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Ward Melville

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Heidi Scarth attempts to maintain possession of the ball between defenders while going up for the layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

For the first time since 1988, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team is No. 1.

The Patriots pushed past Brentwood Tuesday, 50-35, to earn a share of the League I title with Commack, which was undefeated until outscored by Ward Melville a week ago, 52-35, to put the Patriots in a position to claim a piece of the prize.

“It is total elation,” senior center Heidi Scarth said of the title. “We had a game plan and we went out there and executed it, and that’s why we won this game. Getting this league championship title was one of our big goals. We’re all so excited and ready for playoffs.”

Kiera Ramaliu passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Kiera Ramaliu passes the ball. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville jumped out in front 13-0 in the first quarter, with Scarth and sophomore guard Kiera Ramaliu netting four points apiece. The team almost kept their opponent off the scoreboard, but with 16 seconds left, Brentwood sank a field goal to go into the second stanza down 11 points.

Junior guard Taylor Tripptree started the next eight minutes like she did the first, scoring the first two points, but Ward Melville’s defense lost its rhythm, which led five straight Brentwood points. Ramaliu and Tripptree had big blocks to keep the Lions contained, but the team ran into some trouble on the offensive end. Still, the Patriots were up 21-14 heading into the halftime break.

“We were a bit shaky in the second quarter, but we pulled it together,” Tripptree said.

The team was able to outscore its opponent in the third, but by a slim margin, 16-14, increasing the lead to 37-28 heading into the game’s final quarter.

“While we had a couple of rough spots, I think in the end they did what they had to do to win,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “Letting up 35 points against a playoff team like Brentwood is good defense, so we’re pleased. Now our girls are ready to give their best effort on Friday.”

Taylor Tripptree dribbles around an opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Taylor Tripptree dribbles around an opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tripptree, who finished with a game-high 15 points, said it was Haller’s halftime talk that motivated the team to push harder in the third and fourth quarter.

“Coach told us to pick it up, and we all came together as a team,” she said.

Scarth, who netted nine points, said she agreed that team is a force when the current group of girls she plays with unites, like they did when they outscored Brentwood 13-7 in the fourth quarter for the win.

“I think that making that extra pass, looking for your teammates and non-selfish playing is what really made us league champs,” she said. “I think we have a really strong group of girls that play as a team.”

Scarth said her team is ready and prepared for the postseason. The Patriots are the No. 1 seed, and will host the winner of the No. 16 West Babylon/No. 17 Centereach outbracket matchup on Feb. 12, at 6 p.m.

Tripptree said Ward Melville’s 17-1 overall record shows how her team is always working to achieve its goals, and there’s more to be met.

“Getting to this moment is what our first goal was this season,” she said, “Now we will keep going farther, because we’re not done yet.”

Noah Kepes drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Tim Specht reaches for the rim from inside the paint. Photo by Bill Landon
Tim Specht reaches for the rim from inside the paint. Photo by Bill Landon

With two games left to play in the regular season, the Ward Melville boys’ basketball team, at 6-5 in League I, was playing for its postseason life when the team hit the road to take on Commack Tuesday.

The game was close through three quarters, but Commack, also at 6-5 at the start of the game, slowly edged ahead in a game largely decided at the free-throw line, to win 56-45.

The Patriots led by two points after the first eight minutes of play, and Commack enjoyed a one-point lead at the halftime break. Ward Melville senior Mathew O’Hea had the hot hand in the first half, netting four field goals in the first quarter and nine more in the second.

O’Hea said it’s a hostile environment whenever his team travels to Commack.

“It’s always tough to play here — they’ve got a really great fan base,” O’Hea said. “I thought we played hard — we gave it a great effort — but we just didn’t come out with a win tonight.”

With the game tied at 30-30, Ward Melville senior Tim Specht went to the line shooting two and swished both for the lead at the 6:53 mark of the third.

“Commack’s known for their crowd, and getting in our faces when we make mistakes,” Specht said. “So we knew that was coming, and we fell into that trap at the end.”

Noah Kepes drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon
Noah Kepes drives the lane. Photo by Bill Landon

It was Specht with the hot hand in the second half though. With his Patriots team up by two points, he went to the charity stripe and nailed both opportunities to help his team edge ahead, 38-34, with 1:55 left to go in the third period.

Commack battled back and retook the lead 40-38 to begin the final quarter, and the Patriots would not see a lead the rest of the way. The game, infested with fouls, sent Ward Melville junior Noah Kepes to the line, where he netted both to retie the game at 40-40, but that’s as close as the team would come.

Commack slowly edged ahead, point by point, and outscored the Patriots 10-3 at the charity stripe in the final minutes to win the game.

O’Hea led all scorers with 19, while Specht was next in line for the Patriots with 13 points.

Ward Melville head coach Alexander Piccirillo said his team played without a let-up for all 32 minutes. “We just couldn’t get some shots to fall and we struggled to get stops down the stretch,” he said. “We hit all of our free throws today, we boxed out, we were able to rebound with them, but we turned it over in key spots and when we needed a big shot, we just couldn’t get it to fall.”

Matthew O’Hea shoots. Photo by Bill Landon
Matthew O’Hea shoots. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville takes on William Floyd at home in a must-win game Friday, Feb. 5, at 6:15 p.m., before facing undefeated powerhouse Brentwood on Monday to wrap up the regular season.

To prepare for Friday’s game against Floyd, Piccirillo said his team will prepare like it would for any other game, adding that his players will have two good practices to be fully prepared for the last home game.

“We’ll just mentally prepare — we’ll watch film because its senior night and we need that win,” Specht said. “We will not leave the gym without that win.”

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The Ward Melville cheerleading team poses for a group photo after claiming the top spot at the Empire Regionals for the third consecutive year. Photo from Loren Quitoni

The Ward Melville cheerleading team is heading back to nationals next month.

After placing in the top three at three state competitions this season, the Patriots also finished first for the third year in a row at the Empire Regionals at Hofstra University in December, where the girls earned an automatic bid to attend the national competition in Walt Disney World on Feb. 6 and 7.

“We worked really hard to perform the way we did that day,” senior co-captain Kellyann Egan said of the team’s performance that earned them the right to perform on the big stage for the fourth year in a row. “There was more pressure there because we wanted to do really well at home, and we ended up placing first and taking the automatic bid home and a banner for our gym.”

This was the first season when cheerleading was recognized as a sport by Section XI, and although the state scoring is different than that of the Universal Cheerleaders Association guidelines that the teams are used to, Ward Melville head coach Loren Quitoni said she’s just glad her girls are getting the recognition she feels they should.

“Being declared a sport has been a great way to give all cheerleaders the long overdue respect that they earned and deserve,” she said. “As there is more and more exposure to the sport each year, there is more and more respect and support given. Cheerleaders practice all but two months. It is extremely demanding on the body and requires an endless amount of time spent on proper safety skills, body technique and correct execution, not to mention that they perform during football and basketball season, on top of their own competition season.”

Cheerleading being declared a sport has also helped Ward Melville take part in more competitions, Quitoni said.

“Being a super large team, there weren’t many competitions that were offered that would hold so many girls, so we were never really able to compete that much in the past,” she said. “With each competition they’ve been getting better and better.”

The Ward Melville cheerleading team performs on the sidelines of a football game. Photo from Loren Quitoni
The Ward Melville cheerleading team performs on the sidelines of a football game. Photo from Loren Quitoni

The girls are in Division I Super Large, and although it’s been challenging for Quitoni to get all 35 of her girls in sync, senior co-captain and three-year varsity competitor Melanie Adams said she’s been surprised by what the team has been able to accomplish.

“I was nervous when I heard that we had so many younger girls, but they’ve really impressed me with their maturity and skill level,” she said of the team’s 15 freshmen and sophomores. “Representing Ward Melville is one of my favorite things. It’s very different from any other sport because you can’t ever just rely on yourself, you have to rely on your teammates, too, and they never let me down.”

Besides all that they do cheering-on their fellow student-athletes and taking part in their own competitions, the Patriots also partake in a myriad of fundraisers and community events, like clinics, family fun night at Minnesauke Elementary School and Stony Brook’s breast cancer walk, while also serving as special helpers at a dinner hosted by the school in honor of a student who is battling cancer, and adopting a family for the holidays.

“I love helping out,” senior three-year varsity cheerleader and co-captain Katarina Ramos said. “It’s really nice to gather together as a team to support the community and support our friends and our classmates.”

The squad also added a new teammate in sophomore Kim Yuknis, who is in a wheelchair.

“The girls have adopted her as one of their own,” Quitoni said. “She comes to every practice.”

Yuknis said she’s had a lot of fun fulfilling her dream of being on the varsity team, and hopes the Patriots can excel at nationals.

“I want them to do their best and I’m always going to be supporting them because they’ve always done that for me,” she said. “Loren was my gym teacher and helped me achieve this goal of mine. She’s always been supportive and she’s always believed in me. I’m very grateful, and I hope to be able to give back to them what they’ve given to me.”

Now that the big day is fast approaching, senior co-captain Katrina Henry said her squad is focused on next weekend’s event.

“We’re just working hard on competing at nationals and trying to do the best that we can do,” she said.

The girls have one more competition on Saturday before nationals, and Adams said her team’s goal is to outdo last year’s feat, where the girls placed 11th, coming just one or two points shy of breaking the top 10.

“We practice so much and we’re just so good this year,” she said. “We struggled at times in previous years, but I only see good things in the future. The practices haven’t been all that hard, and I know the girls listen very well and they take direction. I want to do even better than Top 10. I want to make the Top 5 this year, and I really think my team can make it.”

Ward Melville's Peyton LaTourrette, on left, reaches for a touch during one of his bouts against a Huntington opponent, in the Patriots' 22-5 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 15. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s prowess as fencers has helped the boys continue their undefeated streak as the Patriots made short work of Huntington Friday night on their way to a 22-5 victory, to improve to 11-0 on the season.

Ward Melville rattled off five quick victories for an early lead before Huntington answered back when Josh Yanuck blanked his opponent to put the Blue Devils on the scoreboard. The interruption would be brief though, as the Patriots won the next seven out of eight bouts to jump out to a 12-2 lead.

Ward Melville's Daniel Deto, on left, reaches for a touch during one of his bouts against a Huntington opponent, in the Patriots' 22-5 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 15. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Daniel Deto, on left, reaches for a touch during one of his bouts against a Huntington opponent, in the Patriots’ 22-5 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 15. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville sophomore sabreist Daniel Solomon won all three of his bouts without allowing a single touch. Fellow sabreist Daniel Deto, a junior, notched three victories of his own, as the national championship qualifier bested his challengers 5-3, 5-2 and 5-0.

Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said he was pleased with Deto’s comeback performance on the strip, which helped him shake off a recent slump.

“Danny Deto had a couple of bad outings in a row, so it’s nice to see him where he was four or five meets ago,” he said.

Ward Melville senior Stephen Jackson led the way in foil, winning all three of his matches 5-1, 5-0 and 5-2.

“I did exceptionally well today — I was actually very surprised that I was able to win all three of my bouts they way I did,” said Jackson, an All-County player and junior Olympic qualifier. “At our last meet against Commack I was a little off balance, but today I was able to keep my focus the whole time.”

Ward Melville junior Michael Jaklitsch, another junior Olympic qualifier, also swept his bouts, as the épéeist defeated both of his challengers, 5-1.

Ward Melville senior Peyton LaTourrette took victories in both of his appearances as well, winning 5-4 and 5-1 in foil, as did junior sabreist Jack Rohan, who won both of his bouts 5-2.

“Today wasn’t my best, I had a couple of equipment malfunctions,” said LaTourrette, an All-Long Island player and national champion qualifier. “But that happens in fencing and you’ve just got to work through it.”

Ward Melville's Stephen Jackson competes during a bout against a Huntington opponent in the Patriots' 22-5 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 15. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Stephen Jackson competes during a bout against a Huntington opponent in the Patriots’ 22-5 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 15. Photo by Bill Landon

The senior foilsit said the team’s consistency and winning ways are directly attributed to the team’s coaches, and Jackson agreed.

“We have a really great coaching staff, they’re supportive and they dedicate a lot of their time,” Jackson said. “They help us learn how to be the best fencers we can be and I’m really thankful that I have their support.”

Yanuck a foilist, won both of his matches for Huntington, 5-0 and 5-3. Rounding out the scoring for Huntington was Jack O’Heir with a 5-4 victory in épée, and Dillon Collier and Dawson Wallace, who both contributed 5-1 wins in foil. With the loss, Huntington fell to 3-6 on the season.

With the win, Ward Melville has won 225 individual bouts on the season, while dropping just 72.

“We start from the bottom up and we maintain from the bottom up, so by the time they’re my seniors or upperclassman, they’re already prepared, so I don’t have to coach them much,” Salmon said. “I do all my preparation in the gym and I work more with the younger ones so I don’t have to work so hard at the end, so it’s a pyramid strategy.”

Ward Melville, which is now on a 135-match win streak, will host Half Hollow Hills on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

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Taylor Tripptree races ahead of the pack and drives the lane for the layup in the Patriots' 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

With 10 players contributing to the score and more than half the points coming from three-pointers alone, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team had no problem cruising to a 56-18 win over William Floyd Tuesday.

“We worked well together,” junior guard Hannah Lorenzen said. “We really stepped up our defense, and we have a lot of shooting guards that can make threes; we did that pretty well today.”

Kira Sells nails one of her four three-pointers on the evening in the Patriots' 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Kira Sells nails one of her four three-pointers on the evening in the Patriots’ 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Patriots started the game off by scoring eight straight points, with senior forward Heidi Scarth scoring half of them. The team was stealing passes and forcing William Floyd turnovers, but the Colonials bounced back to score five straight points.

Ward Melville re-extended its lead by the end of the first quarter, with senior guard Kira Sells and junior guard and forward Taylor Tripptree knocking down a three-pointer apiece to give their team a commanding 14-5 lead.

“It’s definitely one of our strongest points to our game,” Sells said of scoring three-pointers. “I know I could do better. So I’m just working on getting better every game.”

Sells did do one better, though.

After Shannon Berry banked three field goals to swing the tempo of the game, Sells swished two more treys to help her team further its lead to 30-10 by halftime.

Lorenzen said her teammates did a good job of passing outside if they couldn’t enter the paint.

“It does help a lot, because if we can’t penetrate through the paint, we can kick it and depend on our shooting guards to make the threes, which helps us get ahead,” she said.

But Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said a team that wants to go up against the best-of-the-best in Suffolk County, like Brentwood, Longwood, Sachem East and the county-best Commack, would need to play with a more balanced attack.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “The three is a great weapon, but if you fall too much in love with it and your three isn’t going in that particular game, now what? It’s all or nothing. That’s why we’re focusing on getting the ball inside a little more and getting some second shots. When those threes get missed, someone needs to be hitting the board from the weak side to get some putbacks.”

Hannah Lorenzen remains in control as she sets up a play in the Patriots' 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Hannah Lorenzen remains in control as she sets up a play in the Patriots’ 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

What did work for the team, though, was getting enough ahead that more bench players were able to see minutes.

“The kids work really hard in practice all the time and it’s nice to get them out on the court, get them some playing time and have them make some shots,” he said. “We have a very talented, deep group.”

Six of the 10 players that scored on that deep roster banked trifectas, and 31 of the team’s total points came from the five bench players that scored.

Bre Cohn and Maggie Zanone came off the bench in the fourth to score six points and three points, respectively, while stealing passes and dishing assists to close out the scoring for the game.

“We’re all close on and off the court,” Lorenzen said. “We have classes together, eat lunch together — so we’re all friends.”

Haller said his team has come a long way, making the decision to come together and step up to replace the injured freshman leading scorer from last year’s team: Lauren Hansen.

“They could have felt sorry for themselves,” he said. “Instead, a number of players are stepping up and taking over responsibilities or a bit of a different role that we didn’t anticipate them having in the preseason, and they’ve done a good job of it. Instead, they decided that they’re going to make a run for this thing.”

Tom Rotanz poses for a photo with a gold medal and trophy after the U-19 team he was an assistant coach of won a world championship. Photo from Tom Rotanz

A familiar face is stepping onto the college lacrosse scene.

Tom Rotanz, a former head boys’ lacrosse coach for Shoreham-Wading River for 18 years, will helm St. Joseph’s College’s new men’s lacrosse program, which will begin its first season in spring 2017.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Rotanz said of joining the college ranks. “I think any competitive athlete and coach wants to show someone what good can come from having the right people around you and the good players that are willing to commit themselves, and I hope to have another successful tenure at St. Joseph’s.”

Tom Rotanz will be the first head coach for St. Joseph's College's men's lacrosse program. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz will be the first head coach for St. Joseph’s College’s men’s lacrosse program. Photo from Tom Rotanz

Rotanz has a long history with lacrosse.

His elder brother was on the team that won Ward Melville’s first Long Island championship in 1974, and the younger Rotanz was part of the squad that won the second and third in 1976 and 1977. The lacrosse captain earned All-American honors as a senior in 1977, after his team also made it to the New York State championship game, the first one for lacrosse. The boys lost that game, 12-11.

From there, he was the captain of the Suffolk County Community College lacrosse team that won a national championship and earned All-American honors twice. He then repeated that feat at Adelphi University, where he was also named an All-American twice.

“Tom was a great player,” said his former high school coach, and a legend on the lacrosse scene, Joe Cuozzo. “He was a great competitor, had a great sense of humor about him, and I really enjoyed working with him.”

As a coach himself, with the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats’ program only a year old, Rotanz took over a roster of 14 players, including six freshmen. The team went 1-15 his first season, scoring 38 goals on the year. But seven years later, the team was ranked fourth in the country, after winning a New York State championship and scoring close to 400 goals.

“It snowballed into something that was really neat to be a part of,” he said. “In the last 13 years I was there, we won 10 county championships, five Long Island and three New York State. People always wondered why or how we kept winning every year and being ranked one or two in the county. I say if you have bright kids that buy into the system, I think anything is possible.”

Tom Rotanz gets water dumped on his head by a former Shoreham-Wading River team after a win. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz gets water dumped on his head by a former Shoreham-Wading River team after a win. Photo from Tom Rotanz

Rotanz earned his first of six Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors in 1999, two years before he led the program to its first county championship in 2001. In 2002, the program repeated as Suffolk champs en route to Long Island and New York State titles. The team also swept Suffolk, Long Island and New York State championship titles in 2007 and 2012.

In 2012, the coach added to his list of accolades, serving as an assistant for the 2012 USA Men’s U-19 lacrosse team that won a world championship.

Now, he hopes to be able to bring that same success to St. Joseph’s, and Shantey Hill, assistant vice president and senior director of athletics and recreation for the college, thinks Rotanz is the perfect fit.

“We were very lucky in that Coach Rotanz applied,” she said, referring to the school’s intensive, national search across all NCAA institutions. “He has a plethora of experience, and … he knows the landscape of Long Island, and he’s very well-connected with his peers to be able to do good recruiting for what we’re looking for.”

For Rotanz, being on the scene as long as he has and being a part of Long Island lacrosse, serving as an assistant coach at Smithtown West for the last two years, will be beneficial throughout the recruiting process for the Golden Eagles.

“I’m very close friends with a lot of the Suffolk and Nassau coaches, so they’re already contacting me with players that they think will be a great fit, kids that they think would really like to play for me; so that’s the neat thing.”

He added, laughing, “I think there will be a lot more kids that think about not leaving the Island now, hopefully.”

Tom Rotanz makes a save during a Ward Melville boys' lacrosse game. He helped the team to two Long Island championship titles and a New York State championship appearance. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz makes a save during a Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse game. He helped the team to two Long Island championship titles and a New York State championship appearance. Photo from Tom Rotanz

According to Hill, the school decided the time was right for a lacrosse program after seeing that a number of Division III student-athletes in the college’s Skyline Conference that commit to play lacrosse come from Long Island and that there was interest with incoming and current students. The college also built a new outdoor athletic facility.

Hill said St. Joseph’s found the right coach in Rotanz.

“We think we hit a home run with coach Rotanz,” she said. “He’s not only a wonderful coach, but also a great man, and he will do great things. We’re looking forward to him not only being the face of the lacrosse program, but also being a mentor to our male student-athletes. His tenure speaks for itself. He’s very well-connected, and he has good relationships with lots of people, and that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.”

Cuozzo, who was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, said he used to go to Shoreham-Wading River practices and games to watch his former athlete, and has been thrilled with his approach to the game.

“The way he treats kids, he’s a real student of the game, and I can’t say enough on how proud I am of his accomplishments,” he said. “He brings a winning attitude.”

Rotanz, who said he tries to emulate the ways and successes of his former coach, is competitive, according to Cuozzo.

“He hates to lose — I think he got that from me,” he said, laughing. “I wasn’t a very good loser.”

Luckily, neither one of them has had to do much of that.

Tom Rotanz coaches from the sidelines of a Shoreham-Wading River boys' lacrosse game. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz coaches from the sidelines of a Shoreham-Wading River boys’ lacrosse game. Photo from Tom Rotanz

Cuozzo compiled a 699-73 record while at the helm of the Patriots’ program. In 2007, he became the head coach at Mount Sinai, where he brought his win total to 747 in his four years before retirement. During his tenure with the Wildcats, Rotanz amassed a 256-99 record.

Cuozzo also thinks Rotanz will be able to draw athletes to the school.

“A lot of kids like to leave Long Island when they are finished with high school — they don’t want to stay local — but knowing Tom, he’s very convincing,” Cuozzo said. “He’ll do his homework. He’ll go out and scout, he’ll go to high school games and he’ll talk, make phone calls. He’s very organized, he’s very knowledgeable about the game, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be successful there.”

Ward Melville at the Stony Brook Village Center, circa 1950s. Photo from WMHO

Long before there were the Gates and the Zuckerbergs of the world, there was Ward Melville.

A major Long Island philanthropist and national business leader, the scope of Ward Melville’s generosity and vision included significant restoration of historic structures, purchase and preservation of environmental and commercial properties, education and countless other endeavors.

Ward Melville’s dream was to create a “living Williamsburg,” a place where history and culture would blend with natural beauty. Along with architect Richard Haviland Smythe, he designed what was to become the first planned business community in America, the Stony Brook Village Center. The Three Village area — Stony Brook, Setauket and Old Field — has been forever changed because of this forward-thinking benefactor.

Melville was president of Melville Corporation, the third largest retailer in the United States with some 10,000 stores, which owned Thom McAn Shoes, Marshall’s, CVS Pharmacies, Kay-Bee Toys, Wilson’s Leather and Suede and more. He also donated the very land that today houses one of our nation’s leading research institutions, Stony Brook University.

The Stony Brook Community Fund, now the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO), was founded in 1939. On Jan. 19, 1940, Ward Melville hosted a dinner at the Three Village Inn to present his plan for the future of Stony Brook Village. On Jan. 19, 2016, this milestone will be commemorated at the Three Village Inn where it all began to “Celebrate What Was … Be Part of What’s To Come.”

Starting at 6 p.m. with live music by The Tom Manuel Trio, cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, dinner, dessert and coffee, guests will enjoy the same menu from 1940, hear Melville’s original speech and see the original model of the village. There will even be chocolate cigars in place of real ones enjoyed in the day.

The evening continues with an 8 p.m. sneak preview of The Jazz Loft next door, which will soon showcase a historic collection of over 10,000 items of jazz memorabilia and serve as an education and jazz performance venue as well. This 6,000-square-foot structure, formerly the site of the Suffolk Museum, now the Long Island Museum, was another of Melville’s philanthropic works. Bringing this culture to Stony Brook Village is a case of history repeating itself while looking toward the future.

During the ‘50s and ‘60s, the likes of Tony Bennett and Lionel Hampton performed at the Dogwood Hollow Amphitheatre in the very spot where WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center now stands in Stony Brook Village. The vision that Ward Melville had over 75 years ago still resonates today and the results of his efforts on behalf of the citizens of Stony Brook and beyond, both economically and culturally, will continue to touch generations for many years to come.

Tickets are $125 per person and seating is limited. Proceeds will benefit The Jazz Loft. For further information call 631-751-2244 or register online at www.wmho.org.

Centereach foilist Rebecca Koenig Vinicombe clashes with Ward Melville's Lara Obedin. Obedin won her bout 5-2 in the Patriots' 22-5 win over the Cougars on Dec 19. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

When you think of fencing, you think of Ward Melville High School.

The fencing dynasty has been the team to beat on Long Island for years, and Saturday was no different. The Patriots traveled to Centereach for a meet where, as expected, the team dominated the card despite dropping the first two bouts to defeat the Cougars 22-5.

First on the strip for Centereach was sophomore sabreist Gail Aphra Laurino, who prevailed over her challenger with a 5-4 victory. Classmate Naomi Newen followed with a 5-4 win of her own in sabre, to put her team out front 2-0.

“They’re a little intimidating, but it’s also a good experience,” Laurino said. “It makes you play harder, build up your endurance and get stronger.”

The Patriots hit their stride, and claimed the next three matches.

Centereach épéeist Abigail Cornelia fences against Ward Melville's Arianna Ferretti in the Patriots' 22-5 win over the Cougars on Dec. 19. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach épéeist Abigail Cornelia fences against Ward Melville’s Arianna Ferretti in the Patriots’ 22-5 win over the Cougars on Dec. 19. Photo by Bill Landon

First, sophomore Emily Huang notched Ward Melville’s first victory in sabre, 5-1. Sole senior Gabrielle Petrie opened foil with a win, blanking her opponent 5-0. Fellow foilist Ivanna Zavala-Arbelaez, a freshman, scored the Patriots’ third bout, a defeating her challenger 5-1, to help her team lead the meet 3-2.

Centereach freshman foilist Rebecca Koenig Vinicombe answered back with a win as a second-year varsity fencer, shutting out her opponent 5-0 to tie the meet.

But from there, Ward Melville’s fencers showed why they are still the team to beat this season, despite dropping their second meet since 2000 earlier this season. The Patriots took 19 of the next 21 bouts to claim the meet.

“We fenced this team last week, so we had a pretty good feel as to where they’re at,” Ward Melville head coach Peter Freiss said. “We were sharp today. It was a great sharing of the load from top to bottom from eighth-graders to our senior.”

Undefeated in epée was Ward Melville junior Arianna Ferretti, who won her matches 5-2, 5-4 and 5-1.

“Arianna is our anchor in epée — she was very strong today,” Freiss said. “Lara Obedin came into the second round and won her two bouts, and she too fenced very, very well.”

Obedin, a junior foilist, took her matches 5-2 and 5-1.

“The last time we fenced them I only had one bout, but they’re all different,” Ferretti said. “I watched my two other teammates [in epée] and I was able to learn by watching them. I thought I fenced pretty well today, but I’ll work on staying focused and cheering on the team for our next meet.”

Petrie defeated all three of her opponents in foil without allowing a single touch.

Centereach foilist Rebecca Koenig Vinicombe tries to fight off Ward Melville's Gabrielle Petrie in her 5-0 loss on Dec. 19. The Patriots won the meet 22-5. Photo by Bill Landon
Centereach foilist Rebecca Koenig Vinicombe tries to fight off Ward Melville’s Gabrielle Petrie in her 5-0 loss on Dec. 19. The Patriots won the meet 22-5. Photo by Bill Landon

“We’ve fenced them before, but each time you go out on the strip you have to be aware [because] they can change, they might do something different, or do something unexpected,” Petrie said. “I was pleased with my performance, but there are always things you want to analyze. I always look at my technique to be sure I’m executing. Regardless of whether I’m winning or losing I just concentrate on being the best fencer I can be.”

Freshman Lauren Cappello was also perfect on the day, winning both of her sabre bouts, 5-3 and 5-0, as did classmate Olivia Calise, who claimed wins in both of her sabre bouts, 5-2 and 5-4.

Centereach sophomore épéist Abigail Cornelia said Ward Melville is a powerful team that presents a huge learning experience for the Cougars.

“This year we have a lot of new fencers, so it’s really good to expose them to this level of play,” she said. “I think we did well under the circumstances.“

Other undefeated Patriots on the strip were sophomore épéeist Julia Duffy who edged out both of her challengers, and freshman épéeist Catherine Cao, who won her single appearance on the strip.

Centereach head coach Mike Olsen said Ward Melville works hard, and knew that it was going to be a tough match.

“We look to keep up with them and try take away one thing from each bout that we fence,” he said. “We may not win, but I told the girls to it’s a learning experience every time you go up against them.”

Ward Melville will host Walt Whitman on Monday, Jan. 4, while Centereach hosts Commack on Monday, Dec. 21, at 4 p.m.

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Junior Taylor Tripptree tallies 18 points in win

Ward Melville junior Taylor Tripptree moves through traffic in the Patriots' 55-49 nonleague home win over Islip on Dec. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Behind junior Taylor Tripptree’s 18 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team was able to edge ahead of nonleague competitor Islip Saturday and maintain its advantage after the first quarter to earn a 55-49 victory.

“I think we honestly played a very, very good game,” Tripptree said. “They’re a very good team and we did what we had to do to do against two Division I and two Division II girls. We played as a team and I think that’s what won us the game.”

Ward Melville junior Brook Pikiell dribbles the ball up the court in the Patriots' 55-49 nonleague win over Islip on Dec. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ward Melville junior Brook Pikiell dribbles the ball up the court in the Patriots’ 55-49 nonleague win over Islip on Dec. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Islip got on the board first with two free throws, but a free throw by junior Julia Coletti and a layup by Tripptree put the team out in front, 3-2. The two teams continued to trade scores, with junior guard Brooke Pikiell scoring a three-pointer and a layup and Tripptree adding another field goal, but at the end of the first, the teams were in a stalemate at 10-10.

“We really need to work on our second-shot opportunities and staying in [to] help against a big girl,” Tripptree said.

Ward Melville had trouble sinking its shots, but during the second stanza, the Patriots began to find their rhythm. Islip scored first, again, and made another field goal to jump out in front, 14-10, but the lead didn’t last for long.

With 5:12 left in the half, Tripptree tacked on a three-pointer of her own to pull within one, 14-13, and senior Heidi Scarth scored two field goals, the first off an assist from Pikiell, to give the Patriots the lead for good.

Ward Melville rounded out the scoring for the first half with a three-pointer to bring the score to 22-18.

Junior Kiera Ramaliu opened the third with a long field goal, and Islip edged close after a field goal and two free-throw points, but the Patriots wouldn’t let the Buccaneers stay close for long.

Tripptree began a six-point scoring run with a field goal, and Pikiell scored twice in a row to put the Patriots up 30-22.

Ward Melville junior Kiera Ramaliu maintains possession while looking for the open lane to move the ball in the Patriots' Dec. 12 55-49 nonleague win over Islip. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Ward Melville junior Kiera Ramaliu maintains possession while looking for the open lane to move the ball in the Patriots’ Dec. 12 55-49 nonleague win over Islip. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Tripptree assisted on her team’s next points, and followed it up with another layup, and at the end of three quarters Ward Melville was ahead 40-29.

“You’ve gotta run and you’ve gotta pressure,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller told his girls on the sidelines before the start of the final stanza.

And the girls raced across the court and pressured the ball, converting turnovers and forcing steals to trip up Islip.

“We prepared for this a lot,” Pikiell said. “We made sure we knew their zone and we knew who their good kids were and we just made sure we had a body on them at all times. I think we ran and tired them out a lot, and I think we really worked together on defense, which helped against their bigger girls.”

The teams continued to trade points, but Ward Melville managed to maintain its advantage to pull away with the win.

Behind Tripptree was Pikiell with nine points, and Scarth with eight, but five other girls also scored.

“Everyone contributed to this,” Pikiell said. “We’ve come together very well. We only lost one player last year and a couple of players came up, but we were all already very close beforehand, so I think we’re playing great together.”

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Nick Piccininni, a four-time state champion, will be tough to replace this season. File photo

With four impact-players returning, the Ward Melville wrestling team is hopeful it can rebuild after losing half of the starting squad to graduation.

“It’s hard to project what they’re going to do, but some of the wrestlers did a lot of offseason work and came back much improved from last year,” Ward Melville head coach Bill DeSario said.

The biggest loss from last season is four-time state champion Nick Piccininni.

“It’s impossible to replace Nick,” DeSario said. “But we do have some young guys that are coming up that have impressed me in the first meet that we had. We wrestled Commack on Saturday, and they seem to be learning.”

The Patriots topped Commack, 51-21, and junior 113-pounder Kenny Cracchiola, who was ranked third in the league last season, said his team performed well.

“We won most of our matches,” he said. “We still have a lot of things to work on and improve before our next meet on Friday, but I think, for the first match of the season, it was a pretty good test.”

It was a test to see where the team is, and it’s coming along.

Senior Matt O’Brien, an all-county wrestler — ranked sixth — who will be competing at 160, said he told the underclassmen from last season how he put in the work during the offseason after his sophomore year, and saw how much it paid off.

“I realized I should tell them and pass on how important it is to put in the work in the offseason so they could really impact the team well,” he said. “Me and Christian [Araneo], we’ve been trying to help the other kids with moves and teaching them different things and add on to what the coaches are saying. We’re trying to help the kids learn everything they need to, so I think we have a good up-and-coming team.”

Araneo, a senior 220-pounder who will eventually wrestle at 195 this season, is a retuning New York State champion.

“He’s just a force,” DeSario said. “He’s a monster. He’s our top gun.”

DeSario said the team is missing three wrestlers to injury, and said once they return, it will solidify the lineup. He will also be looking forward to seeing the progression of sophomore Rafael Lievano, who will be taking Piccininni’s spot at 126; classmate Chris Stellwagen, who will be competing at 106; and Tom Fitzsimons, a freshman who will be competing at 99. The head coach will also be looking for solid seasons from juniors Jake Weizenecker at 120, Sean Fitzsimons, Tyler Lynde at 170, Aaron Rettig at 182 and Nadlher Jules at 285.

“I really think we just need to train the freshmen and sophomores more so that we can have a lot of good guys ranked,” O’Brien said of the team this year as he looks even further to next. “We have coaches who have been coaching for a long time, so they have a lot of experience, which I think is our strength. Also, we have a state champ on the team, which really helps out, because he’s also second in the nation, so he can teach us a lot of things.”

While DeSario and coach Kurt Ferraro are retiring at the end of this season, DeSario said they’re hoping to set up an assistant coach to be ready to take over the team, but he also wants to make sure the team is set up for the following year.

“The main goal is to try to develop one of our assistants who we hope will take over the program,” he said. “But with that, our goal is to not only make sure we help him, but to also help the wrestlers to leave him with a good nucleus for next year. I don’t know where we’ll end up in League I this season, because it’s one of the toughest in the state, but I think we’ll do very well outside our league, in tournaments, and we’ll see what happens. We’re also looking this season to send more than one guy up to the state tournament.”