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NCAA

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Nick Grande was home for a few weeks during winter break, and while his mother joked he could get a job during his extended stay, the shortstop had a different idea.

“No, mom,” he said in response. “As soon as the new year starts that’s it, you won’t see me again. I’ll be at Stony Brook every day.”

The Stony Brook University sophomore was a standout for Smithtown West’s baseball team, helping the Bulls claim two league titles during the three years he was team captain. He was named second team All-State as a senior after posting a .529 batting average, which also earned him the Suffolk County Silver Slugger Award. He also captained the league title-winning basketball team in his senior season. But while there are always adjustments to be made making the jump from high school to Division I college ball, his freshman season didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande turns two. Photo from SBU Athletics

As a freshman at SBU, he played in 35 games, collecting multiple hits in seven of those contests. He notched his first collegiate hit and home run in the same game at Presbyterian College, and went 3-for-3 as the designated hitter in a win against Sacred Heart University. But he wanted to become more consistent, so he got up every morning during winter break at 8 a.m. to work on improving his game, and he did.

Grande batted .377 for the 32-25 Seawolves this past season. His 78 hits were the sixth most in a single season in Stony Brook history; his 32 stolen bases are the second most in a season only behind MLB-draftee Travis Jankowski’s 36 in 2012; he had 22 multi-hit games, including eight in a row; and reached base safely a team-best 22 straight games. Grande batted .418 in America East conference play and had five of his six home runs in conference.

“There’s a reason why people are talented,” said Nick Grande Sr., who was the head baseball coach and now principal at Island Trees High School. He recalled bringing his son to the field every day after school since he was 3 years old. “It’s all about the time they put into perfecting their craft … his desire, his determination. He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

Although the elder Grande said his son has a fear of failure, he doesn’t show it. Grande Jr. said he’s picked up a philosophy of positivity along the way, from his time spent on the diamond at the age of 7 with his dad at the end of the day from his father’s Island Trees coaching job, to his new head coach Matt Senk, and everyone else he met along the way.

“You have to go into a game expecting to be successful — that’s the only way it’s going to work out of you, I think,” he said. “Even if you’re cold or having a tough day you have to step into the box knowing that you’re going to get a hit. I tried to have a positive mindset out there.”

“He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

— Nick Grande Sr.

The starting shortstop earned back-to-back America East Player of the Week honors March 27 and April 3. He went 6-for-11 with a homer and three RBIs in a home series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and went 6-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs in a win against Binghamton University. One of the nation’s top base stealers in 2018, he swiped three in a game twice. He went on to be named second-team ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region, an America East spring scholar-athlete, a first-team Google Cloud Academic All-American and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“It was nice to be able to produce and contribute to help the team win games,” Grande said, adding it helped having role models like recent MLB draftees pitcher Aaron Pinto and infielder Bobby Honeyman and Coram outfielder Andruw Gazzola. “Being in a great lineup where top to bottom guys are having great at-bats didn’t hurt either.”

Despite his strong showing on the offensive side of the ball, Grande said he has a defense-first mentality.

“He’d rather catch a ground ball than get a base hit, and when he makes an error I hear about it for days,” Grande’s father said, laughing. “That’s because we’ve hit thousands of ground balls. He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t quit, and that’s because he wants to be as close to perfect as you can be.”

Senk said though that Grande wanted to be more of a consistent hitter to balance his game. He said he pointed out to his shortstop he had an inside-out swing that didn’t allow him to hit the ball as hard as he could, so he started pulling the ball more. Grande also practiced using his backhand to get to more ground balls.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande digs into the box. Photo from SBU Athletics

“He has such a tremendous work ethic — that was never an issue,” the SBU coach said. “He worked hardest in the toughest part of the game. He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way. I knew it when we were playing the defending national champs, University of Florida, and he hit a home run off first-round draft pick Brady Singer. From there his season took off. I think that was because of his dedication, athleticism and intelligence.”

But there’s more to the ballplayer than his devotion and talent. Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said what he does in the classroom, and the kind of teammate he is makes him exemplary in every which way.

“He stood out from the day he started,” Nucci said of seeing Grande during a Booster Club practice as a youngster. “As crazy as it sounds as a young boy he had an incredible work ethic, he loved the game, he was always looking to improve, he smiled, he was super polite — as a 6-year-old on 60-foot diamond completely and totally standing out from his peers.”

He was pulled up to varsity as an eighth-grader to get more of a challenge, and ended up starting the second half of the season and into the playoffs after an injury sidelined one of his teammates. His coach joked that he might be the only Bulls player in history to hit a home run in his first at-bat and sacrifice bunt his next, showing his team-first mentality.

“He’s probably a better person and a better student than he is an athlete,” Nucci said. “He’s the first on the field and the last one off it, and he backs up his leadership skills and his work ethic with results on the field. And Nick didn’t need to speak — he spoke with his mitt, with his arm, with his bat, with his baseball intellect and with his attitude. Nick is the type of kid that takes a little something from everyone and uses it to his advantage. I hope my son ends up like Nick one day, I’ll tell you that.”

“He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way.”

— Matt Senk

Grande’s father said although it can be nerve-racking, it’s been nice to take off the coaching uniform and sit back and watch his son play.

“Your stomach is turning, you’re a nervous wreck, your hands are sweating, but there’s not a better place in the world to be than watching your kids play sports,” he said. “The sport to me always had such a positive effect on my life, and from an early age he seemed to be following in the same footsteps, that the game was going to be meaningful for him, too.”

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and it’s those who turn the lows into highs that tend to become successful. Nick Grande is the epitome of that according to those who know him best.

“When you get a text from your son that says, ‘Dad, I was just chosen as first-team All-American,’ after you pick yourself up off the floor, you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, all of his hard work, all of his dedication really paid off for him,’” Grande Sr. said. “People that work hard deserve to be rewarded in life, and in his case he has.”

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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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Long ago, I wrote a column about vomit and education. No, I didn’t suggest that teachers should encourage vomiting or that education gets better amid the smell of vomit. Sorry to those of you who are gagging even at these words.

No, for those without an encyclopedic knowledge of my columns — OK, all of you — I wrote that my son, who was only 5 at the time, often came home with exactly the same answer to the question about what happened in school: “Nothing.” Then, one day, a classmate was in the middle of saying something when she vomited.

Suddenly, my son became the bard of vomit, describing in technicolor detail everything that poured out of his classmate’s mouth. It didn’t stop there. He recounted each of the steps the teacher took to clean it up and resettle the room and then, to my shock, he shared a few things about the next lessons she tried to teach.

While I’m not suggesting the value of vomit in the classroom, I did recognize something unusual that occurs during these high-energy moments: People pay more attention.

What triggered — bad word choice here, I know — my thinking about this observation is March Madness. The NCAA basketball tournament has 64 teams entering this bracket, all of whom have fans, family and friends hoping their journey can go just one more game all the way to the championship.

Now, these games can be — and often are — ridiculously exciting, with young players pushing themselves to the limits of their speed, endurance and coordination to make impossible game-winning shots that carry their fans to the next level of ecstasy.

The winners stand in front of a microphone at the end of the game and recount what we’ve just witnessed, taking us through the moment when they got the ball at the top of the key, faked left, passed it to a teammate, and then crashed the boards just in time to grab the rebound and slam home the game-winner.

We know what we saw and rarely, if ever, do these interviews produce much more than, “Yeah, it was great,” or “I’m so excited, I just don’t have words for this.”

So, this is where the vomit analogy comes in. Some of these players likely contribute to causes, believe in community service, have something to say about what they’ve overcome, can share the best advice they’ve ever gotten or remember a moment that still matters.

I realize it’s asking a lot of the reporters and the athletic superstar whose primary concern may be going to the bathroom, getting his uniform clean for the next game or getting to the bus on time to go to the airport.

Still, these moments, with the players, coaches and even fans could include some kind of life lesson. Players don’t need to preach, nor do they have to demand that we participate in their favorite charity. However, they can use the spotlight to inspire and encourage us with their incredible achievements off the field, their commitments to family or their contributions to a church group.

Now, I realize Olympic coverage often includes features about people who are dedicating their efforts to a relative or who volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters. And, I appreciate how sports purists may find the effort an intrusion in the cliché-riddled wide world of sports, where the players are just happy to help the team and they take everything one game at a time and they try not to do too much.

But some day, that athlete will no longer have the microphone and some day, the world will no longer be watching. While we’re inspired and moved by their magnificence on the court, how about if, to the extent possible, they also encourage us to follow their lead in other arenas. An energized audience may see this as a chance to turn a good game into a great achievement.

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.”

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Jeff Boals joins the Seawolves after spending seven seasons as an assistant at Ohio State

Jeff Boals coaches the Ohio State University men's basketball team from the sideline. Photo from Ohio State University

Jeff Boals, who spent the last seven seasons as an assistant coach at Ohio State University, has been named the head men’s basketball coach at Stony Brook University.

“[I am] extremely excited to become a part of the Stony Brook community and university,” Boals said. “[I am] grateful for the opportunity that Dr. Stanley and Shawn Heilbron have given me and I look forward to working with the team, building upon the success of last season and continuing it into the future. I can’t wait to get started.”

That success last season was Stony Brook’s first Division I NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship appearance, after an 80-74 victory over the University of Vermont in the America East Championship. With the win, the Seawolves earned their 26th single-season victory — a new Division I program record for the Seawolves. The No. 13 Stony Brook team played No. 4 University of Kentucky in the NCAA tournament’s opening Round of 64 but fell, 85-57.

Jeff Boals, on right, cheers on the Ohio State University men’s basketball team. Photo from Ohio State University athletics
Jeff Boals, on right, cheers on the Ohio State University men’s basketball team. Photo from Ohio State University athletics

Boals will be officially introduced as the 11th head coach in the program’s history to the Stony Brook community at a press conference on Monday, April 11, in Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

“Jeff Boals will be a great addition to the Stony Brook community,” the Boston Celtics’ player Evan Turner said. “His commitment, passion and knowledge of the game is second to none. I’m excited to see the rise of the Stony Brook basketball program.”

A member of Thad Matta’s staff since 2009, Boals helped guide Ohio State to seven postseason appearances, including six NCAA Tournaments. The Buckeyes, who won or claimed a share of three Big 10 titles, advanced to the Final Four in 2012. Ohio went 193-62 during Boals’ time in Columbus.

“Jeff has done a remarkable job at The Ohio State University in his seven years as a Buckeye — he is certainly ready to be a head coach and has an amazing opportunity at such a fine institution,” Matta said. “Jeff has a great basketball mind and will bring energy and enthusiasm to the great situation that Stony Brook University offers.”

Boals was instrumental in bringing some of the top players in the nation to Ohio State, including current NBA stars Jared Sullinger and D’Angelo Russell, along with Aaron Craft, the all-time steals and assist leader in Ohio State history. He also coached Turner, the 2010 National Player of the Year, during his collegiate career with the Buckeyes.

“My focus during this search was to find the right person who could lead Stony Brook men’s basketball to new heights, and Jeff Boals is the right guy at the right time,” Heilbron said. “He is prepared for this opportunity, which comes at a critical time in our history following our first America East title and NCAA Tournament appearance.”

Jeff Boals, who was formerly an assistant coach at Ohio State University, will replace Steve Pikiell at the helm of the Stony Brook men's basketball team. Photo from Ohio State University athletics
Jeff Boals, who was formerly an assistant coach at Ohio State University, will replace Steve Pikiell at the helm of the Stony Brook men’s basketball team. Photo from Ohio State University athletics

Prior to Ohio State, Boals spent three seasons at the University of Akron, as the team’s recruiting coordinator while working with players. The Zips advanced to three Mid-American Conference championship games, winning the title in 2009. It was Akron’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 1986.

“The first thing about Jeff is that he’s won everywhere he’s been,” said Keith Dambrot, Akron’s men’s basketball coach. “I like to think of Jeff as a diversified coach. He’s a terrific recruiter, understands in-game strategy and is relentless.”

Boals also recruited Anthony “Humpty” Hitchens, an All-freshman performer, and Zeke Marshall, a national recruit.

“Jeff has coached at the highest level as a member of Thad Matta’s staff at Ohio State and he understands what it takes to win,” Heilbron said. “I am excited for our players to learn from him on the floor and, more importantly, he will serve as a strong mentor to our student-athletes in all areas of their lives outside of basketball.”

Boals spent two seasons (2004-06) at Robert Morris University and four years (1999-2003) at Marshall University. In his final season at Robert Morris, the Colonials posted their first winning record in 15 seasons. He also spent a total of four seasons at Division II University of Charleston in two different stints.

A 1995 graduate of Ohio University, Boals was a two-time captain and four-year letterwinner for the Bobcats, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 1994. The following year, Ohio University won the Preseason NIT Championship after wins over Ohio State and No. 14 Virginia, as well as George Washington and New Mexico State, at Madison Square Garden.

“Knowing that he is pursuing his dreams to be a head coach is big time,” Los Angeles Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell said. “He has always been super supportive and a major mentor to me and my family throughout my process. P.S. [I] just became a Stony Brook fan.”

—Stony Brook Athletics

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Dream season ends with coaching change

Steve Pikiell had high hopes for this season, and full confidence that this would be a special year and the Stony Brook men’s basketball head coach was right — the Seawolves made it all the way to the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I team. And even though they suffered a first-round elimination, members of the team and its fans said they would remember the experience as one of great success.

“I knew it would happen — you’ve got to have a special group,” said Pikiell.

He recognized the talent in his seniors, and the group that came together over four years to break through to the Round of 64 in the NCAA tournament.

Just a few years ago, it was difficult to fill Pritchard Gymnasium with 1,000 people. This season, the now-named Island Federal Credit Union Arena sold out. Some of those dedicated fans stuck by the team, in good times and bad.

Those were the fans who sat on the steps in front of the arena after their loss, anxiously waiting for their history-making America East conference champions to arrive. Despite the plane landing late, devotees waited for one last warm welcome, and honored the Seawolves who brought them so much joy this season with chants of “S-B-U.”

“We’ve looked forward to this for many, many years, so it’s a great success,” said Sam DiCanio II, of Stony Brook, who has been watching the team since his 9-year-old son was in the womb. “It was a tough draw, Kentucky is a tough team, but we showed that we’re on the right path.”

No. 13 Stony Brook may have fallen, 85-57, to No. 4-seeded University of Kentucky last Thursday night in a game shown on CBS TV, but fans didn’t drop them.

“[Playing against] Kentucky was good for us for the experience and for all the players and recruits to see us with all of our pros,” DiCanio’s young son said. “The excitement in that final home game was amazing.”

Followers felt the stadium rocking.

“No one was sitting,” said Maureen Zajac, a graduate of Stony Brook who lives in Shoreham with her 11–year-old son Anthony.

The two have been season ticket holders for two years now, and Zajac said she was overcome with emotion because of how far the team has come.

“Every day you read the newspaper and you cry. It’s fantastic. We’re so proud of them,” she said, holding up a banner. “We wrote we’re so proud because we’ve got to celebrate. They did an amazing job this year. The boys are amazing. They’re excellent role models.”

The class act trio of seniors waved hello to fans as they exited the bus, and waved goodbye to the end of a historic run — and the end of their Seawolves careers.

Warney, a three-time America East Player of the Year who scored a career-high 43 points in his last home game of his college career and 23 points and 15 rebounds in the Round of 64 contest, said he appreciates those fans who stuck around not just on that March 18 evening, but over the last four years.

“It was a long, hard season,” Warney said. “The heartbreaks, the adversity and the success. The community has been behind us for the last four years and they’ve been through a lot of heartbreaks, too, and everyone has just come back stronger and more supportive and it keeps us balanced. They make Stony Brook a hard place to play at.”

But the team, and especially Warney, who accounted for his 21st double-double of the season and 60th of his career, is what put Stony Brook on the map.

“Carson [Puriefoy] is fast, he has a good hang and an amazing shot, and Warney blocks everyone’s shots,” Anthony Zajac said.

Puriefoy added 10 points, and Rayshaun McGrew tied a career-high three steals. Ahmad Walker, a junior, finished with eight rebounds and three assists.

The team became an object that students, family members and community members could rally around.

“This experience brought back a lot of memories,” said Ronald Gerry. Like the times he’d go to University of Pennsylvania to be with his daughter, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and watch games: “We meet a lot of our friends, my wife Pam and I, and we all cheer together and talk. It’s a weekly outing.”

For Warney, who was named Tuesday Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I Player of the Year, the experience was also great to be a part of.

“It was a lot of exposure,” he said of being on that court in Des Moines, Iowa. “I came in an 18-year-old kid not knowing anything and being homesick every day, to trying to finally achieve what we’ve been working for. I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Pikiell said the team would be back next year with players in the program who continue to work hard.

“We’re excited about the future, too,” he said.

But Pikiell won’t be there to witness the hard work pay off firsthand. In a shock announcment just days after the Seawolves’ NCAA tournament appearance, the Stony Brook resident signed a five-year deal with a starting annual salary of $1.4 million to head the program at Rutgers University.

He will end his time with Stony Brook alongside his senior athletes.

Warney finished his illustrious career with 2,132 points, 1,275 rebounds and 276 blocks. Puriefoy ended his with 1,572 points, ranking him fourth all-time in Division I program history. And McGrew will go down in Stony Brook history as the first Seawolf to score a basket in the Division I tournament. Stony Brook’s senior class finished with a 97-38 record, the winningest class in school history.

“We started this journey in Germany on a European trip and we ended it in Iowa,” Pikiell said. “It was an exciting year, it was a hard year and there’s a lot of terrific moments — 18 wins in a row, winning the league, playing a home game here for the championship, cutting the nets down — so a lot of good memories.”

Warney said some of those good memories wouldn’t have happened without the staff and his teammates, but especially his coach.

“He’s one of the best coaches in the conference,” Warney said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. Pikiell always said it’s hard to make history, and we finally did it. We were motivated. We played together and we found a formula to win.”

“[Playing against] Kentucky was good for us for the experience and for all the players and recruits to see us with all of our pros,” said Stony Brook resident Sam Dicanio III. “The excitement in that final home game was amazing.”

Followers felt the stadium rocking.

“No one was sitting,” said Maureen Zajac, a graduate of Stony Brook who lives in Shoreham with her 11–year-old-son Anthony.

The two have been season ticket holders for two years now, and Zajac said she was overcome with emotion because of how far the team has come.

“Every day you read the newspaper and you cry. It’s fantastic. We’re so proud of them,” she said, holding up a banner. “We wrote we’re so proud because we’ve got to celebrate. They did an amazing job this year. The boys are amazing. They’re excellent role models.”

The class act trio of seniors waved hello to fans as they exited the bus, and waved goodbye to the end of a historic run, and the end of their Seawolves careers.

Warney, an America East Player of the Year who scored a career-high 43 points in his last home game of his college career and 23 points and 15 rebounds in the Round of 64 contest, said he appreciates those fans who stuck around not just on that March 18 evening, but over the last four years.

“It was a long, hard season,” Warney said. “The heartbreaks, the adversity and the success. The community has been behind us for the last four years and they’ve been through a lot of heartbreaks, too, and everyone has just come back stronger and more supportive and it keeps us balanced. They make Stony Brook a hard place to play at.”

But the team, and especially Warney, who accounted for his 21st double-double of the season and 60th of his career, is what put Stony Brook on the map.

“Carson is fast, he has a good hang and an amazing shot, and Warney blocks everyone’s shots,” Anthony Zajac said.

Carson Puriefoy added 10 points, and Rayshaun McGrew tied a career-high three steals. Ahmad Walker, a junior, finished with eight rebounds and three assists.

The team became an object that students, family members and community members could rally around.

“This experience brought back a lot of memories,” said Ronald Gerry. Like the times he’d go to University of Pennsylvania to be with his daughter, Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), and watch games. “We meet a lot of our friends, my wife Pam and I, and we all cheer together and talk. It’s a weekly outing.”

For Warney, the experience was also great to be a part of.

“It was a lot of exposure,” he said of being on that court in Des Moines, Iowa. “I came in an 18-year-old kid not knowing anything and bring homesick every day, to trying to finally achieve what we’ve been working for. I am grateful to be a part of it.”

Pikiell said the team would be back next year with players in the program who continue to work hard.

“We’re excited about the future, too,” he said.

But Pikiell won’t be there to witness the hard work pay off first hand. Just days after Stony Brook’s first tournament appearance, the Stony Brook resident signed a five-year deal with an annual contract salary of $1.6 million to head the program at Rutgers University.

He will end his time with Stony Brook alongside his senior athletes.

Warney finished his illustrious career with 2,132 points, 1,273 rebounds and 276 blocks. Puriefoy ended his with 1,572 points, ranking him fourth all-time in Division I program history. And McGrew will go down in Stony Brook history as the first Seawolf to score a basket in the Division I Tournament. Stony Brook’s senior class finished with a 97-38 record, the winningest class in school history.

“We started this journey in Germany on a European trip and we ended it in Iowa,” Pikiell said. “It was an exciting year, it was a hard year and there’s a lot of terrific moments — 18 wins in a row, winning the league, playing a home game here for the championship, cutting the nets down — so a lot of good memories.”

Warney said some of those good memories wouldn’t have happened without the staff and his teammates, but especially, his coach.

“He’s one of the best coaches in the conference,” Warney said. “He obviously knows what he’s doing. Pikiell always said it’s hard to make history, and we finally did it. We were motivated. We played together and we found a formula to win.”

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The Stony Brook men’s basketball team walks out to a red carpet before departing for Des Moines, Iowa. Photo by Desirée Keegan

After earning its first trip to the NCAA as a Division I team, it was only fitting for the Stony Brook men’s basketball team to have a proper send-off.

Jameel Warney reaches for the rim against Vermont. Photo by Robert O'Rourk
Jameel Warney reaches for the rim against Vermont. Photo by Robert O’Rourk

Fans young and old came out donning the Seawolves’ red and white, waving pom-poms and throwing up homemade banners and posters to show support for their favorite college basketball team.

“It’s great for the school and great for the community and great for exposure,” senior Stony Brook standout Jameel Warney said. “You play to win. You play for admiration from the fans. We love the community and it’s great to be here. We’re coming out to win. We’re going to work out hardest and give it our all.”

Warney, just days prior, tallied a career-high 43 points in the Seawolves’ 80-74 victory over The University of Vermont in the America East Championship at the sold-out Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

Warney was a remarkable 18-for-22 from the field to go with a 7-for-10 showing from the free-throw line. The Seawolves senior added 10 rebounds and four blocks in his final home game at Stony Brook. Warney’s third-consecutive double-double gave him 59 for his Seawolves career. He tallied 25 of his 43 points in the second half. The 43-point, career-best performance eclipses his 36-point outing against the University of Hartford on Feb. 8. It is also the highest total in the Division I era by any Seawolves player.

The America East finals crowd shows its Stony Brook support. Photo by Robert O'Rourk
The America East finals crowd shows its Stony Brook support. Photo by Robert O’Rourk

Senior Carson “Trey” Puriefoy added 23 points to help secure the win. Puriefoy played all 40 minutes and showed how he got his nickname, draining all five of Stony Brook’s 3-pointers. He notched 16 of his 23 points in the second half, and was 8-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Puriefoy, who moved within 28 points for third on the Division I scoring list with 1,562 points as of Saturday, took to the fans to tell them how lucky the team is to have their support.

“We want to thank everyone for coming out,” he said. “We made history. You guys have been there for us all season long, we love everybody and we’re going to go to the dance and make history.”

Head coach Steve Pikiell, who is in his 11th season with the Seawolves, said he’s honored to finally get his team to the dance, and tried to break the ice as he joked about the historic No. 4-seeded University of Kentucky that his No. 13 team will be taking on Thursday at 9:40 p.m.

Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy embrace one another after topping Vermont for the America East Championship title and automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Photo by Robert O'Rourk
Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy embrace one another after topping Vermont for the America East Championship win. Photo by Robert O’Rourk

“We’re going to represent this great university and this great area the right way on Thursday night when we play a small team out there in Kentucky,” he said, laughing. “I think they have a basketball program out there.”

But on a more serious note, the coach said he appreciated all the support he’s received throughout the years, and how hard his team has worked to get to the position it’s in now.

“So many good people have helped us get to this place,” he said. “This team did something that no team in Stony Brook history did. It’s hard to make history, and they got through every obstacle this year and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

According to Pikiell, there are 358 teams that start off the season wanting to be in the NCAA tournament, and just 64 get a chance to punch a ticket to the first round.

“We did it,” Pikiell said. “We broke through.”

The team filed out to a red carpet, high-fiving the fans that cheered as they swarmed around the 14-man roster as it boarded the bus to begin the long trip to Iowa.

Carson Puriefoy drives around an opponent. Photo by Robert O'Rourk
Carson Puriefoy drives around an opponent. Photo by Robert O’Rourk

“They want to feel your energy in Des Moines, Iowa, so bring it on Thursday,” Stony Brook athletic director Shawn Heilbron said. “This team is a special team and you’re going to see some special things on Thursday night.”

The berth is the first for Stony Brook (26-6) in its Division I history. The Seawolves, known then as the Patriots, last made the NCAA tournament in 1991 as a member of Division III. Stony Brook and Kentucky faced each other in 2007, and the Wildcats held off the Seawolves, 62-52.

The game Thursday will be televised on CBS, and the winner will face Indiana University or The University of Tennessee Chattanooga in the second round.

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Warney tallies career-high 43 points in America East Championships victory

Fans celebrate along with the Stony Brook University men's basketball team after the Seawolves claimed the American East Championship title and its first NCAA Division I appearance at the Island Federal Credit Union Arena on March 12. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University men's basketball standout Jameel Warney speaks to reporters with the net draped around his neck after his team earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University
Stony Brook University men’s basketball standout Jameel Warney speaks to reporters with the net draped around his neck after his team earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

Senior Jameel Warney tallied a career-high 43 points and senior Carson Puriefoy added 23 to help secure the Stony Brook men’s basketball team’s first trip to the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship with an 80-74 victory over the University of Vermont in the America East Championship at a raucous, sold-out Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

Stony Brook (26-6) erased a 15-point second-half deficit to storm back and punch its ticket to the field of 68, which will be fully announced Sunday at 5:30 p.m. on CBS. Stony Brook will host an NCAA tournament selection show event Sunday at Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

Junior Lucas Woodhouse dished out eight assists for the Seawolves, who avenged their only home defeat of the season and closed out their home slate 15-1, before hitting the road next week for the NCAA tournament.

Trae Bell-Haynes had 17 points to lead Vermont (21-13), which had three players in double-figures with 11 points from Ernie Duncan and 10 from Cam Ward.
Vermont led 48-33 with 15:17 remaining before a 24-10 Stony Brook run cut the deficit to 58-57 with 7:48 to go on a Woodhouse jumper. The Seawolves took a 62-61 lead with 5:59 remaining and the teams traded baskets for the next two-and-a-half minutes before a free throw by junior Ahmad Walker with 3:14 to go gave the Seawolves a lead they would not relinquish.

Warney was a remarkable 18-for-22 from the field in the victory to go with a 7-for-10 showing from the free-throw line. The Seawolves senior added 10 rebounds and four blocks in his final home game at Stony Brook. Warney’s third-consecutive double-double gave him 59 for his Seawolves career. He tallied 25 of his 43 points in the second half.

The Stony Brook University men's basketball team huddles together. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University
The Stony Brook University men’s basketball team huddles together. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

The 43-point, career-best performance for Warney eclipses a 36-point outing against the University of Hartford on Feb. 8. It is also the highest total in the Division I era by any Seawolves player. The last 40-point output by a Seawolves player was Emeka Smith’s 49-point performance against Lehman College on Dec. 7, 1991.

Puriefoy, who notched 16 of his 23 points in the second half, drained all five of Stony Brook’s 3-point makes and was 8-for-10 from the charity stripe. He added four assists and two of Stony Brook’s seven steals. Puriefoy played all 40 minutes in a regulation game for the third time this season. Puriefoy moved within 28 points of D.J. Munir (2000-04) for third on the Division I scoring list. He has 1,562 points through Saturday.

The 26th victory of the season set a new Division I program record.

The Stony Brook men’s basketball team will play the University of Kentucky in the Round of 64, the NCAA Selection Committee announced Sunday evening.

The Seawolves, seeded 13th, will face No. 4 Kentucky Thursday at 9:40 p.m. ET on CBS.  Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson will broadcast the game. Stony Brook will be making its first appearance in the Division I Tournament. The Seawolves, known then as the Patriots, last made the NCAA Tournament in 1991 as a member of Division III.

The Stony Brook University men's basketball team topped the University of Vermont to claim the America East Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University
The Stony Brook University men’s basketball team topped the University of Vermont to claim the America East Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

“We are going to play a historic program — one of the best programs in college basketball — with a Hall of Fame coach and first round draft picks all over the place,” Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell said. “This is a great opportunity for our guys to go and continue their season and play one of the best teams in the country.”

Kentucky advanced to its 55th NCAA Tournament with a victory over Texas A&M University in the Southeastern Conference Championship game. The two squads faced each other in 2007, and the Wildcats held off the Seawolves, 62-52.

The winner of Thursday’s game will face Indiana University or the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the second round.

Tom Rotanz poses for a photo with a gold medal and trophy after the U-19 team he was an assistant coach of won a world championship. Photo from Tom Rotanz

A familiar face is stepping onto the college lacrosse scene.

Tom Rotanz, a former head boys’ lacrosse coach for Shoreham-Wading River for 18 years, will helm St. Joseph’s College’s new men’s lacrosse program, which will begin its first season in spring 2017.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Rotanz said of joining the college ranks. “I think any competitive athlete and coach wants to show someone what good can come from having the right people around you and the good players that are willing to commit themselves, and I hope to have another successful tenure at St. Joseph’s.”

Tom Rotanz will be the first head coach for St. Joseph's College's men's lacrosse program. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz will be the first head coach for St. Joseph’s College’s men’s lacrosse program. Photo from Tom Rotanz

Rotanz has a long history with lacrosse.

His elder brother was on the team that won Ward Melville’s first Long Island championship in 1974, and the younger Rotanz was part of the squad that won the second and third in 1976 and 1977. The lacrosse captain earned All-American honors as a senior in 1977, after his team also made it to the New York State championship game, the first one for lacrosse. The boys lost that game, 12-11.

From there, he was the captain of the Suffolk County Community College lacrosse team that won a national championship and earned All-American honors twice. He then repeated that feat at Adelphi University, where he was also named an All-American twice.

“Tom was a great player,” said his former high school coach, and a legend on the lacrosse scene, Joe Cuozzo. “He was a great competitor, had a great sense of humor about him, and I really enjoyed working with him.”

As a coach himself, with the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats’ program only a year old, Rotanz took over a roster of 14 players, including six freshmen. The team went 1-15 his first season, scoring 38 goals on the year. But seven years later, the team was ranked fourth in the country, after winning a New York State championship and scoring close to 400 goals.

“It snowballed into something that was really neat to be a part of,” he said. “In the last 13 years I was there, we won 10 county championships, five Long Island and three New York State. People always wondered why or how we kept winning every year and being ranked one or two in the county. I say if you have bright kids that buy into the system, I think anything is possible.”

Tom Rotanz gets water dumped on his head by a former Shoreham-Wading River team after a win. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz gets water dumped on his head by a former Shoreham-Wading River team after a win. Photo from Tom Rotanz

Rotanz earned his first of six Suffolk County Coach of the Year honors in 1999, two years before he led the program to its first county championship in 2001. In 2002, the program repeated as Suffolk champs en route to Long Island and New York State titles. The team also swept Suffolk, Long Island and New York State championship titles in 2007 and 2012.

In 2012, the coach added to his list of accolades, serving as an assistant for the 2012 USA Men’s U-19 lacrosse team that won a world championship.

Now, he hopes to be able to bring that same success to St. Joseph’s, and Shantey Hill, assistant vice president and senior director of athletics and recreation for the college, thinks Rotanz is the perfect fit.

“We were very lucky in that Coach Rotanz applied,” she said, referring to the school’s intensive, national search across all NCAA institutions. “He has a plethora of experience, and … he knows the landscape of Long Island, and he’s very well-connected with his peers to be able to do good recruiting for what we’re looking for.”

For Rotanz, being on the scene as long as he has and being a part of Long Island lacrosse, serving as an assistant coach at Smithtown West for the last two years, will be beneficial throughout the recruiting process for the Golden Eagles.

“I’m very close friends with a lot of the Suffolk and Nassau coaches, so they’re already contacting me with players that they think will be a great fit, kids that they think would really like to play for me; so that’s the neat thing.”

He added, laughing, “I think there will be a lot more kids that think about not leaving the Island now, hopefully.”

Tom Rotanz makes a save during a Ward Melville boys' lacrosse game. He helped the team to two Long Island championship titles and a New York State championship appearance. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz makes a save during a Ward Melville boys’ lacrosse game. He helped the team to two Long Island championship titles and a New York State championship appearance. Photo from Tom Rotanz

According to Hill, the school decided the time was right for a lacrosse program after seeing that a number of Division III student-athletes in the college’s Skyline Conference that commit to play lacrosse come from Long Island and that there was interest with incoming and current students. The college also built a new outdoor athletic facility.

Hill said St. Joseph’s found the right coach in Rotanz.

“We think we hit a home run with coach Rotanz,” she said. “He’s not only a wonderful coach, but also a great man, and he will do great things. We’re looking forward to him not only being the face of the lacrosse program, but also being a mentor to our male student-athletes. His tenure speaks for itself. He’s very well-connected, and he has good relationships with lots of people, and that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.”

Cuozzo, who was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, said he used to go to Shoreham-Wading River practices and games to watch his former athlete, and has been thrilled with his approach to the game.

“The way he treats kids, he’s a real student of the game, and I can’t say enough on how proud I am of his accomplishments,” he said. “He brings a winning attitude.”

Rotanz, who said he tries to emulate the ways and successes of his former coach, is competitive, according to Cuozzo.

“He hates to lose — I think he got that from me,” he said, laughing. “I wasn’t a very good loser.”

Luckily, neither one of them has had to do much of that.

Tom Rotanz coaches from the sidelines of a Shoreham-Wading River boys' lacrosse game. Photo from Tom Rotanz
Tom Rotanz coaches from the sidelines of a Shoreham-Wading River boys’ lacrosse game. Photo from Tom Rotanz

Cuozzo compiled a 699-73 record while at the helm of the Patriots’ program. In 2007, he became the head coach at Mount Sinai, where he brought his win total to 747 in his four years before retirement. During his tenure with the Wildcats, Rotanz amassed a 256-99 record.

Cuozzo also thinks Rotanz will be able to draw athletes to the school.

“A lot of kids like to leave Long Island when they are finished with high school — they don’t want to stay local — but knowing Tom, he’s very convincing,” Cuozzo said. “He’ll do his homework. He’ll go out and scout, he’ll go to high school games and he’ll talk, make phone calls. He’s very organized, he’s very knowledgeable about the game, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be successful there.”