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Kyra Sommerstad competes in the Suffolk County championship meet. Photo from Raymond Sommerstad

By Desirée Keegan

Kyra Sommerstad is either part fish or exceedingly dedicated to her craft.

The freshman swimmer from Port Jefferson has practice two hours a day, six or seven days a week, 11 months a year. Needless to say, the hard work continues to pay off for Kyra, who hasn’t missed a practice since the new season began in September, and as a result, she competed in the state finals for a second straight season, this time in Ithaca Nov. 18 and 19.

Kyra Sommerstad competes in the Suffolk County championship meet. Photo from Raymond Sommerstad

“Sometimes it gets a little intense, but it’s fun,” she said of her chaotic schedule. “As long as you stay determined at practice and have fun with it, you can make it through and be successful. But it was nice to see all of my hard work in the pool pay off.”

Kyra entered the state meet after earning two county titles in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 individual medley Nov. 5 at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus. She finished the backstroke in 57.16 seconds, and the intermediate medley in 2 minutes, 7.88 seconds.

“She qualified in other events she could have entered in and done equally as well,” Port Jefferson head coach Mary Fleckenstein said. “She’s mentally strong and she sets goals for herself and she works hard at practice to achieve those goals. She’s a dedicated athlete. She’s just got it all.”

While Fleckenstein has known Kyra since she was in elementary school, the freshman works primarily with Three Village Swim Club coach Mark Anderson. The club houses the nearest pool for Port Jefferson residents, and since Royals swimmers only compete as individuals, Kyra is part of a team with the club year-round.

“She’s a very gifted athlete,” Anderson said. “She’s very tall and thin — pretty much the stereotypical look for a swimmer — she’s self-determined, dedicated and the list goes on and on of the positive words you could use to describe her. Everything that you look for in a swimmer, she’s got.”

Kyra began swimming during camp and mommy-and-me days at the YMCA. She decided to try out for the Three Village team, and fell in love with the sport.

“She works hard and always comes into practice with a smile on her face, and you can see the results of that pay off at her meets. She’s certainly motivated enough to get to any level of competition she wants to.”

— Mark Anderson

“I feel very, very comfortable in the water,” she said. “It felt like a better place than playing on the field or something.”

Her competitions have continued to amp up in intensity over the last four years, and as a result of her outside training and meets, she qualified to compete at the state level as an eighth grader, after earning a county title in the 500 freestyle. Kyra reached the state finals in the freestyle and 100 backstroke last season.

“I was very nervous,” Kyra said of her first trip to the state finals. “It was different being one of the youngest people there, but I knew a lot of the girls there through club swimming, like some older kids that were seniors, so they helped me get through that.”

Although she was intimidated, she’s not someone to let emotions get in the way of her performance, according to Anderson. Her father Raymond added that his daughter tends to pull out her best performances when the pressure is on.

“The feeling of watching your kids work hard at something and then being successful, there’s no way to describe it,” Sommerstad said. “It’s the best feeling that I’ve had in my life. To get the results when you work like that is very nice to see.”

This year, Kyra finished 13th in the individual medley and 15th in the backstroke.

“I didn’t do as good as I wanted to, but I looked forward to being there, and making finals again was still exciting,” she said.

Kyra Sommerstad raises up her finger after placing first in the 100-meter backstroke and 200 intermediate medley. Photo from Port Jefferson school district

Her coach said he has enjoyed getting the time to grow with and learn about his young swimmer.

“As a coach, I develop a really close connection with a lot of them,” Anderson said. “You learn their strengths, weaknesses, how to get them motivated for a swim, how to calm them down after a bad swim, so it’s been a really great learning experience for me, and I’ve got to know Kyra the past couple of months. I’m starting to go with her to some very big swim meets, and it has been a lot of fun.”

He’s excited to see where the future will take his swimmer.

“She’s always willing to learn, she’s always listening, she takes criticism and compliments and any stroke techniques really well, and she translates it,” he said. “She works hard and always comes into practice with a smile on her face, and you can see the results of that pay off at her meets. She’s certainly motivated enough to get to any level of competition she wants to. The sky’s the limit for her.”

Kyra said she’s just enjoying the ride and all that the sport has given her so far.

“Swimming is pretty much my life right now,” she said. “I do it after school every day. It helps me digest everything that happened throughout the day, or to just think about stuff or clear my mind. I think swimming is both a mental and physical sport. You have to have the determination and confidence going into a race, and you have to be able to practice well and train hard in order to achieve your goals. And I’m doing that.”

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Patriots defeat Walt Whitman in semifinals, 9-3, to make it back to final round

The game may not have started off the way they wanted, but it sure did end like it.

The No. 4 Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse team turned a no-score first-quarter Wednesday into a 4-1 halftime lead, and held No. 8 Walt Whitman scoreless until the final seconds of the game, earning a trip back to the Suffolk County Class AA finals with a 9-3 win.

“We’re really excited,” junior midfielder Dominic Pryor said. “We worked so hard for this all season and we can’t wait for counties.”

After the first, senior attack and midfielder Connor Grippe said his team knew it needed to figure out a way to turn things around.

“The first quarter we didn’t play Ward Melville lacrosse,” he said. “Our coaches keep preaching to us to play a full four quarters and we really came back and put it all together. We were hitting our shots, we were moving the ball, our defense played outstanding, our goalie D.J. Kellerman played a hell of a game and we won the faceoffs.”

Grippe said the coaches made some adjustments to the Patriots’ pre-existing zone plays, which helped them get some open shots and inside looks.

Ward Melville head coach Jay Negus credits his assistant coaches Chris Murphy and Chris Muscarella for the turnaround.

“The defense has been outstanding, the faceoffs have been outstanding — and it’s because of them and the kids buying into what they’re talking about,” he said. “Our offense did a nice job once they started clicking to relieve some of that pressure, but I’m so appreciative of the two assistant coaches I have because they really, on the defensive end of the field, do an outstanding job.”

Junior goalkeeper Kellerman made two saves in the first, and tipped another shot upward to open the second. At the 8:18 mark the Patriots’ opponent finally found the back of the cage for a 1-0 lead.

The Patriots’ intensity was there in the first, but it didn’t match that of the Wildcats. On top of that, dropped passes in the offensive zone and turnovers all over the field deflated the team. But that all changed in the second quarter.

The Patriots pride themselves on their defense, and the boys held it down on that end of the field following the first goal.

At the 4:35 mark, the offense repaid the defense for its hard work, when Grippe fired a shot from 10 yards out to tie the game. He then assisted freshman attack Dylan Pallonetti on his shot from the same position, but on the opposite side of the cage.

“Once we got one, we rallied from there,” Pallonetti said. “I feel like we did a great job riding and clearing. Our defense did great. They stripped the ball a lot, got the ball in the offensive zone and then we did our job.”

At the 1:51 mark, Pryor snagged a rebound off a save in mid-air and buried the ball for a 3-1 lead.

“As soon as we figured out their defense, we started putting in goals and that’s really when we started rolling and knew what we needed to do the rest of the game,” he said.

Junior attack Andrew Lockhart forced a turnover and, on a fast break, fed the ball to Pallonetti in front of the net for what proved to be the game-winner to end the scoring for the first half.

Grippe added two more assists on the night, Pryor scored his second goal and Lockart, Eddie Munoz, Chris Grillo and Zach Hobbes each added a goal. With 33 seconds left, Walt Whitman managed to score back-to-back goals but ran out of time to make a comeback.

“Last year we unfortunately lost in the counties in double overtime, so anything for us to get back to that position is great, and hopefully we’ll come out on top,” Grippe said.

Ward Melville is back in a familiar position, but this time faces a new opponent. Smithtown East topped the Patriots last season, but since the Bulls fell to Connetquot in overtime in the their semifinal game on Wednesday, Ward Melville will instead be facing that team, to whom they lost twice in overtime the last two seasons.

“I definitely think we will have to adjust,” Grippe said. “It’s a revenge game for us. We’re always fired up to play them, they’re a big rival and it should be a good game.”

He said their faceoff player is arguably one of the best in the county, so his team will need to game plan to stop him and limit transitions.

Negus said his team will be prepared for its June 1 matchup at Stony Brook University at 8 p.m. against what will be an athletic, strong opponent.

“We can’t take them lightly, and we’ll be ready,” he said. “They don’t have a lot of depth, but we’re watching them on film and we’ll continue to look for their tendencies. We have some tricks up our sleeve. As a No. 4 seed a lot of people were looking past us and when we execute on both sides of the ball we can be a very dangerous team.”

Catcher DL Rodriguez and outfielder Nick Curcio hug it out in celebration of their7-0 Class AA semifinal win over Smithtown West that will send them to the Suffolk County finals. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Northport players hug it out in celebration of their7-0 Class AA semifinal win over Smithtown West that will send them to the Suffolk County finals. Photo by Bill Landon
Catcher DL Rodriguez and outfielder Nick Curcio hug it out in celebration of their7-0 Class AA semifinal win over Smithtown West that will send them to the Suffolk County finals. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport’s No. 8-seeded baseball team blanked No. 5 Smithtown West, 7-0, to advance to the Class AA county championship behind pitching ace Nick Palmerini, who shut down the Bulls by throwing six shutout innings to lead his team to victory Wednesday.

Senior Joe Stockman started off swinging for the Tigers, as the shortstop ripped the ball down the right sideline for a stand-up double in the first at bat. Junior pitcher and third baseman Jake McCarthy drew a walk, and junior second baseman George Sutherland stepped into the batter’s box. A passed ball at the plate advanced both runners into scoring position, and Sutherland smacked the ball through the gap to bring Stockman home for an early lead.

Smithtown West had several opportunities, but stranded all runners on base.

Nick Palmerini pitched six shutout innings. Photo by Bill Landon
Nick Palmerini pitched six shutout innings. Photo by Bill Landon

Again, Stockman’s bat spoke as he went drove the ball to the opposite side of the field for his second double of the game. Junior outfielder Frankie Stola was up next, and was hit by a pitch and sent to first base.

“The rain delay wasn’t a distraction — we stayed focused, we had a great practice yesterday,” said Stockman of the game being pushed from Tuesday to Wednesday. “[Smithtown West] a good team and great competitors, but we had a great pitcher on the mound both days and we did what we needed to do to get the win.”

Just like in the bottom of the first, Smithtown West’s passed ball pitch put both runners in scoring position in the third. Sutherland had a base hit, plating Stockman, and junior outfielder Matt Lindley found the gap to score Stola for a 3-0 advantage. After Lindley stole second, senior pitcher and first baseman Dan Heller’s bat cracked as his base hit brought Sutherland home. Senior first baseman Tom Neary stepped up to the plate, and after taking the first two pitches, he jumped on the third and kept the rally alive when he rocketed a shot over the right-field fence for a home run and 6-0 lead.

“They had tough pitching in that first game so we had to stay focused mentally at the plate, have good at bats and get the little things done,” Neary said. “We won’t take a day off; we’ll stay focused in practice. We can’t afford to lay back — we’ve got a tough opponent coming up — so we have to work just as hard as we’ve been working.”

Smithtown West had seen enough and a change was made at the mound. The Bulls went through three pitchers on the afternoon in an attempt to stall Northport’s onslaught, which it did.

Second baseman George Sutherland drives in a run. Photo by Bill Landon
Second baseman George Sutherland drives in a run. Photo by Bill Landon

Palmerini retired the order in the top of the next two innings, and Northport threatened in the bottom of the fifth. After plating another runner, Northport put runners on first and second, but an infield heater was fielded for a clean double play to retire the side.

Desperate for a run, Smithtown West advanced both runners into scoring position on a passed ball at the plate. With one out, the runner at third took a healthy lead, and junior shortstop Nick Trabbachi drilled the deep to right field for the sacrifice fly. Lindley, the right fielder, caught the ball on the run and fired the ball toward home plate. The runner on third hesitated, and Lindley’s throw to the plate hit its mark in time to force the runner back to third.

“I was hoping he would go, but he held up and we got out of that inning,” Lindley said. “My pitcher just sets it up every time and we’re always ready for the play. It’s pure adrenaline. [We’re] so excited to make it to the counties.”

Although neither team faced each other in the regular season Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said Northport was everything he thought they’d be, and then some.

“They threw strikes, they didn’t walk anyone, they challenged us, they were very aggressive and they attacked us early in the count,” Nucci said. “They’re a tremendous hitting team and they strung their hits together. I think they have a very good chance to win the county.”

Palmerini pitched his way out of a jam, stranding two runners to retire the side.

“I had to work back in counts — I got into a little bit of trouble,” Palmerini said. “Their one through four batters are very good, so I had to throw a lot of off-speed pitches and mix it up more than usual.”

First baseman Dan Heller attempts a pickoff. Photo by Bill Landon
First baseman Dan Heller attempts a pickoff. Photo by Bill Landon

McCarthy took over at the mound for Smithtown West’s final shot at the win, and sat the batters down in order.

Northport will travel to No. 2 West Islip for the first of a three-game series on May 28 at noon. The second game will be May 30 at Northport at noon.

“These guys are a loose group — they expect to win and they go out and play to win,” Northport head coach John De Martini said. “I thought we played great defense, we hit the ball well, and more than that, we got some awesome pitching. The kids have done that all year long.”