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Ward Melville

#NationalHighSchoolWalkout movement comes on 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting

By Rita J. Egan

A student-led movement at Ward Melville is determined to ensure the voices of high schoolers continue to be heard when it comes to preventing gun violence.

On April 20 — 19 years after the Columbine High School shooting — about four dozen members of WM Students Take Action participated in the second wave of the #NationalWalkout movement. While the number of participants was about 200 less than the March 14 walkout, held a month after the Parkland, Florida, shooting, participating students nonetheless braved a chilly, windy day to stand in solidarity to call for stricter gun control legislation.

“You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

— Ward Melville student

With a megaphone in hand, senior Bennett Owens led the crowd outside of school. Students read poems and gave speeches for 45 minutes. The rally included a moment of silence to remember Columbine victims, and in-between speeches, participants would shout out chants including “Listen to us” or “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like.”

During the rally, Owens said the protesters were asking for common-sense gun legislation, including a ban on “assault-style rifles” and universal background checks. He said when our forefathers wrote the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, they had no idea the type of weapons that could be made. He added his generation is the most qualified to speak about the issue because of the number of shootings that have occurred during their lifetimes.

One speaker encouraged the group not to listen to those who call them irrational. She said their detractors believe they want to ban all guns, instead of just assault weapons, because the opposition doesn’t engage them in conversation.

“We actually have ideas, we have plans, and we will vote,” she said.

Many of the students talked about how they are part of the generation of change. One girl who delivered a speech told her fellow students not to be afraid of punishment when it comes to protests and to disregard criticism that young people don’t know what they are talking about.

“What can a bunch of high schoolers know about change?” she said. “The high schoolers are the ones who are dying. Their opinions are the only opinions that really matter. You can say that we are young. You can say that we don’t know our fate. We don’t know how to stand up for ourselves. But if we don’t, who will?”

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate. I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.”

— Bennett Owens

During the 45-minute protest, drivers passing by honked sporadically to show their support, and for 15 minutes, nearly a dozen Ward Melville students stood outside with signs that read “Join the NRA,” opposite the protesters.

After the walkout, Owens said he was feeling optimistic.

“Not as many people as last time but everyone who was here is really passionate,” he said. “I’m very excited about what’s to come from this movement.

No more protests are planned for the rest of the school year, Owens explained, but on Gun Violence Awareness Day, June 1, the group hopes to sell ribbons at school and donate the funds to Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence.

Owens, who wants to be a criminal defense attorney, said he plans to continue his activism in college and has faith WM Students Take Action will continue.

“I have to pass down this organization soon, and I’m really hopeful based on the turnout we’ve seen today by underclassmen that this organization will continue to protest for the injustices that we’ve seen,” he said.

Despite concerns posted on the group’s Instagram page before the walkout, the students faced no disciplinary action, according to an April 23 statement from school district spokeswoman Jessica Novins.

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Starting pitcher slams a double, scores game-winning run to go with 11 Ks during his complete game

Starting southpaw Max Nielsen hurls a pitch. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Nothing is stopping Ward Melville’s starting pitcher Max Nielsen from winning a game.

Trading a ball for a bat, the lefty led off the bottom of the fourth with a double, knocking the ball into the outfield on a bad bounce, and two more hits eventually scored what would be the game-winning run in a 2-1 Patriots victory over Patchogue-Medford April 17.

Brady Doran gets under an infield popup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Nielsen, who added 11 strikeouts from the mound during a complete game while allowing just three hits and one walk, said he knew he’d won the game once he crossed home plate.

“I knew that was going to be the run that’d win it for us,” the southpaw said. “Because I knew I wasn’t going to give up another run.”

The junior allowed hits in the first and second and hit a batter in the second before a Patchogue-Medford bunt loaded the bases. He struck out the following hitter but allowed the only run later in the same inning. He surrendered his only walk in the top of the fourth, but also struck out two to get back on track.

“I always try to give my team the best opportunity to win,” Nielsen said. “I wanted to get ahead with the fastball, because once I get ahead I can start going through my other pitches and making it harder on the hitters. I had a rough second inning, but my defense got me out of it.”

Logan Doran and Kyle Rafferty each went 2-for-3 with a stolen base. Doran scored the Patriots’ only other run, and his brother Brady Doran also went 2-for-3. While the brothers said Ward Melville was slow to start, the Patriots are now firing on all cylinders, feeling in their element.

Brady Doran, Kyle Rafferty and Alex Russo leap up in celebration after the win. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“I wanted to attack the fastball, and he had a pretty good curveball,” junior second baseman Brady Doran said of Patchogue-Medford’s pitcher. “I’m comfortable, stay confident and try to attack the fastball and hit it hard. We gel; we’re a close team that really plays well together.”

Nielsen shared a similar sentiment, but said the funny feelings from the team’s uneven start are gone now.

“I can’t think of a weakness,” he said. “Our defense is great, I know all of the pitchers on staff are going to give us a great game and we hit.”

Head coach Lou Petrucci said he thought his southpaw controlled the game, and said he liked that he stayed under 100 pitches. Petrucci said the Raiders’ record didn’t fool him (2-7), because he knew he’d be facing a challenging opponent.

“Randall [Alejo] pitched a great game and we got away with a win today,” he said. “It’s a big rivalry game. We tried to have good at -bats, put good swings on the ball, we didn’t strike out much and the kids are showing great improvement. Our pitching staff is keeping the scores down, and now we’re working on getting the clutch hits, but we’re playing hard.”

The Patriots have now won five straight and are tied with Sachem East (7-2) at the No. 2 spot in League I behind Longwood (8-1). Ward Melville travels to Patchogue-Medford for Game 2 of the series. The first pitch is scheduled for 4:15 p.m.

By Bill Landon

The Patriots proved they have what it takes to go the distance.

After falling to Longwood 90-60 in the first League I matchup of the season, Ward Melville’s girls track and field team reversed the roles at an April 10 home meet against Middle Country, winning 90-60 with help from long-distance runners.

Junior Kate Cochran led the way in the 3,000-meter run with a winning time of 11 minutes, 39.5 seconds. She was pushed by Middle Country’s Kaitlynn Drennan from the moment the gun sounded, with Drennan finishing just six seconds behind her. Things were different in the 1,500, where it was a one, two finish for Ward Melville. Freshman Emma Rathburn crossed the line first at 5:18.1, and Shannon Ryan clocked in at 5:26.3. Drennan rounded out the top three with a 5:47.6 time.

“We studied the statistics — they’re a young team, they’re rebuilding, they have some very talented sprinters, but I knew that our strong events were going to be the distance events, the throws, along with some of the field events,” Ward Melville head coach J.P. Dion said. “From what they had in the winter and from last spring, I knew that this is where we could gain most of our points.”

Ward Melville senior Allyson Gaedje won at 800 in 2:36, a pace well off her personal best but enough to take the title.

Senior captain Kiera Hughes competed in the 100 hurdles, 100 dash, 4×100 relay and long jump. A returning All-County athlete in the spring and winter, she was ranked first in the winter 55 hurdles.

“I thought I did pretty well,” she said of her performances on the afternoon. “I’m happy, but my long jump was my strongest event, and it’s a good way to get back [into a rhythm].”

Hughes finished second in the long jump behind Ward Melville sophomore Allison D’Angio, who bested the field with a 15 feet 2.5 inches leap. Middle Country freshman Jada Hodge placed third covering 12-11.75.

“Kiera helps me out a lot by working with the younger athletes, helping them,” Dion said.

Ward Melville’s Samantha Sturgess, who also ran the 4×100 and 4×800 relays, won the 400 hurdles in 68 seconds. 

“I had a season-best, but it’s not my personal best,” the senior said. “I don’t have a problem getting over the hurdles, but I have to get faster in between.”

Middle Country head coach Charles Cuzzo said he was pleased with what he saw despite how young this year’s squad is.

“We were strongest in the sprints … the kids did very, very well,” he said, noting Maritza Blanchard, Dana Cerbone and Lexie Roth are players his opponents should watch out for. “It’s early in the season, but they keep on improving.”

Dion said he also saw several bright spots on the afternoon, especially with his jumpers.

D’Angio won the triple and the long jump and notched a personal best clearing 5 feet in the high jump, according to Dion.

The coach added Lauren Moore, a freshman,  increased her personal best in the triple jump by 4 feet. She notched another personal best with a 4-inch increase in the high jump, clearing 4-8.

“That’s huge,” said Dion.

The Patriots are back in action April 19 hosting William Floyd at 4:15 p.m. Middle Country is back on the track April 14 at the Coaches Meet at Bay Shore at 9:30 a.m.

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Chris Buehler hurls a heater. File photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon & Desirée Keegan

There are a few more Ward Melville pitchers following in the footsteps of alumni Steven Matz, Anthony Kay and Ben Brown.

Senior Chris Buehler and junior Max Nielsen are being added to Lou Petrucci’s pitching prospect pack after strong first starts to the season.

Max Nielson fires from the mound. Photo by Bill Landon

Buehler notched six strikeouts over four hitless innings in the Patriots’ 5-0 season-opening win over William Floyd Colonials March 26. Ethan Farino went two innings and Drake Eggleston pitched one in the combined one-hit shutout.

“We’re just a bunch of guys that are all one big family — we’re all brothers,” said Buehler, a lefty who’s committed to Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. “We’ve been working hard in the offseason. I think we’ll be pretty good this year.”

Nielsen secured his first “W” of the year in Ward Melville’s 6-1 home victory against Patchogue-Medford Raiders the next day.

“We just have to get the bats going this season, we’ve got to hit the ball because there’s a lot of great teams in our division,” said University of Connecticut-bound Nielsen. “Pat-Med always gives us a great series.”

Nielsen’s got the pitching and the hitting taken care of. The junior lefty had a two-run single in the top of the sixth inning to give Ward Melville a 3-0 lead over William Floyd. Senior shortstop Logan Doran had an RBI-single in the seventh inning of that game. He and his brother Brady hit doubles in the win against Patchogue-Medford.

“We’re ready,” said Logan Doran, who noted it was a bit challenging getting ready for the season indoors. “Our pitching is still dominant across the Island, but our hitting has stepped up. [We’re starting] the season with the mindset that anybody can beat us, taking nothing for granted.”

Logan Doran celebrates scoring a run. File photo by Bill Landon

Senior center fielder Trevor Cronin said his team will continue to capitalize on two of its strengths.

“We have a size advantage,” the captain said. “But our pitching [is great], especially with guys that work this hard.”

Buehler said the Patriots have a target on their back, but said his team feeds off of that.

“We just have to limit the mistakes — limit the errors — limit [our] strikeouts and we have to score runs,” Buehler said. “Our biggest challenge this year is putting some runs together, but if we play small ball, I think we can win some games.”

He said he sees Sachem East being one of Ward Melville’s biggest threats. After hosting Longwood April 2 at 10 a.m. and Brentwood April 3 at 2 p.m., the Patriots will be put to the test. They’ll face the Flaming Arrows on the road April 5 at 10 a.m.

“I think they’ve done a great job in their offseason workouts, especially this winter,” Petrucci said. “When the kids look up to Steven Matz, Anthony Kay and [most recently, Ben Brown] — they’ve all been an inspiration to all of us — the pitching staff has taken on a whole new dimension here at Ward Melville.”

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Members of state championship-winning field hockey team look to bring another title home this spring

Samantha Tarpey goalie, Ward Melville's junior goalkeeper, reaches to make a save during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Three Ward Melville multi-sport athletes are hoping to not only share knowledge of success through teaching, but through osmosis.

Lexi Reinhardt, Kate Mulham and Kerri Thornton, all veterans of the Patriots field hockey team, have tasted success at the highest level. After bringing home the school’s first state title since 2008, they returning starters are hoping to do it again, but this time, with the girls lacrosse team.

Ward Melville senior Shannon Brazier make a pass during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our core players are high energy, they’re high speed, high power, just go-go-go,” head coach Kerri Kilkenny said. “After those girls won the field hockey state title they were all texting me, ‘we’re doing it again in the spring.’”

Ward Melville ended its 2017 campaign 17-1. The Patriots powered through the regular season, going 16-0 in Division I before topping West Islip in the Class A quarterfinals. Going 17-1 would seem to be an accomplishment for any team, but for Patriots, the single-score loss to Northport in semifinals stung, and the pain still lingers. Ranked No. 1 in Division I heading into this season, Ward Melville has its sights set on a new objective.

“Our focus is working hard and getting better every day,” Kilkenny said. “This year I’m more concerned about making sure that we are taking care of ourselves — that we are becoming better, that we are improving and that we’re working hard every single day.”

The Patriots lost 13 seniors to graduation, spread evenly across the field — four attackers, four midfielders, four defenders and a goalkeeper. Kilkenny said with the girls playing on club teams over the summer, she’s not worried about filling in the gaps. Senior Shannon Coughlan will anchor the defense, the duo of Shannon Brazier and Shannon Berry will lead the midfield and Jill Becker will guide the attack.

Ward Melville senior Nicole Liucci moves the ball downfield during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Brazier said the bitter taste left in every girl’s mouth after the loss will be used as motivation.

“We’re all trying as hard as we can because a lot of us are seniors,” she said. “This is our last year, so we’re giving it our all. Even though we only had one loss last year, it ended our season. We weren’t happy about that, so we’re using that to fuel our season this year.”

Coughlan, who agreed with Brazier, said she is also looking to get her team up to speed.

“We have new personnel on defense, so we’re going to have to work on communication with each other to get to where we’re comfortable,” Coughlan said.

Ward Melville will scrimmage top Division III teams in Mount Sinai, Shoreham-Wading River, Eastport-South Manor and Bayport-Blue Point before the season opener against visiting Riverhead March 27 at 4:30 p.m.

“My senior class is a great, dynamic group — they’ve been with us a few years now and they all have tremendous potential,” Kilkenny said. “All of the girls are like sponges; they want to learn, they listen, they’re coachable. They really are a wonderful group of kids.”

Three Village budget vote is May 21. File photo by Greg Catalano

Three Village school district has officially made a decision on whether or not to allow students to participate in a walkout.

Ward Melville Principal Alan Baum informed student organizers March 9 the district could not allow students to walk out March 14, according to Bennett Owens, one of the organizers. Parents were notified by the district in a letter later that day.

Students were planning to participate in the walkout held in conjunction with events across the nation honoring the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, and to call for stricter gun control laws. Parents and students were told it was a joint decision by the board of education, principal and district’s lawyer to not encourage the walkout. Owens said the main concern cited at the March 9 meeting with the principal was the district feeling it couldn’t keep the students safe during the walkout.

“My whole thing is I’m not going to not do what I believe in out of fear of someone being violent, because that’s really why we’re protesting,” Owens said, adding that he plans to walkout regardless of the district’s decision. “We’re protesting the fact that we’re not safe in school.”

At the end of the school day March 9, the school district released a letter from Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich and board of education President William Connors. Various discussions were held with students and staff to find the best ways to students participate in what has been called the #Enough movement, according to the letter.

“As a result of these discussions and with the guidance of our legal counsel, our district will not be encouraging or condoning a walkout involving students exiting the building or leaving campus,” the letter read. “We feel that this type of demonstration would not only disrupt the educational program but would severely compromise our mission to ensure building security and student safety.”

In the letter, the district also informed parents that any student who leaves the building without authorization will be asked to return to class. Parents will be contacted if their children disregard the direction, and students who are disrespectful or disorderly will be subjected to the district’s code of conduct.

As an alternate to a walkout, the district is offering voluntary activities March 14 for high school and junior high school students, according to the letter from Pedisich and Connors. There will be a moment of silence at the high school and both junior high schools. A forum moderated by instructional staff and supervised by administrators will be held in the Ward Melville auditorium for interested students to discuss issues connected to the #Enough movement. R. C. Murphy Junior High School students will have the opportunity to write letters to Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, and P.J. Gelinas junior high schoolers can gather in the gymnasium during fourth period to hear student government leaders read memoriam notes and listen to a brief music interlude.

“It is our hope that our planned activities will afford our students the opportunity to pay respects, offer reflection and appropriately respond to honor the victims of the tragedy,” the letter read.

The decision comes a week after students interested in participating in a walkout sat with Baum to discuss their plans. Both Owens and fellow organizers were optimistic, saying the principal was receptive to their ideas; suggested changing walking out of the main entrance to the gym entrance, feeling it would be safer; and said participants would not receive disciplinary action.

Owens said he was disappointed with the district’s final decision.

“I just think a walkout at 10 a.m. when schools nationally are doing it — this was the most impactful way to get our message across,” Owens said.

Owens said he and other organizers plan to continue promoting the event on the Instagram account wmhs_walkout, but will advise fellow students they may face repercussions. Planning to attend Binghamton University in the fall, Owens said he’s not worried about any disciplinary actions that may follow the peaceful walkout after seeing a post on the college’s Instagram account, binghamtonu. The university posted: “Binghamton University will not change admissions decisions for students who are involved in peaceful protests addressing gun violence.”

Stony Brook University followed a similar policy, and posted a message to its Facebook page Feb. 26. “We have received inquiries from prospective and admitted students asking us if their admissions application will be negatively viewed if they have protested,” the statement read. “At Stony Brook University, a disciplinary action associated with meaningful, peaceful participation in a protest will not negatively impact an admissions decision. We would not view it as inappropriate or lacking integrity on its face. We view every disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.”

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

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

By Bill Landon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mount Sinai and Miller Place also come in first, Northport and Ward Melville second

Rocky Point's cheerleading team placed first in the county for the third straight season. Photo by Jim Ferchland
Miller Place’s cheerleading team rocks the house. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

The Eagles’ consistency and dominance is second to none when it comes to high school varsity cheerleading.

Rocky Point claimed its third cheerleading county championship in Division I medium varsity Feb. 24 at West Islip High School in front of a boisterous crowd shouting out Rocky Point’s name. The Eagles finished with 94.6 points, the highest overall score of the day.

“It feels amazing,” head coach Anna Spallina said. “There’s so much pressure on me to always compete and be on top. I think it’s just my personality. Climbing to the top is always good but once you’re up there, it’s harder to stay at the top.”

A Mount Sinai cheerleader atop a pyramid. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Before the meet on Saturday, Rocky Point was down in Orlando, Florida for nationals. After earning a pass straight to the finals, the Eagles’ performance put them in a disappointing seventh place.

“It’s a sport,” Spallina said. “Like any other sport, you’re going to have a good day and a bad day. It’s just the way it is.”

Northport finished second (81.2), Newfield third (67.3) and Kings Park fourth (65.9).

Mount Sinai was the only Division II large school in the competition. They finished with a score of 87.7. Mustangs head coach Kara Bochicchio said there still was competition — themselves.

“It was really just about going out there and trying to perform the best routine they could,” Bochicchio said. “Throughout the whole routine, there was fight. It might not have been the most perfect routine of the day, but they fought for everything tooth and nail. I’m really proud of them.”

Mount Sinai senior Charlotte Fiordalisi said there’s no way better to finalize the season with a county championship, especially after the Mustangs also finished nationals in fourth place.

Northport’s cheerleading team brings the excitement. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I’m just really proud of my team,” Fiordalisi said. “My first ever competition six years ago was here and my last competition being here is bittersweet. It was a great way to finish the season. I’m just living in the moment.”

Miller Place finished first in Division II Medium varsity. The Panthers had 68.5 points to Hampton Bays’ 45.2. The pair are the only two teams in the division.

To wrap up the day was the Division I large school, Sachem North (88.7) earned first place over Ward Melville by one point.

“They really amaze me,” Ward Melville head coach Christine Perretta said of her team. “They never let anything defeat them. We pushed through every routine and they’ve definitely gone further than they’ve ever gone for Ward Melville. They don’t stop until the end.”

A Newfield cheerleader shouts a chant. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Ward Melville senior Kara Manuud has been with the team since her sophomore year. She said she was confident in the Patriots’ routine.

“Just being on that mat one final time, I knew nothing could go wrong,” Manuud said. “We have the skill, we’ve had all the practice we could have and it was just the matter of perfecting that and showing it on the mat.”

The Patriots took eighth place in nationals this year, and senior Courtney Cardillo said it feels good to finish her high school career on a higher note.

“After getting eighth, we worked really hard this past week,” Cardillo said. “We came in stronger than we’ve ever been. We hit a bunch of routines. We showed them what we deserved and who we are.”

 

 

Ward Melville’s cheerleading team. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Cougars are second Class AA team to make it to four straight county finals

Casey Hearns makes her way through Ward Melville's defense. Photo by John Dielman
Amanda McMahon leaps up to the rim. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

Commack’s Katie Kelly, Amanda McMahon and Kim Shalhoub were too much for Ward Melville to contain.

The Cougars trio combined for 43 points in their team’s 60-45 victory over the Patriots in the Class AA semifinals Feb. 24 at Suffolk County Community in Selden. Commack is the second team in Class AA to go to four straight county finals since Sachem East did it from 2008-11.

“We know we’ve always been rivals,” said McMahon, who with Kelly each recorded a team-high 15 points. “We know we always have to bring our game. It feels really great to get a win because we prepared for this so much. The intensity really picked up as the game progressed.”

The packed house was there to not only watch the two teams duke it out, but see Ward Melville head coach Samantha Prahalis face off once again against her alma mater. Commack beat Ward Melville back on Jan. 3, 75-59. Prahalis was ejected that game in the fourth quarter after arguing with officials. On Saturday, Prahalis picked up a technical with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter, which gave Commack momentum to finish the job.

“It’s not necessarily about Ward Melville-Commack,” Prahalis said. “It’s the semifinals. A lot is on the line.”

Katie Kelly reaches powers into Ward Melville’s zone. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville junior Lauren Hansen was back healthy after missing six weeks with a hand injury. She finished with 18 points, making four 3-pointers after recording 39 during the first matchup. Junior Bre Cohn finished with 13 points.

“It was difficult,” Hansen said. “I was missing a lot of shots. It was kind of frustrating but it felt good to be back out there.”

Commack senior captain Casey Hearns defended Hansen the entire game. She said guarding her was a huge challenge.

“She is an outstanding player,” Hearns said of Hansen. “It’s definitely hard to guard her. Each time we play her, she has the ability to turn it on in a game like that and take it over. I just focused on staying in front. I knew there were times she was going to pull up and I couldn’t really do anything about it.”

Kim Shaloub passed the ball. Photo by John Dielman

Despite a slow first quarter, the Cougars were up 26-24 at halftime and outscored the Patriots 34-21 in the second half. Commack senior guard and captain Shalhoub (13 points) said her team is more a second-half team.

“I feel like every game we play better in the second half,” Shalhoub said. “It’s really important at the end of the game once you tire the other team out to keep on pushing. It really makes the ending better when you finish strong.”

Prahalis said Ward Melville had a chance to win after Commack went on a 13-0 run to push its advantage, but let the game slip away.

“We kinda had them, and then little things here and there — one or two things leads to three or four,” Prahalis said. “I’m proud of my girls for sticking in there and working hard. We’ll be back here next year.”

Hearns is proud of her team going to yet another county final. Commack will face off against Half Hollow Hills East at Farmingdale State College Feb. 27 at 5 p.m.

“We are used to this,” Hearns said. “This is our fourth one in a row. We lose kids every year and we are still able to get back here. That’s something I’m so proud of and I’m really happy to be a part of this team — from the first girl on the court to the last one on the bench.”

Commack’s bench erupts during a 13-0 Cougars run in the fourth quarter. Photo by John Dielman

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Alex Sober scored a career-high 31 points in Ward Melville’s quarterfinal loss. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

With their first league championship in 28 years, the Patriots’ magical season came to a close. It was a rematch for Ward Melville (17-5) against top dog Half Hollow Hills East (19-2) in the second round of the playoffs on Feb. 20. The Thunderbirds were responsible for ending the Patriots season in 2017. This year, it was the same outcome.

Senior and Quinnipiac University signee Savion Lewis racked up 40 points for Hills East. Meanwhile, senior Alex Sobel countered with a career-high 31 points for Ward Melville, but it wasn’t enough as they came up short 84-72 in the Class AA quarterfinal.

Ray Grabowski finished with 17 points in his final game with the Patriots. Photo by John Dielman

“I expected to win,” Sobel said. “I played well, but it just wasn’t enough. My career-high doesn’t even matter.”

The Patriots had difficulty taking care of the ball, turning it over 17 times, 12 of those coming in the first half.

“We knew that they would get a lot of points in transition,” Sobel said. “That’s what they did. If we didn’t turn the ball over as much, we would have won the game.”

Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo, who brought his team to the postseason all three of his seasons, said it was tough to contain Lewis.

“Savion is the best player in the county,” he said. “He’s going to be voted on that. We knew he was going to get his points.”

Ward Melville Junior Ray Grabowski recorded 17 points and eight rebounds in the loss. Senior Brendan Martin finished his final game with 10 points, five assists and seven turnovers.

Junior guard Robert Soto had nine points, five rebounds and had six turnovers. Despite the loss, Grabowski said the team fought hard.

“I thought everyone played well,” Grabowski said. “I thought Sobel played a great game. It was just a very good team we were up against and there’s not much you can do.”

Ward Melville outscored Hills East in the fourth quarter, 25-22.

“It’s a playoff game in a great playoff atmosphere,” Piccirillo said. “We knew that it was going to be tough. It was either going to take a stop or a big shot to be made for it to swing our way and we just couldn’t get enough momentum to keep it in our direction.”