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Comeback follows sidelines from heart condition, brain surgery

Thomas Liantonio, an attack for Long Island University and former Miller Place standout, scored four goals in his rerun to the field after undergoing brain surgery three months prior. Photo from LIU Post

Thomas Liantonio was overcome with emotion as his lacrosse teammates rushed to give him a hug after his first goal. The excitement followed a series of unfortunate events fit for a Lemony Snicket novel.

After undergoing brain surgery just three months earlier, the Miller Place resident and current Long Island University Post attack led the Pioneers with four goals and an assist in an 18-7 home win against University of the District of Columbia on his return April 17.

Thomas Liantonio following brain surgery this past January. Photo from Thomas Liantonio

“Scoring my first goal back was definitely a special moment,” he said. “To be given the opportunity to start and produce off that opportunity is something I’m very fortunate for.”

Prior to the surgery, the junior said he was experiencing headaches and eye pain but didn’t think too much of it. As problems persisted he decided to get checked out and was shocked when doctors told him he had a brain tumor that would require surgery.

“I was scared, taken aback,” he said, recalling when he heard the news Jan. 2. “I’m a big believer of doing stuff to get your mind off things, and I did what I could to keep things as normal as possible for me. I realized you can’t get down on yourself — you have to keep looking forward to the next day and roll with the punches.”

He returned home following a few days in the hospital, and got started on the path to recovery. Long Island University first-year head coach Eric Wolf said he felt devastated for his student-athlete, especially knowing Liantonio also missed the 2017 season as a result of a heart condition.

“I know how hard he had worked after missing all of last season,” Wolf said. “I know in the front of Thomas’ mind he was thinking he would come back this season, and it was more so in the back of mine. Bottom line: I just wanted him to be healthy. If he could ever play again that would just be icing on the cake.”

Thomas Liantonio crosses the field for Miller Place. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Almost exactly a year prior, Jan. 10, 2017, Liantonio found out he had myocarditis, inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall caused by a viral infection that can weaken the heart and lead to heart attacks, heart failure or sudden death if his blood pressure were to rise too high. He said he was having some chest pains, and again didn’t think anything of it, assuming he had a respiratory infection. After visiting a walk-in
medical center, he found out he had an irregular heartbeat. Following an EKG, MRI and cardiogram, he was told of the infection.

“To see him get blindsided by two things back-to-back and see how it was affecting his morale, as a parent, that’s very disheartening,” his father Steve Liantonio said. “He’s a strong kid, and luckily he has great friends and people at LIU Post that he relied on to keep his spirits up, keep him positive. We thought good things were going to come for him, and it worked out.”

The Pioneers’ head coach said after a week-and-a-half of practice, he could see his player shaking off the rust. Wolf first opted to sideline Liantonio after he practiced at midfield and, after a night’s sleep, decided he needed him out on the field.

Liantonio, who first picked up a lacrosse stick in second grade, said he couldn’t imagine not playing the sport again.

“I love the fast pace,” he said. “I saw the opportunity I had to go far in the sport and wanted to take it. I didn’t think I’d make it back to the lacrosse field this season, but getting cleared, I was so happy I didn’t know what to do.”

Thomas Liantonio with his mother Maria following his first game back. Photo from Thomas Liantonio

Given the amount of physical contact in lacrosse, Liantonio’s dad thought a return to the field was risky, afraid of a push or helmet-to-helmet contact, but said the return also provided a lesson to his son.

“You can only hold somebody back for so long,” he said. “He was strong-willed and after several conversations he felt determined and healthy enough to do it. At some point in time you just have to let go and say, ‘Go for it.’ This proves when you put your mind to something you can overcome anything.”

Wolf said he asked current attackmen, who’d had successful campaigns up to that point, to let Liantonio return to his rightful position. He said his players were selfless, and he was moved by what Liantonio brought to the team in his first game in nearly two years.

“I was shocked, but not surprised given who Thomas is,” he said. “He played awesome. The emotional lift that he gave our team could not be measured.”

The coach said while there’s no tiptoeing around the contact in the sport, he knew his player was all in, and has improved and grown more confident with each game he’s played since.

“He works hard, has a positive attitude and makes his teammates better — he does everything we ask,” Wolf said. “To see a guy go through what he has gone through over the past two years and to keep persisting through real adversity … it’s incredible.”

Shanna Brady won two national championships with the University of Maryland

Shanna Brady has been named the new assistant coach at Hofstra University. Photo from Shanna Brady

By Desirée Keegan

A local lacrosse standout with two national championships under her belt is hoping to make a splash on the coaching side of things.

After serving as an assistant coach at Long Island University last year, Shanna Brady has joined the ranks of Hofstra University, serving as assistant coach of the Pride under six-year head coach Shannon Smith.

“Shanna was the perfect candidate,” Smith said. “She brings a lot to the table and is going to help get Hofstra to the next level. She’s very passionate about the game of lacrosse, she loves teaching the student-athletes and she has a wealth of knowledge with her playing career — winning two national championships and being a four-year starter—so that experience she can share with the players, and help develop our defense.”

Shanna Brady competes for the United Women’s Lacrosse League’s Long Island Sound. Photo from Shanna Brady
Shanna Brady competes for the United Women’s Lacrosse League’s Long Island Sound. Photo from Shanna Brady

Brady, a native of Smithtown and graduate of St. Anthony’s High School, graduated from the University of Maryland in 2015. She reached championship weekend all four years of her college career and totaled 75 ground balls, 46 caused turnovers and 20 draw controls during her 92 games played. Brady also served as a coach with the Long Island Express Lacrosse Club from 2011 to 2014, and was a two-year member of Maryland’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee during her undergraduate career.

“I always knew I wanted to be coaching,” Brady said. “Lacrosse is such a huge part of my life and I’ve always wanted to be around a lacrosse atmosphere. Hofstra is an incredible university and they have a group of talented athletes and the potential.”

After graduating, she ran into an assistant coach at LIU Post that was leaving, and was able to land that job.

“She was a great person, very sincere, a true competitor, and she has tremendous knowledge of the sport,” said LIU Post head women’s lacrosse coach Meghan McNamara. “She was excited to coach. That’s what drew me to her.”

While there, Brady was also in charge of recruiting, emails and organizing events.

“She is an awesome, awesome well-known coach and I learned a lot from her in communicating with the girls,” Brady said of McNamara. “I learned a lot other than just growing as a coach on the field.”

McNamara liked what her former assistant brought to the team as well. The Pioneers compiled a 17-4 record and advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals.

“She brought energy, a lot of knowledge on the defensive side and confidence to the team. She could relate to the girls, being closer in age,” she said. “She was a good balance for the team. I’m so excited for her and very proud of her. It’s her passion.”

Smith said she believes Brady will bring those same smarts and winning mentality to her team.

Shanna Brady coaching on the sideline at Long Island University. Photo from LIU Post
Shanna Brady coaching on the sideline at Long Island University. Photo from LIU Post

“She’s great with talking to the student-athletes, in the recruiting aspect she knows a lot of people on Long Island and she’s very confident. She’s well spoken, and I’m just excited for her next step at Hofstra,” she said. “She was a phenomenal player in college. She knows what it takes to win.”

Brady said what makes her and Smith’s connection unique, is that she looked up to Smith as a player, watching her and even playing against her in her freshman year, when Smith was still playing for Northwestern University. Now, Smith coaches Brady — who is currently playing professionally for the Long Island Sound of the United Women’s Lacrosse League.

“We really hit it off, we have similar personalities and we’re kind of cut from the same cloth,” Smith said. “Our philosophies get along with one another. Shanna brings a lot of fundamental skills. She is going to be able to adjust to what we need, whether it be something different in a season or specifically in one game, she’s quick on her feet, she’s hardworking.”

Brady is looking forward to the next step in her coaching career as well, having already had the opportunity to get to know her new team and staff, being in and out of the Hofstra office.

“[Shannon Smith] is an incredible person and a talented coach, and I’m excited to be given the opportunity to coach with her and to learn as much as I can about the game and being successful,” Brady said. “Coming from my background, you have that will and that drive that you always want to be at the top. This is an exciting opportunity because we want to get to that next level as a program.”

Council head mulls creating new lecture series

Marc Courtade photo from Huntington Arts Council

Marc Courtade, the new executive director of the Huntington Arts Council, is rolling up his sleeves and getting ready to work.

Courtade follows Diana Cherryholmes as the new leader of the arts organization and officially stepped in to fill her position on March 2. Cherryholmes, who was at the helm of the Huntington Arts Council for more than 16 years, left to work for Suffolk County.

Before joining the Huntington Arts Council, Courtade was the business manager for Tilles Center for the Performing Arts at LIU Post for the past 17 years.

“I am delighted to bring my skills, passion and energy to the Huntington Arts Council, and look forward to helping the arts remain a vibrant part of our community,” he said in a statement.

While at Tilles, Courtade was an integral part of the center’s performance season, where he assisted in planning and organizing many of the performances and special events. At Tilles, he also created the pre-performance series, “Performance PLUS!” while simultaneously producing and acting as artistic director for 10 years. Courtade continues to teach musical theater and opera courses for the honors program at LIU and The Hutton House Lectures at Lorber Hall.

“At the moment, I just want to help to continue the good work and move the organization forward … I’m still transitioning and working on a 50th anniversary reception,” he said in a phone interview. “This is the 50th anniversary of the concerts at Heckscher Park, so we’re currently working on finalizing that programming.”

Courtade said that the planning for the 50th anniversary of the concerts in the park is all still in the works, but he is looking to hold a small reception before the anniversary concert on June 27.

Courtade said that over the years he has given many lectures and would like to continue that while at HAC.

“I would love to begin a lecture series here, presentations about the arts,” he said. “Different art genres. I would like to tailor it across a wide variety of art genres. I would give some and I would like to have speakers from the outside as well on arts-related topics.”

While Courtade’s personal focus is in the performing arts, the Huntington Arts Council offers a wide variety of arts, including both performing and visual.

Courtade said that on April 10, HAC will be holding its opening reception of a self-portrait visual arts show entitled, “I see me!” It will be a juried show and the winners will be announced very soon, he said.

In addition to his involvement at Tilles and now at HAC, Courtade has been a speaker for the New York Council for the Humanities since 2007. He is a frequent speaker all over Long Island and the New York-area.

Before Tilles, Courtade worked in development for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and New York City Opera.