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Ward Melville

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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.”

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Ward Melville junior Michael Jaklitsch battles a Huntington opponent in a match last season. File photo by Bill Landon

In February of this year, the Ward Melville girls’ and boys’ fencing team swept the Suffolk County championships for the ninth straight season. The boys extended their match streak to 124 with the win, and although the girls had their 195-game streak snapped last year, will look to start a new one as the girls begin the road to what could be their 14th straight Suffolk County crown.

Five senior fencers were sent off to college last year, with Carly Weber-Levine competing at Stanford University, Ilana Solomon playing for Columbia University, Michael Antipas competing at University of Notre Dame, and Angela Zhang and Michael Skolnick fencing for Cornell University and Vassar College, respectively.

Ward Melville junior Lara Obedin fences against a Huntington opponent in a match last season. File photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Lara Obedin fences against a Huntington opponent in a match last season. File photo by Bill Landon

While the girls lost Solomon, the boys team returns her younger brother, Danny, who is a sophomore this year.

The loss of Antipas will be felt heavily, along with Marc Dalrymple and two other seniors, but the Patriots return a slew of underclassmen looking to fill the shoes of those lost.

Antipas was the last of three family members to fence at the school, and his presence will be missed. He, along with his sisters, Demi and Alexa, combined for a 346-2 varsity record.

The girls lost three other seniors along with Weber-Levine to graduation, but this Patriots team also returns a ton of sophomores and a handful of juniors to the lineup.

The season will test what those underclassmen have learned from some of the greats before them, and the teams will be tested when they travel to Newfield on Wednesday, for the first meet of the season, at 5 p.m.

The teams will host Commack the following day, Dec. 10, at 5 p.m., before competing in a tournament at Brentwood on Dec. 12. The tournament is set to begin at 9 a.m.

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Ward Melville's Victoria Tilley and Alex Stein grab a block at the net in the Patriots' 3-0 loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on Nov. 12. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was a battle of the undefeated teams, but Ward Melville fell short. The Patriots girls’ volleyball team was able to power past Smithtown East but had trouble doing it again, and fell to No. 1-ranked Connetquot, 27-25, 25-18, and 25-20, Thursday in the Suffolk County Class AA finals.

Ward Melville senior Alex Stein scores a kill shot in the Patriots' 3-0 loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on Nov. 12. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville senior Alex Stein scores a kill shot in the Patriots’ 3-0 loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on Nov. 12. Photo by Bill Landon

The Thunderbirds broke out to an early 10-4 lead, but the Patriots made it a one-point game later in the set to trail 19-18, forcing a Connetquot time out. Ward Melville scored next to tie the game at 19-19, but Connetquot rattled off five more points to surge ahead 24-21.

It was advantage Ward Melville when the Patriots scored the next four points to take a 25-24 lead, but the Thunderbirds were the No.1 seed for a reason, and dug out two more points to retake the lead, 26-25, and aced the final point to put the set away, 27-25.

“I felt like we got robbed in game one — I thought we had it but got a bad call there,” Ward Melville head coach Charles Fernandes said. “But I’ve got to be honest, I don’t think we played like we normally play. We didn’t pass very well and when we don’t pass well we don’t get into our offensive system.”

In a repeat of the first set, Connetquot broke out to a 10-4 lead and edged ahead 12-5 in the second set, before the team jumped out to a 20-8 lead. Ward Melville battled back to trail 22-14, and both teams traded points as Connetquot took the set to the brink, leading 24-14 before Ward Melville rattled off four unanswered points to trail 24-18. The Thunderbirds scored next though, to claim another set, 25-18.

Ward Melville junior Cierra Low sets the ball in the team's 3-0 loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on Nov. 12. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville junior Cierra Low sets the ball in the team’s 3-0 loss to Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals on Nov. 12. Photo by Bill Landon

Fernandes spoke to his team following the second-set loss about what it took to battle back, being down two games to none.

“This has happened before — teams pull this out,” he told his team. “You’ve got to get the first one and that’s the hard one.”

With their backs against the wall, the Patriots broke out to an 8-2 advantage in the third set as the team tried to avoid elimination, but after a Connetquot time out, Ward Melville struggled to maintain the margin, and the Thunderbirds bounced back to tie the game 10-10.

Connetquot scored next to take its first lead, but the set was retied at 16-16 courtesy of a kill shot by Ward Melville senior outside hitter Alex Stein. The Thunderbirds edged ahead 20-17, then 22-19 and again brought the match to the brink leading 24-20.

Stein said that her team’s performance was not up to par with the level her team usually plays at.

“I don’t know if we were nervous, anxious or just all over the place mentally, but we did not click as a team,” she said. “Our defense was all over the place and it’s just not how we play.”

The Thunderbirds scored next to sweep the Patriots and advance to the Long Island Championship round against Massapequa, where the team beat the Nassau County champs for the Long Island championship title.

Former Smithtown East head coach Peter Melore will be Ward Melville’s new athletic director. Photo from Three Village Central School District

Former Smithtown East football coach Peter J. Melore will be the Three Village Central School District’s new, permanent executive director of health, physical education, recreation and athletics. He will replace Nicholas Schroeder, who served the district on an interim basis since the start of the school year.

Throughout his professional tenure, Melore has also worked as a coach at both the high school and middle school levels. In the role of head varsity football coach, he guided Smithtown High School East to the Big Four Championship in 2012 and 2014, as well as the playoffs in 2013. He had similar success when he was the assistant varsity football coach at Farmingdale High School, during which he accumulated 11 Big Four championships, 10 finals showings, five county championships, one Long Island championship and one Rutgers Cup trophy and was named the 2007 Nassau County Assistant Coach of the Year.

Melore comes to the Three Village district from Roslyn school district, has more than 23 years of experience in the field of health education and athletics. He began his career as a middle school physical education teacher in Farmingdale school district and also served in that district as a building and district leader for internship projects as well as lead teacher. His most recent role was as Roslyn’s director of physical education, health, intramurals, athletics and recreation.

Melore earned his Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from SUNY Cortland, Master of Arts in Physical Education from Adelphi University and Educational Leadership Program certificate from Dowling College. Additionally, he renews his CPR and First Aid certifications annually.

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Smithtown East's Jackie Cuccarello and Kendra Harlow leap up to block a spike by Ward Melville's Alex Stein. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Victoria Tilley said that despite the Ward Melville girls’ volleyball team blanking 12 of its 13 regular-season opponents 3-0, the team has always had to battle back — and Monday was no different.

The Patriots had only lost one set the entire season and found themselves down 2-1 to another undefeated team, Smithtown East. Ward Melville wouldn’t go down without a fight though and won the fourth and decisive fifth set to secure its spot in the Suffolk County Class AA finals, 25-21, 21-25, 20-25, 25-23, 25-14.

“It’s amazing how we came back,” the senior middle hitter and blocker said, grinning from ear to ear. “We’re sometimes late starters and it comes back to us. We trail a lot with teams, but we always know how to clam down and talk to each other, and it works every single time.”

Smithtown East had contributions from Kendra Harlow (19 kills), Haley Anderson (15 kills and 12 digs), Morgan Catalanotto (15 digs) and Jackie Cuccarello (42 assists) and went on a five-point tare in the third set and opened up the fourth with another five straight points before the Patriots put themselves on the board, but Ward Melville sophomore outside hitter Ashley Fuchs was the difference maker.

With the fourth set tied 14-14, a slide across the baseline for a dig helped put her team out in front and forced Smithtown East head coach George Alamia to call time-out. From there, although the Bulls tied it at 15-15, the Patriots never trailed again.

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Alex Stein serves up the ball in Ward Melville’s 3-2 Class AA semifinal win over Smithtown East on Nov. 9. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We were making some hitting errors which is fine, and it’s hard to adjust to some hits off the net, but we all came together,” Ward Melville junior setter Cierra Low said. “We were down at some points but we always know we can come back together. We work as a team and when we got down we get in that huddle and tell each other to relax, that it’s all good and we’ll get back there and we did. We won.”

The Patriots’ defense was a weak point throughout the match, but the team continued to bounce back.

“We talked about some things that we wanted to do defensively and didn’t do it until the fourth game, but it did finally work out,” Ward Melville head coach Charles Fernandes said. “They were very calm; there was no panicking.”

As the Patriots climbed back to win the fourth set and fans cheered across the gymnasium, Ward Melville senior Alex Stein said she knew her team had it in them to pull through once more.

The outside hitter, who finished the game with 28 kills, 10 digs, three blocks and two aces, said she knew from the start that the team had a lot of potential.

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The Ward Melville girls’ volleyball team celebrates a point in the Patroits’ 3-2 win over Smithtown East in the Class AA semifinals. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We knew we could go far if we worked for it, so it’s nice to see that we didn’t roll over and let them win,” she said. “Every game where there’s been a challenge we’ve been able to overcome it, especially when we’re down that’s when we really focus and work together. We’ve wanted this the whole season. We’ve been working as hard as we can since preseason for this moment, and we just took it.”

Tilley finished with 14 kills and four blocks, Fuchs added eight kills and eight digs, senior libero Claire O’Hern had nine digs and junior left side hitter Lara Atalay had 14 kills and three blocks.

With the win, Ward Melville moved on to face No. 1 Connetquot in the Suffolk County Class AA championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus today at 8 p.m.

Stein, who is the only player on the team to have also competed with the Patriots’ 2012 county champion team, is looking forward to the matchup.

“It’s not going to be easy but we’re going to work as hard as we can,” she said. “Connetquot is a very good team and we know that their ball control is very good and they’re going to depend on us making mistakes so we’re going to work hard to eliminate the errors.”

Fernandes said that although he’s been coaching volleyball for years and made it to the county finals before, going back with these girls makes it feel like the first time.

“The girls hung together, they understood that if we executed our game plan we could be successful, and they did,” Fernandes said. “This is a very good volleyball team and if anything, our route to the finals has battle-tested us. I just can’t wait to see these kids in that room.”

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