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Section XI

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Team takes Division I title in Syracus, three Middle Country girls place in Top 10 in scoring

Middle Country’s girls bowling team took home its first state title since 2013 March 11 in Syracuse. Photo from Nicole Lettich

With a difficult oil pattern on the lane, the Middle Country girls bowling team knew what it was going to take to win a state title — and it had the talent to spare.

“We knew it would be tough bowling on a more challenging pattern, but we knew spares were going to be so important,” senior Nicole Lettich said. “As most of us say, strikes win games, but spares win tournaments. We are a strong team and knew we could take on whatever was thrown at us. We just needed to focus each game and make good shots. That’s exactly what we did.”

Amanda Scarfogliero leads off for Middle Country’s girls bowling team. Photo from Amanda Scarfogliero

Lettich, noted by head coach Mandy Dominguez as the most consistent bowler on the team, averaged a 191.67 over six games.

“She did great, she’s steady,” Dominguez said of his one of four seniors.

With her team up by just 118 pins heading into a crucial Game 6, she bowled a 223 to help seal the deal and a state title March 11 in Syracuse.

“My parents tell me all the time that I bowl with a poker face and don’t let bad scores phase me,” Lettich said. “I don’t really put any added pressure on myself, I just focus on making my spares and throwing good shots. When I throw a bad shot, I shake it off and get ready for the next frame.”

Lettich, who finished Sunday ranked fourth in New York, was one of three Middle Country bowlers to rank in the Top 10 in scoring. Junior Amanda Scarfogliero (No. 7) and freshman Hannah Skalacki (No. 2) were the others.

“I’ve never had a team improve in the offseason the way that this team did,” Dominguez said. “Last year we only had one 200 bowler, and this year I had five. The girls really stepped it up, and have so much grit and determination. We had a 280-pin lead at one point in the tournament and to lose that lead is hard for any team in any sport, losing a lead late in the game. They gut it out and brought it back. It says so much about their resiliency and willingness to never give up.”

Middle Country’s girls bowling teammates were all smiles on the bus ride home after being crowned state champions. Photo from Nicole Lettich

Middle Country won a state title in 2013 and since lost three battles to East Islip and one to Sachem for a ticket upstate. This year the girls took the league title before overcoming that county hurdle with a 43-pin win, and weren’t going to let an oil pattern stop them from going all the way. Scarfogliero said the team practiced for the 41-foot Tower of Pisa Kegel pattern, asymmetric in design with a shift to the inside, in the weeks leading up to the tournament. After averaging 215 at the county tournament, Middle Country finished with a 180 average upstate, according to Dominguez, proving even with practice how difficult the sport pattern can be.

“It was a whole new atmosphere,” said Scarfogliero, who leads off for her team. “It took us by surprise, but we worked together as a team so the oil pattern wasn’t as hard. We helped each other and with the oil pattern being so hard I didn’t even think I was going to make it up there [in scoring], but that wasn’t even a priority for me. I wanted to put my team in the best position to win states.”

For Skalacki, her freshman status shouldn’t be misunderstood. The three-year varsity team member bowled a 193.83 average, just about three pins under first. As the team’s anchor, she said there’s a lot of pressure when her team needs extra points at the end of each game, but she thrives under it.

Middle Country’s girls bowling team hoists up the state championship banner. Photo from Middle Country school district

“If we need a certain amount of pins to win, I have to get them, but I love the attention and the competition,” said Skalacki, who was strongest in the first three games, bowling a tournament-high 226 for Game 1. “It’s heart-dropping, and I love knowing I play a big part in helping the team come out with a win.”

She said after finally topping East Islip, she knew Middle Country had a lot to prove, and the team wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a perfect finish.

“We had the biggest motivation to win,” she said. “Now people know Middle Country and know how good we are. We wanted to prove people wrong — to show we have what it takes — and we did it.”


Bowling right up twins’ alley

Bowling is how the Lettich twins roll.

The duo each competed for a state title last weekend in Syracuse, and clean swept their senior season with gold medals in their respective tournaments.

“It’s honestly breathtaking to make it this far and win it all,” Nicole Lettich said, noting that she was on the 2013 state championship winning team, but didn’t yet have the skills to be invited to compete. “Going to the state tournament with my brother who I’ve been so close with was probably the most amazing thing I could have done in my senior year.”

Middle Country twins Nicole and Thomas Lettich took home state gold. Photo from Nicole Lettich

The twins’ mother bowled in high school, and found they had their own itch to compete after competing in a league in second grade.

“Bowling is such an underrated sport in high school, and to finally win it all proves to schools that bowling shouldn’t be brushed under the carpet, but actually acknowledged more because it is a very difficult sport,” she said. “A lot of people don’t see it that way.”

Middle Country finished with a grand total 5,332 pins, nearly 200 ahead of second-place finisher Orchard Park (5,157). Her brother Thomas Lettich competed on the Section XI boys All-Star team. He’d averaged 224 during the regular season, and said even though he’d won his team’s MVP awards, and was named an All-Star, All-County and All-League bowler, he was most confident competing because of the last month’s worth of practicing six day a week.

“I have grown so much over the years, improving my physical and mental game,” he said. “Since I am a lefty and had an advantage and disadvantage since I’m the only one on the left side. The lanes were brand new, so I knew it was going to be difficult, but being chosen to compete on this team with a group of boys that I was very close with and were fun to bowl with was a goal of mine.”

He said it was a unique experience competing alongside his sister.

“When I am bowling bad she supports me and helps me, and when she’s bowling bad I support her and help her,” Thomas Lettich said. “She unfortunately didn’t have the ability to watch me, but I was able to cheer her on in her match and it was exciting to have the chance to be together. We had great accomplishments and it’s a great way to go out.”

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Mike Ruggieri grabs hold of his opponent’s leg to try and send him to the ground. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Mustangs took pinning down their opponents quite literally Tuesday.

Mount Sinai’s wrestling team made short work of visiting Southampton Jan. 9, scoring almost as many points from forfeits as it did wins in a 90-0 win, with all nine of the grapplers matchups resulting in pins in the first or second period.

Joe Sabella controls his unable-to-move opponent by wrapping his legs around him. Photo by Bill Landon

The fastest victory of the evening was from 160-pounder Joe Goodrich, a sophomore who had his hand raised just 28 seconds into his match. Junior Mike Ruggieri’s challenger at 285 didn’t fare much better, falling
victim to the Mustang in 33 seconds.

“We knew that [Southampton is] very young, and we had a pretty good chance to win with a good team this year, but we wanted to make sure that we’re still wrestling well,” Mount Sinai head coach Matt Armstrong said. “We kept a couple of kids out of the match tonight because they’re not 100 percent, and we want to be at full strength for the start of the dual meet championships.”

Mount Sinai will compete in the Suffolk County individual championships Jan. 12 before the dual meet championships, which begin Jan. 17.

“The strength of our team is how close we all are — if one kid’s over[weight] we’ll all go in the gym, we’ll all run,” said senior Jake Croston, who won his 220-pound matchup due to a forfeit. “And if a kid wants to work on something that beat him in practice, we all stay after to help him work on that.”

Brendan Goodrich grabs his guy from behind to toss him to the mat. Photo by Bill Landon

Michael Zarif, who won his match by forfeit at 138 pounds, agreed with Croston about Mount Sinai’s ingredients for success.

“We’re working hard every day in practice — we just keep going, we never stop working toward the county title,” the senior said. “And that’s our goal, that’s what we’re working for this year. This is kind of a warm-up.”

Matt Campo, a 126-pound sophomore who eclipsed the 100-match win mark this season and placed third in the state last season, spent little time in the ring, but still topped his opponent with a pin at the 1:32 mark.

“[This win] gives me a lot of confidence going into the county competition — I feel I should have a good tournament,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing some good competition, get a win and go back to the states this year.”

Armstrong pointed to eighth-grader Joe Sabella as a standout in the gym for his level of dedication and unparalleled work ethic despite being the youngest in the group.

Antonio Palmiotto prepares to escape from his challenger. Photo by Bill Landon

“Joe has come up and helped fill the lineup and has been seeing success more lately due the fact of how hard he works every day,” the coach said. “I’m very proud of him sticking this out and finally seeing some success.”

The 113-pounder wasted no time pinning his challenger at 1:26 to bank six more points for his team.

“[I have to] just attack — I can’t play it safe when I don’t have the advantage,” the young competitor said. “When I had my legs [around him], that’s when I knew I had the advantage and he couldn’t get up.”

Junior Vin Valente came away with another fast pin at 152 pounds, winning in 1:06. According to Armstrong, Valente has made tremendous progress over last year and, as with all of his Mustangs, has high expectations for him this postseason.

“Vin has also improved so much from last season,” Armstrong said. “I hope to see him and the rest of my guys place high this year in the Division II county tournament.”

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Vin Miceli wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

By Desirée Keegan

Panic could have set in for Port Jefferson, but its wrestlers remained calm under pressure.

With sole possession of the League VIII title on the line in a 24-24 meet against Center Moriches Jan. 9, the core of the Royals lineup came through, as it always has, to help Port Jefferson to a 41-34 away victory and first conference crown since 2012.

“It was an awesome feeling being able to win the league title, and seeing how excited my team and coaches are to achieve this,” 132-pounder Vin Miceli said. “I think we wrestled tough, but there were some matches where we could use some work.”

At 126 pounds, senior Robbie Williams sparked the turnaround. He had lost to his Center Moriches opponent, Dustin Dunkirk, twice before in close matches, and Port Jefferson head coach Mike Maletta said he thought maybe psychologically Williams felt he couldn’t beat him. The coach said he considered matching his grappler up against someone else, but at a tournament in New Rochelle, where Williams went 2-2 and was one match away from placing, Maletta saw him wrestle through adversity.

Rick D’Elia wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

“When he was coming off the mat I said, ‘You did a good job today,’ and he said, ‘No, coach, if I did a good job today I’d be placing,’” Maletta said of the conversation between he and Williams Jan. 6. “My mentality changed, and I told him he’s going to face his opponent head-to-head.”

Williams started off 2-0, scoring back points early, and earned three more on a near pin to end the scoring for the first period. He score two more points with 44 seconds left in the third to go up 7-0, before surrendering a point when letting his opponent loose with the hope of taking him down again for a major decision, which he couldn’t get before time expired.

“He ended up a takedown away from bonus points,” Maletta said. “That’s not only flipping the score, that’s making a statement — and he’s wrestling up a weight class because he’s really a 120-pounder. He’s wrestling well at the right time, and I felt pretty confident where we were going to go from there.”

Miceli, who is undefeated, and 19-3 Joe Evangelista followed up Williams and backed up the head coach’s confidence.

The five-year grapplers took to the circle with Miceli also coming away with a 5-0 lead heading into the second period of his match. At 1:06, he got two takedown points and worked for a cradle, but couldn’t complete it, though grabbing three points for his effort and a 10-0 lead going into the final two minutes. He earned two back points to start the third, and let his opponent loose to try to get the pin or a final takedown for a technical fall. At the buzzer, he cradled his opponent once following his fourth takedown to earn the 17-1 major decision.

“I felt I didn’t wrestle to my full potential during my match, and realize there is still more I need to improve on,” Miceli said. “I felt worried and frustrated at first that I was not able to get those bonus points, but I knew my teammates after me would give their opponents a good fight.”

Joe Evangelista wrestled to a crucial win against Center Moriches to help Port Jefferson claim its first league title in six years. File photo

Ryan Robertson, a 138-pounder, went up against a Top 8 state wrestler in Donald Wood and was pinned at the 1:21 mark to help Center Moriches close within five points overall, 35-30, but the 145-pound Evangelista pinned his opponent in 4:06 to seal the deal.

“He does what is expected of him, he pins his guy and the match is out of Center Moriches’ hands,” Maletta said. “It’s great — it’s kind of tough to celebrate on a Monday, but they’re true wrestlers anyway because they’re right back at it ready to get to practice tomorrow and fix their mistakes.”

Conrad Sund and brothers Anthony and Rick D’Elia came away with pins for Port Jefferson. Harry Cona and Brendan Rogers earned one-point victories, 1-0 and 4-3. Maletta said it was those matches that meant all the difference in the win.

“If either one of those went the other way we wouldn’t have won the title,” Maletta said. “They all came to wrestle; they all showed up to compete, which was great to see. The coaching is done at this point and they have to respond to situations, and they did.”

Chris Lepore, a senior who battled his challenger to a 2-0 finish for the second win of the night, said he sees things only escalating for Port Jefferson from this point.

“I’m loving where we’re going,” he said. “Getting a league title [in] my senior year is special, and we’ve all been working hard to get there, but what makes us so successful is we don’t focus on the bigger picture. We psyche ourselves up to win our match, push ourselves to the limit and put ourselves in the best position to support our team.”

Commack sophomore Christian Berbert has appealed to Section XI to be allowed to compete on the girls varsity gymnastics team this season. Photo from the Berbert family

As young as 7, Christian Berbert knew what he wanted to do with his life. After his parents set up a trampoline in the backyard, Christian wasted no time in putting it to good use. The natural-born athlete approached the trampoline less as a fun accessory and more as a mini training facility.

“He was like a dolphin to water,” Wayne Berbert said of his son’s first foray into gymnastics. “He just started jumping and flipping within days of having it. This has always been his sport — nothing compares to this.”

But Christian, a Commack High School sophomore and member of Artistic Gymnastics in Hauppauge, is now being forced to defend his dream in front of a panel of county officials.

Christian, 15, has been repeatedly denied the opportunity to join the high school’s girls varsity gymnastics team this season despite three appeals before Section XI, the governing body of athletics in Suffolk County, since the start of the 2017 school year. Because there aren’t any varsity boys gymnastics team in New York State, competing with the girls is Christian’s only shot to pursue his passion in a school setting.

The sophomore has the overwhelming support from members of the girls gymnastics team, his school’s adminstrator and athletic director.

“We will continue to advocate to provide an opportunity for this young man to compete alongside the girls as we feel it would be in the best interests of our student to participate on the Commack team,” read a statement on the school district’s home page Oct. 10, the day of the most recent appeal.

However, the Section XI panel, headed by Executive Director Thomas Combs, has blocked each request, saying Christian carries too much of a competitive advantage over the girls because he actively trains as a gymnast. There is also a concern among the board that his placement on the team will take a spot away from a girl.

But their arguments don’t hold water, according to Christian’s parents, who have appeared in his defense during the appeals process. Berbert said it’s unfair to claim his son has a competitive advantage since he’s never actually competed against the girls “so there’s no way to determine that.”

He also added that just because Christian’s a boy, it’s wrong to assume he is physically stronger than the girls.

“In gymnastics, strength is not really a determining factor,” Berbert said. “And the girls team doesn’t cut anybody from the team so everyone would be able to participate.”

“It’s deplorable how people in public education can do this to a child,” Christian’s father said. “They should be doing everything in their power to include kids, not exclude them. He’s being told ‘you can’t do the thing you love to do’ and for a 15-year-old kid, that’s tough.”

Christian’s mother, Karen Berbert, said while she agrees with the notion that girls should have equal opportunities, “you can’t diminish the boys and take away from them.”

“The same thing that the board is arguing, that the girls should have every opportunity, and they should, but so should the boys,” said his mother, who fears her son’s inability to compete in high school could affect his chances at receiving scholarships for college. “He wants to be part of the school. He wants to be involved. Gymnastics is his right arm.”

In September, the girls on the team wrote personal letters to Section XI members in support of Christian’s appeal to compete.

Alexandra Lewis, a sophomore gymnast, said the team “will develop more teamwork, school spirit, and positivity by having [him].” Sophomore Stella Rentzeperis wrote it was unfair to deny Christian a chance to compete because “our gymnastics program does not say girls or boys … both genders are allowed.”

Lilli Ferro, a sophomore on the team, said Christian comes to every practice and meet.

“We all really like him and he really wants to be on the team,” Lilli said. “I don’t believe it would hurt us if he was on the team. He would help us.”

Christian’s situation coincides with that of Liam Summers, a 15-year-old sophomore and gymnast at Connetquot High School, who is currently being denied to join his school’s girls team by
Section XI. He was able to be on the team last season because he had never competed in school or in a private club. Now, with more experience, he’s looked at as having a competitive advantage.

Christian, who trains four days a week and three hours each day, said the Section XI board is not
doing the right thing.

“What they’re doing to me and all the other kids trying to do what I’m trying to do is all wrong and completely unfair,” Christian said. “I think I can do real well on the team and give them support and help and just make the team stronger and better. But they don’t see that and, instead, think I’m going to ruin the girls’ chances. They’re completely

The 2016 Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame induction class was honored at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. Photo by Alex Petroski

By Alex Petroski

Greatness in the world of athletics was on display to be celebrated Friday night. Members of the 27th class of the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame were inducted at a ceremony held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Hauppauge. They will join past inductees like Boomer Esiason and Craig Biggio in the pantheon of impactful Suffolk sports figures.

“Each year we induct the very best of Suffolk County,” Master of Ceremonies and 1999 Hall of Fame inductee David Weiss said to kick off the evening. “These are men and women on and off the playing field who had a positive and lasting impact, and have left a legacy for all of Suffolk County.”

Among the inductees were Northport star lacrosse player Jill Byers; Setauket resident and 27-year New York Jets beat reporter, Rich Cimini; legendary Harborfields football coach and Smithtown football star, Tom Combs; the first varsity boys’ basketball coach at Comsewogue, Frank Romeo; and Deer Park three-sport standout and football All-American at Stony Brook University, Chuck Downey. Richie LoNigro, owner of Port Jefferson Sporting Goods, which has been open since 1973, was also honored with a special recognition award.

Byers graduated from Northport in 2005. She is the only athlete to be named All-Long Island team in three sports during her high school career, playing basketball, soccer and lacrosse. She was a two-time All-American in lacrosse during high school, and also received the distinction four times during her career at the University of Notre Dame. She also competed on the United States women’s lacrosse national team.

“African proverb states that it takes a village to raise a child,” Byers said during the ceremony Friday. She credited, among others, her three older brothers for her success, stating that they never let her win at anything. “Thank you to my village for giving me the opportunity to represent you here tonight.”

Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski
Setauket resident Rich Cimini was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a beat reporter for the New York Jets. Photo by Alex Petroski

Cimini is the longest tenured Jets beat reporter in team history, working for the Daily News, Newsday and for the past six years, ESPN. He has received awards from the Associated Press and the Pro Football Writers of America for his work over the years.

He joked that he didn’t feel like he belonged in a class with people who accomplished so much on the field, being that his accomplishments took place entirely in the press box.

“I feel like the nerd who got invited to the cool kids party,” Cimini said.

He mentioned his supportive parents and his understanding wife of 25 years, who is okay with planning their lives yearly around the NFL schedule.

“She’s the real hall of famer in our family,” Cimini said of his wife Michelle, who is actually a lifelong New York Giants season ticket holder.

Tom Combs has been the athletic director in the Patchogue-Medford school district since 2003. Before that, he played Division II football at Ashland University in Ohio following his four years at Smithtown. He became the head football coach at Harborfields in 1990, where he won five county championships and two Long Island Championships over a 13-year run.

“I am humbled by the talent and accomplishments of this class,” Combs said. “I’m just very honored and blessed to be up here.”

Combs has two daughters who followed in his footsteps and became teachers and coaches.. He thanked his family, friends and players for helping him to achieve the successes that led to his induction.

“Being a football coach is always something I wanted to do,” he said, adding that his players earning scholarships to attend college and play football was always important to him. “That’s what I’m always proud of as a coach.”

In 1968, Frank Romeo became the first varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue. During a 24-year span, Romeo led Comsewogue to eight league titles, one large school Section XI title and 15 straight playoff appearances. From 1987 to 1990, Romeo’s record was 62-5. He left Comsewogue to become the head basketball coach at Suffolk County Community College in 1992, where he made the playoffs in all of his seven seasons there.

Romeo used the word “we” repeatedly about his spot in the Hall of Fame.

“For all of my former players at Comsewogue and at Suffolk Community College — they were the main ingredient in the term ‘we,’” he said. “They did the playing and they made the sacrifices. Some years we were good enough to win championships and other years we played just as hard and we didn’t win championships. They can now be assured that they made their mark in Suffolk County. They got us to the Hall of Fame.”

Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski
Frank Romeo was inducted into the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as varsity basketball coach at Comsewogue High School and Suffolk County Community College. Photo by Alex Petroski

Chuck Downey was a standout wrestler, football player and lacrosse player during his years at Deer Park. He was a part of Stony Brook University’s first football team in 1984, where he still holds nearly 30 school records and 12 NCAA records. He was a three-time All-American while at Stony Brook, which earned him a professional contract with the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles. That marked the first time a Stony Brook athlete signed a professional sports contract. Downey has since followed in the footsteps of his father Raymond, an FDNY Battalion Chief. His father died in the line of duty on Sept. 11, 2001.

Weiss gave Downey a memorable introduction.

“What a great way to end a wonderful evening with an inductee who epitomizes the word hero from a family of heroes,” Weiss said of the last member to be announced.

Downey joked that he’d rather be in a burning building then standing in front of a room full of people to speak.

“I’m truly honored and deeply grateful to be up here tonight along with these other amazing athletes,” he said.

Many of Richie LoNigro’s 12 children, 25 grandchildren and five great grandchildren were present to honor the man who has become a fixture in Port Jefferson.

“I own a business that makes trophies and trophies are things that we’re all very proud of. I brought my trophies with me tonight and they’re all sitting out there in the audience,” he said, talking about his family. “These are my trophies and awards, and I take them with me wherever I go.”

To learn more about the Suffolk Sports Hall of Fame visit www.suffolksportshof.com.

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Justin Julich competes for Port Jefferson in the steeplechase in the St. Anthony’s Invitational. Photo from the athlete

The Royals have always risen to the occasion, and the boys’ track and field team hopes their efforts this year on the state stage will be no exception.

Despite missing the entire spring season with an Achilles tendon injury, Port Jefferson standout James Burke — and two of his fellow Royals — placed in the Section XI individual championships and state qualifier on their home track last Friday and Saturday, to advance to the state championship this weekend at the University at Albany.

“It was devastating to lose James this spring season,” Port Jefferson head coach Rod Cawley said. “He’s the captain of the team and one of the best athletes in the state. But it’s quite an accomplishment to have three athletes competing this weekend.”

Although this season’s squad did not win any of the championships the Royals usually nab, like the league, division and county titles, the boys still finished the dual-meet season with a 5-1 record — dropping only their final matchup against Wyandanch, 79-59 — despite missing Burke, as well as junior Billy Witrock for a portion of the schedule.

Although he did not compete during the regular season, Burke placed second in the 1,600-meter, his signature event, at the qualifying meet with a time of 4 minutes, 18.39 seconds — only five-hundredths of a second behind Ward Melville’s John Ripa.

The Royal has finished that event as fast as 4:08.48, during the New Balance Nationals Indoor at the Armory in Manhattan earlier this year. The time made him the second-fastest miler in the country and earned him a silver medal.

“I give him credit for coming back and coming in second,” Cawley said about the qualifier. “The plan was to go out and try to take it easy to rest his tendon, but being the competitor that he is, there’s no taking it easy. He went from the back of the race all the way to the front in second place there, and then he moved to first for a little while, but he also got stepped on during the race — since [his Achilles] was injured anyway, that didn’t help.”

Burke spent a lot of time trying to heal following his injury, and slowly worked himself up to being able to run again.

“He goes around the neighborhood to people who have pools, and asks if he could swim,” Cawley said, laughing. “He’s been to four or five different pools in Port Jeff. … He likes to run in the water in the deep end to simulate running — not touching the bottom — and then he’ll swim laps to get some cardiovascular aspects of it.”

Port Jefferson's Alden Mohacsi pole vaults in a previous meet. Photo from the athlete
Port Jefferson’s Alden Mohacsi pole vaults in a previous meet. Photo from the athlete

Also heading to states is senior pole-vaulter Alden Mohacsi, whose fourth-place finish at the qualifier was a new personal record, making the state bid that much sweeter.

“I’m definitely looking forward to states,” said Mohacsi, who has been on the team since he was a freshman. “I’m practicing every day and there’s been a lot of personal development. I’m going to do the best that I can this week to improve my form and I’m hoping to hit 13 feet this Friday.”

Junior Justin Julich had several successes of his own, competing in the 3,200 and 3,000 steeplechase.

On Friday, Julich hit a new personal record of his own in the two-mile run with a 9:48 — nine seconds better than his standard 9:57 — to finish eighth. Just hours after competing in the 3,200 the evening before, Julich ran a 10:16 in the steeplechase on Saturday to place seventh and qualify for states.

“It’s awesome to do really good at that high of a level,” Julich said. “Competing against the best guys in the county, it always helps to do your best in those kinds of situations.”

Julich is also looking to reach a new personal best in that event this Saturday, and his head coach said the runner has grown a lot over the years, aiding in his success.

“He’s come a long way,” Cawley said. “He was a little guy back in freshman year and now he’s going to be a team leader next year. He was exhausted Saturday morning. It’s a very difficult [double event] to do in 16 hours, but he didn’t complain; he went out there and did it. He knows he has to step up.”

Julich, Mohacsi, Parker Schoch and Alex Rebic also competed in the 4×800 relay in the state qualifier, finishing 12th in 8:50.

Looking ahead to this weekend, Cawley and his athletes are confident that they can be successful on the big stage.

“I think we have a pretty good chance to do very well,” the head coach said. “James is James; I know he will do well just because of his past. Alden is a tough competitor, and I think Justin has an opportunity to do well, too.”

Mohacsi said the program’s winning tradition has facilitated the athletes’ improvements.

“It’s been an absolute pleasure to be a part of this team and this program,” he said. “It’s built me up physically and mentally, and I’m really grateful for the super-talented and supportive teammates and coaches I’ve had. It’s inspired me to keep pushing myself beyond the best of my abilities; to work hard and give it 110 percent.”

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Jake MacGregor prepares to send the ball into play. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Comsewogue boys’ lacrosse players are returning a year wiser and are looking to avenge a bitter loss from the end of last season.

Despite starting a lot of underclassmen last year, the team made it to the Suffolk County Class B semifinals, where the Warriors fell to Miller Place, 6-5.

“We wanted to win the county championship, so I think it gives the returning players a little bit more of an edge this year to achieve that goal,” junior defender Matt Spahr said. “Every practice everyone comes out with a lot of intensity and energy. It makes everyone really compete for a spot. No one is ever complacent and everyone is always on their toes.”

Matt Spahr reaches for the ball. File photo by Bill Landon
Matt Spahr reaches for the ball. File photo by Bill Landon

The Warriors have benefited from a clean turf field this preseason. Persevering through the tough winter, the boys have shoveled snow off the field three times and haven’t missed an outdoor practice, which will get them off to a good start.

“It’s a lot better for us to be out there on the turf because some of the other teams don’t have the opportunity to play out there, so we’re getting a lot of touches and open field looks,” junior goalkeeper Jake MacGregor said. “It’s better than being in the gym and having all of those tight spaces where we can’t run and stretch our legs out a lot.”

According to Comsewogue head coach Pete Mitchell, the improvements the team made last year should carry over into this season and the Warriors are returning some strong players on defense, which is the heart of the team.

“Defense at Comsewogue is always a focal point,” MacGregor said. “We rely mainly on our defense. I feel like we could push lots of transitions and score lots of goals off our defensive turnovers.”

Mitchell will be leaning on three-year starters MacGregor, an All-County player; Spahr, who recently signed to play with the University at Albany; senior faceoff specialist Zach Deutsch; and junior defenseman Stephen Reed, who is also All-County.

All of those defensive returners will be crucial to pulling the team together to start the season, as the young offense continues to progress in outdoor practices.

“Our defense creates a lot of offensive opportunities for us, but we have to be able to score,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been working a lot with the offense, trying to hone their junior varsity skills into varsity skills. We’re still very young on that end, so there are going to be some growing pains at the beginning of the year.”

Zach Deutsch wins the ball off the faceoff in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Zach Deutsch wins the ball off the faceoff in a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

Another adjustment for the team will be new competition in Hauppauge and Kings Park, as a result of a league realignment. Comsewogue and the other Class B schools are now in League 3.

“I think the Class Bs are very, very good,” Mitchell said. “Our [league] is, I think, very diverse, and there are 10 teams that could be county champs this year. It’s very balanced, and it’s good for lacrosse — there should be a lot of exciting lacrosse games.”

MacGregor said although there will be a bunch of tough matchups, the guys are taking it one game at a time, with the first coming on Thursday, at Mount Sinai at 7 p.m.

“I’ve been playing with these guys since I was in third grade, so we know each other really well — we have good connections and chemistry,” he said. “I feel like it’ll transfer well into game-time situations. We have a lot of good players that can make some great plays, and we’re just focusing in on Mount Sinai right now.”