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State Championship

Twin talks the double win, push to best his brother Isaiah, following in footsteps of twins of years past

Elijah Claiborne celebrates after checking the scoreboard to confirm his first-place finish in the 800-meter run. Photo from Section XI

Elijah Claiborne has always come second, but this time, the state meet was his stage to shine on.

Elijah Claiborne crosses the 1,600-meter finish line with ease. Photo from Northport athletics

The senior has fallen short to his twin brother Isaiah, and, like at the state indoor meet, to Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed. Instead of the close finishes deterring the senior from the sport, they’ve motivated him to work harder. Even though his older brother opted out of the state outdoor championships to attend the Brooks PR meet, spectators were still seeing double. Claiborne placed first in the 800 in 1 minute, 52.33 seconds, and first in the 1,600 in 4:10.01.

“Things went perfectly,” Claiborne said. “After not qualifying last year I really wanted this. [Isaiah] has always been better than me and I’ve closed the gap between me and him. My goal is to beat him or run a faster time than him whenever I get the chance. He’s always my driving factor.”

His other motivator was falling just milliseconds behind Ahmed this past March.

“I changed my race strategy and I started trying a lot harder during practice,” he said. “I stopped skipping runs and focused more on how I execute race plans and getting myself prepared.”

Elijah Claiborne is congratulated by a fellow runner after the 800-meter run. Photo from Section XI

Head coach Jason Strom has seen his runner’s struggles and said what Claiborne did at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9 was the most incredible performance he has seen at states. The senior was also part of the 4×800 relay with senior Dan O’Connor, junior Sean Ryan and sophomore Thomas Fodor clocked in a photo-finish second place to St. Anthony’s (7:45.78), finishing in 7:45.79.

“He’s had a hard time gaining the respect he deserves because his brother has been a notch faster than him — he’s been second-best even in his own house,” the 12-year Northport coach said of Claiborne. “It was nice for him to have his day to shine, have all eyes on him, and realize the top runner in the state that he is. His athletic ability and talent in the sport is through the roof, and he’s nowhere near his ceiling yet.”

Claiborne said he and his brother were always compared to previous Northport twin track stars Jack and Tim McGowan. The sets of twins have a unique relationship, and their connection will grow when the four become teammates at Pennsylvania State University next year.

“They’re the ones that recruited me,” Claiborne said. “Isaiah and I have always been compared to them, and I’ve always tried to beat their times year after year. It’s created some friendly competition.”

He said he also chose Penn State because he immediately felt at home.

Elijah Claiborne stands atop the 800-meter run podium after his first-place finish. Photo from Northport athletics

“The way they treated us we already felt like members of the team,” he said. “They were all very nice, the facility is very nice. I just felt amazing when I visited, and I’ve always wanted to go to a big school like that. I couldn’t be happier.”

Strom said he always saw potential in Claiborne. The runner competed for soccer and wrestling teams as a freshman, and used his time on the track team to stay in shape. 

After seeing his brother quit wrestling to take on track year-round as a sophomore, he followed suit the next year.

“Coach took me in and built me up to be the best I can be,” Claiborne said. “I’ve made my greatest friends through track. Being a Northport Tiger, it’s been a great four years. I’m just grateful for my teammates, and I’m going to miss them next year.”

He admitted his permanent move to the track team was motivated by his brother’s fast rise to stardom.

“I saw how good he got, and I didn’t want my brother to get better than me, so I joined the team full-time,” Claiborne said. “My brother, how good he got, I wanted to be that great too.”

Now, he is.

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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.”

Senior duo of Allyson Gaedje, Sam Rrutt one-two in 800-meter run; 4x800 relay places third

Kiera Hughes flies over the hurdles. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

Kiera Hughes couldn’t contain her excitement as she rushed off the track toward her family and friends. It was a moment she’d worked day and night for — ensuring she could race just one more time.

The Ward Melville senior crossed the 100-meter hurdle finish line in 14.76 seconds for first place at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Kiera Hughes shows off her new hardware alongside head coach J.P. Dion following her state-qualifying win. Photo from Kiera Hughes

“Really, I took it even slower than that,” Hughes said. “I just wanted to live another day past the preliminary round. I wanted to do as best I could to make sure that I’d qualify to race in the finals.”

She got that and so much more.

“Running — it was so much fun,” Hughes said. “I felt so fast going over the hurdles, I felt so powerful. I was so determined because I really, really wanted to win. And to cross that finish line and see my name at the top of the leaderboard I was ecstatic. I was beyond happy.”

Head coach J.P. Dion and her teammates were cheering her on as she flew down the track. They were on the sideline to congratulate her with hugs and praise following her finish.

“Kiera Hughes has amazed me all year long,” Dion said. “When the pressure is on her she seems to rise to the top — just an amazing competitor.”

Some of the hurdler’s teammates will be taking the trip with her to the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9.

Seniors Allyson Gaedje (2:14.82) and Sam Rutt (2:14.93) pulled off a one-two finish in the 800 run and were a part of the 4×800 relay team that finished third.

“We planned on trying to run the race together,” said Rutt, who also came in second (4:38.02) in the 1,500 just a few seconds behind Shoreham-Wading River phenom Katherine Lee. “We do most of our workouts together, so it was relaxing to be by each other’s side in such a big race like that.”

Gaedje didn’t have the state standard in the 800, or time needed during the regular season at a sanctioned qualifying meet, to compete at states, so she needed a higher placement. Because Rutt already did, having to finish in at least second, so she eased off.

Allyson Gaedje races down the track. File photo by Bill Landon

“When you’re running with your teammate, there’s a little extra motivation to push yourself,” Gaedje said. “We’re all more focused this year, and it’s shown making our times — we’ve seen we can and have run some strong times, so we’re confident. We’re running faster than ever.”

Senior Sam Sturgess and sophomore Elizabeth Radke rounded out the relay quartet that crossed the finish line in 9:35.88. The same girls have been competing together the last couple years, placing third in the state this past indoor season and at New Balance Outdoor Nationals last June.

Dion said he’s continuously tried to get his student-athletes to believe in the process, and more importantly, in themselves. Over the years, as Gaedje pointed out, it’s led to results.

“These kids competing this weekend have been the heartbeat of Ward Melville girls track over the past four years,” he said. “This has been a very special group for us.”

And a group of seniors that, although close to graduating, are still anxious to get back on the track.

“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to race as fast as I can, and I’m hoping for a new personal record and to stay up there with all of the other girls that are competing,” Hughes said. “I’m a pretty determined person — I always was to improve myself and push myself. I’m looking to be a role model for the younger girls and race another day.”

Ward Melville's relay team comes in first place in 200 medley

Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Louser pushes his way through the 100-yard breaststroke. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Junior Jason Louser has a reason to love his home pool a little more these days. The Shoreham-Wading River swimmer took home two first-place finishes in the state championships at Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow March 3. Louser was one of three two-time individual state champions, earning co-most outstanding swimmer award honors and All-American nods in the 100-yard breaststroke and 200 individual medley.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser (black trunks) start the 200-yard individual medley just ahead of Ward Melville’s David He (in front on left). Photo by Bill Landon

“He has so much potential, and what we’ve seen today is just the tip of the iceberg,” Louser’s coach Kate Canard said. “He’s very humble and he’s very kind, so that speaks volumes. When he wins, he’s a nice person.”

Louser touched the wall in the 100 breaststroke in 55.07 seconds, just ahead of Hauppauge’s Casey Jackson, who finished in 55.19. Ward Melville’s David He, Louser’s to challenger throughout the weekend, came in third in 56.59.

Trailing the majority of the 200 individual medley, Louser made a strong push in the final 25 yard to stop the clock in a personal best 1:48.20 to finish just shy of breaking Just Plaschka of Hauppauge’s 2014 record (1:47.83). Ward Melville’s David He was second in 1:51.13.

“I wasn’t expecting to set a state record, but I knew that to win that event I had to go out faster, because [Ward Melvill’e David] He is a better backstroker than I am,” Louser said. “I’m a breaststroker, and that definitely helps, but I could feel [He] on my feet.”

Ward Melville’s Luka Zuric competes in the 100-yard butterfly. Photo by Bill Landon

He redeemed his second and third-place finishes by racing in the first-place 200 medley relay with Ryan Kaplan, Luka Zuric and Cameron Kubik. The quartet tripped the timer at 1:33.79. Their performance just missed the state record by 37 hundredths of a second set last year by St. Anthony’s.

“It wasn’t a great split,” said He, who raced the second leg, or breaststroke. “I wasn’t really thinking, because there was such an adrenaline rush running through me. So I kept on moving my hands trying to get to the wall as soon as possible.”

Zuric, who swam the third leg, got a little off pace after forgetting to breathe on his first lap. Kubik, the team’s anchor, made up for lost time to finish just ahead of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (1:34.03), even though he too forgot to breathe.

“I was a little off my split [time] from yesterday, but I still felt,” Kubik said. “I had to catch up from third, and I didn’t take a single breath becuase I was so excited.”

Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said he was confident in his relay team, knowing its second-half abilities. He was happy to see his seniors pull out a win in their final meet.

Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan races in his leg of the 200-yard medley relay. Photo by Bill Landon

“I knew a couple of the other schools had a stronger backstroker and breaststroker combination, Hauppauge in particular, but I knew our second half was really, really strong,” Gordon said. “Luca and Cameron swam unbelievable. I was happy because we were ahead of our pace yesterday. I had so much faith in these guys.”

Zuric finished third in the 100 butterfly (50.26) and Comsewogue sophomore Jake Vecchio ended the race in fifth (51.15). Hauppauge’s Trenton Burr made it to third in the 100 backstroke (50.49) and Zuric placed sixth (51.55). The Northport 300 freestyle reay team of Zachary Papsco, Nicholas Millkey, Ethan Greenfield and Dylan Karpf claimed sixth place in 1:27.33. These points helped Section XI finish the meet with 764.5 overall points, well ahead of second-place Section VIII, which had 572.5

Louser has his sights set a little higher for his senior sesaon, especially in individual medley, being he was so close to breaking the state record.

“I have another year to go for that,” he said, laughing.

The junior is one of three Top 5 returnees in his two events combined. His head coach is looking forward to seeing what her swimmer can do next.

“He’s so dedicated to the sport, and so are his parents — he comes here to East Meadow every day for practice,” Canard said. “I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s Jason Louser stands atop the 200-yard individual medley podium. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Ryan Kaplan, David He, Luka Zuric and Cameron Kubic stand at the top of the podium as the 200-yard medley relay champions. Photo by Bill Landon

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Port Jefferson 126-pound senior Vin Miceli maintains control over his opponent. Photo from Section XI

By Desirée Keegan

Down 7-0 in the state wrestling semifinal with 50 seconds left, a switch flipped for Vin Miceli, leading to him wrestling his best, most exciting match of his career when it mattered most.

Vin Miceli embraces head coach Mike Maletta, on right, and gets a pat on the back from brother Nick, on left, after his semifinal come-from-behind win. Photo from Vin Miceli

“I remember watching a match a week prior to states when another wrestler was down six points in the third period with short time left, and ended up coming back and winning the match,” the Port Jefferson senior 126-pounder said. “So I said to myself, ‘Why can’t I do this?’”

He started letting his opponent get up for one point, only to take him down for two. Doubling up on points, he finished the match ahead 12-10, guaranteeing himself at least a second-place finish.

“It was one of the best feelings ever winning that match,” Miceli said. “Something I will never forget.”

The No. 3 seed was taken down twice early in the final and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title at Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. Even knowing his challenger’s pedigree, the Bloomsburg University commit didn’t let Anderson’s credentials stymie his confidence, or his eagerness to get out on the mat and wrestle in the last match of his high school career.

“I knew my opponent was going to be a challenge, and I knew he was going to come out at me aggressive, so I had to do the same back,” Miceli said. “I was super excited to be able to wrestle in the New York state finals, but was also a bit sad knowing that was my last high school match ever. Being able to wrestle on that stage is not an opportunity everyone gets, so I was definitely pumped to be there.”

Port Jefferson senior Vin Miceli sizes up his opponent. Photo from Section XI

Head coach Mike Maletta pulled his varsity athlete up from middle school in eighth-grade, after he went 11-0 the year prior. Miceli is one of the youngest wrestlers to exceed 20 wins in Port Jefferson history as an eighth grader, and finished his Royal career with 140 wins, second to 2016 graduate Matteo DeVincenzo (148).

“When Vin gets beat, he gets up, stands tall and comes back for more,” Maletta said. “That semifinal match was a culmination of that work. He said he wasn’t going to be denied. For him to get the reward for what he’s worked so hard for is satisfying for all of us. He knew it was his time.”

By the end of his career, Miceli evolved from the young varsity grappler he once was. He earned a spot in the state tournament his freshman year, but went 1-2. He lost in the county finals his sophomore and junior years, missing a bid to states, but this time around, he knew he was ready for a different result. The 126-pounder said he wrestled 80 offseason matchups, squeezed in double practices and private lessons on Sundays, and even saw a nutritionist to make sure he was strong and healthy at the weight he was competing at, while cutting his weight the right way, because he’d struggled with that in the past.

“I knew I was well prepared for this moment and I wasn’t letting anything stop me from getting on that podium,” Miceli said. “I knew I did everything I could to make sure I was 100 percent ready to go up there and compete.”

Vin Miceli has his arm raised after a state tournament win. Photo from Section XI

His father, Joe Miceli, said what he enjoyed most was seeing his son Nick, a former Port Jefferson wrestler, out on the mat by his brother’s side as an assistant coach, especially during the semifinal match.

“Seeing the two of them out on the mat celebrating after that win was really special,” Joe Miceli said. “Losing was frustrating in his sophomore and junior years, and he wanted to make sure he put the work in to get back up there again. Wrestling and dedicating himself the way he has, built a lot of character in him and made him very self-dependent. It’s sink or swim out there, and he developed well. This season was more than anyone expected.”

Vin Miceli said the sport has taught him many valuable lessons, and he’ll remain proud to don the purple and white, even if he was in Section XI blue and white up on the podium.

“Wrestling has made me the person I am today,” Miceli said. “Wrestling is not only a sport, but is something that will help you grow and mature as a person and change the way you look at things in life. I was able to make bonds with friends that will never be broken, and memories that will never be forgotten. Winning matches has been one of the best feelings, but it’s more about knowing that all that work you have put in has paid off. Being on that state podium is always something I dreamed if and worked for, and now I can say that standing up there is an awesome feeling.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, third from right, stands atop the Division II 126-pound podium. Photo from Vin Miceli

Wins 138-pound Division II state championship in sudden victory

Mount Sinai 138-pounder Mike Zarif leaps into head coach Matt Armstrong's arms after winning his state championship finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

Mike Zarif treated his final appearance on a high school mat like he would any other. He completed his pre-match ritual of splashing cold water on his face and praying before stepping out under the state championship finals lights. He was confident in his abilities, and didn’t need a saving grace.

“I told myself, whatever happens, happens, but I knew I was ready,” the Mount Sinai wrestler said. “All the work I’ve put in was going to pay off.”

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif stands atop the Division II 138-pound championship podium. Photo from Matt Armstrong

The fifth seed at 138 pounds in Division II, Zarif won his first state title in dazzling sudden victory fashion, 6-4, when he used a Merkle, or a side headlock, to get takedown points against No. 3-seeded Riley Gerber of Camden. The maneuver was completed with seconds left in overtime inside Albany’s Times Union Center Feb. 24. The referee blew the whistle, and after a long pause, raised two fingers up in the air to signal the back points the senior earned, and ultimately, the win.

Realizing he had just become his coaches’ first state champion, he rushed over to Matt Armstrong and Kurt Wagner, embracing them with open arms.

“Mike lost it,” said Armstrong, the head coach. “We were all so excited for him — so incredibly proud — because we know how hard he’s worked and how in the past year alone his skills have really sharpened. New York boasts top-notch wrestling, and his title was well deserved. He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning. He wasn’t just happy enough with making it to the finals, he took it to an extreme at a very competitive weight class.”

The senior has come a long way in a short time. Zarif started on the varsity team as a sophomore, and said back then, he never thought this day would come.

“He went out there like a man possessed, totally focused on winning.”

— Matt Armstrong

“If you told me as a sophomore I was going to be a state champ my senior year, I would’ve laughed and said ‘I wish,’” Zarif said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I started this journey, and this shows that with hard work, you can accomplish anything.”

He said he took wrestling seriously from the moment he joined the team, dedicating himself to the sport by competing in the offseason, heading to extra practices at Ascend Wrestling Club three days a week after team ones, and entered major tournaments against the cream of the crop.

“He put everything out there and proved it’s not when you start, it’s how you finish,” Zarif’s mother Nissy said. “He wrote in his college essay back in September that he was going to win counties and states. I told him, ‘Wait, don’t write that yet. Don’t’ jump the gun.’ But I’m so glad he did because he made his goals and dreams come true.”

The 138-pounder also learned from his mistakes, noticing the bad positions he’d put himself in that led to giving away points or getting pinned. Knowing this, Zarif was able to take advantage of a mistake in a critical point in the state tournament. Down 3-0 in the quarterfinal against Section I’s Jack Wrobel, the Prawling High School athlete grabbed Zarif’s leg while he was riding him on top, and the Mount Sinai senior worked it to his advantage. He cross-faced Wrobel to his back and pinned him with three second left in the second period.

Mount Sinai wrestler Mike Zarif with his Mustangs coaches after winning his state finals match. Photo from Matt Armstrong

“While losing, I looked over at coach Wagner and he told me the kid was getting tired, and to keep shooting,” said Zarif, who wins most matches by a technical fall, scoring 15 more points than his opponents. “That’s exactly what I did. I just stayed calm — knew that no one in the state can go a full six minutes with me — kept pushing the pace and working for my takedowns. No one in my bracket was unbeatable, and my coaches kept telling me this was my title.”

Port Jefferson’s Vin Miceli, the No. 3 seed at 126 pounds, was taken down twice early and pinned in 1:33 by Schuylerville’s Orion Anderson, who won his third straight state title. Division I Rocky Point’s 120-pounder Anthony Sciotto, the No. 1 seed, fell in the finals in a 9-6 decision to No. 6 Zach Redding of Eastport-South Manor. Sciotto’s teammate Corey Connolly lost 10-4 in the semifinals to top-ranked Jacori Teemer of Long Beach, who made history by becoming the first New York wrestler to win five straight state titles. Ward Melville’s Rafael Lievano lost a close bout, 9-6, in the semifinals at 132 pounds to the eventual state champion, and Smithtown West’s Tim Nagosky lost 6-0 in the 285-pound semis to state champion Deonte Wilson from Amityville. Section XI dominated Division I with 245 points and came in fourth in Division II with 158.5.

Zarif completes his wrestling career with Mount Sinai after the team won the county and first state dual meet team title. He becomes the district’s second ever state champion.

“Mike has helped open the doors — he had a chance to show the kids what can happen when you work hard and dedicate yourself,” Armstrong said. “I can’t say enough good things about the kid. He’s someone we can point to in the future. Nothing comes easy, you must work for everything that you get. You have to make sacrifices — that’s been our motto this year and on all our gear — and that’s a kid that’s sacrificed so much. That’s what it takes to be a champion.”

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By Jim Ferchland

After Corey Connolly’s match-clinching win, he jumped in the arms of assistant coach Anthony Volpe. In that moment, the entire Rocky Point team surrounded them knowing what they just achieved.

“It was amazing,” Connolly said of helping the Eagles to their third consecutive Suffolk County dual meet title Jan. 20 He pinned Brentwood’s Hugo Vasquez in 1 minute, 35 seconds to give his team a commanding 37-3 advantage. “I’m so happy. I’ve waited my whole life to be county champ, and now it’s here. Training with these guys all season — hard work, it actually pays off.”

Rocky Point’s wrestling team beat Brentwood at Bay Shore High School, 37-33 even after chosing to forfeit the final five matches.

“I’m going to wrestle until we clinch,” Rocky Point head coach Darren Goldstein said was his mentality, chosing to protect his final grapplers by not competing if they didn’t need to. “Then when we clinch, we are going to walk off the mat. We are going healthy upstate.”

Senior Jake Pohl (27-10 record) got Rocky Point heading in the right direction when he earned a 5-0 decision over Jean Jasmine at 285 pounds. The Eagles cruised from there.

“It felt really good just knowing I went out there and got the job done,” Pohl said. “Once one person gets going on our team, everyone else gets going. It’s a train you can’t stop.”

Nick LaMorte, a seventh-grader and youngest on Rocky Point’s roster, won in a dazzling 12-9 decision over Fernando Romero in the 99-pound weight class to keep the train rolling.He scored a reversal and two back points in the final 13 seconds for the comeback win.

“It gave us momentum,” Goldstein said. “That can help you build.”

Rocky Point fought in 10 matches and won nine of them, dropping the 106-pound weight class.

After the loss, sophomore Logan Sciotto answered right back for Rocky Point earning a 5-2 decision over Brentwood’s Wenchard Pierre-Louis at 113 pounds. Sophomore Evan Mathias squeezed by Richard Diaz with a 5-3 decision at 120. Senior captain Ryan Callahan won his 138-pound match and classmate Donald Hammarth took his at 145.

Goldstein said he’s excited to be one of the first to represent Suffolk County in the state dual meet championship. Rocky Point will wrestle Jan. 27 at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse. Section XI wrestling chairman Matt DeVincenzo, athletic director at Comsewogue, said 12 teams will be competing in four pools of three teams each, with the winner of each pool heading to the semifinals. The winners of those matchups will face off in the final. The Eagles, in the Division I pool, are grouped with Spencerport (No. 3 seed) and Jamesville-DeWitt, competing on mat three.

“We are going to try our best,” Goldstein said. “We know that we can compete with the best kids in the state — that’s really what we’ve been doing all year long. We got these kids focused, in the right mindset.”

Class C finals victory is Mustangs' fourth in last five years

Rayna Sabella and Leah Nonnenmann celebrate the Mount Sinai girls lacrosse team's third straight Class C state championship win. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

By Desirée Keegan

Head coach Al Bertolone is known for telling his team that all it needs is “five seconds of focus.”

These crucial moments of clarity are needed when his Mount Sinai girls’ lacrosse team is fighting for possession during the draw, but this weekend, his team had a lot more to offer than just five seconds. The Mustangs dominated their semifinal and state final opponents to end the weekend taking home the program’s third straight Class C state title.

During a 16-1 rout of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the semifinals, senior Rayna Sabella controlled the circle, winning 17 of 19 draws and scoring three goals off of her possession wins June 9 at SUNY Cortland.

Rayna Sabella maintains possession off the draw. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

“It’s all mental game — if you have the attitude from the very beginning that you are going to dominate every aspect of the field, and you try your absolute hardest, there’s no doubt you will be unstoppable,” Sabella said. “I just had to keep telling myself that this draw was mine, and that there was nothing stopping me. I knew it was a big part of the game and it was going to be one of the determining factors of the outcome.”

She was also quick to share credit for the title with her teammates.

“Winning the draws was something Emma [Tyrrell], Jenny [Markey] and I knew we had to focus on the entire game,” Sabella added of her teammates, who were relentless on the edge of the circle, waiting to grab a ground ball. “We could not let our guard down.”

Her teammates noted the 5-foot, 3-inch midfielder’s talents speak louder than her small stature.

“In my opinion, Rayna is the best girl to pick for the draw,” senior Leah Nonnenmann said. “At any given moment she’s ready for anything. No matter how much taller the girl is than her, she always comes up with the ball.”

Junior Meaghan Tyrrell, Emma’s older sister, had four goals and two assists, and senior Veronica Venezia and junior Camryn Harloff each chipped in two goals for Mount Sinai, which had a 23-10 shot advantage.

Meaghan Tyrrell evades defenders as she makes her way to the cage. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

The Mustangs opened on an 8-0 run before Sydney Plemenik scored the lone goal for Burnt Hills (12-8). Three goals from Tyrrell in the second half punctuated another 8-0 run for the final result.

Meaghan Tyrrell followed up her showing with five goals and three assists during the Mustangs’ 15-4 win over Honeoye Falls-Lima in the state championship victory June 10. Each of the team’s eight seniors also made contributions while turning in a 10-1 run to blow open the game.

Generally a defense-first team, Mount Sinai (18-2), which outscored its foes 31-5 over the two days upstate, benefitted from an offense that was both relentless and efficient. The Mustangs scored 15 times on 18 shots on goal, showcasing their shooters’ accuracy.

“We play our best offense when we work together and settle into a set offense — moving the ball quick and looking for the perfect shot,” Tyrrell said. “I think this weekend we were able to do all those things successfully to help us score.”

She was also quick to put the focus back on her teammates despite her own performance.

Leah Nonnenmann moves the ball across the field. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

“It’s great to know that the team has faith in me to get them the ball so they can pass or shoot, but they move so well cutting and setting up screens, so they really make it easier for me,” she said. “Being on the field is great because you know you’re doing your part whether it be finishing, passing or winning draws. It feels so great to know I helped my team win another state championship.”

The title is not only the third straight for the Mustangs, but the fourth in the last five years.

“We let no one in our heads, we just played our own game and stay locked in the whole time,” said Nonnenmann, who finished the weekend with three goals and two assists, two goals coming in the finals. “We stay calm, we let everyone get settled, and when we feel we’re ready to attack, we go.”

The Mustangs can also strike quickly though, as Nonnenmann intercepted a goalkeeper’s pass and sent a shot sailing into the netting, and Sabella, who notched three goals and two assists over Honeoye Falls-Lima, scored a quick goal after coming down the alley on a draw win to put the Mustangs up 12-3.

For a Mount Sinai program that previously felt overlooked, it’s safe to say other teams can no longer look past a budding dynasty.

“There’s no better feeling than proving people wrong,” Nonnenmann said. “Since 2015 people thought Mount Sinai was going to fall off the map. Every year we’re the underdogs, but always coming up with the win. I’ve never seen a team more steely-eyed than us. We all play our hardest until the very last whistle, and we’re determined to do great things. I hope next year people don’t give Mount Sinai the short end of the stick, because we mean business when we step out onto the field.”

Sabella also looked to the future shortly after securing the state crown.

“The Mount Sinai legacy is not over yet,” she said. “And it won’t be any time soon.”

Mount Sinai’s girls lacrosse team’s 15-4 win over Honeoye Falls-Lima in a state championship-victory June 10 helped the Mustangs bring home the program’s fourth state title in the last five years. Photo by Lisa Nonnenmann

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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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History might be repeating itself. The Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is taking another trip upstate.

After a 3-0 Class C regional final win over Haldane Nov. 5 for the team’s third straight title, the Royals are back in the state semifinals for the third consecutive year, and are looking for back-to-back state championships.

Right out of the gate, Port Jefferson was able to assert itself as the more physical team, but Haldane’s defense kept the Royals at bay for the first 14 minutes of the game.

Senior midfielder Brittany Fazin scored the opening goal with 25:04 remaining in the first half after beating two defenders and the Haldane keeper one-on-one. With 9:09 left before halftime, senior forward Jillian Colucci added a goal off a corner kick from senior forward Clare O’Connor.

Senior forward Grace Swords added the final goal of the game from 18 yards out off an assist from senior midfielder Amelia Zamek 31 seconds into the second half.

The back line of seniors Kaitlin Connolly, Corinne Scannell, Alexa Wakefield and Camryn Ward had another strong showing, along with junior goalkeeper Brianna Scarda, who made six saves, for the team’s third straight shutout and sixth of the season.

Port Jefferson (15-1-1) will compete against Little Falls in the Class C semifinals Nov. 12 at 5:30 p.m. at Cortland High School.

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