Authors Posts by Steven Zaitz

Steven Zaitz

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By Steve Zaitz

Led by senior guard Benjamin Haug’s 24 points, the Smithtown East boys basketball team beat their rivals to the south, the Hauppauge Eagles, 65-49 on Feb. 24 in the first round of the Suffolk County, Class AA playoffs.

The Bulls, the fourth seed, improve to 16-5 and got  the opportunity to face an even fiercer rival – the number one seed Smithtown West Bulls.

In their win over the Eagles, Smithtown East rode a 19-3 second period to establish a commanding lead after a close first quarter. They took a 37-18 lead into halftime as Haug boasted 11 points and senior big man James Burton had 9 at the break.

Hauppauge junior guard Cole Wood hit three three-pointers in the second half and the fifth-seeded Eagles cut the lead to 11 late in the third quarter, but they never got any closer.  Wood finished with 17 points.

Breaking news

Smithtown West handily defeated Smithtown East in the semi-finals on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 74-47 and will face Half Hollow Hills East for the Class AA championship on March 2.

By Steven Zaitz

The Northport girls basketball team had a senior night to remember on Friday, Feb. 9.

Not only were the graduating seniors, who were playing in their final regular-season home game, feted with teary speeches and flower bouquets from coaches, they completed a fourth quarter comeback that will not soon be forgotten.

Trailing 48-34 entering the final eight minutes of play, Northport, and in particular senior captain Kennedy Radziul, went on a 22-7 tear to beat North Babylon 56-55. The Lady Bulldogs have Suffolk County’s leading scorer on their roster, and she was every bit of that, scoring 35 points, but only 4 of which came in the fourth quarter. Radziul had 15 in that quarter and 20 total for the game.

With the score 55-54 in favor of North Babylon, Radziul, who has played for four years on the Lady Tiger varsity team, hit two free throws with 35 seconds left. These would be the final two points of the night for either team.

Fellow senior Brooke Kershow had 9 points and sophomore Grace Gilmartin had 8 off the bench as the Lady Tigers improved their record to 11-2 in League II play. Their only losses have come against the first place and undefeated Commack Lady Cougars, who are 13-0 at the time of this writing.

— Photos by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

The Smithtown-Hauppauge swim team capped off their undefeated season at Stony Brook University by winning the Suffolk County championship in overwhelming fashion on Saturday, Feb. 10.

They collected 366 points which was 98 more than second place Connetquot-East Islip.

Dylan Gallub won the 50-yard freestyle event and finished second in the 100-yard freestyle. The Smithtown East senior was also part of the team that won the 200-yard freestyle relay, along with his brother Tyler Gallub, Christopher Sweeney and Alex Trzaskowski. The quartet’s time of 1:25.13 was a Suffolk County High School record, qualifies them for New York State championships and also garners All-American consideration. This same foursome also won the 200-yard medley relay with a state qualifying time of 1:36.07. 

Tyler Gallub placed second in the 100-yard butterfly; his brother Dylan was second in the 100-yard freestyle. Overall, these four swimmers were fast enough to qualify for state championships in eight different events.

Also contributing to the big win for the ‘Smith-pague’ team were the divers. Five divers from the team scored points including second place overall diver Colin Buscarino. Also in the top 12 were Kristen Krause, Danielle Krause, Sydney Poulis and Lexie Poulis. The diving event is mixed gender.

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The Northport-Commack and Huntington-Harborfields-Whitman and Glenn boys swimming teams made excellent showings at the Section XI championships as well.

The HHWJ team finished third overall behind overall winner Smithtown-Hauppauge and second place Connetquot-East Islip. Northport-Commack was a respectable eighth out of 22 teams.

HHWJ’s 200-yard medley relay team, featuring Evam Creter, Lucas Spagnolleti, Patrick O’Brien and Liam O’Hanlon finished in third place and qualified for New York State championships, Creter finished second in both the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard backstroke adding two more state qualifiers to his resume. His teammate Max Leroy was fourth in the 200-yard freestyle and also qualified for state championships. Their times were 1:44.04 and 1:46.51, respectively. 

Spagnoletti, Leroy, O’Hanlon and Creter regrouped to finish second in the 400-yard freestyle relay with a time of 3:16.88 and yet another state qualifier.

Northport-Commack’s 200-yard medley relay team of Milo Marrero, Kyle Sundberg, Jasper Johnson and Logan Decena finished in sixth. Sundberg just missed a state qualification in the 200-yard individual medley, finishing fifth with a time of 2:02.80. The NoCo 200-yard freestyle relay team of Sundberg, Johnson, Decana and Oskar Sokolowski finished fifth with a solid time of 1:32.29.

The New York State High School swimming championships will be held at Ithaca College on the first weekend of March.

By Steven Zaitz

The string of good fortune continues for the Newfield Wolverine Fencing program.

After its boys team won its fourth consecutive Suffolk County title on Feb. 8, they descended upon Ward Melville High School on Saturday and with their Lady Wolverine counterparts, won a raft of medals at the Suffolk County Individual Championships.

Marc Lindemann and Sophie Chen both took gold in the foil category as did Mya Barry with her Sabre. Meadow Dalberg took the silver medal in girls foil.

Saaim Imran was a solid fifth place in boys sabre and Ashleigh Murray came in eighth in girls épée, and Addison Ackerly was eighth in girls sabre for the Wolverines.

Host Ward Melville, whose girls team won the Suffolk girls championship also on Feb. 8, picked up two medals. Kiki Liu won the bronze, behind Chen and Dahlberg and Zachary Silverman also won bronze in the boys sabre competition. Yannick Reyes took ninth place out of 18 in the boys foil for the Patriots, Nicolas Giordano was sixth and Vincent DiCarlo eighth in sabre and Ava Lamedica was fourth in girls sabre.

Pending the weather on Feb. 13, Newfield Boys and Ward Melville girls fencing teams will face both of Nassau County’s Great Neck South teams for the Long Island championship at Brentwood High School. The Rebels and Lady Rebels beat both Syosset teams in their home gym last Friday, Feb 9. It was the sixth consecutive Section XIII for the girls of Great Neck South.

– Photos by Steven Zaitz

Evan Kay and Brendan Fenlon try for loose ball in Commack’s 44-41 victory on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

It was only the second day of February, but ‘March Madness’ is already running white hot for both the Commack Cougar and Northport Tiger boys basketball teams.

In one of the loudest, most intense, and competitive games this season, Commack held on for dear life to beat their crosstown rival Northport, 44-41, last Friday night. The game featured six lead changes and neither team ever led by more than six, as raucous fans from both schools went bonkers with every loose ball, lead change, hustle play, and made basket.

This contest also featured two of the best guards on Long Island — the 6’0” senior Nick Waga for the Cougars and the 5’11” senior JoJo Cipollino for the Tigers — and this head-to-head battle did not disappoint. The two squared off in their own personal showdown that climaxed with each coming up big in the dying moments of the game.

But who would have the final say?

Cougars and Tigers battle to the finish on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

As is the case with most thrillers, this 32-minute slugfest had plenty of plot twists, triumphs, blunders, unbridled joy, and bitter regret —all bathed in the backdrop of the ultra-competitive Suffolk League II playoff picture, with the Tigers sitting just behind the Cougars in the standings.

“It was one of the craziest atmospheres I’ve ever played in,” Waga said, who scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. “It felt like a playoff game, and it was awesome to see both student sections packed because it made it feel like every possession mattered.”

Waga was a key cog in last year’s Cougar machine that made it to the Suffolk County finals at Stony Brook University, so he knows a thing or two about playing in a playoff atmosphere. He is a four-year letterman under head coach Peter Smith and has come of age in the Commack basketball program.

“Nick is a great leader,” Smith said. “He’s been on the team since his freshman year, and watching him develop as the player and leader that he has become has been a lot of fun.”

This night of high school basketball was a reminder of how much fun this game can be. The Commack faithful, many of whom were dressed up in full superhero and Ninja Turtle costumes, were at fever pitch even before the opening tap, screaming and waving home white towels as if they were connected to a hidden power source underneath the bleachers. 

Although they had sans towels, Northport’s fan base was just as loud when things went in their team’s favor and Cipollino was a major source of this. Like Waga, he has developed into a star. Jojo is still lightning quick with his first step, despite adding inches and muscle to his frame this season from last, and he is even more fearless going to the basket; no matter how many taller defenders are waiting for him in the paint.

“It was one of the loudest games I’ve played in, and that was great, but we couldn’t get the job done in the end,” an exhausted Cipollino said. 

While disappointed, Northport head coach Andrew D’Eloia, whose team has a record of 9-5, sees the bigger picture.

“We are very close to being in a position to win these types of games,” D’Eloia said. “It comes down to one or two plays, and to their credit, they made them down the stretch. They play the game the right way; they share the ball, they play defense, and we try to teach our kids the same thing at Northport, and that’s why the games are often so close between Commack and Northport.”

Despite the late fireworks, both teams suffered through a sleepy first quarter, shooting below 20% from the field. Northport led 5-4 after eight minutes.

Cougars and Tigers battle to the finish on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

Commack leveraged a 6-0 run to end the first half, and they took an 18-13 lead into the break. Cougar star quarterback Jeremy Weiss, who plays power forward for Smith, had an athletic rebound and put-back to spark the run with three minutes left. The Commack portion of the crowd was content to cheer his name for the remainder of the quarter.

Northport sliced the lead to one entering the fourth quarter. At the very end of the period, senior guard Liam Sevey collected the rebound of a last-second, half-court heave from teammate Owen Boyland and was able to barely beat the buzzer to pull the Tigers to within one at 27-26.

“That was a great example of game awareness, hustle, and playing to whistle by Liam,” D’Eloia said.

Enter another hustler into the mix, Commack senior swingman Evan Kay, who would figure prominently in the final quarter.

With four minutes left in the game and Commack up by three, Kay fought for a loose ball with Cipollino and Tiger forward Brendan Fenlon. All three would pile on top of each other, but the possession arrow pointed to Commack. Waga hit a three moments later to make it 39-33.

Cipollino countered with a triple from the elbow, and it was the Northport cheering section’s turn to scream their heads off. Kay, who was scoreless in the first three quarters, made his second bucket of the fourth, to give the Cougars a five-point lead with less than three minutes to go. Kay pumped his fist in the air as he ran back down on defense and the Cougar crowd had a new hero to holler for.

“Evan has been a great addition to our team because he brings a lot of energy off the bench,” Smith said. “He has a ‘no-lose’ type of mentality to everything he does, and he brings that extra dynamic and fight to our team. It’s something that every team needs, and Evan gives it to us every night.”

Kay, who played for Smith as a sophomore but decided to rest last winter for baseball, really didn’t seem to mind the fans in the Northport section showering him with disparaging chants about his physique.

“I play with a lot of passion, and to have the fans notice me from both sides, means a lot to me,” Kay said. “I heard the Northport people chanting ‘Eat a Salad’ and I feed off stuff like that. It just fueled me even more because I knew that I was having an impact on the game and helping us win.”

Nick Waga led the Commack Cougars to victory over Northport on Feb 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

But Kay and Commack were not sitting down for a celebratory post-game meal just yet.

With 1:45 to play in the game, Cipollino stole the ball as a result of Northport’s press, drove to the hoop, and was fouled by 6’5” Cougar forward Devin Spahn. It made the score 42-41.

After the basket, the usually stoic Cipollino slammed the padded wall behind the basket and screamed with primal delight. He was mobbed by his teammates and serenaded by the Northport student section, just feet away.

“I really wanted to get this win and at that moment, the emotions came out of me,” Cipollino said, who led all scorers with 19. “It was a great game.”

Cipollino’s three-point play brought the Tigers to within one point and Northport continued to apply pressure in the backcourt. They created another loose ball and it squirted to Fenlon at three-quarter court and he quickly fired a pass to Boylan, who would have had an uncontested layup. But the pass was too far in front of Boylan. It sailed underneath the basket and out of bounds, and the ball went back to Commack, who was extremely fortunate to still have the lead.

“I just misjudged the pass, and it’s going to stick with me for a while,” said a distraught Fenlon, who played another solid game with six points, seven rebounds, and four blocked shots. “It changed the game, but I have to use it as motivation and not make the same mistakes in the future when it matters most.”

Always the teacher, D’Eloia was philosophical in his post-game remarks.

Evan Kay and Brendan Fenlon try for loose ball in Commack’s 44-41 victory on Feb. 2. Photo by Steven Zaitz

“I told Brendan and all of the guys that everyone who steps on the floor is charged with finding something they could have done a little better throughout a game, and it’s never about one single play,” D’Eloia said. “A close-out, a sharper pass, getting to a loose ball. When you’re playing in a game like that, those little plays that you make, or don’t make, can put you either up by three or down by three. Tonight, they made more of those plays down the stretch.”

There was still time in the game, and it was Kay and Waga helping to make such plays to close it out. Kay killed some clock and drew a non-shooting foul. Waga snatched an offensive rebound and was fouled. He sank two free throws, and a prayer by Cipollino to tie at the final horn went unanswered. Commack was the team left standing and is now 12-3 on the year.

“I shoot with confidence because I know the hard work I put in during the off-season,” Waga said, who shared an embrace with his parents at center court right after the final horn. “I live for these types of moments when the pressure is high, and I feel like it brings out the best in a person.”

If this game is any indication, and with the Suffolk County playoffs just around the corner, the best is likely yet to come.

By Steven Zaitz

With three and a half minutes remaining in their game against Smithtown High School East, the Huntington varsity girls basketball team was on the precipice of not only losing their grip on a game they had once led by 17, but gone with it, would have been a chance at a spot in the playoffs.

When Smithtown East junior guard Meredith Brennan hit a corner jumper midway through the fourth quarter, it cut the Huntington lead to six. The Lady Devils, whose once-insurmountable lead now seemed very surmountable, needed a tourniquet.

After a timeout, the Bulls, whose defensive intensity in the second half of the game fueled their comeback, now had that defense dialed up to 11. The Blue Devils passed the ball around the perimeter but could not find an open shot. As the shot clock ticked down to just three seconds, the ball wound up in the hands of freshman point guard Ava McDonald, who was closely guarded by Brennan at the top of the key. After a quick dribble to her right and with no remaining recourse, she hoisted a jumper from behind the three-point arc. It was good – and just like that, Huntington had a nine-point lead with under three minutes to go. The 5’5” McDonald had delivered not only a tourniquet, but a dagger to the hearts of Smithtown East.

“I heard my coaches and the fans counting down the shot clock, so I knew I had to shoot it,” said McDonald, who led the Lady Devils in scoring with 13 points. “Our coaches put us through a lot of shooting drills at practice, so we are prepared for anything like this in game situations.”

Along with her baker’s dozen in points, McDonald had 8 assists, 4 steals, and played all 32 minutes of the game. 

“Ava came through with a big shot just when we needed it,” Huntington head coach Michael Kaplan said. “I’m not surprised because she works hard every day in practice, and she is a great leader. She is calm and poised and has developed a great I.Q. of the game.”

It was with that high I.Q. that McDonald and her teammates were stifling the East offense in the early part of the game. Starters Kayleigh Bender, Reese Rinaldi, Lauren Donaghy and Jolie Weinschreider, along with McDonald, applied an unrelenting trap on the unnerved Bulls that led to numerous turnovers and easy layups for Huntington, as they built a 11-2 led after one quarter. The Lady Devs kept their sneakers firmly on the throat of the host Bulls throughout the first half, taking a 23-6 lead into the halftime locker-room.

With both teams coming with identical conference records of 4-6 and on the playoff bubble, Smithtown East must have finally received the memo at the break.

The Lady Bulls negotiated the Blue Devil press more deftly in the third quarter and Brennan, who had all of three points in the first two quarters, roared to life. She hit two driving layups early in the period, and a jumper at the buzzer to make the score 30-20. This would-be rout was now a competitive ball game with a full quarter still to go.

“We were moving the ball faster in the second half,” said the junior Brennan, who led all scorers with 17 points. “We stayed calmer and were able to break their trap more effectively. I really thought we were going to come back.”

But Brennan would miss another corner jumper, this time well-defended by Weinschreider, with about three minutes to go. It was half-way down, but rimmed out and would have again made it a six-point game. She would pour in 14 second half points, but none after McDonald’s heroics. The red-alert for the Blue Devils was over and they would escape with a 38-28 victory.

“We pride ourselves on our defense and we are normally in the top five in Suffolk County in that category every year,” said Kaplan. “After this win, we need to win three more to make the playoffs, but we’ll take them one game at a time.”

Both Huntington and Smithtown East have five league games left on their schedules. With matchups against the top two teams in the conference in West Babylon and Hills East, and two against the bottom two, Newfield and Deer Park, Huntington’s playoff berth might very well rest upon their game against West Islip. 

The Lady Lions of West Islip are 6-5 and one game ahead of Huntington in Suffolk League III at the time of this writing. That game will be played on February 1st at West Islip. Smithtown East’s road to the postseason will be more arduous. They will need to win four out of their remaining five, and with Hills East and West Babylon, who have a combined record of 16-3, this will be a tall order.

The game between Smithtown High School East and Huntington High School was played on Jan. 26.

By Steven Zaitz

The Northport Lady Tigers basketball team took a road trip to Orlando, Florida, over the Christmas break.

While there, they got to play against schools from other parts of the country, bond as teammates during long bus rides, and even enjoy a bit of what Disney World has to offer.

Freshman point guard Ava DeMarco, who may have had trouble with the height requirements of some of the rides at Disney, played a huge role coming off the bench in Northport’s 47-31 win over Lindenhurst last Saturday morning, Jan. 13.

DeMarco is barely five feet tall, depending upon how she is wearing her hair. But what she lacks in size, she more than makes up for in quickness, grit, tenacity, and determination. She scored seven points and added four assists against the Lady Bulldogs, but those numbers tell only a fraction of the story.

Lindenhurst sophomore sensation Emma Burmeister ranks fifth in Suffolk County, averaging over 20 points per game. Burmeister did not disappoint on Saturday against Northport as she exploded for 16 points in the first half. That was when longtime Northport head coach Richard Castellano came up with a new plan.

“We had a bunch of different girls trying to defend her [Burmeister] in the first half. At halftime, I told Ava to shadow her, go wherever she goes, and faceguard her,” said Castellano, who recorded his 743rd career win as Lady Tiger coach. “Ava played Emma really well and made her work for everything. She doesn’t back down from any challenge.”

“I take a lot of pride in my defense, and I feel really good that Coach Castellano has the confidence in me to guard the other team’s best player,” DeMarco said.

Burmeister was held to only nine points in the third and fourth quarters. The rest of her team had only six for the entire game.

But it wasn’t as if the Lady Tigers were lighting up the scoreboard like Magic Kingdom fireworks either. There was a prolonged stretch in the third quarter when the score seemed frozen at 32-27 in favor of the Tigers. Turnovers and held balls detained the basketball inside the middle third of the court, as both teams struggled to shake off the early morning start time.

“It got sloppy,” Castellano said. “Both teams were still sleeping a little bit but were able to wake up in the fourth quarter.

Tiger senior forward and captain Brooke Kershow, who led the team with 18 points, hit a running one-hander and DeMarco followed by driving the lane for two, giving the Tigers a 38-31 lead with under five minutes remaining in the game.

“Brooke carried us offensively in the fourth quarter,” Castellano said. “She hit a few shots that were able to turn the momentum in our favor.”

Senior captain Kennedy Radziul, who was not feeling her best, still found winning ways to contribute. In the third quarter, as Lindenhurst had cut the Northport lead to four and was looking to slice into even further, Radziul stepped into the passing lane and deflected a ball that went out of bounds off of Bulldog Nina Tantillo. Radziul capitalized moments later with a spinner in the lane. She scored 10 points in the game.

“Kennedy is a gamer. She will never tell me that she’s not feeling 100%, but I can see it in her face,” Castellano said. “I coached her mom, and I coached her aunt, so I can tell pretty easily. I told her to give me as much as you can for as long as you can, and that’s exactly what she did.”

Radziul’s mother is Northport basketball legend Kimberly Ruck Radziul, who, in the early 1990’s, was a member of six consecutive Suffolk County championship teams at Northport. Kimberly’s sister, Cami, Kennedy’s aunt, was a member of four of those teams.

Northport is 4-1 in conference play, and Lindenhurst is 2-3. Both teams, along with the rest of the league, are staring up in wonderment at Commack, who at the time of this writing, is 6-0 in conference play and 12-0 overall. The Lady Cougars beat the Tigers in Commack earlier this season, 39-32 and they will meet again in the beginning of February.

“We are coming together as a team now, and going down to Florida really gave us time to gel,” Castellano said. “We were already very tight as a team, but I think we still really grew during that trip.”

“I loved the experience of going down there, and I think it was really great for team chemistry,” DeMarco said. “And yes, I was able to go on the rides.”

By Steven Zaitz

The Smithtown-Hauppauge boys swim team remained undefeated after beating the combined forces  of Huntington, Harborfields, Walt Whitman and John Glenn high schools on Jan. 16 by a score of 94-86. The reigning Suffolk County champions are 5-0 as county and state meets are fast approaching.

Smithtown East sophomore Tyler Gallub set a personal-best in the 200-yard freestyle event with a blazing 1:46.39. This time qualifies him for the New York State Championships. Gallub also qualified for states with his winning time of 53.32 in the 100-yard butterfly. Gallub was also part of the first-place team in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Along with Alex Trzaskowski, Chris Sweeney and his brother Dylan Gallub, the foursome finished at 1:31.79, almost eight seconds ahead of the second-place team – also from Smithtown-Hauppauge.

East senior Dylan Gallub also scored a victories that qualified him for the state championship meet with a 21.63 in the 50-yard freestyle and 48.56 in the 100-yard freestyle.

The Huntington conglomerate also had success as Sophomore Evan Creter from John Glenn won the 200-yard individual medley. He was the only swimmer to dip under two minutes, as his 1:59.69 was fast enough to qualify for States. Huntington High School sophomore Maximilien Leroy won the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:04.60 and was part of the foursome that took first place in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Creter, Liam O’Hanlon and Lucas Spagnolleti were also on the winning team. 

Spagnolleti, a Huntington senior, was busy succeeding in other events. He won the 100-yard breaststroke with a county-qualifying time of 1:06.58. He also finished second to Tyler Gallub in the 100-yard butterfly. 

In all, there were 34 New York State or Suffolk County qualifying times during this meet. The Huntington team is 2-2 in League I competition, good for a fourth place rank behind Smithtown-Hauppague, Half Hollow Hills-Kings Park and Connetquot-Islip.

Jack Melore, who led the West team with 18 points, splits the Smithtown East triple team. Photo by Steven Zaitz

By Steven Zaitz

It was a wire-to-wire win but with a twist. On Jan. 6, in their annual battle for the key to the city, the Smithtown West Bulls boys basketball team defeated their red-clad Bull brothers to the East, 56-42. With the win, Smithtown West remains undefeated at 9-0 and 6-0 in Suffolk Division III as Smithtown East falls to 6-3 and 3-2 in league play.

Smithtown West’s multisport senior, Jack Melore, led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds. Lorenzo Rappa  had 15 points and six assists, and his brother Ben Rappa chipped in nine points. 

Lorenzo Rappa goes high against Gjon Lleshaj in Smithtown West’s 56-42 victory over Smithtown East on Jan. 6.

After junior Blue Bull forward, John Giotis, hit a backdoor layup just eleven seconds into the game, Smithtown West had a lead they would never surrender. The team continued to build on their lead, outscoring the red-Bulls, 11-4, at the close of the first quarter. West’s Jack Melore scored seven points in the first quarter and had 14 of his total 18 in the first half.

Despite this, Smithtown East refused to go quietly into the weekend. East senior forward, Will Tufo, hit a long two-pointer to open the second half. Teammate Ben Haug, who led all scorers with 22, bullied his way in the paint to cut a seven-point halftime deficit to only four. 

Nevertheless, West clamped down and arm-barred the red team from coming inside the paint. Blocked shots and quick hands by Melore and Ben Rappa stifled East’s offense for a long stretch of the third period. A steal by West senior guard, Max Nicholas, with two seconds left in the third led to a fast break and two free throws. Nicholas sank them both to put the home team up by eight, as the game entered the fourth quarter.

Junior forward John Giotis of Smithtown West goes strong to the rim against Smithtown East center Tom Fanning in West’s 56-42 win on Jan. 6. Photo by Steven Zaitz

The final quarter was dominated by the Rappa brothers of Smithtown West. Ben Rappa fired the opening salvo of the fourth by hitting a corner three, raising the lead to a baker’s dozen, one of the only three-point shots made in the game for either team. The blue-Bulls commanding lead seemed to have made each tick of the clock grow louder for the boys from the East, as only six minutes remain on the game clock.

Lorenzo Rappa slashed diagonally through the lane with two minutes remaining to make the score 50-37. Swingman Michael Cascione made an acrobatic layup to give the white and blue team its final points with under a minute to go. The crowd erupted at the sight of Cascione’s athleticism as the 12-piece pep band’s trumpet section blared ‘The Children of Sanchez’ to celebrate their school’s crosstown victory. 

It was West’s ninth straight win over East, dating back to February 2016.

“It always means a little more beating them,” said Melore, who is also one of the finest football players in Suffolk county. “Our team takes great pride and always believes in our defense. The Rappa twins did a great job anchoring it.”

By Steven Zaitz

The silver Honda Accord of personal trainer Stephan Reyes can be seen in the same spot each and every weekday.

No, there isn’t a fancy “Reserved for Mr. Stephan Reyes” sign in the parking lot of the Transfitnation Training Studio in Smithtown. The 24-year-old Westchester native is at work before most of us are even out of bed every morning and is fully prepared to improve the mind, body and soul of everyone on his client list for the day. His first appointment is usually at 5:00 a.m.

Reyes, along with his fitness-conscious colleagues at the boutique gym off of Terry Road, emphasizes a holistic approach to personal betterment that includes guidance on not just strength and weightlifting, but lifestyle factors such as nutrition, sleep, science-based stretching and balance improvement.

The team, led by founder Steve Dell’Amore, evaluates each client and formulates a custom program based on his or her age, goals, body type and health history. They like to think of themselves as a one-stop wellness shop.

“I came into this field to give people the tools that they need to change their lives for the better,” said Reyes. “I love the challenge of working with such a wide-ranging group of people who have different challenges, goals and backstories, and helping them to improve their lives.”

Reyes, who was a superstar basketball and baseball player at Walter Panas High School in Cortlandt Manor, later studied Sports Management at SUNY Oneonta, also completing a sports medicine internship while there.

Upon graduation, he became a Certified Personal Trainer, a Certified Human Movement Specialist and will complete a course in January, 2024 to become a Certified Nutrition Coach.

Essentially, he is an ever-evolving wellness scientist with the certificates to prove it..

“There are so many aspects of this job that I love, and I’m always trying to learn so I can serve my clients the best way possible,” said Reyes, who has relocated to Port Jefferson Station from his beloved Westchester. “In building individual plans for people, we need to do a lot of analysis before and after, but when I’m one-on-one with my clients, I try to get to know them, so I’m part trainer, part life coach, part motivational speaker, part teacher and part friend.”

Among his clientele, Reyes is legendary for his positive energy and fun-loving approach to the job. He can often be heard shouting his favorite catch phrases like “great work”, “finish strong”, and “excellent adjustment” as he pushes  his trainees to their limits.

“When I first met Stephan, I knew right away that he was a ‘people-person,’” said Dell’Amore, who opened the business in October of 2018. “He has grown his client base from the ground up, and he brings a lot of energy to every single session. People love to train with him, and he’ll take on any challenge that is thrown his way.”

Having worked at Transfitnation for a little over two years, Reyes has accrued a plethora of success stories. Too modest to boast about them himself, many of the people he trains were eager to share their fitness journey.

Jerry Varrichio, 22, works at Home Depot in South Setauket and lives in Stony Brook. He is also one of several of Reyes’ clients who are on the autism spectrum.

“I always feel better coming in to train with Stephan, and I’ve lost a lot of weight,” said Varrichio who enjoys taekwondo and has recently taken up golf. “The moment I come in here and start my stretching before the workout, I feel better about myself.”

Jerry has lost over 10% of his body fat in 18 months since becoming a member of Transfitnation.

Tatianna Morisseau is a 32-year-old nurse from Brentwood who has been training with Reyes for six months. She suffers from lipedema, which is a long-term condition of fat and connective tissue building up in various parts of the body. It is a stubborn impediment to weight loss and fitness.

“Lipedema really messed with me because before I knew that I had it, I would try to lead a healthy lifestyle but would never see the results,” she said. “But working with Stephan, I’ve made so much progress in my body composition, and I’m very happy about that. Coming here was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

A fellow Terry Road business owner is also a “Transfit Transformer.”

“No two workouts are ever the same, and I always feel like I accomplish something when I’m done,” said Tom Bernard, 60, of Smithtown, who is the proprietor of Rockwell’s Bar and Grill. “I was 225 pounds when I started, and now I’m 190 and my body is totally transformed.”

He added, “Not only does Stephan train me when I’m there, but he’s taught me how to do it on my own with the correct form, and it’s great because my metabolism is like a jet engine now. I can go to my restaurant and eat almost anything I want.”

Jean Francois, who is a native of Haiti and was clinically obese when he showed up at Transfitnation, has been under Reyes’ watchful eye for about a year.

“People tell me now how good I look, and I feel great,” said Francois, who works as a counselor for seniors and the disabled. “When I first came to the country, I went to the doctor, and he told me I had to make some serious changes. A year later, I went back to that doctor, and he told me I was no longer obese. I was crying with tears of joy because that was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Francois was close to 300 pounds at his heaviest. He lost 60 pounds and 20% of his body fat over the course of 12 months. Reyes shares in the joy in Francois’ achievements.

“Jean is a great story and a good example of someone who worked really hard to get results,” Reyes said. “He had some personal issues to deal with and was not in a good mental space when he came to us, but he really bought into not only the exercises but the diet and sleep programs that we set up. We’re all very proud of what he has achieved.”

Reyes is eager to create more stories like these.

“I’m definitely happy that I chose a career where I’m helping people,” he said. “Impacting people in a positive way and leading them down a path to success by helping to change habits and lifestyles is what I’m all about. Whether it be to help with an eating disorder, fight obesity or just help someone fit into a wedding dress or tuxedo, I’m happy to do it.”

His clients seem to be happy, too, knowing that they have made a most “excellent adjustment” to their lives. 

For helping community members become the best versions of themselves, TBR News Media names Stephan Reyes as a 2023 Person of the Year.