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Chris Crespo moves the ball along the sideline. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Yes, you can call it a comeback.

Everything the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team had worked for led to this moment. The Bulls were faced with adversity for what seemed to be the first time all season, but they wanted to be one of just two teams to make it back to the Final 4 for a second consecutive year. Up against another league leader Feb. 21, head coach Mike Agostino said he might not have had the right game plan.

Gerg Giordano muscles his way to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They were really well-coached, well-prepared,” he said of No. 5-seeded and League IV leader Deer Park. “We might not have had it right, but we found a way to survive.”

No. 4 Smithtown West fell behind, and fast, losing the lead at the two-minute mark of the first quarter, and didn’t’ regain it until the fourth. In the end, junior Chris Crespo’s eight fourth-quarter points, junior Michael Gannon’s six and senior Greg Giordano’s five gave the Bulls its 50-47 come-from-behind win.

“Inside their heart and what they’re made of, it’s bigger than coaching,” Agostino said. “These kids have character, and they’re not afraid of the big moment. They’re going to go out and challenge anyone and every time they play it’s a full effort.”

On paper, it may look like Smithtown West had an easy road, going undefeated in League III and coming into the Class AA quarterfinals with a 20-1 record.

Giordano and senior Nick Ferolito gave the team a 4-0 lead after both teams went scoreless for most of the first three minutes. At the six-minute mark, a Deer Park field goal and 3-pointer put the team out front 9-5.

By halftime, the Bulls’ four-point deficit grew to six, 23-17, but the team was in as deep as an eight-point hole when a technical following a field goal gave Deer Park three more chances to grab points. The team hit two of three free throws for a 15-7 advantage with 7:20 left in the second.

Kyle LaGuardia leaps to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We were down the whole game, we were fighting back the whole time, but we all had each other’s backs,” said Giordano, who scored a game-high 22 points. “Coach kept telling us to stick to our game plan, eventually our shots were going to fall, and they did. We played good defense and that kept us in the game.”

Smithtown West chipped away at the lead with four different players lighting up the scoreboard, but Deer Park continued to have an answer. With 1:39 left in the third, another 3-pointer put Deer Park ahead 30-23, but a Giordano 3-pointer, Kyle LaGuardia layup and a floater by Giordano closed the gap, 32-30, at the end of the eight minutes.

Crespo opened the fourth quarter with a game-tying bucket, and the crowd erupted.

“It feels great not just for the team, but the community, too,” he said. “A lot of them are backing us here.”

The game would then be decided largely at the free-throw line.

Gannon made two at the 5:56 mark to give his team its first lead since the game’s opening minutes. Deer Park quickly tied the game, but Crespo came through again. He scored eight of his 11 points in the final stanza and also finished with seven assists.

“It was a hard-fought battle,” Crespo said. “Despite being down we always feel confident. We don’t feel rushed. We’re not frustrated or out of our element. We know that if we play within ourselves we know we’ll get good results.”

ichael Gannon prepares to make a pass. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Giordano added two free throws for a four-point lead with 35.9 seconds, 46-42, and Deer Park called timeout after timeout to try to find plays to score. All the team could muster was one free throw, and the Bulls were back to the line to add to its lead. Again, Gannon sank both of his opportunities with 12.5 seconds left in regulation to give the Bulls more breathing room.

“I’ve taken 1,000 free throws in my life, so hitting a few, I felt confident about knocking them down,” he said. He scored all six of his points in the third quarter, all from the charity stripe. He closed out the game making two more with 4.8 seconds on the clock.

“When you sit down in the beginning of the season, you know Stony Brook is at the end of a long road,” Agostino said. “Now, to finally get there, it’s really exciting.”

The Bulls will take on the No. 1 seed in the semifinals for the second straight year. They’ll face Bay Shore at Stony Brook University Feb. 25 at 2:30 p.m.

Giordano said for now he’s soaking in the moment. He said the team is excited to get back to where they lost last year.

“It was surreal — this is the last game on my Smithtown West home court and it was amazing to see all the guys come together and be able to make some big plays at the end to come out with the win,” he said. “It shows with the group of guys we have — we’re all so tight, so close, we all work in practice each day — how much we can pick each other up in times like these.”

The 4x400-relay team of Mark Rafuse, Lawrence Leake, Kyree Johnson and Anthony Joseph (on far right) took gold at the Suffolk County state qualifier meet (Jonathan Smith and Brian Pierre have also competed on the relay team). Photo from Huntington school district

When Huntington head coach Ron Wilson and his winter boys’ track and field team stepped into the Suffolk County state qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, they had one thing on their mind: redemption.

Kyree Johnson crosses the finish line in the 4×400-meter relay. Photo from Huntington school district

And that’s exactly what they felt when they went home.

In the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils had experienced their fair share of shortcomings, notably during its Armory Track Invitational Feb. 3, when senior Shane McGuire, a leg of the team’s 4×400-meter relay, tore his hamstring. The next day, at the large school county championship, the Blue Devils’ top sprinter Kyree Johnson felt a tweak in his own hamstring before competing in the long jump and, at the request of Wilson, sat out of competing altogether.

The team ended up losing the county championship 52-51. Had Johnson jumped that day, they would’ve won, the coach said, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was that tight loss that hurt them most, dropping from first to fourth in local published polls — only fueling the fire that would light up the track in Brentwood Feb. 13.

“Before we started, I said to the boys, ‘alright fellas, everyone thinks we’re not as good as we used to be, but we need to go out here and prove them wrong,’” Wilson said. “At the meet, we let everything take care of itself and when we finally started running, I was like ‘redemption at last.’”

That redemption came in the form of collaborative speed and agility.

Smithtown West’s Michael Grabowski with his first-place plaque. Photo by Kevin Redding

Johnson, whose week of resting paid off, placed first in both the 55-meter dash, with a personal best time of 6.41 seconds, and 300 dash, with a meet-record time of 34.8, qualifying him to compete in the state championships March 4 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“After I won the 55-meter dash and saw my time of 6.41, that made me realize that I’m not hurt anymore,” Johnson said. “I just relaxed and stayed calm, and looked at it like every other meet … because if I didn’t, I’d start making myself nervous, so I just kept thinking ‘it’s just another regular meet.’”

Running the anchor leg, he also helped the Blue Devils take home gold in the 4×400 relay in a time of 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds, along with teammates Lawrence Leake, a senior, Mark Rafuse, an eighth-grader, and Anthony Joseph, a senior. The Huntington teammates will be joining Johnson at the state championship March 4.

Leake, who, according to Wilson, is one of the toughest and hardest working young men he’s ever coached, also placed first in a competition of his own. He took gold in the 600 run and broke the meet record with a time of 1:21.70. The record was previously held by Brentwood’s Greg Santiago, who finished in 1:21.99 in 2000.

Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton leaps over the bar during a previous competiton. File photo from Daniel Claxton

“During the race, I figured everyone else was going to get out pretty hard the first two laps to make sure I wasn’t going to catch them, so I just stayed close and in striking distance until the last lap and put the pedal to the metal and let it go,” Leake said. “It feels pretty good to have a record beat all by myself.”

Smithtown West senior and state qualifier Michael Grabowski had a similar strategy on his dash to first place in the 3,200 run, which he finished in 9:29.19. Competing against  Jack Ryan of Westhampton Beach and Jonathan Lauer of Sachem North, Grabowski knew he had to play it smart by feeling the race out for the first five laps, and push it for the final sixth.

“I was comfortable with my pace and stuck with Lauer, until Ryan made a move and went past him with about 300 meters to go, and opened the race up,” he said. “As soon as Ryan went past Lauer, I followed Ryan and waited until the last lap and kicked. Once I started my kick, there was no going back and he didn’t really have a chance.”

Marius Sidlauskas of Smithtown East placed third in boys’ 1,600 with a time of 4:29.40; Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East placed first in boys’ high jump with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches; Elijah Claiborne, Isaiah Claiborne, Tyler Dollhausen and Dan O’Connor of Northport placed first in boys’ 4×800 relay in 8:09.76; and Ryann Gaffney of Huntington placed fourth in girls’ 55 hurdles with a time of 8.75.


By Bill Landon

Colin Powell once said “success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty and persistence,” and the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team has used dedication and determination to attain another success this season. On Feb. 13, the Bulls outscored Centereach 59-29 on senior night in the last game of the regular season to remain perfect, at 14-0, in League III.

Smithtown West’s seniors started the game off strong, despite four not seeing much playing time this year. Will Kass started the three-point flurry with a shot that gave the Bulls an early 8-0 lead, but Centereach junior forward Chris Witherspoon drained back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a two-point game with just over two minutes left in the opening quarter. Centereach would come no closer.

Even with a different starting five, the Bulls found their rhythm early. Juniors Chris Crespo and Michael Gannon, and senior Gordon Shouler added shots from beyond the arc to help Smithtown West take a 34-13 advantage into halftime. In total, Smithtown West had eight 3-pointers from six different players.

“Our effort is what won this,” Crespo said. “Our seniors gave 100 percent effort and we executed all game. I’m really just in awe as to how we played together as a team tonight.”

Centereach senior Josue Chery opened the third quarter with a trey of his own, to bring the score to 34-16, but Smithtown West’s defensive pressure was more than the Cougars could handle. That pressure keyed in mainly on senior Jon Agostino, who is usually a double-digit scoring threat. Smithtown West held its coach’s nephew to just three points.

“I thought the defense was the best part of our game tonight,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said.

The Bulls continued to bank 3-pointer after 3-pointer, as senior Justin Durcan, Crespo and Gannon swished their shots to break the game open at the end of the third.

“I was just happy that all of our guys got to play,” Gannon said. “We have four seniors who don’t play as much and it was fun to watch them play well.”

Durcan finished atop the scoring sheet with 14 points. Crespo followed with 11 points, Gannon added nine and senior Chris VanderBrink tacked on seven.

“I think coming out hot and confident — even though we’re not the regular starters — that’s what made us so comfortable,” Durcan said. “It’s our preparation. We work hard every day in practice even if we don’t see much playing time, and I think we work harder in practice than any team in our league, and that helped us today.”

The loss eliminated Centereach from postseason play. The Cougars finished the season with a 9-11 overall mark and 6-8 record in league play.

The Bulls, who clinched the league title with their win over Copiague on Feb. 2, finished with the best boys’ basketball record in the county, at 19-1. Only one other team, Center Moriches, finished undefeated in conference play.

Heading into the postseason on a 15-game winning streak, Crespo said his team will maintain it’s winning attitude.

“Once we know who we’ll play,” he said, “the coaches are going to show us the personnel, what they run and what we have to do to defeat them.”

But Durcan said his team will remain composed as the No. 4 Bulls prepare to host No. 13 Lindenhurst Feb. 18 at 1 p.m.

“We’ve just got to stay poised and don’t expect to win, but the county championship is what we’re shooting for,” Durcan said. “Even though we’re up there [in the rankings], we’ve got to stay humble and hopefully our games will speak for themselves.”

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The Smithtown West boys' basketball team is all smiles after winning back-to-back League III titles with a 78-59 win over Copiague. Photo by Desirée Keegan

When the boys’ basketball team from Smithtown West entered the locker room, they let out a loud scream.

They’d done it. After not winning the League III title in nearly 50 years, the Bulls are now back-to-back champs. And they have their secret weapon to thank.

Greg Giordano drives to the basket. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Greg Giordano hadn’t played in the team’s first matchup against Copiague, and it turned out that worked to his advantage. The senior scored 28 points in Smithtown West’s 78-59 win Feb. 2.

“He’s strong, athletic, he’s a jumper, he’s fast, attacks the rim,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said of his captain. “He does the right thing every single day in practice. His work habits are awesome, and as a result, you get the byproduct of a game like this.”

Giordano found the open lane time and time again, driving the lane and using spin moves, reverse layups and under-the-basket passes amid a flurry of aggressive defenders.

“We came out firing,” he said. “We’ve got a veteran group of guys that love playing with each other, and whenever things are going down we know we can pick each other back up. We wanted to come out and make a statement.”

That statement was made early when the Bulls jumped out to a 10-2 lead after two minutes of play, scoring layups on their first five possessions — two by Giordano, two by Chris Crespo and the other by Kyle LaGuardia, before Gordon Shouler swished a three-point shot.

Kyle LaGuardia knocks down a layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“We worked hard and I think we deserved it,” Crespo said. “Copiague is a team that can score the ball. They have crafty, excellent guards that get to the basket, so we needed to contain them.”

Leading 36-26 at halftime, five Bulls helped the team run away with the game in the third quarter, outscoring the Eagles 16-9. Giordano and senior Michael Gannon, who came off the bench to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds, scored five points apiece over the eight minutes.

“During warmups I was hitting most of my shots, so when I got open I let it fly,”
Gannon said.

Copiague amped up the defense in the hopes of getting back in the game, scoring 12 straight points in the fourth quarter as the home crowd roared, but Giordano iced the game late, racking up 12 points off 14 free-throw attempts.

“They played like us,” Agostino said. “They played tough, they played smart, and they played together. They know that’s the formula we need to be successful.”

Chris Crespo avoids a block as he leaps to the rim. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The win extended the Bulls winning streak to 13 games. The team is just two games away from going undefeated in conference play.

Crespo said in the moments following the win it felt like a dream.

“We’ve been playing together since sixth and seventh grade, so it’s definitely a special moment,” he said. “The sky’s the limit for us.”

Agostino said he’s proud to see all the dedication pay off.

“We have to play against good teams that are strong and game plan and strategize to beat you,” he said. “Winning the league is the hardest thing to do, but we play each game the same way. I’m with these guys all the time — and there’s ups and downs — and they had to work hard and persevere and overcome and for them to still be successful, I’m elated. I couldn’t be happier for them.”

Smithtown West's Chris Crespo prepares to move the ball across the court around Centereach's Chris Witherspoon. Photo by Desirée Keegan

It’s raining “threes.”

A total 15 3-pointers swished through the netting on Centereach’s court Jan. 17. The Cougars got off to a hot start from long range thanks to senior Jon Agostino, who hit three of the first four treys in the game, but the Smithtown West boys’ basketball team only allowed Centereach to score one more after that in the Bulls’ 87-52 win.

Smithtown West’s Greg Giordano scores his first of three 3-pointers. Photo by Desirée Keegan

Coming off a big win over Copiague Jan. 10 — a 74-67 overtime victory after Chris Crespo tied the game at the fourth-quarter buzzer — the senior said his team has all the confidence in the world.

“It really boosted us as a team and I think we all got closer,” Crespo said. “We definitely bonded over that game. It was the first big test I think we’ve had. We played a few hard games against Half Hollow Hills West [the only loss this season but non-league] and St. Anthony’s, and we respect all those teams, but especially in a league game against Copiague it was a different atmosphere. I really felt good, and I feel we have a lot of confidence running through us for the rest of the season.”

That confidence showed against Centereach, as the Bulls — now on an eight-game win streak — built momentum throughout its total team success.

Agostino scored all four of his 3-pointers in the first half of the contest. He knocked down his first on the Cougars’ first possession, and added another at the 1:33 mark to tie the game 8-8. Smithtown West seniors Greg Giordano and Kyle LaGuardia scored a free throw and 3-pointer, respectively, to close out the scoring for the first eight minutes, leaving the Bulls up 12-8.

“In spite of our slow start in the first quarter, we were able to provide a strong second quarter and basically end the game in the third,” Giordano said. “It always amazes me how resilient we are and how we are able to get so many contributions.”

Three Bulls scored in the first, and two others contributed in the team’s 24-point second quarter.

Centereach’s Jon Agostino scores a 3-pointer. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“This was really a great game,” Smithtown West head coach Mike Agostino said. “Defensively, we played consistent, but I thought our ball movement was the difference. You could see when the ball moves, people get open and we knock down shots.”

Senior Gordon Shouler and junior Michael Gannon helped extend West’s lead to 36-20 by halftime.

Shouler tacked on two of his team-high four 3-pointers in the second, and added the other two in the third.

“Copiague is arguably one of the best teams in our league this year, and after getting a win coming from behind, getting out here and playing a good team, we were ready to go,” Shouler said. “We were very confident, and the biggest thing was just not having a letdown. You beat a team like that, you win a good game like that, you want to come out and carry that momentum, and we did that.”

Gannon added 11 points in the second, including a basket of his own from beyond the arc, and a pair of free throws. Giordano, who finished with a team-high 17 points, added two assists on Gannon’s scores.

“We perform with consistency,” Agostino said of his team. “We know who we are, we’ve won a lot of games the last couple of years and we’re confident. We know who we are and we’re going to play our way, and as hard and we’re going to play in a playoff game regardless of our opponent.”

The head coach said he was excited to see the team reach its offensive potential, finding the basket more than it has been. On days like that, he said he wishes he could play 11 players at a time, instead of five.

Smithtown West’s Kyle LaGuardia makes a layup. Photo by Desirée Keegan

“They all practice hard and they all work hard every day,” he said. “It’s good to get guys in. These guys are capable — they’re all capable. And when they get the time they’re going to be able to do big things with it.”

This is true for freshman Michael Behrens, who seized his opportunity off the bench in the fourth quarter and scored nine points to help put the game out of reach. Behind Giordano was Shouler with 14 points, and Gannon with 13.

Crespo, who finished with eight points, said he’s excited to see his Bulls playing team basketball.

“I have no complaints,” he said. “We moved the ball beautifully and we were knocking down shots. Gordon and Greg form the outside and Kyle and myself were finishing around the basket. We’re really, really coming together great and I have high hopes for the rest of the season if we keep this up.”

It’s the kind of mentality Agostino said he stresses to his players, about continuing to focus on executing plays and not letting the other team disrupt how they play. And the boys have bought into it, building on the win total with each season over the last few years.

“Coach always says just play your game and the rest will follow, and that’s exactly what we did,” Giordano said. “Our defense kept us in the lead until our offense was able to connect and build a big lead. I couldn’t be more excited about the way our team has progressed throughout the season, and feel like we have a chance to do something really special.”

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By Bill Landon

Smithtown West did what to many was inconceivable.

The boys’ volleyball team claimed the program’s first Class A Long Island title Nov. 12 with a four-set win over Plainview JFK (16-2) 25-18, 25-23, 24-26 and 26-24.

Junior outside hitter Chris Shanley had 20 kills, junior outside hitter Kevin Kelleher added 16 kills and senior setter Tom Bernard had 42 assists to lead the Bulls to the championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. Senior libero Jake Torres had 17 digs and senior middle blocker Tom Keller had five kills and four blocks.

To claim the team’s first Class A championship just three days prior, the No. 2 Bulls handed No. 1 Sachem North its first Long Island loss in 52 matches. In fact, Smithtown West swept its opponent, a two-time defending Suffolk champion, 28-16, 25-19 and 25-17 at Suffolk.

Again, Shanley led the way for the Bulls (14-2) with 15 kills.

He helped the Bulls not only tie the game twice, but give the team a one-point edge two times in the first set. He also put the team in the right state of mind to get the job done.

“We were getting the sets where they needed to be, we were getting kills and we distributed the ball well,” Shanley said, adding that he knew his team would have to play a mistake-free game in order to get the job done. “But I knew that they could come back with any mistake we made.”

Both teams scratched and clawed at the net as Sachem North (15-1) retook the lead, 23-22, and took the game to break point. But after Smithtown West called for a break in the action, the Bulls rallied back.

“We stayed composed and we played for every point until the game is over,” Kelleher said. “We’re a hard team — we push.”

Needing to win the set by two points, the Flaming Arrows brought the game to the brink, only to have Kelleher’s kill shot retie the game 26-26. The Bulls fought off back-to-back set points, and won it on a block by Keller, who had nine kills.

“Our defense was the strongest part of our game — we pride ourselves on being the best defensive team on the Island.”

—David DeRosa

“Winning that first game gave us the confidence that we can do it,” Smithtown West head coach Michael Legge said. “We had a little bit of doubt, but that win gave us the confidence to go get them.”

The momentum carried over to the second set. The Bulls jumped out to 6-2 lead, and stood on the gas to make it a 14-8 advantage. Both teams exchanged points, but the Bulls maintained the margin, staying out front, 18-12. The team showed its defensive strength, as Torres dug and dove all over the floor — making nine digs on the night — and got the ball out to Kelleher and junior right side hitter David DeRosa.

“Our defense was the strongest part of our game — we pride ourselves on being the best defensive team on the Island,” DeRosa said. “[Assistant] coach Andrew Sanchez preaches defense, and that’s how you win games — you get the ball up, you throw it back at them and let them make the mistake.”

Sachem North did just that, making an unforced error to fall behind 22-14, and after giving the Bulls a point on a service error, a Bulls kill brought the match to break point, prompting another timeout in the match. After a sustained volley, the game was decided at the net off a blocked shot, and Smithtown West took a two-set lead.

Even with its strong teamwork, Smithtown West got off to a slow start in the third, before tying the set 5-5. The Flaming Arrows answered with three straight points before Shanley, from service, rattled off three of his own to knot the score at 8-8. Sachem North committed two more unforced errors, and continued to struggle to find a rhythm at the Bulls bounced out to a 17-11 lead.

The thunder from Smithtown West’s side of the bleachers echoed off the gymnasium walls, as the excitement behind, and thought of a first-time championship-winning sweep loomed.

DeRosa put up a wall on the right side, blocking shot after shot — making five blocks to go along with four kills — to help his team to a 23-16 advantage.

Legge said DeRosa’s play set the tone for the Bulls’ defense.

“Dave with those blocks on the right side — he just killed it — he was one-on-one with a lot of them and usually that’s an advantage for the other team,” the coach said, adding that those blocks were a difference-maker. “But big boy was getting up, getting hands on it — he was awesome.”

The Flaming Arrows flamed out, gave up the next two points and the championship.

“They’re a great team — they have the ability to come back from any deficit, so it wasn’t until that last point that it became real,” DeRosa said. “I was very surprised that it went three games, but we were ready for a dogfight.”

Smithtown West will return to Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood Nov. 19 to make its state tournament debut. Pool play begins at 10 a.m., and should the Bulls advance to the finals, the first set it scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

Smithtown East's Brooke Berroyer (#1) is all smiles as she leads her team off the court following the win. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Smithtown East girls’ volleyball team is peaking at the right time.

The team took care of business in the Class AA semifinals Nov. 7, avenging a semifinal loss to Ward Melville last season. The No. 2 Bulls came away victorious at home in straight sets against the No. 3 Patriots, 25-20, 25-12 and 25-23 to advance to the finals. The team will take on No. 1 Connetquot at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.

Smithtown East's Haley Anderson sends the ball back over. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Haley Anderson sends the ball back over. Photo by Bill Landon

“I thought we were pretty consistent with our serving, and I just knew we could get it together,” said Smithtown East junior outsite hitter Morgan Catalonatto. “Now we’ll just continue do what we’ve been doing all season long.”

After a 5-5 tie in the opening set, the Bulls put together a string of service points. Couple that with crowd-gasping defense, and the team jumped out to a 24-19 advantage. Serving break point was junior setter Brooke Berroyer, who led her team to victory with 28 assists.

Ward Melville lost to the Bulls Oct. 18 in five sets, but the semifinal matchup was different.

The Bulls were everywhere on the court — high above the net, flat on the floor — and dig after dig the Smithtown East savored its advantage. Senior outside hitter and co-captain Haley Anderson went on a service tare and rattled off seven unanswered points to put her team out front 12-5 in the second set.

A threat in any row, Anderson also tallied 14 kills and 14 digs in the contest.

“As a team we needed to keep our composure, focus on each point, one point at a time, and not harp on the little mistakes,” Anderson said. “Steph Berdon really stepped it up — who is our middle — and Brooke Berroyer, she played well and that help us out.”

Ward Melville's Lara Atalay seves. Photo by Bill Landon
Ward Melville’s Lara Atalay seves. Photo by Bill Landon

Ward Melville began making mental errors — sending a service out of bounds and dropping two balls, which prompted Ward Melville head coach Charlie Fernandes to call timeout.

“We’ve been chasing ourselves in terms of unforced errors all season long, but in the past two playoff games they really cut down [on these],” Fernandes said. “I think tonight we were a little nervous and a little jumpy.”

Seizing the opportunity, the Bulls surged ahead 20-11 before an unforced error. Ward Melville wouldn’t score again though, and Smithtown East tallied the final five points to put the set away.

Smithtown East head coach George Alamia said he was surprised following the first two sets, knowing what Ward Melville has been able to accomplish on the court.

“I knew that the third set was going to be the toughest game — that’s an unbelievable program over there,” he said. “We followed their lead when I first started this program in 2005. It’s like the Patriots in the NFL, [but in volleyball], it’s the Ward Melville Patriots you follow. [You follow] a winning team, one that’s won a lot of championships, and I have tremendous respect for Charlie Fernandes.”

Smithtown East's Brook Berroyer and Steph Berdon battle at the net. Photo by Bill Landon
Smithtown East’s Brook Berroyer and Steph Berdon battle at the net. Photo by Bill Landon

Momentum began to shift midway through the third set when the Patriots, who trailed from the opening volley, clawed their way back to draw within a point, 13-12. The team wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

Ward Melville’s senior outside hitter Lara Atalay dished up a service kill to tie the game at 13-13, and scored again to give Ward Melville its first lead in the set. Both teams traded points to knot the score at 18-18. Again, it was back and forth as the Bulls scored the next three points, only to have the Patriots answer with three of their own to retie the game at 21-21. After a service error, Ward Melville scored next to retie the game at 22-22 and followed it up with a kill shot to edge ahead 23-22.

Berroyer, from the service line, led the Bulls to the tying point, and on the next serve, helped her team to a 24-23 advantage. Serving again for the go-ahead score, the Bulls made it 24-23 and Berroyer, like she’d done in each of the three sets, scored the final point for her team.

“We have a shot to win the county [championship] against probably the best team in the state — Connetquot,” Alamia said. “We’re going to go there, give our best shot and I think we’ll be alright.”

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Right side hitter Brendan Smith blocks the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Senior night was off to a rocky start at Smithtown West, as the Bulls bounced back from a first-set loss to top Sayville 3-1 Oct. 24, 25-16, 25-16, 25-16 and 25-23. At 9-2, the boys’ volleyball team is in third place behind 10-2 Eastport South Manorville and undefeated Sachem North with three games left before the playoffs.

Outside hitter Kevin Kelleher comes through with a kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon
Outside hitter Kevin Kelleher comes through with a kill shot. Photo by Bill Landon

“Our teamwork and our hustle — we [communicated] really well and we played well as a team,” junior outside hitter Kevin Kelleher said. “We’ll keep working and build that family bond and hopefully that will help us in the playoffs.”

Smithtown West head coach Michael Legge said there would be a different mix in the first set, because all five seniors took to the court. The squad pulled within six points late in the set, but couldn’t come back from the deficit.

The second set was a different story, as the Bulls jumped out front 6-2 and rattled off four more straight points before Sayville called timeout.

“This is a deep team — it’s 16 players — not just the six guys you see on the court,” Legge said. “In practice, the [nonstarters are] constantly pushing the starters to play better and better.”

The Golden Flashes broke service and fired back with four unanswered points of their own to trail 10-6, but after the teams traded points, the Bulls notched six more on a service tare to break out to a 16-10 advantage.

Right side blocker Brian Grudman pushes the ball back over the net. Photo by Bill Landon
Right side blocker Brian Grudman pushes the ball back over the net. Photo by Bill Landon

Bull’s outside hitter Chris Shanley led his team to break point and finished it with a booming service ace that caught Sayville flat footed, to take the second set 25-16.

“The second set was the turning point,” Shanley said. “We had to push through there to show them what we’re made of. We passed well, we had good service, and our blocking was a little shaky, but we hit the ball well.”

Smithtown West senior Brendan Smith got things going in the third set, stringing five point volleys in a row to lead his team to a 5-0 lead. Sayville struggled, committing several mental errors to which the Bulls cashed in on.

Out front 10-4, the Bulls turned up the heat, outscoring their opponent 9-2 for a commanding 19-6 advantage. But Sayville wouldn’t go down quietly, and battled backed to trail 23-16.

In the first three sets, with a 25-16 margin of victory for each, the fourth and final set proved to be even more of a nail biter.

Sayville peppered the scoreboard with 12 points early in the fourth set as the Bulls managed just three. Although the match made it look like the game would end up going to a fifth set, Smithtown West chipped away at the deficit and scored nine unanswered points as Sayville’s defense began to sputter, committing several unforced errors.

Right side hitter Brendan Smith sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon
Right side hitter Brendan Smith sets up a play. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior right side blocker Brian Grudman answered with a thundering service ace to put his team out front for the first time in the set, 13-12, and said his team had to just shake it off as the Bulls got their head back in the game.

“Our hustle and our ability to pick ourselves back up — not giving up on any balls [is what led us to the win],” he said. “We’re going to raise the net, show some hustle work our butts off as hard as we can.”

Ahead 17-14 lead, Sayville soon brought the set to a 23-23 tie, which prompted a timeout. Sayville gave Smithtown West break point on a service error, and the Bulls made them pay for it, scoring the final point to put the set away.

“They’ve really bought into the team concept — the court defense, the passing, the hustle that they show,” Legge said. “We push that for every single point every single game, and you don’t say die until the ball hits the floor.”

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Felicity Hoffert and Kate Chong leap up for the block. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown East continues to dominate the volleyball court.

The girls’ team improved to 8-0 and remain atop the League III leaderboard with a three-set win over Riverhead Oct. 17, 25-11, 25-11 and 25-10.

Melissa Oliveri sends the ball over. Photo by Bill Landon.
Melissa Oliveri sends the ball over. Photo by Bill Landon.

Smithtown East head coach George Alamia did not start several of his starters in an effort to keep the score close and enhance his younger players, but it didn’t matter.

“They’re great team leaders — they make everyone around them better and as you can see we don’t have a huge drop off when they don’t play,” Alamia said. “Today we had good ball control against [Riverhead] and our back up setter Marissa Oliveri has great hands and she moved the ball around really well today.”

The Bulls started out slow in the first set, but retook the lead 8-7 and showed their dominance, rattling off point after point to put the set away, stringing together 11 unanswered points along the way.

Sophomore right side hitter Grace Faulhaber said her teams’ strength was its ability to rally back even after falling behind.

“I loved the way even when we lost the point, we found a way to get it back,” she said. “We dig deep, we’ll get that pass and then [we can] get that hit.”

The second set was much like the first, and Alamia continued to go deeper into his bench.

“As a team, we all work together — we never get down on each other and we always find a way to push through points to stay in the game,” junior outside hitter Alex Colon said. “We motivate each other and it’s [how we] bond together. That’s the most important part of the game.”

Grace Faulhaber serves. Photo by Bill Landon
Grace Faulhaber serves. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior outside hitter Haley Anderson, an All-State and All-Long Island player the last two years, along with senior libero Jill Pesce, junior outside hitter Steph Berdon and junior setter Brooke Berroyer all watched the action from the sidelines.

Alamia said the quartet provides the ingredients that are enabling his team to compete for a 10th consecutive League III title, adding that the players bring the consistency and a championship attitude every day to practice.

With the balance of the roster seeing action in the third set though, you wouldn’t know the power foursome wasn’t in the mix.

Alamia said he will continue to focus on strengthening his secondary going down the stretch in preparation for the postseason.

“When we go around and Haley’s in the back row, we need to grow in some areas offensively,” the head coach said. “We’ve made progress — we’ve gotten better — and I think we’ll be at our strongest come playoff time.”

Senior middle Kate Chong said her team’s defense continues to make the difference.

“We picked up a lot of balls — even the ones that were close,” Chong said. “We just push ourselves so hard, and we’ve been playing together since sixth grade, so we have a strong bond.”