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Ward Melville

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Alex Sobel goes up the the rim. Photo by John Dielman

By Jim Ferchland

The big man on campus can stuff the stat sheet in a variety of ways.

Ray Grabowski drives to the basket. Photo by John Dielman

Ward Melville’s senior 6-foot, 8-inch Alex Sobel said he would be 100 percent ready for the playoffs following a quiet appearance in the Patriots’ win over Sachem East Feb. 9 – he wasn’t kidding.

Sobel came back in a big way Feb. 17 against Half Hollow Hills West, scoring 21 points, hauling in 10 rebounds and blocking six shots in a 66-50 win in the first round of the Class AA playoffs.

“I felt really good honestly,” Sobel said. “I feel healthy. Blocking shots is one of the best parts of my game. It definitely felt good to get back in my rhythm that I was in earlier in the season.”

Junior Ray Grabowski had the hot hand in the first half, putting up 16 of his 20 total points. Classmate Robert Soto finished with 11 points.

Grabowski said the crowd and his teammates got him going.

“I thought the defense was very good,” Grabowski said. “Me, Trevor [Cronin] and even Rob [Soto] — we all played very good on [Derek] Brower. Sobel was big in help defense. He had a lot of blocked shots. The momentum ­— if we keep playing this good, I think we can go as far as we want.”

Alex Sobel leaps for the ball at opening tipoff. Photo by John Dielman

Hills West’s dynamic senior backcourt of Derek Brower Jr. and Jeff Terry combined for 30 points. Brower Jr. led the Colts with 17 points, but Ward Melville’s head coach had a game plan to wear them out.

“If we chased him around and ran off screens and had to run all over to get open, eventually his legs would get tired and then his shot would go,” Alex Piccirillo said. “We tried to take away their first option.”

At halftime, the Patriots had a comfortable 43-21 lead, outscoring the Colts 18-8 in the second quarter. Even with the advantage, Piccirillo told his guys that the game wasn’t over.

“I told them there’s no time to step on the brake,” Piccirillo said. “[I wanted them to] just try to continue to move forward, run the floor and defend. Our defense will lead to any offensive opportunities that we want.”

Ward Melville’s Soto, who went a 4-for-4 from the foul line, said his strategy was to draw contact and keep attacking the rim.

“I felt pretty confident taking the ball to the bucket,” Soto said. “I didn’t really think anybody could stay with me, so I kept driving to the basket.”

Ward Melville senior guard Brendan Martin had four points, but had the ball in his hands most of the game. Piccirillo said the team wouldn’t be where it is now without their playmaker.

Alex Mazzone shoots above a block. Photo by John Dielman

“He’s our floor general,” Piccirillo said of Martin. “He takes care of everything for us. He gets us into our offense, he’s the first one to communicate; without him, we don’t get this far.”

In his final home game, Sobel said the result was drawn up as expected.

“In the first quarter, we were up and we never looked back,” he said. “We never really let the game get close — that’s how you want every game to go. It’s been a great four years.”

Ward Melville is set to play at Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 20 at 4:30 p.m. Hills East beat Ward Melville last year in the same round, 75-59.

“It’s the playoffs,” Piccirillo said. “Every team is good. It’s down to the final eight teams in Suffolk County. It’s going to be a battle, they have Savion Lewis, who’s the best player in the county. We know we have our hands full, but we have some pretty good players, too.”

Brendan Martin moves the ball. Photo by John Dielman

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Ward Melville senior Bre Cohn recorded a double-double on 11 points and 12 rebounds, adding five steals and two blocks to lead No. 12 Ward Melville to a 33-29 upset of No. 5 Eastport-South Manor in the first round of the Class AA playoffs Feb. 16.

Shannon Brazier had eights points nine rebounds, and Jamie Agostino and Noelle Richardson added six points each. Twelve of the team’s total points came off 3-pointers.

Ward Melville will face No. 4 Longwood on the road Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.

Northport's Isaiah Claiborne leads the 1,000-meter run pack. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Just when Kiera Hughes thought she couldn’t get any better, she did.

The Ward Melville condnior hurdler raced 55 meters in a blazing 8.5 seconds, finishing in the top spot at the state qualifier Feb. 12. Her time on the Suffolk County Community College Brentwood track marked her third personal best of the season and the second time she’s beaten her own school record.

Ward Melville hurdler Kiera Hughes beaming with joy following her new personal record and first-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s a huge improvement,” she said, unable to control her excitement and glee. “I’m over the moon. I just wanted to go to states, that’s my main goal. I wanted to be the best I can be, and I was.”

She had knocked down the 2003 record (8.74) with a time of 8.63 and shaved that down to 8.6 at the league championship last month.

Her Patriots teammates finished second in 4×800 relay with a time of 9:33.38.

Ward Melville seniors Allyson Gaedje, Sam Rutt and Sam Sturgess, and sophomore Elizabeth Radke joined Hughes in qualifying to compete in the state championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island March 3.

Although the quartet competed in the 4×400 at the Millrose Games on Feb. 3 and Suffolk County championship Feb. 4, Ward Melville stretched the distance because head coach Tom Youngs said the group is strong at running longer distances, being that all four runners take part in the cross country season.

“We feel that we have a better chance of going after a state title in the 4×800 as opposed the 4×400,” Youngs said. “Last year we did the double at Millrose Games, but that spread our kids a little too thin, so we want to focus more on just a single event, which is what we did.”

Gaedje who runs the final leg in both relays, said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Northport’s Dan O’Connor and Sean Ryan finish behind one another in the 3,200-meter run. Photo by Bill Landon

“I felt a little heavy throughout,” she said. “It wasn’t my best, but I’m happy that we made states and hopefully we can do better there.”

Northport swept the top two positions in the boy’s 3,200 run, where Dan O’Connor edged teammate Sean Ryan by just over a second, clocking in at 9:37.28. The Tigers placed first in the 4×800 relay led by seniors O’Connor, Claiborne brothers Isaiah and Elijah, and sophomore Thomas Fodor, who tripped the clock at 8:08.99. Elijah Claiborne finished first in the 1,600 with a time of 4:20.78, while his brother finished in the top spot in the 1,000 with a time of 2:32.45. Ward Melville’s Danny Ryan came in third in 2:36.31 in the 1,000, and his Patriots teammate Eric Zulkofske placed second in the 1,600 just hundredths of a second behind Claiborn with a 4:20.95 finish.

Untouchable in the boys high jump was Babylon’s Vladislav Cullinane, who cleared the bar at 6 feet, 9 inches, but Shoreham-Wading River senior Richard Casazza qualified for states with a second-place jump of 6 feet, 6 inches, as did Kings Park’s Michael Perez, who cleanly cleared 6 feet, 2 inches.

Hauppauge’s Nick Crociata, the fastest returner from last season’s state championship 600 race, qualified with a 1:22.39 second victory at the event. Huntington’s Jonathan Smith finished the event in third place with a time of 1:23.08. Mount Sinai’s Kenneth Wei came in a close second in three events. He competed the 55 hurdles two hundredths of a second behind the first-place runner, crossing the line in 7.58, and .25 inches behind first in the long jump, with a leap of 21 feet, 9 inches. Wei finished the triple jump tied with Riverhead’s Kian martelli for second, with 43 feet, 10 inches.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Katherine Lee competes in the 1,000-meter run. Photo by Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River phenom Katherine Lee was at the top of her field in the 1,000, finishing with ease. The senior dashed across the finish line in 2:52.58, the fastest time on Long Island this season, according to milesplit.com. Seven seconds behind her was freshman Kaitlyn Chandrika of Mount Sinai, who finished in 2:59.41, just getting past Gabby Schneider of Smithtown East, who crossed the finish line in 2:59.95.

Lee, who has yet to win an indoor state title, said the accolades are great, but to her, it’s all about getting ready for making a collegiate debut at Georgetown University.

“I’m looking for personal records — I just want to better myself, and if a state title comes with that it’s great,” she said. “I’m so excited about attending school in the fall that I have a countdown clock on my phone marked for Aug. 19.”

In her last appearance on the Suffolk indoor track, Lee reflected on all the memories she made over the last five years.

“Probably my fondest memory here is when we won the small school county championship,” she said. “So competing here is a bittersweet goodbye. The plan for this race was to go out hard and see what happens, and although I didn’t quite run the time I wanted in every sector, I’m in good shape. With someone on my back … I can go a little faster.”

This version corrects the spelling of the Claiborn brothers’ last name.

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Children play in the playground at Nassakeag Elementary School. File photo

It may only be February, but the Three Village Central School District has already announced plans for the upcoming year’s program for its youngest learners.

At a recent meeting, the school board received both an update on the inaugural year of the district’s prekindergarten and plans for the program during the 2018-2019 school year. The presentation, delivered by Nassakeag Elementary School assistant principal and prekindergarten coordinator Nancy Pickford, covered the curriculum and other highlights of the free prekindergarten program.   

“The pre-K has brought an element of wonder and excitement to Nassakeag, and the entire building has embraced our youngest students.”

—Nancy Pickford

The prekindergarten, which is located at Nassakeag Elementary School, “supports students’ cognitive and social and emotional learning” and includes foundational language, math and technological skills features, Pickford said.

The curriculum, which is designed by Three Village educators, is age-appropriate, meets New York State standards and prepares students for kindergarten in the Three Village district, Pickford said. Learning is play-based, and students benefit from individual, small and large group instruction and activities.

Pickford also explained that students are placed in classes according to the elementary school they will attend for kindergarten, ensuring that they can begin to establish friendships as they continue in the district. She also noted that the prekindergarten program provides an opportunity for educators to evaluate students and identify the need for early intervention services.

While the preschool has a separate entrance with a security guard and its own playground, prekindergarten students have access to the school’s library, mini-gym and school nurse. They also participate in cultural arts programs, school-wide musical performances and PTA-sponsored events at Nassakeag. Class buddies from the elementary grades also read to prekindergarteners and do projects with them, Pickford said.

“The pre-K has brought an element of wonder and excitement to Nassakeag, and the entire building has embraced our youngest students,” she said

Parents receive midyear and end-of-year progress reports and attend parent-teacher conferences. Responses to parent surveys have been overwhelmingly positive and indicate that families are pleased with the program, Pickford said. Administrators, though, will track the students through kindergarten to gauge the effectiveness of the program, she said. Looking ahead, the district plans to install a grant-funded, outdoor classroom.

With current enrollment at 109 students, classes range in size from 15 to 18 students and are each led by a New York State-certified teacher and an assistant. There are currently seven half-day sections which meet from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and noon to 2:30 p.m. Start and end times are staggered to avoid congestion with the arrivals and departures of the elementary school students, Pickford said. 

Enrollment for the new year begins on Feb. 26. Pickford, who anticipates an enrollment increase, said that if the number goes above the 200-student cap, there will be a lottery for spots.

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By Jim Ferchland

The league-title winning drought is finally over for the Ward Melville Patriots.

With a 64-51 win over Sachem East Feb. 9, the boys basketball team nabbed a share of the bragging rights for the first time since 1990.

With only five players scoring, Ward Melville was efficient enough to hold down Sachem East in its final regular season game. Brentwood played Longwood the same night and lost, 53-49, leaving the Indians, Lions and Patriots all tied at 11-3 in League I play. Ward Melville had the best overall record at 16-4.

“All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

— Alex Piccirillo

“It’s all we’ve talked about in the offseason,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said about winning the league title. “We’ve gone all spring, all summer, all fall; we’ve played 100 games. All we talk about is putting a dot up on the wall. At times this year, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. We came together and it all kinda fell into place.”

Senior Trevor Cronin, who averaged four to six points per game this year, finished Feb. 9 a game-high 18 points, 16 of them coming in the second half.

“If you’re going to leave him open, that’s what he’ll do to you,” Piccirillo said of Cronin. “He’s worked his tail off and got tremendously better. He just works hard and does whatever we ask him to do.”

For Cronin, who barely touched the ball two years ago as a sophomore on the junior varsity team, he wasn’t the only one reviving the game’s vitality.

“My teammates have been there for me all year,” Cronin said. “When they needed me to pick them up, I was there to pick them up today. It’s all about my teammates.”

In the collaborative effort, senior Brendan Martin poured in 16 points with a team-high four 3-pointers.  Junior Robert Soto contributed 15, and junior Ray Grabowski came through with a double-double on 11 points and 10 rebounds. Leading scorer Alex Sobel came back after missing three games with an ankle injury and scored four points.

Sobel said he felt a lot better being back on the court.

“It feels good,” Sobel said. “It wasn’t a very statistical game for me tonight, but it’s perfect because I have a week now to get ready for our next game. I expect to be 100 percent ready by the playoffs.”

Piccirillo said it was great to see Sobel back on the floor despite not putting up his usual numbers — he was averaging 16 points, 15 rebounds and almost five blocks a game this season prior to his injury.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together. That’s exactly what happened today.”

— Brendan Martin

“He blocks shots, he hinders guys from shooting layups,” the coach said. “He just changes the game.”

Sachem East seniors Ryan Panno and Ryan Sheehy combined for 30 points. Panno led with 18 points. Junior Ryan Kennedy had nine points off of three triples.

In a tale of two halves, the Patriots got scorching hot in the second, outscoring the Flaming Arrows 43-28 after being down 23-21 at halftime. Ward Melville went on a 12-2 run to conclude the third quarter. It was a big spark plug to finish strong.

“We started knocking down threes and getting stops,” Martin said. “Our stops led to early offense — big rebounds by Alex Sobel making blocked shots. We pushed the ball on the fast break and it got the home crowd fired up, too.”

Martin said Ward Melville strives to have every player contribute. He said he’s hoping having the team at full strength with help the Patriots get there this postseason.

“That’s what we want here for Ward Melville basketball — big team guys with everyone playing well together,” Martin said. “That’s exactly what happened today.”

Cronin enjoyed finishing the season with a league-clinching victory in front of family and friends.

“It feels great,” Cronin said of the win. “Hopefully, we can go far in the playoffs.”

No. 8-seeded Ward Melville hosts No. 9 Half Hollow Hills West Feb. 17 at 1 p.m.

This version has been updated to include who Ward Melville will be facing in the first round of playoffs.

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Patriots relay team places first at Millrose Games, counties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Tom Youngs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robert Soto leaps up to the basket between two defenders. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Junior Ray Grabowski was attacking the basket at will, leading the charge for Ward Melville with 24 points.

Ray Grabowski reaches for the rim. Photo by Jim Ferchland

His counterparts Brendan Martin and Robert Soto each contributed 13 points in a comfortable 67-46 road win over Sachem North Feb. 6. The Patriots advance to 10-3 in League I while Sachem North falls to the very bottom of League I at 1-12. Ward Melville and Longwood sit in the No. 2 spot, one win behind Brentwood (11-2) in first place.

“League I is an absolute jungle,” Ward Melville head coach Alex Piccirillo said. “Any time you can go on the road and win, it’s amazing. We work hard. We planned for this. That’s what we do.”

Grabowski said he felt pretty good with his offensive game. He made three 3-pointers and six field goals. He also made seven trips to the foul line.

“I was hitting shots when I was open,” Grabowski said. “I realized right away that I was bigger than every single one of those kids and took them to the hoop every single time.”

At the end of the first half, Ward Melville was up 24-18. The Patriots poured it in from outside the perimeter in the second half, knocking down seven 3-pointers. They outscored the Flaming arrows 43-28 in the final 16 minutes.

“We were able to push the ball more and gets the shots that we wanted,” Piccirillo said, noting his team eventually found the pace of play it’s accustomed to. “We did a much better job in the second half.”

Brendan Martin calls a play as he moves the ball into Sachem North territory. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Without 6-foot, 9-inch leading scorer Alex Sobel, out with an ankle injury since Jan. 26, the team hasn’t seemed to miss a beat, going 2-1 in the last three games.

“We just play the same way,” Piccirillo said. “It’s a team game. We continue to do what we do. We’re going to rebound, defend, box out and we’re going be physical.”

Ward Melville’s point guard Martin only scored two points in the first half, but found his sweet spot in the second, also knocking down three triples.

“My teammates and my coaches told me to keep on shooting it,” Martin said. “I came out and made three in a row, so it felt pretty good.”

Even with the team in good standing without Sobel, Martin said he hopes to be competing alongside his comrade again this season.

“Sobel is a Top 5 player in the county,” he said. “We miss him a lot, and hopefully we’ll have him back before the playoffs.”

Sachem North junior Bradley Anacreon lead the Flaming arrows with 15 points. He was the only player in double figures.

Ward Melville is scheduled to play at home against Sachem East Feb. 9 at 6:15 p.m.

Ward Melville's Ivanna Zavala-Arbelaez, on left, was the only Patriot to top Newfield's Ally Hu. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The stakes were high for the Patriots Monday night.

The last time Ward Melville’s girls fencing team faced off against Newfield it won by a single point, which was too close for comfort for head coach Kyle Hempe. With an undefeated streak on the line, the Patriots showed they learned from their mistakes, making a statement with an 18-9 home win Jan. 22.

Ward Melville’s Julia Duffy swept her opponents, winning both of her épée bouts. Photo by Bill Landon

“They were really fired up at home,” Hempe said. “We know Newfield is the second best team in our league, and they were really coming for it. So we went out, we worked as hard as we could, won a little earlier than we thought we would and we’re happy about that.”

Early wins came in the form of all three weapons. Ward Melville (10-0, 6-0 League II) took the second two of three in each of the first rounds of sabre, foil and épée.

Ward Melville’s Lauren Cappello started things off for the Patriots, putting the first point in the win column. The junior swept her sabre matches, 5-1, 5-2 and 5-2. Fellow sabre specialist Bridget Becchina, a senior, did the same while outscoring her challengers 15-4.

”We knew what we were coming into — I don’t think any of us were too worried — we knew we would have to bring it in each bout,” Becchina said. “I had confidence in the team, we had confidence in ourselves, and knew they have to beat us. We go out there and we just fence, and that usually works.”

Newfield (9-3, 5-2) was toughest in foil. Senior Ally Hu, who finished the day 2-1, took home victories in her second (5-1) and third (5-0) appearances out on the strip.

“[She’s] their strongest fencer, so was very happy with Ivanna Zavala-Arbeleaz, to see her come out with a victory there,” Hempe said. “But Bridget and Lauren are always solid for us in sabre so I’m happy for them and their performances, too.”

Ward Melville’s Catherine Cao, on left, gets a touch her Newfield opponent. Photo by Bill Landon

Junior épéeist Catherine Cao and senior Julia Duffy also swept their Newfield challengers.

“I’m proud that we came out with the win,” Duffy said. “Newfield gave us a run for our money, but we lean on all of the hard work that we put in, and reap the rewards.”

Junior sabreist Olivia Calise, who had dropped her first two bouts, blanked her opponent, 5-0, in the meet-clinching matchup.

With three meets left before the postseason Hempe said he’s confident going down the stretch, especially since the Patriots won’t be matching up with the Wolverines over that span.

“We’re not as worried, but we’ll go full force,” he said. “We’re happy to be in the position that we’re in.”

Ward Melville is back in action facing Centereach (5-7, 2-5) today, Jan. 25, at 4 p.m. Newfield will host Sayville today at 6 p.m.

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Patriots send some wrestlers upstate to compete, rest others in loss to Sachem East

Ward Melville's Chris Little battles for dominance. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Ward Melville’s wrestling team looked to cap off its undefeated regular season with another win Jan. 12, but with key competitors away at Eastern States Classic, it was a tall order for the Patriots to fill, which fell to Sachem East 51-27 on their home mat.

“We knew it was going to be a little tight,” said Ward Melville head coach Garrett Schnettler, noting his five starters away at the tournament. “Once we got [beyond] 138 pounds we knew it was going to be tight.”

Eastern States Classic tournament

Away at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, All-County senior Rafael Lievano notched his 100th career victory at 132 pounds. Junior Tom Fitzsimmons and senior Richie Munoz also competed.

Ward Melville senior 160-pounder Nabeel Ahmed struck first for his team, winning the opening match 10-6. The Patriots gathered additional points with a pair of Sachem East forfeits at 170 and 182 pounds, and senior Kevin Vera won his match 8-2 at 195 pounds to put his team out front 14-0.

From there, the Patriot lead slowly slipped away, with losses in the 220 and 285-pound weights classes before eighth-grader Christian Lievano started off the lighter weights with a pin at 2:39 over Sachem East’s John Tietjan at 99 pounds.

Sachem East got back in the win column at 106, 113 and 120 pounds to give the Flaming Arrows their first lead of the match, 26-24, and never looked back.

Ward Melville senior Ryan Mc Namara said the loss will have no effect on him or his teammates in preparation for the postseason, even if the win would have set a regular season record.

Ward Melville’s Kevin Vera tries to stay on top of his challenger to avoid letting up any points. Photo by Bill Landon

“Tonight’s loss isn’t going to phase us,” said Mc Namara, who was bumped from 170 to 185 so a junior varsity player could compete. Mc Namara won by forfeit. “We didn’t have as much experience, but they gave it their best. We’ll have everyone back in their spots in the lineup and we’ll give it our all [Wednesday].”

Ward Melville competes in the opening round of the newly created Suffolk County dual championship Jan. 17. Bracket information was not readily available for who the Patriots will compete against. Matches are currently scheduled to take place at 4 p.m.

“The guys at Eastern States, they’re doing pretty well,” said sophomore Dan Cassera, who was able to execute a pair of takedowns to pull away with a 9-6 win at 138 pounds. “We’re going to work hard [to get ready for Wednesday], put in a lot of practice, see what we did wrong and correct those things.”

Away at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake, All-County senior Rafael Lievano notched his 100th career victory at 132 pounds. Junior Tom Fitzsimmons and senior Richie Munoz were also away.

“We’re already looking forward,” Schnettler said following the loss. “We take it one match at a time, and now we’re getting ready for the next meet. The guys are focused. We could’ve made tonight’s match closer, but we thought long term — gave some guys the rest who needed it — because round one of the dual meet championship is way more important than us going undefeated in the league.”

Ward Melville’s Christian Lievano attempts to keep his challenger on the mat. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville's Lauren Hansen carries the ball up the court while Commack's Casey Hearns follows close behind. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Former WNBA player, Commack graduate and current Ward Melville girls basketball coach Samantha Prahalis was frustrated and emotional on some calls the referee made while facing her alma mater Jan. 2. She received two technical fouls and was ejected in the middle of the fourth quarter in a 75-59 loss.

“I thought [the referees] missed a lot of calls,” Prahalis said. “If you let a few travels go, let a few backcourts go in a crucial time — we’re trying to come back, [and] there were a few big calls that I didn’t think were made.”

This is Prahalis’ first year as Ward Melville’s head coach. She was embarrassed that she was tossed, and said she has to do a better job of maintaining her composure.

Ward Melville’s head coach Samantha Prahalis, a former Commack star, coaches the Patirots from the sidelines. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I can’t put myself in a situation and get a technical, and then [to] get another one,” she said. “Lesson learned. I learned from it and we’ll learn from it as a group and we’ll move on.”

Ward Melville junior guard Lauren Hansen felt that Prahalis was in hostile territory facing her old team.

“I felt that the refs were just gunning for her,” she said. “It’s Commack environment.”

Commack assistant head coach Russ Tietjen was with Prahalias at Commack last year when she was an assistant. He is aware of her emotions on the court that translated to her emotions as a player at Commack.

“Sammy was a great player here and you can see her intensity as a coach is very similar to when she played,” Tietjen said of Prahalis. “She had a Ward Melville team who was ready to play; they played hard. That’s what good coaches do — they get their teams to play hard.”

Commack had several offensive weapons with four players scoring 16 points or more. Meanwhile, for Ward Melville, Hansen recorded 39 points and was the only player in double figures for the Patriots.

Junior guards Amanda McMahon and Katie Kelly lead the Cougars with 18 points each. Senior Casey Hearns recorded 17 and classmate Kim Shalhoub added 16. They combined for 69 of Commack’s 75 points.

“We have a group of great shooters and we like to push the tempo,” Tietjen said. “When you’re making your baskets, it looks good. It looked good today. The level of competitiveness in these girls is second to none.”

Kelly enjoyed going up against her former assistant head coach. She says it ramps up the competition.

“Sammy is a very good competitor and loves to win as much as we do,” Kelly said. “It just makes the atmosphere that much better to play in. It make us want to win even more.”

Kelly’s learned her game from former player and point guard Jillian Spagnuola who graduated in 2016, when the team went 22-1. Kelly is doing her best fill Spagnuola’s shoes.

Commack’s Katie Kelley looks to make a play up the court. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I learned everything from Jill,” Kelly said about her play style. “I learned how to run the point and organize the offense.”

After being down by at most 30, the Patriots went on a big run in the four quarter and cut the deficit to 12 after Prahalis was ejected. Senior forward Shannon Brazier said her coach ignited the spark.

“We just weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Brazier said. “We wanted to do it for coach and wanted to come back for her.”

Hansen’s scoring prowess is nothing new to her. Brazier says that’s always how her teammate plays. But the junior’s main focus is to face Commack again in Ward Melville territory.

“The loss brings us motivation to come back and go harder and beat them next time,” Hansen said. “We’ll bring a crowd next time, too.”

With Prahalis as the opposition to Commack, she enjoyed battling in her old stomping grounds.

“It felt good,” Prahalis said. “Ward Melville is my home now. I love Commack, I grew up there, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Ward Melville’s next game is at Brentwood Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. The Patriots fall to 2-4 on the season with the loss while Commack improves to 7-1. The Cougars travel to William Floyd  Jan. 5. Tipoff is currently
scheduled for 4 p.m.

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