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New York State championship

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Daniel Claxton leaps over the high-jump bar for Smithtown East. Photo from Daniel Claxton

As Daniel Claxton looked around his room, his eyes locked on something he said means most to him: a “most outstanding athlete” award.

The honor, selected and handed out by the Suffolk County coaches, is given to an athlete who excels in the sport or possesses great sportsmanship.

Daniel Claxton and his father Bill pose for a photo with his Most Outstanding Athlete Award. Photo from Daniel Claxton
Daniel Claxton and his father Bill pose for a photo with his Most Outstanding Athlete Award. Photo from Daniel Claxton

The junior high jumper for Smithtown East first stepped foot on a track and field arena in seventh grade. Having an amazing day at a middle school meet in eighth grade, Claxton said his older brother William, who was on the varsity team, came up to him with a Bulls T-shirt.

“I told him I wasn’t on the high school team, but he told me his coach said I qualified to be on it, and wanted to give me the shirt as a ‘see you next year’ kind of thing,” Daniel Claxton said. “From that moment I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way I’m going to stop doing this.’”

When Daniel Claxton first started jumping, he reached 5’1’’ and, now, has reached a personal best of 6’10’’ and said he hopes to break the seven-foot barrier in the near future.

One of his most memorable moments of his high school career to date, though, was when he jumped 6’3’’ at the state meet qualifier as a freshman.

“Everything went perfect — I got it first try,” he said. “I heard my parents screaming for me and only one other kid ended up making that height. I got knocked out the next round, but my coach told me I still might make it to states. Everyone was sitting with me and I was shaking, and my coach, who is a foot-and-a-half shorter than me, kicked my backside and handed me my plaque. That was such a great day I’ll never forget.”

Earning All-State as a freshman, after coming in fifth place, was just the first of many accolades Claxton would garner. Each season, he’s earned All-League, All-Division, All-County and All-State nods. Each year, he’s improved his height as a result of rigorous training, despite head coach Kathie Borbet not needing to coach him.

Daniel Claxton stands atop the podium at the Eddy Games in Schenectady. Photo from Daniel Claxton
Daniel Claxton stands atop the podium at the Eddy Games in Schenectady. Photo from Daniel Claxton

We’re basically there for more moral and emotional support, because he’s such a natural athlete that when he came into varsity track he had perfect form,” she said, adding that she heard about Claxton early on from a middle school gym teacher. “He’s tremendously talented and has this great concentration.”

That focus and drive took him all the way to states again, his sophomore year, where he placed second. This season, he made it back to the finals, where he was able to avenge his loss to become a state champion.

“Ever since I knew I would be competing for this type of stuff, I’d say I’ve been taking the sport a lot more seriously,” he said. “I knew this year that I wanted it, and I needed it. My workouts were getting harder and the stakes were getting higher, and it felt great to finally win and show that not only did I deserve it because I was seeded first, but because of my work ethic and my passion for the sport.”

Since then, Claxton has also competed at the New Balance Nationals, where he garnered All-American honors.

What has helped Claxton improve his height has been his plyometric training with assistant coach Kurt Martraf.

Claxton said he does drills with three-foot, four-foot and five foot boxes, doing toe taps and step ups, and different types of vertical jumps with soft landings. Martraf said the training has been paying back dividends.

Daniel Claxton is all smiles with his state champion medals. Photo from Daniel Claxton
Daniel Claxton is all smiles with his state champion medals. Photo from Daniel Claxton

“He wouldn’t be where he is right now without those various plyometric exercises, and he’s willing to train and follow direction and take feedback and look at every aspect of his jump, and that’s another reason why he is where he is today,” he said. “He has great character. He has a good, positive attitude and he’s a well-liked athlete throughout his team.”

Which is something Claxton said he prides himself on.

“I always motivate athletes on my team to do better,” he said. “Even when I’m in other competitions … I always try to give advice. They may not take my advice, but I’m always willing to share it.”

It’s just because he loves the sport.

“Every meet I’ll go out there and realize that this sport is my life,” he said. “It’s sleeping, eating and breathing track and field ever since I was 12. I don’t know where I’d be without this sport. It means everything to me.”

And Borbet thinks he’s exactly where he needs to be.

“I’m just along for the ride and enjoying every moment of it,” she said. “He’s not out there to flaunt it — he’s a humble kid. If you’ve ever seen him jump it looks like he’s been doing this his whole life. Watching him jump is like seeing a work of art in progress.”

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.”