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Mustangs pitcher tosses complete game shutout, smacks RBI single in 5-0 win over Carey in fourth straight try for school's first crown

By Desirée Keegan

Emma Wimmer had been on the Long Island championship stage before, but this time, she wound up with a better result.

Wimmer whiffed eight batters in a complete game shutout, 5-0 win against Carey for Mount Sinai’s first Long Island Class A championship crown. The Mustangs had been to the big dance the last three seasons, but it seems the fourth time’s a charm.

“It feels nice to get the burden off our back,” said Wimmer, who pitched in relief in Mount Sinai’s 7-0 loss to MacArthur in the LIC last year. “We wanted to get a jump early — keep putting the ball in play — and stay strong defensively.”

“It feels nice to get the burden off our back. We wanted to get a jump early — keep putting the ball in play — and stay strong defensively.”

— Emma Wimmer

Wimmer did both. The starting pitcher struck out her first two batters in the bottom of the first before giving up one of just four hits Carey could muster in the game. In the top of the second, the senior’s RBI single to left center scored the first run of the game. Sam Valenti lifted a sacrifice fly to double Mount Sinai’s lead on the next at-bat. Junior Ilexa Skulnick scored on the play.

The plan was to pitch to contact and keep the ball on the ground, according to Wimmer, but her stuff was sharp, and the swings and misses were plentiful.

“I wanted to see how they were hitting, and if they were behind I would’ve thrown more changeups, but the fastballs worked today, and I mixed it up toward the end trying to keep them off-balance,” she said. “It’s such a nice feeling — getting outs, doing it for yourself. And it felt even better standing on that mound in the seventh inning finishing it out.”

An RBI single by Skulnick following a run-scoring error extended Mount Sinai’s lead to 4-0 in the top of the third. Junior Julia Golino went 3-for-4 and drove in senior shortstop Lové Drumgole for the final run in the top of the seventh with a sharp single up the middle.

Skulnick said this year the team approached the Long Island final with a different mindset.

“We needed to believe,” she said. “So, when you’re at bat, it’s ‘I can hit this ball, I will hit the next ball,’ and when you’re in the field and it’s coming to you it’s ‘I’ve got it,’ and I think that definitely worked for us.”

“We needed to believe. So, when you’re at bat, it’s ‘I can hit this ball, I will hit the next ball…'”

— Ilexa Skulnick

She chipped in solid defense, playing a ball on a hop for a force out at second — just missing a double play — in the bottom of the fourth inning and snagged a line drive for the next out, but she pointed to Wimmer as the catalyst behind the shutout.

“It’s amazing watching her hit her spots,” Skulnick said. “But we all felt loose, wanted to stay loose.”

Drumgole, who went 2-for-3 with a walk, a run scored and a stolen base, grabbed an infield popup to retire the side in order that inning. The senior said the Mustangs hitting is contagious, but revealed she did hide how she was really feeling.

“I was nervous, but I couldn’t show that,” she said, adding that a broken glove in the seventh amplified her worry despite still making her last two catches for outs. “I had to pretend that I was 100 percent confident. But everyone remains a threat for us, especially on offense.”

Finally getting over the hump, Mount Sinai (23-4) will face the winner of Our Lady of Mercy/Iroquois at Moreau Recreational Park in Saratoga County in the state semifinals June 9 at 11:30 a.m.

Wimmer was beaming thinking of the Mustangs making their first trip upstate.

“For the longest time, I thought, ‘What is states?’” she said. “It’s crazy now to think we’re finally going to get to experience it.”

In just its first year, debate team members qualify for state competition

Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new debate team sees three members qualify to compete in the state championship at Hofstra University this April. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

There’s no arguing that Shoreham-Wading River High School’s new, student-formed debate team is already a huge success. Just ask juniors Andrew Honold and Mahdi Rashidzada.

The two students, along with freshman Jalal Sawas, won the majority of their debates during a qualifying competition at Jericho High School Feb. 10 to advance to the New York State Forensic League championship tournament at Hofstra University in April.

“It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

— Andrew Honold

Among the roughly 20 teams represented within the league, Shoreham-Wading River will be one of only three school districts from Suffolk County.

“Going in, I was terrified — I didn’t know what to expect,” said Honold, who ended up in first place in the junior varsity division by winning all four of his debate sat Jericho, each on the topic of plea bargaining. “That was actually my first debate, too. It was just kind of like throwing myself into cold water. It was really tense, but I could feel myself adapting better, and overall, it was really fun.”

Rashidzada, who won three of four debates, said the club has been a great asset to him and his eight teammates.

“It gives us kids an outlet to really understand the world around us,” said Rashidzada, whose prior experience in debate outside of the district has helped steer the team. “It allows us to express ourselves and our views, to research and to improve our speaking skills. It’s just been a great experience and I’m really excited to be going to states this year with my friends.”

It was about a year ago, in March 2017, that two then-sophomores — club co-captains Declan Beran and Emma Kirkpatrick — proposed the idea of a debate team to the board of education. It was quickly and unanimously approved for the 2017-18 school year based on their presentation, where they outlined a plan for their first “pilot” year: They would assemble the team, hold weekly meetings with adviser and English teacher Brenna Gilroy, compete in practice debates and prepare for competition with other schools “by their senior year.” All but the last portion of their plan has been consistent, having gotten a head start on the competing part.

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team.”

— Declan Beran

“I’m very happy and grateful that we were given the opportunity to work hard and achieve the goal of creating this team,” said Beran, a lacrosse player and vice president of his class, who added he’s wanted to form a debate club since his freshman year. “Just seeing members of our team compete is really
special. It’s our first year and we’re going to states — it’s exciting. We encourage every grade level of our high school to get involved.”

Beran said the club typically meets two days a week and members review different points for each side of a topic, practice counterarguments, and in the week leading up to a debate, face off against each other. Based on that practice run, other students will evaluate their presentation and suggest ways to improve it. The students said they learn analytical and public-speaking skills, hone their speech-writing abilities and have a chance to regularly practice teamwork and collaboration.

In December, the team’s topic was on whether developing countries should provide developmental assistance to other developing countries. The teams get one to two months to fully research topics before debating. For the state competition, the students will research and discuss universal basic income, typically described as a new kind of welfare regime in which all citizens of a country receive a regular, livable and unconditional sum of money, from the government.

“That was something I knew absolutely nothing about,” Honold said. “And I’m still learning, but it’s a really interesting topic. It’s great to know about and debate, because it’s something that’s probably going to affect us in the future.”

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Patriots relay team places first at Millrose Games, counties

Allyson Gaedje crosses the finish line at the New York Road Runner Millrose Games finals for first place. Photo from Tom Youngs

They’ve had that feeling before — the pit in their stomach as they watched Gator run.

This wasn’t the typical scaly, dark olive-brown reptile the Ward Melville 4×400-meter relay team was watching. It was their anchor — Allyson “Gator” Gaedje.

She was sprinting across the final stretch of the race at the New York Road Runners Millrose Games Feb. 3, maintaining her Patriots’ lead with Westhampton Beach hot on her trail.

Ward Melville’s 4×400-meter relay quartet of Allyson Gaedje, Elizabeth Radke, Sam Rutt and Sam SturgessPhoto from Tom Youngs

“So many things are going through your mind, but you really can’t process anything except ‘Gator, hold on, Gator, hold on,’” said leadoff runner Sam Rutt, who on the track was with teammates Elizabeth Radke and Sam Sturgess watching Gaedje as she beat Westhampton to the finish line. “Her smiling as she crossed the finish line ­— it was the best feeling for all of us.”

The Patriots completed the race in 3 minutes, 57.84 seconds for Ward Melville’s first win at the Millrose Games.

“It didn’t feel real,” said Sturgess, a senior who passed the baton off to Gaedje. “We’ve been told we can do it, but seeing it happen was unreal.”

Gaedje credited visualization as a strength in her preparation to compete.

“I like to picture how I want it to go, and it helps because once you’re in the race, you don’t have a lot of time to think, but you already have that mental image in your head — It makes it easier to stay focused on the goal,” she said. “Once I got the baton I was ready to get around the track as fast as I could.”

Being in Lane 6, Rutt said she couldn’t see anyone behind her, and she wanted to keep it that way.

“I thought if no one could catch me we’d be in good shape,” the senior said.

“It takes brave individuals to dig in their heels and be patient to do things the right way, and to look ahead to the long term by believing and trusting in the process.”

— Tom Youngs

Westhampton remained hot on their tail, and after a shaky handoff to Radke, the Patriots fell to second.

“I went a little earlier than I should have,” the sophomore said. “I tried to do everything in my power to race well.”

Head coach Tom Youngs said after a sub-par fall cross country season, it’s nice to see things turn around for his team.

“It takes brave individuals to dig in their heels and be patient to do things the right way, and to look ahead to the long term by believing and trusting in the process,” Youngs said. “The effort and grit shown that Saturday was a direct result of these girls working to be the best versions of themselves each and every day. I could not be more proud of them.”

The win motivated the relay team to finish first the following day at the Suffolk County indoor championship. Gaedje also won the 600 in 1:39.67, and Rutt took first in the 1,000 in 3:07.57. It was only Rutt’s second time competing in the event.

“I was surprised,” she said of placing first. “But I was comfortable, hanging back to make sure she had enough momentum left to propel her the last few meters. It was all about me staying on top of the others girls to get as many points as I could for us to compete for a team title.”

Kiera Hughes leaps over the hurdles in the 55-meter dash. She broke the school record twice. Photo from Kiera Hughes

Senior Kiera Hughes, who has been improving on her time all season, finished the 55 hurdles in 8.73, good for second in the county. Sophomore Megan Wood took seventh in the shot put with a throw of 33 feet, 8.5 inches, her personal best.

Hughes first broke the school record of 8.74, set in 2003, with an 8.63 finish. At the league championship, she broke her own record with an 8.60.

“I’m proud of the results of all my hard work thus far,” Hughes said, adding that breaking the school record, which is also the state standard, was a goal of hers. “I had wanted to set a time that I could kind of strive for. Going into each race I want to get better — just keep trying to beat myself. I’m my own best competition.”

After competing in her first state qualifier last season without the state standard, she’s more confident competing this time around, being ranked second in the county by 100th of a second.

The Patriots will compete in the state qualifier meet held at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.

“I’m a very determined person,” Hughes said. “I’ve also wanted to be the best in whatever I can. I want to improve myself every single race.  It’s all for the excitement and that thrill.”

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Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team, a county, state and national champion, bounced back after having its seven-year streak of first-place Empire Regional finishes snapped, to win the first meet of the regular season. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

For the first time in seven years, Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team fell short of a first-place finish at the Empire Regional championship. The girls could have sulked, hung their heads and given up the idea of maintaining their national prowess. Instead, the Mustangs used the slip to second place to fuel their fire.

“We put out an amazing routine that we were very proud of,” senior captain Alexa Tabile said of Mount Sinai’s 88.1 score Dec. 2 at Nassau County Community College that still earned the team a bid to nationals. “We took a step back and saw we need to be better, because the team that beat us was better. It’s just as simple as that.”

The girls went into the next practice asking what they could do to get back on top, and worked at it.

Mount Sinai sticks a routine. Photo from Megan Wesolowski

“I try to motivate my teammates before practice and tell them we need to be supporting each other,” Tabile said, adding that the team takes everything in stride. “It’s something I felt we did, and it led to our next first-place finish. We focus on what’s coming up next, but always have the big picture in mind.”

The Mustangs ended up in the No. 1 spot Dec. 11 at Longwood, redeeming themselves from a bobble in the pyramid at the regional competition and a fall at the  meet.

Tabile said she was still afraid of once again coming in second, because more points are deducted for a fall.

“There was a little bit of doubt,” she said. “We thought maybe the fall really put us back, but we knew we put out a routine that was clean, and everything else in the routine we hit beautifully. We kept going.”

Mount Sinai placed fifth in the state championship earlier this year after taking first in the inaugural state competition in 2016. The Mustangs won the county title last season and have a history of placing at nationals, coming in third in February and in 2015, and first in 2016 and 2014.

“They feel a great amount of pressure knowing that we have a long tradition of winning,” said first-year head coach Megan Wesolowski, who coached the district’s middle school team for the last five years and took over for long-standing leader Samantha Melella following the birth of her child. “They want to make the people that made this program proud. They’re proving that one fall or one mishap never carries through an entire routine, and Alexa Tabile is leading the team through everything. She’s one of our best back spots with great tumbling skills. Cheer-related or not, she’s there for every girl that needs her.”

Mount Sinai’s cheerleading team earned a bid to nationals next yea.r Photo from Megan Wesolowski

Mount Sinai, as Suffolk County’s only Division II Large team, competed against Division I Large schools, which made the win this time around even sweeter. Wesolowski petitioned for her team’s step up in competition.

“It’s great to have teams to compete against, and especially to be able to compete against schools with a bigger pool of girls to choose from,” she said. “Competing against yourself you kind of lose that competitive edge. We didn’t want to end up going down to nationals next year with a false sense of security.”

Tabile said the jump has not only forced her team to improve its skills and routine, but it has also been more fun.

“Now, we go to competitions and we know we have to be on point,” she said. “Going out there last year, it didn’t matter if we were doing forward rolls on the mat for two-and-half minutes, we were still getting first place. Now, we’re driven to put in the extra work because we’re competing against other teams with national titles.”

After new and old players quit the team, and through injuries and adjusting to a new coach, Mount Sinai worked to remain competitive, and Tabile said this learning experience is only making the Mustangs stronger.

“We’ve clicked very well,” she said. “Coach Wesolowski motivates us in every way and we want to do better for her. It hasn’t been the easiest season for us — we’ve had our fair share of challenges throughout the season — but I feel like we’ve never had a team with this kind of bond, where we pick each other up and say, ‘Hey, things haven’t been going as we’ve planned, and we’ve had our hardships, but we can move on from this.’”

The Kings Park girls volleyball team, above, takes its annual team photo before heading to states, which has become a tradition within the successful program. Photo from Erika Benson

The Kings Park girls volleyball team has been there seven straight times, but this time, the result was different.

The 20-0 Kingsmen were confident as they headed upstate, blasting Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” to get excited to compete in the state championship at Glens Falls Civic Center Nov. 18 and 19.

The Kings Park girls volleyball team celebrates on the
court after winning a state set. Photo from Erika
Benson

“We knew that we had all the tools to be successful, and we were anxious to get on the court and execute,” senior Lexi Petraitis said. “We’re such a tight-knit team, but what hurt us a little bit was that our nerves didn’t kick in until the first serve of our first set.”

After splitting pool play sets 3-3, Kings Park was eliminated from contention for Sunday’s state championship, but outscored Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake to salvage a third-place finish. Last year, the Kingsmen made it to the final match where they fell to Walter Panas in straight sets.

“There were sets where everything just clicked,” Petraitis said. “We had Meagan Murphy getting sick digs, which made it easy for Haley [Holmes] to set perfect sets, which our big hitters, me, seniors Kara Haase, Erika Benson, Sam Schultz and freshman Liv Benard, slammed into the ground. I think we played to our absolute fullest potential. Out on the court our energy was electric. There were just a few sets that didn’t really go our way.”

Kings Park faced Williamsville East first, dropping set one 26-24 before coming back to win the second 25-12.

“We gelled more during that second set and then throughout the day we just had to realize what worked and what didn’t and change things up,” senior Benson said. “Our ultimate goal is to place first, but third is still something very special, something that we’re proud of. It’s been a great season with my team and I really loved every minute of it.”

Haley Holmes reaches for a save with Meagan Murphy
and Megan Sticco alongside her to back her up.
Photo from Haley Holmes

Benson said she appreciated how supportive everyone in the district community was. The team was sent off to states escorted by the Kings Park Fire Department and led by the high school’s marching band, with members of the high school and elementary school marching, too. The positive mindset carried through the weekend even as the team stumbled in trying to capture a state championship.

“We practiced hard all year with states in the back of our minds — entering the tournament, our mindset was to take it one set at a time and to not look too far ahead,” senior setter  Holmes said. “We ended up not executing the way we had hoped, but we stayed positive and worked as a team. We performed great, but it’s the state tournament, every team there is elite.”

The Kingsmen amped up the intensity in the semifinals, battling for every point in a 25-19, 25-22 win.

“I feel like we had moments where we weren’t so sharp, but as the day went on we straightened it out,” senior Haase said. “Being a Kingsman has been the greatest honor and I look forward to seeing the
program grow.”

Benson agreed, adding how much she wishes others could share in the seasoned legacy her team has experienced.

“Being a Kingsman is something most people will never experience and I wish they could,” she said. “It’s really an amazing thing, especially with this team, knowing I have 17 best friends and sisters that I can depend on. It’s really special to me and I don’t take it for granted. I just wish I had more time with them.”

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Patriots hope to avenge last season's semifinal loss that ruined their perfect season

By Bill Landon

The freight train keeps on rolling.

Ward Melville’s undefeated field hockey team bested Mamaroneck 3-1 Nov. 4 to clinch the Southeast Regional title, and with that, punch a ticket to the state semifinal, where the Patriots will face Baldwinsville Nov. 11 at 9:30 a.m. at Maine-Endwell Senior High School.

The team has unfinished business after having its perfect record blemished following the state semifinal game last year, and falling to Mamaroneck in the state finals in 2015. Ward Melville head coach Shannon Sioss was happy her Patriots avenged their loss to the Tigers, but said the win is nothing more than a stepping-stone toward the ultimate goal.

“I told them how proud I am,” Sioss said she told her athletes after the win. “But now it’s time to continue that journey up to Binghamton, which has been our goal since the beginning of the season.”

All of the goals were scored in the second half, the first coming in the opening minutes when Ward Melville’s Caitlin Evans tapped in the ball after Lexi Reinhardt freed it from between the Tigers’ goalkeeper’s legs, despite being a man down.

“I was just so excited,” Evan said of scoring. “We’ve worked so hard all season, since August, to get here and we were not going to let it prevent us from getting to states. We were ready. We came in with heart and that really helped us to come back in the second half. We’re really working so hard for the seniors — it’s their last chance to make it to states.”

The Patriots’ lead was short-lived, as two minutes later Mamaroneck defender Emily Mahland ripped a shot past the goalie to make it a new game.

Both teams fielded a formidable defensive units, proved by the lack of shots on goal early on, but Ward Melville kept to its status quo by turning up the heat in the second half. Reinhardt found an open lane and rocked the box with a solo shot for the go-ahead goal with 10:45 left in regulation.Kerri Thornton scored the final goal with 2:45 on the clock.

“They’re an excellent program, so we had to keep the pressure going so they didn’t have a chance to come back,” Reinhardt said of Mamaroneck. “We’ve been [to the state semifinals and finals] before and we want to finish it this time. It’s not for us; it’s for the seniors, the whole program and the people [who] watch us.”

Ward Melville has allowed just two goals in five postseason appearances, and has outscored opponents 80-15 this entire season. Prior to the Southeast Regional win, the Patriots scored their 10th shutout of the year with a 6-0 win over Massapequa for their third straight Long Island championship title.

“Today we capitalized on our corners,” Thornton said. “In the last couple of games we haven’t been able to do that, but finally finished on those opportunities. Our defense also did a fantastic job. I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do.”

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