been in awe of what their sons have been able to do out on the turf while also balancing their studies and time training.

“They have the confidence to go against these bigger players, and they find success,” he said. “Ryan is more of a warrior getting to ground balls and sets up the plays, always thinking and analyzing before he acts, and Dylan finishes those plays — he’s more free-flowing and just goes for it. They’re able to accomplish the goals they set for themselves.”

Dylan Pallonetti shoots in a 2018 game. Photo by Bill Landon

Dylan is a top scorer. The attack finished second on the team and 14th in the county in points with 53 goals and 21 assists behind Patriots superstar Matt Grillo, who ranked sixth in Suffolk.

“He pushed me to always play my best and his contribution to the team was very important,” Ryan said of his brother. “He has a very quick release with his shot and has a great lacrosse IQ.”

Negus said he’s hoping Dylan, his soon-to-be captain, can steer the ship in the right direction after 21 Patriots were lost to graduation.

“Dylan has been outstanding throughout his career, he’s really stepped up on the offensive side — he makes people around him better, and that’s the sign of a good leader,” Negus said. “And Dylan has never played like he’s been the younger sibling. He steps out on the field and constantly plays bigger than he is.”

Negus said he’s excited to have at least one brother for one more year.

“They’re two brothers that we’ve loved having a part of this program,” the coach said. “They’ve set their mark on it.”

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Patriots’ high-powered offense dominates West Genesee 15-2 for second straight state title

Ward Melville's boys lacrosse team toppled state rival West Genesee for the Patriots' second straight state title. Photo from Twitter

Ryan Pallonetti wasn’t missing the game this time, and he made his presence known.

The Ward Melville senior scored three goals in the Patriots’ 15-2 win over West Genesee for the school’s second straight state title June 9. He’d missed all last year and half his sophomore season with a knee injury.

“We’re unselfish, move the ball well and take smart shots, always looking for the extra pass to get the easy goal.”

— Matt Grillo

“Ryan’s an incredible player,” said classmate Zach Hobbes of Pallonetti, who scored the first two goals and assisted on the third to get the game going. “It was great seeing him play the way he did today since he didn’t get the opportunity to last year.”

A familiar yet different narrative developed in this season’s finale compared to last. Ward Melville had eked out a 10-9 win against Pittsford after scoring six straight, the final coming in overtime. Matt Grillo scored the final two goals of the game, which was on his birthday, and rose to the occasion once more this time around. The senior (four goals, one assist) went on another scoring run to propel his team this year, finding the net three straight times in the third to help extend Ward Melville’s halftime advantage from eight goals to 12.

The lopsided result in the final was out of the ordinary, although it followed the Patriots’ landslide victory in the state semifinal, an 18-2 win over Niskayuna.

West Genesee has won 15 state championships, the most in New York history, under head coach Mike Messere, the nation’s all-time leader in career victories with 846. Ward Melville, ranked No. 1 in the country by Inside Lacrosse, split six previous championship-game matchups with West Genesee, the last in 2013, a 16-4 victory under former legendary head coach Mike Hoppey. Current head coach Jay Negus won his first last year.

“Ryan’s an incredible player. It was great seeing him play the way he did.”

— Zach Hobbes

“I have to credit my defense for getting me ready for every game,” said Grillo, who ranks sixth in the county in scoring with 70 goals and 16 assists. “Even in practice, it’s the best defense I’ll have to face all year. They played amazing as usual to hold a very good team to just two goals. On the offensive end, jumping out to an early lead is something we’ve tried to consistently do all season. To see us execute like we did on our biggest stage is something really special.”

The Patriots defense made multiple stops to give Ward Melville plenty of opportunities in transition. Hobbes and junior Malachy McAvoy each racked up two goals and four others added goals.

“It took a lot of stress out of the game knowing that we maintained a lead all four quarters,” Hobbes said. “When you build a lead that early in a game it gives the team a lot of confidence, and we have a lot of experience in playoff games. It’s an unreal feeling winning back-to-back championships — it’s something every team works for every season, and we were able to do it twice — especially winning it with my best friends. We’ve worked for this moment.”

“I have to credit my defense for getting me ready for every game. Even in practice, it’s the best defense I’ll have to face all year.”

— Matt Grillo

Grillo credited Ward Melville’s unique bond as helping the boys claim the program’s 10th state title and third in the last six years. The Patriots became just the second school to reach the double-digit title mark. It was Ward Melville’s 15th trip to the finals.

“It really helps with our dynamic,” he said of his bond with his teammates. “We had everyone contributing. We’re unselfish, move the ball well and take smart shots, always looking for the extra pass to get the easy goal.”

Grillo said his younger self dreamed of playing for Ward Melville, recalling standing on the sidelines beaming, hoping he’d one day take the place of the athletes he was watching with eyes wide open.

“I always give it my all in every practice, every game,” Grillo said. “So many great players have come through this program and built it up to what it is now, and it’s an amazing feeling knowing we were able to continue the Ward Melville lacrosse legacy. This has been a ride I’ll never forget.”

The senior added after each success and milestone that he and Hobbes would look at each other and say: “our younger selves would be proud of what we accomplished.”

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