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Ward Melville

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By Bill Landon

Comsewogue senior Hannah Dorney recalled the first time her field hockey team played Bay Shore, losing a close 2-1 game back on Sept. 13.

“We went into the game today thinking about last time, and just how devastating that loss was,” Dorney said. “It was a long bus ride home, and [the whole time] you’re thinking, ‘What could we have done better?’”

This time, the No. 9-seeded Warriors had the offense to support a solid defense, to pull away with a 3-2 win over No. 8 Bay Shore in the first round of the Class A playoffs Oct. 17.

Sophomore Kayleigh Mimnaugh had two goals in the win, scoring first on a flick pass from junior Sophia Azzara and the game-winner on a player-down opportunity and a feed from senior Gabriella Ventura.

With the teams tied 1-1 heading into halftime after her first tally, she said a pep talk from head coach Jacqueline Wilkom got her juices flowing.

“Our halftime speech from the coach really pumped us up, and I think that we just worked harder overall in that second half,” Mimnaugh said. “We played well defensively.”

Dorney took working harder to heart, and opened the second half with a takeaway, outrunning defenders behind her as she carried the ball from the 35-yard line to the front of the cage for a solo shot and a 2-1 advantage.

Comsewogue had trouble capitalizing on its opportunities though, as Bay Shore committed six fouls in the striking circle, leading to six consecutive penalty corner shots from which the Warriors came away empty.

Being a player down for a majority of the second half — 20 minutes — defense was the name of the game for Comsewogue, but Bay Shore finally broke through, retying the game with 15:38 left to play.

Azzara said she was somewhat surprised with how her team weathered the storm in the second half.

“Honestly, I didn’t think we’d come out here and do this well against them,” she said. “But I knew we had it in us — we work really well together and we’re very close, so I think that helped us.”

Comsewogue, on a five-game winning streak, improves to 12-3 and advances to face No. 1 undefeated Ward Melville on the road Friday, Oct. 20 at 2:30 p.m.

“We have a talented group of girls — they’re fantastic athletes, and it’s just a matter of them coming out and giving it all that they have,” Wilkom said. “And so long as we play our game, I don’t think that there’s any team we can’t beat.”

For the Warriors, this bus ride home will be different.

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Arianna Barbieri strikes the ball past a William Floyd defender. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville’s soccer team has an advantage most teams don’t: the connection between twin sisters Kerri and Nicole Liucci.

On their senior night, in a 3-0 win over William Floyd Oct. 16, the two scored a goal apiece, and assisted on each other’s tallies to help the Patriots (10-3-2, 9-2-2 League I) power through.

“We have twin telepathy,” Kerri Liucci said. “We work hard together.”

Nicole Liucci passes the ball downfield. Photo by John Dielman

Nicole Liucci was first to find the back of the net after her twin received a pass from the corner, and moved the ball front and center in the box. With a mid-air knock-in, the Liucci sisters made it an early 1-0 advantage.

“We have a really strong bond and we know where each other is at all times,” Nicole Liucci said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I need to get the ball in the net.’ My sister passed it to me and I kicked it right in.”

More than 25 minutes passed before the Patriots propelled the ball into the net a second time. On a strike from 30 yards out, midfielder Arianna Barbieri found the far left corner, which was a surprise even to her.

“I decided to just wing it,” she said. “Watching it sail over and into the net felt really good. We were pushing the ball as hard as we could trying to score early and shut them down.”

Ward Melville’s defense held down the Colonials in the second half, despite losing returning All-County defender Kayla Winicki to a torn ACL in the first game of the season against Northport. Liv Halvorsen has stepped up to fill her place on the back line, knocking away chances and battling for crucial possession, which she’ll need to continue if Ward Melville wants to win a League I title.

“We had some girls step in and take over and they’ve been great and adjusted well,” Ward Melville head coach John Diehl said. “We’re gelling now and coming together in different ways.”

Kerri Liucci moves the ball across midfield. Photo by John Dielman

Kerri Liucci put the game out of reach with 12 minutes left when she sent the ball into the corner from close range. She had a chance at a goal seconds earlier, when she pushed the ball past a fallen William Floyd goalkeeper, but a defender batted it away. She said she was overjoyed to finally get on the stat sheet.

“I really wanted to score on senior night,” she said. “I tried, put all my effort behind the ball and it went in, and it felt amazing because I was working hard the whole game to get a goal. It was rewarding.”

The three seniors that scored on Ward Melville’s senior night are the three longest tenured members of the team.

“The girls get so excited for this day,” Diehl said of his 14 upperclassmen. “Their energy is high, their spirits are high and they ended up doing well. They’ve endured a lot and they’re a nice group of seniors. I love seeing them happy — it makes me smile.”

After what could potentially have been the last home game for Ward Melville this season, the Patriots soaked it in as the bench cleared in celebration of a successful shutout. Ward Melville travels to Brentwood for the final game of the regular season Oct. 18. If the Patriots come away with a win, they’ll also grab a piece of the League I title for the first time in years.

“Brentwood is always a strong team,” Diehl said. “It’s always tough against Brentwood at their house, too, because they play on grass and we’re not used to that surface, but heading into this last week I like where we are.”

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Running back Nick Messina may stand out to the crowd, but his heroics on the football field are no longer a surprise to his teammates.

The Ward Melville football star’s Oct. 7 showing was more of the same, as the senior scored three touchdowns and accounted for 233 yards in a 32-0 homecoming blanking of Sachem East in front of nearly 1,000 fans.

“Messina played unbelievably, as expected,” junior Nick Troy said of his teammate, who also plays cornerback. “He is such an explosive player on both sides of the ball.”

Messina didn’t waste any time getting the Patriots on the board. He returned the opening kickoff 93 yards for a score, setting the tone early for the blowout victory.

“It really gave us the momentum right out of the gate and took Sachem off-guard,” Messina said. “There’s nothing better than scoring the opening kickoff. My coach saw that they didn’t have anybody on the outside and he trusted the line to do their jobs, and all I had to do was follow my blocks.”

The Patriots scored on the opening drive of the second quarter, when senior quarterback Peyton Capizzi found junior wide receiver Marcus Velez for a 20-yard touchdown pass to give Ward Melville a 12-0 lead.

The 6-foot, 4-inch Velez was a matchup nightmare for Sachem East, gaining 89 yards on seven catches.

Messina made it 18-0 on a 40-yard dash into the end zone with 4:16 left in the first half. The extra-point kick attempt on the first touchdown was missed, as well as two 2-point conversion tries.

One of the biggest plays of the game came when senior lineman Stephen Torrico threw a great block to spring Messina for a 21-yard gain on a fourth-and-4 from Ward Melville’s 45-yard line.

“Personally, my favorite highlight was when Stephen Torrico laid a huge hit on one of their backs,” Messina said. “We spent a lot of time recognizing all of their different formations on offense and it really paid off because they rarely caught us with any surprises.”

Three plays later, he scampered into the end zone on a 2-yard run. Messina ended the day with 140 yards rushing on 17 carries.

“It was everything we could’ve hoped for as seniors playing in our last homecoming game,” Messina said of the win. “I think that everybody was contributing and doing their job the best they possibly can and that’s what really led us to victory. I think that every game we are getting closer and closer as a group and we’re learning to trust each other more and more, which really helps us during game time.”

Capizzi — who was 10-for-16 passing with 110 yards through the air and added 63 yards on 10 carries on the ground — hit Troy, a wide receiver and running back, for a two-point conversion following Messina’s touchdown for a 26-0 advantage.

“It felt sweet to catch the pitch from Peyton,” Troy said. “He’s patient and can find the window for the shovel passes.”

After Ward Melville senior cornerback Christian O’toole recorded his second interception of the game, Troy cashed in a 20-yard touchdown run for the final six points.
“The coaches really prepared us well for Sachem,” Troy said. “I think the team really started to click well in the game, especially the defense — they did a great job stopping the runs.”

Winning over Sachem East was a huge move for Ward Melville, which is now tied with Sachem East at 4-2 for No. 2 in the Division I standings behind undefeated Lindenhurst and William Floyd. The Patriots will tackle Longwood Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. before traveling to Lindenhurst Oct. 27.

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

By Bill Landon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


                

Port Jefferson's Shane DeVincenzo. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Two years ago, Port Jefferson’s boys golf team handed Ward Melville a loss that broke a 88-match win streak. The Patriots returned that favor at Port Jefferson Country Club Oct. 3, winning the round by a single stroke to snap the Royals’ undefeated streak this season.

Port Jefferson junior Shane DeVincenzo, a two-time All-County and All-State golfer, came in at one over par in the first wave. Although it wasn’t his best round, shooting a 37, he was pleased with his result.

“My personal best on this course for nine holes is a 32,” DeVincenzo said. “I think it takes confidence more than anything — you go into these matches saying you’re going to win and [that] helps you believe it. If you go into it thinking you might not win, it’s going to be a lot closer.”

Ward Melville’s Palmer Van Tuyl. Photo by Bill Landon

The match was a lot closer than it was the first time the two teams met, and that didn’t surprise Port Jefferson head coach Chuck Ruoff. Either way, he was wowed by what DeVincenzo continues to do out on the course. Last time the two teams met, the junior shot a 34.

“He’s unbelievable,” Ruoff said of his Suffolk County runner-up from last season.  “For the remaining matches, if we go out and play the way we’re capable of, I think we’ll end up with the result we want.”

The Patriots may be a young team, with just one senior on the roster, but Ward Melville’s underclassmen were right behind the rest of the pack, like sophomore Palmer Van Tuyl, who shot a 41.

“I hit a bunch of good shots, but Shane DeVincenzo is a tremendous golfer,” Van Tuyl said. “He started off with a few medium-length par putts, so I was down early. And toward the middle of the round I had a couple of ups and downs for par.”

Port Jeff junior Josh Gelfond, a two-time All-League player, struggled with his ball contact. He shot 40,  edging his opponent by  two strokes, but has done better than his plus four performance on his home course.

“My best is a 34, so today I was pretty good around the greens and scrambling, but my ball striking wasn’t the best,” he said. “Normally around the greens is one of the strongest parts of my game, but I need to work on consistency with my iron play.”

Ward Melville Gavin Gerard. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville head coach Bob Spira said the narrow win was especially gratifying for him after losing to the Royals earlier in the season.

“We practice chipping and putting — the short game is really important,” Spira said of his team’s many workouts at St. George’s Golf and Country Club, the Patriots’ home course. “The kids golf a lot themselves [outside of the team], and that creates a lot of depth, [despite how] very young we are.”

Ward Melville junior Alexander Korkuc had his short game working for him, but after shooting a 44 left a few strokes out on the green. He looks to improve with four games left in the regular season.

“I thought my chipping and pitching was very good today, but I left a couple of putts short,” he said. “I just misread a couple of putts. As a team we just have to practice harder, work on our drills better and stay positive.”

Ruoff attributes a large part of his team’s success — the Royals went on a 6-0 run to start the season —  to the association with Port Jefferson Country Club.

“They love being around the course; the facility provides a lot for them,” Ruoff said. “They’re able to practice and play, get instruction basically whenever they want, so it’s a very strong relationship.”

With the win, Ward Melville improves to 5-1, but Ruoff said despite the blemish, he sees big things happening for his Royals this season.

“They just want to compete,” he said. “I set them in the right direction, and they’re taking care of the rest.”

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Ward Meville's Anna Ma sends the ball back. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville head coach Erick Sussin doesn’t hesitate to mix up his tennis lineup. In fact, it’s been a recipe for success this season. The Sept. 25 matchup against Bayport-Blue Point proved no different, as the Patriots blanked their opponent 7-0 to remain undefeated atop the League V leaderboard.

Ward Melville’s Jade Eggleston serves. Photo by Bill Landon

“We lack the depth we had a year ago, and we’ve changed up our No. 3 and No. 4 singles several times this year,” the head coach said. “But we have strong four points [in No. 1 and No. 2 doubles and singles], and all you need is four points to win. That has allowed us to win all of these matches.”

Jade Eggelston’s No. 1 singles match was a breeze, sweeping 6-1, 6-0. The sophomore is typically a No. 2 singles starter, but her head coach said she’s one of the most consistent players, even with the pressure of the team being 8-0.

“You want to keep it up — you don’t want to let your school down,” Eggelston said. “I had to keep my rhythm and maintain consistency, but I thought my serve was pretty dependable today.”

Typically the No. 1 singles starter, junior Denise Lai won her match first doubles match with classmate Anna Ma, 6-0, 6-1.

“Starting in first doubles was a little different for me today,” Lai said. “[But] I look at it as just another match and try to play my best.”

Sussin said Ma hits with incredible pace on her groundstrokes and has a tough serve to break, which makes her a force to be reckoned with. She said she just continues to take each match one set at a time.

Ward Melville’s Natalie Ferretti volleys in her first varsity start. Photo by Bill Landon

“It adds pressure because you’re expected to win, but it also makes you play better,” Ma said, adding that she thought her forehand and serve helped her win the match. “We’ll have to be more consistent and keep our heads in the game — stay mentally strong.”

Senior Keren Collins, normally at first doubles, partnered with Isabella Anderes at second doubles and shut out their challengers 6-0, 6-0.

Collins, a returning All-County player since 2015, agreed with her teammates that being undefeated helps her focus and gives her more of a desire to give it her all.

“It makes you play better,” she said. “It gives you confidence that we can do this. We’ve done it before, so we can do it again.”

Dara Berman won her third singles matchup 6-2, 6-3 and Preeti Kota blanked her opponent 6-0, 6-0 in fourth singles, while Samantha Sloan and Natalia Ferretti’s results were much closer, edging their opponents 7-5, 6-4. Ferretti secured her first win in her first varsity start.

Ward Melville is back in action on their home court Sept. 27. The Patriots will host Sachem at 4 p.m.

The Three Village school district welcomed a new drug and alcohol counselor recently. File photo by Greg Catalano

By Donna Newman

At a recent meeting of the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Program — a support group that seeks to educate all and assist parents and family members of teens and young adults battling substance abuse —  I spoke with a young mother of elementary-school-age children. She was there to learn about this growing danger that has taken so many lives in Suffolk County. She is afraid for her children. They are growing up in a society where drug overdose deaths have become routine. She wants to protect her children from becoming victims of substance abuse.

This mom has been on a crusade to make parents aware of the dangers, knowing that this is a Three Village problem and it will take community awareness and extensive effort to combat it. So she speaks to parents of young children wherever she finds them to encourage them to be part of the solution. She told me the majority response from parents is: “Not my kid. She’s an A student.” Or, “Not my kid, he’s an athlete.” Or simply, “My child would never get involved in that.”

I’m here to tell you that you need to take your head out of the sand.

The significant drug problem at Ward Melville High School when my sons were in attendance in the 1990s was not publicly acknowledged by the school district — or anyone else other than the parents whose children “got into trouble.” Mine did not. They were honor grads, heavily involved in extracurricular activities.

However, in a conversation with one of my sons, years after graduation, I learned he had used drugs with some regularity while in high school. It turned out I had been one of those clueless parents. But I was one of the lucky ones.

Lucky, because back then, when a teenager bought marijuana, it was just pot. It was not the cannabis of today, which may be laced with illicit and scary drugs by dealers seeking to hook kids on stronger stuff. Lucky, because he did not have a propensity, and his “recreational” use never rose to the level of addiction.

Full disclosure: As a college student in the 1960s I experimented with marijuana as well. My equally clueless mother discovered a small baggie of weed in my room. She trashed it, never saying a word to me. In that era, just knowing she knew was enough to get me to stop.

The school district has finally acknowledged the fact that addiction is a disease requiring treatment, not a moral lapse requiring punishment.

According to “School district welcomes new drug and alcohol counselor” in the  July 20 edition of The Village Times Herald, the district has hired a substance abuse counselor. Heather Reilly, certified social worker, will be tasked with rotating through the secondary schools one day each week (including the Three Village Academy alternative high school program), providing substance abuse counseling, educating faculty about warning signs and drug lingo, and creating educational curriculum for sixth-graders in collaboration with elementary health teachers. She will also be available to work directly with families.

While this is a laudable first step, it’s not nearly enough. Change will not happen without a concerted community effort. Parents need to accept the fact that this is a real problem affecting Three Villagers across the cultural and economic spectrum. Yes, it could even be your child.

Folks must come to grips with the fact that chemical dependency is a potentially fatal illness and that 90 percent of sufferers go untreated. They need to acknowledge that kids who are addicted to alcohol and/or opioid drugs are not “bad” kids. They are youngsters whose brains are not fully developed, who made bad choices that led to a tragic outcome. It’s time for all of us to learn all we can about prevention and to come together to end this plague.

There’s a lot you can do. For starters, attend the monthly meetings at the Bates House in Setauket. Dates and times are listed on Facebook on the Three Village Drug & Alcohol Awareness Parent Group page — along with other helpful information. Learn when and how to begin to talk to your child about the dangers of alcohol and drugs and your family’s rules concerning underage drinking and substance abuse. A good place to begin is at New York State’s online site www.talk2prevent.ny.gov.

The next meeting at the Bates House, located at 1 Bates Road in Setauket, will be held Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Donna Newman, a freelance writer, is a former editor of The Village Times Herald.

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The Ward Melville girls volleyball team celebrates a point.

By Desirée Keegan

The Patriots are starting to roll, and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down.

The Ward Melville girls volleyball team pulled away from Longwood 25-11, 25-20, 25-14 for its fifth sweep and sixth straight win of the season Sept. 19 to remain undefeated.

Allie Sturgess continues the volley. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Head coach Charlie Fernandes said he hasn’t been afraid his team was going to lose, but thought in earlier games this season the Patriots eased up on its opponents. As of late, he said he’s enjoying seeing his Patriots (6-0 overall, 4-0 League I) play with fire to the end of matches.

“We want to play everybody as hard as we can and I thought in an earlier match this year we were performing well, but we let up a little,” he said. “Today we played all out the whole time and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Ward Melville jumped out to an early 8-4 lead and scored four straight points before a Longwood hit slammed into the middle of the Patriots defense. The Lions hit out of bounds on the next serve and then an out-of-bounds hit handed Ward Melville two of its next three points before Longwood called timeout. The team still couldn’t regroup from there, and the Patriots cruised to the end of the set.

“Game one was very efficient and we started filtering the other kids in,’” Fernandes said. “I thought everyone did a great job.”

Ward Melville junior middle blocker Morgan Persky, who had four blocks, said her team wanted to bring the same high level of play and energy onto the court against Longwood that it did Sept. 15 at Smithtown West. After winning the first set against Longwood by 14 points, she said she thought her team again took its foot off the gas.

Molly Fernandes serves the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We came into the second set a little bit more relaxed, and we made some unforced errors,” she said.

The teams stayed neck and neck throughout most of the set. Ward Melville held advantages early and jumped ahead by five points at 11-6, but Longwood closed the gap over the next few minutes to tie the set at 12-12 and again at 16-16. Fernandes called timeout to get his players on the same page, and despite jumping ahead again, Longwood tied the game at 20-20 before the Patriots closed the set scoring the final five points. Sophomore libero Molly Cronin finished with 10 digs, and senior libero Molly Fernandes and sophomore outside hitter Jamie Agostino each had eight digs.

“After the timeout at 16-16 in the second set we realized that we needed to step it up,” Persky said. “I felt that we played much better after that and took control of the court from that point forward. This year, we have been very strong offensively from both the net and the service line.”

The team had holes to fill in the lineup after most of the starters were lost to graduation before this year, but senior setter Courtney Heaney said her team has adjusted well.

“A lot of us have been playing together for a long time,” she said. “We all play club together, and I think we have really good energy on the court, and togetherness, which helps to fill in those gaps left from last year.”

Courtney Heaney sets the ball up for an Anna Brun kill. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Fernandes said the return of two now senior outside hitters in Ashley Fuchs and Ryen Cinski has also put the team in the position it’s in.

“No one knows about them because they both sat out last year with ACL injuries,” he said. “On the court and off the court we have a tight-knit group and that always matters. I think something good is happening here.”

Heaney also gave a glowing review of her two teammates returning from injuries.

“They’re better than ever,” she said of the two outside hitters. “They’ve been doing really well — [they provide] big energy out there. Our biggest players are our outsides. We’re doing really great things this year and I’m really excited about it. We’re on a really great path.”

Persky said the team is working on maintaining its aggressiveness no matter who is on the other side of the court or what the scoreboard says, and Fernandes said he expects that killer instinct to come in time.

“We’re going to work on our defense,” he said, laughing. “It’s mid-September, so the coaches and I joke that there’s certain things we haven’t even worked on with the team yet in practice, and we’re already this good. For the first time in a long time we have a bench that I go to without blinking. We’re a good, strong volleyball team. Heck, this is a tremendous volleyball team, and I think we’re going to be in it at the end.”

Smithtown east's Matthew Wertheim goes up for the kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Daniel Murphy serves the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Led by the power hitting of Matthew Wertheim and Daniel Murphy, Smithtown East got the best of the Northport’s boys volleyball team, taking the away victory in four sets 25-17, 25-21, 22-25 and 25-21 in Division I action Sept. 19.

“We kind of let up a little bit — we didn’t play as well as we did in the first two sets, but we found a way to get back,” Murphy said. “Northport was a challenge, they came out hard. At first we had them, but then we slumped a little bit.”

Both teams came to the court with identical 3-1 records. The Tigers, coming off a five-set comeback win over Ward Melville the night before. Northport struggled to contain Murphy (14 kills) up front as the outside hitter nailed back-to-back kills to put the Bulls out front 15-11 in the first set. Wertheim (18 kills) made his presence known, and added a pair of his own kills to put the Bulls one point away from winning the match. The Tigers were able to score three unanswered points before the Bulls shut the door.

Smithtown East’s Kyle Shaffer sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Smithtown East  had momentum on its side coming into the game, having won three in a row. The Bulls only loss of the season was the season opener against Walt Whitman Sept. 5. Looking to build on their momentum, the Bulls jumped ahead 9-5, only to have the Tigers claw their way back to tie the set 10-10. Smithtown East libero Bryan Kaplan slammed home four straight aces to get ahead once more. Both teams traded points, and Smithtown East edged ahead 23-20 before putting away set two.

Northport came out fast in the third set, and mental errors cost Smithtown East the lead, falling behind 14-9. Murphy, equally dangerous from the service line, scored three aces to close within one point.

“I don’t think they were playing to the best of their ability in the first two sets, but then we fell flat, we were overconfident in that third set [and it got away from us],” Smithtown East setter Kyle Shaffer said. “They were better than I’d thought they’d be — their middles are very good and they have great blocking.”

Northport setter Ben Sandt turned the tide with a pair of monster kill shots and the Tigers finished the job to take the third.

Northport’s Ben Sandt spikes the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

“We stepped it up and they were a little flat,” Sandt said. “We passed better, we had a lot more energy and our setter Ryan Parker pushed the ball up front so we could get some kills. We kept our serves in and we rallied off that.”

The Tigers looked to duplicate what they did the night before — winning three in a row — and found themselves in a 12-12 stalemate in the fourth set. Northport mistakes put the Bulls out front 19-17, and then 23-20 before Northport called timeout.

“Yesterday they  went down two but came back, and we were worried that they were going to do the same thing to us,” Smithtown East head coach Ray Preston said. “But we were able to battle through.”

The Tigers, desperate to force a final set, scored next, but it was too little too late.

Northport head coach Amanda DiPietro said she saw weakness in her lineup that will be addressed going forward.

“I knew they were going to be tough — we saw them in some tournaments previously and they’re a tough team, they have a lot of talent,” she said. “Our service was pretty strong today, but we need to get better at blocking.”

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With the game-winning goal, Ward Melville’s Justin Seedorf got a promotion.

“Welcome to the starting lineup,” Ward Melville head coach Jon Stecker said to his sophomore center midfielder while he grabbed his shoulders as the two walked off the soccer field.

Seedorf helped the Patriots make light of what seemed to be a dark situation during the team’s first win of the season, a 2-0 blanking at home of Sachem East Sept. 12.

“We knew this was a must-win game and we had to give 200 percent to get this win,” Seedorf said. “We stayed in it, we didn’t give up.”

Through an unusually high volume of foul calls, changed calls and overruled whistles from the game’s two referees — which included two disallowed Ward Melville goals — the Patriots focus never wavered.

“They played very hard, they kept their heads in the game and I’m very happy with what they did today,” Stecker said. “The way they kept their composure — they took a step in the right direction and showed me they have the maturity it’s going to take in League I to get to the playoffs and get to the next level.”

Despite a 0-0 halftime score, the two teams came out firing. The first half even saw Ward Melville senior Justin Cahill fire at the net, knocking in a wayward kick with his head, but despite a defender being on the post, an offside call negated the goal.

Sachem East seemed to be running out of energy in the second half, and Seedorf sought to take advantage of it. With 19:21 left to play, he raced ahead of the mid-fielder and got his foot on the ball, knocking it between two of his opponent’s toughest defenders and into the goal.

“I saw there was a lot of space up in the top of the box so I made my run, and as I did that the ball came back to me and I finished it near post,” he said. “To see that ball hit the back of the net felt amazing.”

Ward Melville pressed on, and later senior Anthony Guglielmo had a goal removed from the scoresheet, also on an offside call.

“Teams in the past might have let what was going on today affect the outcome of this game,” Stecker said. “I think we needed this game more importantly for our own psyche than even our record. They played very hard despite some goals that were taken away.”

At the 1:44 mark, senior left wing Harry Radke got his body on a send-in from classmate Nick Honor for an insurance goal.

“I knew with Nick Honor that we were going to go front post,” Radke said. “I made the run at the right time and dove as far as I could.”

He said it was sweet to help seal the deal.

“I’ve played against a few of these kids when I was younger and it feels good to score against them,” he said. “We were resilient. Even when we got bad calls and lost two goals we pulled together and pushed through as a team.”

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