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Ward Melville

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.”

Shoreham-Wading River's Jason Louser swims his way to a first-place Suffolk County finish in the 200-yard individual medley. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Because there’s no pool at Shoreham-Wading River, junior Jason Louser commutes over an hour to his practice pool in Eisenhower Park. That level of commitment paid off Saturday where the swimmer took a photo first in the 200-yard individual medley at the county championship, stopping the clock at 1 minute, 50.63 seconds, just two seconds ahead of second-place finisher David He of Ward Melville.

Northport’s Ethan Greenfield upset Ward Melville when he finished first in the 50-yard freestyle. Photo by Bill Landon

“It’s definitely good to see that all of the hard work has paid off — it gives me more confidence and a little less stress,” said Louser, who shaved nearly six seconds off his personal best at Hauppauge High School’s pool Feb. 15. “The pool in Eisenhower Park is an hour drive from where I live, so it’s a big commitment. Trying to get to practice and all of the meets at the same time it can be a little challenging.”

An upset came in the 50 freestyle, which pitted Northport’s Ethan Greenfield against Ward Melville’s Nick Bogush, who holds the fastest time in the county at this distance. Greenfield tripped the timer at 21.89, thirteen one hundredths of a second ahead of Bogush.

Northport head coach Drew Modrov said he wasn’t expecting that kind of performance from Greenfield.

“I was surprised,” he said. “Ethan came in as the underdog, and I think he was a little surprised [knowing the time differences between them]. He just showed up on race day and won it.”

Bogush said he felt fatigued going in, but credited his challenger’s changes.

“He was very swift,” Bogush said of Greenfield. “But I’m going to come back to states and do even better. I’ll give it my best. so we’ll see what happens.”

Ward Melville’s David He helped the Patriots take gold in the 400 and 200 relays. Photo by Bill Landon

Bogush came back with a vengeance though, earning a first-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay with teammates Kevin Xu, David He and Cameron Kubik. The team finished 31 hundreths of a second ahead of Northport’s relay, led by Greenfield. The Patriots finished the event in 1:27.03. Northport’s quartet also consisted of Zachary Papsco, Nicholas Millkey and Dylan Karpf.

“Every day in practice, I try to race other people who are specialist in their event, against freestylers and backstrokers, it gives me better reach,” He said. “I’m a 400 individual medley competitor in club swimming, so I have to train in every event every day.”

Ward Melville’s foursome also held off Northport in the 400 freestyle relay, with a best time of 3:11.87, nearly six seconds ahead of second place. The Patriot’s 200 medley team was edged out by Half Hollow Hills by 0.14 seconds.

Hauppauge’s Trenton Burr (100 backstroke, 51.26) and Jack Casey (100 breaststroke, 55.34) also came in first. Casey’s time was an All-American automatic standard.

The swimmers will compete in the state championships at a familiar venue for Louser, at Nassau County Aquatic Center March 2-3.

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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.

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