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Ward Melville

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.

Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse

By Bill Landon

Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,  the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.

“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”

Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.

Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.

“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”

Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.

“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”

Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.

“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”

Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.

First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.

“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”

Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.

“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”

Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.

“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”

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Girls hoops will rely on speed, defense to remain zealous

Former Commack star point guard Samantha Prahalis, above playing for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, will be the head coach at Ward Melville this season. Photo from Facebook

By Desirée Keegan

Ward Melville is looking to maintain its competitive edge.

The back-to-back League I title-winning girls basketball team is readying for a new challenge following the loss of senior leaders Taylor Tripptree, Kiera Ramaliu and Hannah Lorenzen, with head coach Bruce Haller.

That’s where veteran Samantha Prahalis comes in. The former WNBA standout, who scored 2,372 points for Commack, the fifth-best total in Long Island girls basketball history, will lead her old high school’s rival team this season. After she steered Ohio State University to four straight NCAA tournaments from 2009 to 2012, she completed a two-year stint for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and played four years professionally in Europe. The 5-foot, 7-inch point guard said she was ready to return to her roots in New York, and decided it was time to give back.

Ward Melville’s Lauren Hansen moves the ball during a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

“It’s cool because I can tell them I’ve been in their shoes and I know what they’re going through,” she said. “I’m very lucky to be with a great district, have some great support and some great kids for my first year. I think the best part about coaching for me right now is helping these kids, and its pretty unique, because I can help them in a way maybe others can’t.”

The Patriots are looking forward to learning from Prahalis’ experiences. Ward Melville senior Shannon Brazier said the team’s style of play is already changing.

“She brings a whole new level of style of play and intensity that I think we were all excited to learn,” Brazier said. “Every single one of us have been working hard since the summer to get ready for the season, because it’s a pretty new team, losing most of our starters and getting a new coach, and we’re really proud of the progress we’ve been making, working together.”

Brazier said her coach wants her new team to have a defense that matches its offense.

“It’s no question that in the past we have had really strong shooters and a strong offense in general, but this year she’s been teaching us a lot more about defense and really focusing on this aspect of the game,” Brazier said. “Her emphasis on this side of the game has already started to greatly improve our skills. With a great number of our team graduating a lot of us had to step up and fill in those holes, and I think we’re all doing a good job at that.”

Prahalis agreed, adding she’ll be leaning on Brazier to command the Patriots this season.

“She’s vocal, and probably our best defensive player,” the coach said of one of her two remaining seniors. “She knows where to be, she has really good instincts.”

Ward Melville’s Shannon Brazier shoots from the free-throw line during a game last season. File photo by Bill Landon

The team will continue to rely on its speed and hustle in grabbing rebounds and forcing turnovers. With work on the defensive side of the ball, more offense should come.

The other two captains this season will be juniors Noelle Richardson and Lauren Hansen. Rounding out the roster will be juniors Bre Cohn and Lauren Walters, and underclassmen Molly Cronin, Jamie Agostino and Sarah Bucher.

“Lauren is not the most vocal person, but she leads by example,” Prahalis said of Hansen. “I’m asking a lot of her on all sides of the ball and, so far, she’s responded. She’s special — I don’t think a player like her comes around too often. The way she dribbles a ball, her shot, you have to see it to believe it.”

Hansen was one of Ward Melville’s leading scorers last season, Prahalis said, with 22.7 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore and will be big for the team this season if she can repeat these statistics. Prahalis added the now-junior standout has more than just a natural ability.

“She’s skillful, and I think that’s a testament to her work ethic,” the coach said. “You don’t wake up that way. You get that way by being in the gym and working hard.”

Hansen said she’s looking forward to seeing what she can take away from her coach.

“Coach has done everything that I aspire to do, so for me I hang on every word that she says,” said Hansen, who has received offers from Ohio State and the universities of Miami, Georgia and Pittsburgh. “Her experience is something we all look up to and her ability to relate to us as players I think is extremely beneficial to our relationship with her. We all really understand that if we’re going to do any damage this year it’s going to start on the defensive end. I think the girls, myself included, definitely have to step up big this year and mature quickly on the court, but so far they’ve done a great job of that and I think we can hold our own and make a statement this year against top talents on Long Island.”


Samantha Prahalis brings experience

A six-year varsity starter for Commack is calling Division I rival Ward Melville her new home court.

Samantha Prahalis, 27, accepted the coaching job for the Patriots in September after an extended basketball career that included playing for four years at Ohio State University, two years for WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury — as the sixth overall pick in the 2012 WNBA Draft — and four years professionally in Europe.

“The professional experience was good — I got to play at every level, which is pretty rare, so I’m grateful for that,” said Prahalis, who averaged 15.1 points and 6.8 assists per game over four years at Ohio State, and holds the Big Ten’s career record with 901 assists. “But I’ve been traveling my whole life. I’m a big family person, and I don’t like being overseas for seven months out of the year.”

Previous head coach Bruce Haller stepped down citing scheduling conflicts as a professor at Molloy College.

“I just felt like I’d been through a ton in my career on and off the court that I can help other players who are coming up,” Prahalis said of throwing her hat in the ring. “I didn’t think I would want to coach when I was younger, but while I was overseas I realized I wanted to give it a try. I’m just as determined as I was as a player, but this time around its teaching my kids and helping them and the team succeed. This new chapter of coaching is special to me.”

Ward Melville athletic director Pete Melore said more than just Prahalis’ résumé stood out to him during the interview.

“She never talked about how good she was at basketball,” he said. “What impressed me the most is her humility. It was all about paying it forward.”

He said while Haller was outstanding, he’s hoping Prahalis’ experience playing for multiple coaches at different levels will help her be successful at the helm.

“I think she’s patient, she runs a good practice, but you can see that competitive fire there from when she was a player,” Melore said. “There’s a good knowledge base and she learned a lot overseas. Her goal getting into coaching is all about her giving back to the kids the same positive experience she had as a player.”

On Dec. 3, legends and spies from history such as Culper Spy Ring members Major Benjamin Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, prominent shipbuilder Jonas Smith and philanthropists Ward and Dorothy Melville joined Stony Brook and neighboring residents to ring in the holiday season.

The village’s 38th annual holiday festival featured the historic characters in giant puppet form, created by Processional Arts Workshop, during the event’s Puppets Processional led by The Jazz Loft owner Tom Manuel and his band. Santa was on hand to hear all the children’s’ wishes and take photos. Additional activities at the event organized by The Ward Melville Heritage Organization included live music with WALK Radio; a performance by Roseland School of Dance; carolers; a holiday train display at the Cultural Center; and Wiggs Optician’s holiday windows.

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Ward Melville’s 200-yard medley relay finished third in the state championship at Ithaca College. Photo from Sydney Boals

By Desirée Keegan

When Sydney Boals touched the wall during the state championship preliminary round of the 200-yard medley relay a second behind the swimmer next to her, she knew she had some stiff competition.

“I knew I had to have that fast turn, have a good breakout and sprint all the way to finish,” the freshman said. “I knew I had to go hard, so when I was swimming I just kept my head down, thought about trying my best and sprinted.”

As her Ward Melville swimming teammate Kaitlyn Ehlers capped off the race at Ithaca College Nov. 18, the quartet looked up at the scoreboard to see a 1 minute, 47.98 second finish, good for third place.

The Ward Melville swimming team’s
200-yard medley relay quartet
stands on the podium. Photo from
Sydney Boals

“I was super happy, and I thought everyone else was too,” said Sydney, who swam the breaststroke as the third leg. “We didn’t have our best time, unfortunately, but it was still a really good race and we made our coaches proud.”

Senior Victoria Bogdanski and sophomore Riley Gavigan were also members of the state championship-placing relay. Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said he was excited to see his young team put up the numbers it did.

“Not everyone gets to have this experience,” he said before talking about Bogdanski in particular. “She was thrilled, and being a senior the moment really hit her. There were tears of happiness and sadness knowing her 10-year swimming journey was coming to an end. She’s a great person, a great kid. She works really hard. You get what you put into it, and she put in the effort.”

The four girls hadn’t swum as a unit until the county competition, where the relay team placed first in 1:47.86. The Patriots were the No. 5 seed heading into the state preliminary round, and exited the first heat in the No. 4 spot before placing third in the finals.

“I was watching, shouting, getting excited with each turn, seeing if they hit the wall well, come off the wall hard — I just hoped they’d come out of the water happy with their time,” Gordon said as he was watching his relay in the finals. “They didn’t know each other’s cadence, their pace and it’s a pretty good job on their part getting together and getting in sync for such big meets.”

Boals finished with a personal best time of 1:55.19 in the 200 freestyle, good for 12th and just shy of breaking a school record. Gavigan placed 10th in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:05.41.

“They swim all these events on Friday and come back on Saturday to swim them all again and it’s tiring,” Gordon said. “Their bodies can only give so many ‘A’-type efforts in a row in such a short period of time, and I thought their positive mindsets were great even after they finished.”

Members of Ward Melville’s relay team. Photo from
Sydney Boals

Riley finished the day in high spirits, saying her time wasn’t going to get her down.

“The other girls were a little nervous with it being their first time but I tried to get them to look at it like any other meet,” she said. “In the beginning of the season we were trying to qualify for the state meet, we didn’t have winning counties or even placing in the Top 20 at states in our heads. It was really surprising and I’m really proud of our team. We’re motivated, ready for next year.”

Gordon said he’s looking forward to seeing what his team can do next season.

“They should be thinking they have the opportunity to come back next year if they continue to work hard and do the right thing,” he said. “Their finish was pretty darn good, and I think the team really shocked a lot of people. This is one of my most memorable years — I’ve been here 24 years — I’ll look back on it fondly. To be able to come back next year and have another crack at it, it’s an awesome opportunity. I hope they leave this year inspired going into the offseason.”

Boals said she expects the team will be back better than ever.

“We can be great in the future bringing back some really fast swimmers,” she said. “I just wanted to make Section XI proud and make Ward Melville look good. We’re good with what we can do and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to do. We’ll be back here next year — we’re going to have an even better, faster future.”

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Patriots claim county crown for first time in three years

Ward Melville’s swim team may have thought it was a rebuilding year, but the Patriots proved they’re faster builders than some might have expected.

After claiming the Suffolk County crown 23 years in a row, the Patriots had placed fourth and fifth at the last two county meets. This year, Ward Melville returned to form, taking home the League II title with a perfect 6-0 record, and retrieving the county championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 4 with 269 points, well ahead of Connetquot with 231 points and Northport-Commack with 225.

“I don’t think going into the season we were looking at a possible county championship to be honest,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said. “We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me. We still had depth, which has always been a team strength at Ward Melville, but some of these young girls shined.”

The team’s 200-yard medley relay opened the meet and finished first in 1 minute, 47.86 seconds to beat a 2012 school record. First off the block was senior Victoria Bogdanski.

“We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me.”

—Chris Gordon

“I just thought about trying my best and being there for my team,” she said. “We didn’t know we were close to the record, so once we finished the race, we were all so excited. We all had this motivation and excitement that carried through the meet.”

Riley Gavigan, Sydney Boals and Kaitlyn Ehlers finished out the relay with personal-best times. Gavigan said she too was only thinking about her team.

“I wanted to score points, so I was going as fast as I could,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t just let down myself, I’d be letting down my whole team. We had to be in the right mindset, and we got each other pumped and ready to win.”

Gavigan qualified for three individual events, the 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley but could only compete in two, forgoing the backstroke.

The sophomore placed second in both, finishing the individual medley in 2:08.22 and breaststroke in a school-record time of 1:04.98, just a hair off first-place finisher Margaret Purcell of Southampton, who won in 1:04.34. Gavigan said she was not expecting to break a Ward Melville record that had stood since 1990 in the individual medley, the only record Gordon had not seen broken during his tenure.

“I want to improve every year,” she said. “So heading into the meet I had tunnel vision. I was focused on myself and not everyone else around me.”

Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example.”

— Chris Gordon

Boals qualified to compete in four events — the 100 and 200 freestyles, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke — deciding to take part in both freestyles. She placed first in the 100 in 53.13 seconds and second in the 200 in 1:54.14.

“I was shocked I won the 100 freestyle — those girls were a lot older than me,” she said. “I’m usually a mid-distance competitor, so I was excited to get that time.”

She broke a 2009 record in the 100 freestyle at the league meet and outdid her time on the county stage. She said it only motivates her to dig deeper.

“We knew we had to show we were ready and we weren’t afraid of losing,” Boals said. “Now I know I can get even faster than I am now.”

Gordon said Boals and Gavigan mean a lot to the team, and noted their impact on the other girls.

“They’re both mentally tough kids and they like to compete and they like to race,” he said. “Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example. Whatever I ask her to do, there’s never a problem. It’s never an issue.”

Ward Melville’s 400 freestyle relay team, which comprised Gavigan, Boals, Ehlers and Kylie Kramer, also qualified. The quartet finished third with a time of 3:40.13. Ehlers also finished ninth in the 100 butterfly; Kramer finished sixth in the 500 freestyle; and the 200 freestyle of Kramer, Hope Farrell, Frances Clever and Sophia Swanson finished third in 1:45.02. Bogdanski reached the finish line eighth in the 100 backstroke.

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores.”

— Chris Gordon

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores,” Gordon said. “At this point in the season, for them to be swimming as fast as they are and as young as they are, it’s exciting. We will be graduating 10 or 12 seniors, but right now we’re gathering steam and all of the sudden everyone is dropping time and everyone is doing really well.”

The season started off with a bump in the road for the Patriots. Ward Melville lost its opening nonleague meet to a tough Connetquot team, now the county runner-up for the last three seasons, but bounced back to top rival Half Hollow Hills, the defending county champion from last year.

“We worked our hearts out and tried to do our best,” Boals said. “We wanted the seniors to leave with a county championship. We wanted them to have fun and coach to be proud and once we beat Half Hollow Hills and we won the league, we knew we had counties in the bag.”

Gavigan said the momentum will propel the team toward success this weekend in the state finals Nov. 17 and 18 at Ithaca College.

“We were the No. 3 seed heading into counties, so it was good to win and show the other teams that we’re right there with them,” she said. “We’re in the right mindset to place well at states.”

If the county meet was any indication, Gordon said, the girls are peaking at the right time.

“They work very hard, they get along very well in and out of the pool and they’re just a great bunch of girls,” he said. “Some of their siblings have been past members of the team, so there’s some legacy there and they take this seriously. They’re very dedicated, which I appreciate. I’m hoping everyone has a little more left in the tank to go a little faster this weekend.”

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Patriots powerhouse wins two 1-0 games for first state crown since 2008

Kerri Thornton has become a thorn in the side of her opponents.

The senior standout scored Ward Melville’s game-winning goal in overtime to help the Patriots bring home the first Class A state title in field hockey since 2008 with a 1-0 win over Maine-Endwell on their field Nov. 12.

“At first, I honestly did not think it went in,” Thornton said. “When Kate [Mulham] got the back ball, I ran back into the circle and got ready for her to send it in. When she did, I received it, and just turned around and shot it hard hoping that it would go in.”

As Thornton’s teammates surrounded her in celebration, she said she knew what she’d done.

“I let out a huge shout in relief,” she said as she saw the smiling faces racing toward her. “It has been our dream ever since we were kids to win a championship like this. The journey this season — as a senior this year — this was what I wanted. I’m just so proud of my team for putting in the time and effort to get to where we got. It’s incredible that we finally pulled it off.”

The game-winning goal was scored with 4:37 left in overtime. Mulham said despite the team’s perfect 21-0 record, losing in the state final and semifinal games in extra minutes in the last two years lingered in the back of their minds. She said despite coming up just short in recent years, she knew the qualities her surrounding teammates possessed.

“What makes Ward Melville field hockey different is that we field a team where every girl is extremely talented,” she said. “Overtime is a high-pressure situation, but I was confident. That’s what makes us so successful.”

She said when she heard her classmate calling for the ball from the circle, she knew what she had to do.

“All I could see was a swarm of defenders when I passed the ball to Kerri,” Mulham said. “But I heard her calling for it, and I trust her, so I sent it to her. When I saw it go into the net, I broke down — tears of joy, and I rushed to hug her so tightly. I never wanted something so badly, and to accomplish something like this with your best friends is a feeling I can’t even put into words.”

With the intensity up and with a huge target on its back, Ward Melville began its journey upstate Nov. 11. With a second trip to the finals in three years on the line, junior Lexi Reinhardt was the first Patriot to jump for joy. Long Island’s leading goal scorer (33 points on 24 goals and nine assists) found the back of the cage in another pressure-filled situation. With 23 seconds left in the first half of a 0-0 game with Baldwinsville, she scored off an assist from senior Shannon Coughlan to send Ward Melville to the finals.

“The play was on a corner and in these games corners are precious,” Reinhardt said. “It was just a great pass from Shannon Coughlan and I was in the right position to finish it.”

She said the Patriots wanted to make a statement being back in the state semifinal game for the third year in a row.

“Heading in, there was definitely some nerves, but I think we channeled that and we were able to play off of the energy of the situation,” she said. “During the game we didn’t focus on that though, we were just focused on playing our game, and winning. The joy and happiness that we feel has radiated throughout the entire program. I will never forget this team.”

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Patriots hope to avenge last season's semifinal loss that ruined their perfect season

By Bill Landon

The freight train keeps on rolling.

Ward Melville’s undefeated field hockey team bested Mamaroneck 3-1 Nov. 4 to clinch the Southeast Regional title, and with that, punch a ticket to the state semifinal, where the Patriots will face Baldwinsville Nov. 11 at 9:30 a.m. at Maine-Endwell Senior High School.

The team has unfinished business after having its perfect record blemished following the state semifinal game last year, and falling to Mamaroneck in the state finals in 2015. Ward Melville head coach Shannon Sioss was happy her Patriots avenged their loss to the Tigers, but said the win is nothing more than a stepping-stone toward the ultimate goal.

“I told them how proud I am,” Sioss said she told her athletes after the win. “But now it’s time to continue that journey up to Binghamton, which has been our goal since the beginning of the season.”

All of the goals were scored in the second half, the first coming in the opening minutes when Ward Melville’s Caitlin Evans tapped in the ball after Lexi Reinhardt freed it from between the Tigers’ goalkeeper’s legs, despite being a man down.

“I was just so excited,” Evan said of scoring. “We’ve worked so hard all season, since August, to get here and we were not going to let it prevent us from getting to states. We were ready. We came in with heart and that really helped us to come back in the second half. We’re really working so hard for the seniors — it’s their last chance to make it to states.”

The Patriots’ lead was short-lived, as two minutes later Mamaroneck defender Emily Mahland ripped a shot past the goalie to make it a new game.

Both teams fielded a formidable defensive units, proved by the lack of shots on goal early on, but Ward Melville kept to its status quo by turning up the heat in the second half. Reinhardt found an open lane and rocked the box with a solo shot for the go-ahead goal with 10:45 left in regulation.Kerri Thornton scored the final goal with 2:45 on the clock.

“They’re an excellent program, so we had to keep the pressure going so they didn’t have a chance to come back,” Reinhardt said of Mamaroneck. “We’ve been [to the state semifinals and finals] before and we want to finish it this time. It’s not for us; it’s for the seniors, the whole program and the people [who] watch us.”

Ward Melville has allowed just two goals in five postseason appearances, and has outscored opponents 80-15 this entire season. Prior to the Southeast Regional win, the Patriots scored their 10th shutout of the year with a 6-0 win over Massapequa for their third straight Long Island championship title.

“Today we capitalized on our corners,” Thornton said. “In the last couple of games we haven’t been able to do that, but finally finished on those opportunities. Our defense also did a fantastic job. I don’t think they get enough credit for what they do.”

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