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Bre Cohn

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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.

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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.”

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Hansen, Hudzik head girls and boys teams to victory

Lauren Hansen maintains possession during a previous game. File photo by Desirée Keegan

It was a winning weekend for Ward Melville.

First, the No. 2 girls’ basketball team trampled No. 18 North Babylon, with sophomore Lauren Hansen putting up a game-high 35 points in 20 minutes Feb. 17. The Patriots demolished North Babylon 93-24.

“Lauren played great like always and her putting up 35 points in 20 minutes is something really special,” said senior Taylor Tripptree, who finished with 15 points.

Taylor Tripptree dribbles around a defender during a prior matchup. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Hansen scored more than half of the team’s first-quarter points, banking 15 of the 24, while the Patriots held their opponent to just five points.

Twelve different Patriots managed to show up on the score sheet, including a few junior varsity players who got the call to join the varsity squad, which impressed the veteran Tripptree.

Junior Bre Cohn chipped in 12 points, which would have been enough to lead North Babylon in scoring.

But to Hansen, who made eight shots from beyond the arc, the first-round win is only the first step.

“We’re looking to win the whole thing,” she said. “We have to stay locked in each moment in practice and in preparation for the very next game.”

She said she liked the way her team bounced back from its 38-33 loss to Brentwood in the last regular season game.

“It was what we had to do,” Hansen said. “I give a lot of credit to my teammates. Without them, it wouldn’t be possible. I thought a lot about what I could’ve done better individually after the loss to Brentwood, and I let the loss soak in and the feeling of it, and I did a much better job in preparation before I even put the jersey on for game day. In practice, and out of it.”

She said her team will use the first-round win as motivation when it moves on to No. 7 Half Hollow Hills West for a home game Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.

Mat Hudzik moves the ball up the court during a previous contest. File photo by Desirée Keegan

“The game made a statement, showing that we are definitely on a mission,” Hansen said. “We call this a second season, and we’re focused on not dwelling on our accomplishments or obstacles in the regular season. Going into the second round I think it’s definitely time to amp our intensity up even more, and accomplish all that we have set out to do.”

The next day, the No. 6 boys’ basketball team hosted No. 11 East Islip and also made short work of its opponent, with the Patriots bouncing the Redmen out of the postseason with a 66-34 victory.

Ward Melville nearly doubled East Islip’s first-quarter score, leading 17-9 after eight minutes.

“I think we had a big first quarter because we were all excited to go out in front of our home crowd and win for them,” said senior Dom Pryor, who finished with a double-double on 14 points and 14 rebounds. “What really helped us get the win was our coaching staff making sure we were all prepared before the game even started. Coach made it specific that we were not doing anything different than we have all year, and that we just needed to play like we always do.”

Dom Pryor leaps up for the layup during a previous game. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Like the girls, the boys also put forth a total team effort with nine different scorers.

“I thought we all came together as a team and executed in all parts of the game,” Pryor said. “It’s always more comfortable when you have so many threats on offense, especially ones that are rarely off their game.”

Classmate Matt Hudzik liked what he was seeing from his teammate.

“Dom works really hard,” Hudzik said. “He is everywhere on the court, is really good at playing defense and grabbing rebounds and loose balls.”

Hudzik led all scorers with 21 points —18 on 3-pointers — and senior Alex Sobel banked six field goals and a free throw for 13 points.

“My outside shot was feeling good and my teammates just kept finding me on the wing,” Hudzik said. “Before the game, we just talked about everyone doing their job. If everyone on the team does what they are supposed to, we play to the best of our ability.”

Ward Melville will travel to No. 3 Half Hollow Hills East Feb. 21 for a 2 p.m. tipoff.

Pryor said he sees smooth sailing in Ward Melville’s future.

“I feel very confident in our next match up,” he said. “I don’t think any team can keep up with our offensive threats, and when we play defense like we did today, I don’t think there’s a team that can stop us.”

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Taylor Tripptree pushes her way to the rim amid a swarm of Brentwood players. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Kiera Ramaliu hangs on to the ball as she drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

A commonly used cliché in sports is that teams always have to “take one game at a time.”

The Patriots head coach Bruce Haller said he thought his team was too focused on senior day ceremonies and the postseason, causing the girls to lose sight of their Feb. 11 matchup against Brentwood. If Ward Melville had won, the Patriots would be sharing a piece of the League I title, would have a higher seed and earn a second-round home playoff game. The 38-33 loss changed everything.

“It shows you that we are certainly not so good that we can just show up and win a game,” he said. “They have to come and be ready to play. We dug ourselves a deep hole, we came back, and the kids deserve a lot of credit for that, but I think it took so much energy to come back that we just didn’t have a lot left at the end of the game.”

Ward Melville fell behind 15-3 by the end of the first quarter, with all the Patriots points coming off of free throws. By halftime, senior Taylor Tripptree, junior Shannon Brazier and sophomore Lauren Hansen helped close the deficit just slightly, to 23-13. Hansen led in scoring with five points.

Hannah Lorenzen maintains possession as she tries to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We started off very slow,” Tripptree said. “We’re so used to playing after school and we have a different routine, so it brought us down. We had a kind of off practice last night and we tried not to let that show today, but they also came out hard, and we weren’t expecting it.”

The team turned it around in the third, with senior Hannah Lorenzen scoring the opening points on a three-pointer, and after Brentwood countered with a three-point shot of its own, Ward Melville went on a 10-0 tear to tie the game. Hansen added a field goal before swishing back-to-back threes, and Brazier scored off a feed from Tripptree to make it 26-26.

“[Coming back] shows that they have the potential and they’re capable of doing it, but they can’t turn it on and off,” Haller said. “They can’t decide to just struggle a little bit or miss a couple of shots and get down on themselves for missing their shots and all of the sudden turn it on later in the game.”

Triptree scored the opening point of the fourth quarter with a free throw at the 6:57 mark that gave the Patriots their first lead of the game, but a Brentwood bucket tied the game again, 29-29.

Lauren Hansen moves past a Brentwood opponent. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We know not to give up,” Tripptree said. “We have to give 100 percent effort all the time. We are had workers.”

The two teams were knotted at 31 with less than five minutes left. Ward Melville fell behind 36-31, but two Lorenzen free-throws the Patriots within a single possession. Known for her three-point skills, Hansen attempted a shot with less than 30 seconds left, but just missed. The Patriots fouled on several straight Brentwood inbounds passes in an attempt to intercept the pass, but Brentwood was able to put the game away.

“I give Brentwood a lot of credit, they’re a playoff team,” Haller said. “They’re a very, very good team and we took them lightly. This was all on us.”

Shannon Brazier leaps up to the rim for the score. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Despite the loss, the head coach said he thinks his team can go far.

“They’re great kids, they’re very good basketball players and I have confidence that they have the ability to make a deep run in the playoffs,” he said. “But if they come the way they came to play today they’ll be one and done in the playoffs.”

Tripptree said she also has confidence in her team’s ability to turn it around.

“We know we can’t let this bring us down,” she said. “Even if we have a bad practice, we know now we can’t let this bring us down or have it affect our game. We have to bring it — come hard every game — and we know we can pick it back up and put ourselves back in the game no matter how deep the hole is. We have to keep our heads up and expect anything in the playoffs.”

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Lauren Hansen drives around a Commack defender. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Patriots are in it to win it.

Taylor Tripptree leaps up to the rim for the score. Photo by Bill Landon

Looking for redemption Feb. 3, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team outscored Commack at home, 62-47, to remain in contention for a share of the League I title.

The first time the two top-seeded teams faced off, on Jan. 10, Ward Melville led Commack heading into the fourth quarter, but lost the game by four points, 59-55. Senior Taylor Tripptree said she knew her Patriots needed to end the game strong in order to pull away with the win.

“In our last game against them our defense fell short in the fourth quarter,” she said. “So this time around we made sure to stay on them and not give up, because the fourth quarter is Commack’s game.”

And defense was the name of the game.

Four minutes in, the game was tied just 2-2 before Tripptree tripled to take a 5-2 advantage. After sophomore Lauren Hansen hit a three-pointer of her own and senior Kiera Ramaliu also posted a trifecta, Tripptree hit a buzzer-beating field goal to put her team ahead 13-8 at the end of eight minutes.

Kiera Ramaliu at the free-throw line. Photo by Bill Landon

The Patriots’ defense flexed its muscles in the second and third quarter, holding Commack to 6 and 7 points, respectively, while outscoring the Cougars 26-13 over the span.

“They got some shots, but we got the rebounds,” Hansen said.

Leading 39-21 heading into the final quarter, Ward Melville put on the full-court press to not give Commack the quarter that previously led to their demise.

Although Commack held the advantage in the final stanza, Ward Melville also put up big numbers, with the away team outscoring the Patriots 26-23 in the final eight minutes. Sophomore Bre Cohn hit a pair of back-to-back three-pointers, Hansen hit her second trey of the game and added a field goal and free-throw point, Ramaliu swished a field goal and went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line, and Tripptree banked two from the charity stripe to put the game out of reach.

Hansen led Ward Melville with 17 points, Tripptree had 14 and Ramaliu added 11.

“We were winning in the fourth quarter in that first game, but we didn’t play great defense,” Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said. “Today, I heard them say, ‘this is the quarter. This is their quarter. This was the quarter where they beat us last time,’ and they all knew it. I didn’t have to emphasize it, so they stepped up their defense.”

Hannah Lorenzen moves through traffic. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior Hannah Lorenzen said her team worked harder every day in practice for the defeat over Commack.

“It feels good that all of our hard work paid off,” she said. “It was our defense and our rebounding — in practice we focused on boxing out and not allowing them to have second and third shots.”

With the win, the Ward Melville and Commack are 11-1 with two games left in the regular season.

“You like to challenge yourself against the best — they’re ranked No. 1 in Suffolk County,” Haller said of Commack. “The kids just stepped up and did what they had to do. They played great defense and I think that was the difference in the game.”

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Taylor Tripptree races ahead of the pack and drives the lane for the layup in the Patriots' 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

With 10 players contributing to the score and more than half the points coming from three-pointers alone, the Ward Melville girls’ basketball team had no problem cruising to a 56-18 win over William Floyd Tuesday.

“We worked well together,” junior guard Hannah Lorenzen said. “We really stepped up our defense, and we have a lot of shooting guards that can make threes; we did that pretty well today.”

Kira Sells nails one of her four three-pointers on the evening in the Patriots' 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Kira Sells nails one of her four three-pointers on the evening in the Patriots’ 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The Patriots started the game off by scoring eight straight points, with senior forward Heidi Scarth scoring half of them. The team was stealing passes and forcing William Floyd turnovers, but the Colonials bounced back to score five straight points.

Ward Melville re-extended its lead by the end of the first quarter, with senior guard Kira Sells and junior guard and forward Taylor Tripptree knocking down a three-pointer apiece to give their team a commanding 14-5 lead.

“It’s definitely one of our strongest points to our game,” Sells said of scoring three-pointers. “I know I could do better. So I’m just working on getting better every game.”

Sells did do one better, though.

After Shannon Berry banked three field goals to swing the tempo of the game, Sells swished two more treys to help her team further its lead to 30-10 by halftime.

Lorenzen said her teammates did a good job of passing outside if they couldn’t enter the paint.

“It does help a lot, because if we can’t penetrate through the paint, we can kick it and depend on our shooting guards to make the threes, which helps us get ahead,” she said.

But Ward Melville head coach Bruce Haller said a team that wants to go up against the best-of-the-best in Suffolk County, like Brentwood, Longwood, Sachem East and the county-best Commack, would need to play with a more balanced attack.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “The three is a great weapon, but if you fall too much in love with it and your three isn’t going in that particular game, now what? It’s all or nothing. That’s why we’re focusing on getting the ball inside a little more and getting some second shots. When those threes get missed, someone needs to be hitting the board from the weak side to get some putbacks.”

Hannah Lorenzen remains in control as she sets up a play in the Patriots' 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan
Hannah Lorenzen remains in control as she sets up a play in the Patriots’ 56-18 win over William Floyd on Jan. 12. Photo by Desirée Keegan

What did work for the team, though, was getting enough ahead that more bench players were able to see minutes.

“The kids work really hard in practice all the time and it’s nice to get them out on the court, get them some playing time and have them make some shots,” he said. “We have a very talented, deep group.”

Six of the 10 players that scored on that deep roster banked trifectas, and 31 of the team’s total points came from the five bench players that scored.

Bre Cohn and Maggie Zanone came off the bench in the fourth to score six points and three points, respectively, while stealing passes and dishing assists to close out the scoring for the game.

“We’re all close on and off the court,” Lorenzen said. “We have classes together, eat lunch together — so we’re all friends.”

Haller said his team has come a long way, making the decision to come together and step up to replace the injured freshman leading scorer from last year’s team: Lauren Hansen.

“They could have felt sorry for themselves,” he said. “Instead, a number of players are stepping up and taking over responsibilities or a bit of a different role that we didn’t anticipate them having in the preseason, and they’ve done a good job of it. Instead, they decided that they’re going to make a run for this thing.”