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Samantha Prahalis

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Former Ward Melville girls basketball head coach Samantha Prahalis coaches the Patriots from the sidelines at a January 2018 game. Photo by Jm Ferchland

Ward Melville High School girls varsity basketball players, parents and residents lent their voices in support for former coach Samantha Prahalis at a district board of education meeting Aug. 21.

The speakers during the board’s public session hoped that they could convince the board to reconsider the decision to dismiss the varsity girls’ basketball coach, which was made earlier this month. But after nearly a one-hour public comment session, the board ultimately sealed the coach’s fate. It would not reevaluate their initial decision to sever ties with Prahalis, a former WNBA player, and she would not be returning to the sidelines.

William Connors, Three Village board of education president, delivered the news to the crowd through a prepared statement.

“While the district does not comment on matters of personnel, I can say the coaching position for the Ward Melville [girls] high school varsity team currently remains open for the 2019-20 school year,” the board of education president said. “The district will not be filling this annual appointment with the individual who served in that role for the past two years. As such, we are in the process of selecting the most qualified individual to lead our team next year.”

Supporters of Prahalis questioned the board’s reasons for the dismissal and argued they acted too harshly. Some also felt that the district ignored and chose not to meet with students during the board’s investigation of the former coach.

“They have been trying to reach out to you from May 19,” said parent Gina Agostino. “We sent out a letter that day because players wanted to share their feelings on coach. Emails have been ignored, phone calls were not returned, request for meetings were blown off. You chose not to hear their voices … and treated them like adversaries the entire time.”

District officials disputed those claims saying they had reached out to parents.

Chris Agostino said the fact that the district would have their own agenda is embarrassing.

“I’ll tell you something, if I had students like this standing up for a coach the way these young ladies are, its powerful,” he said. “… What I don’t understand is that you get one complaint, maybe two complaints from parents or players and as a board you acted. You never listened to these students. You’re not looking out for them. If you were, you would understand how they feel.”

A parent of a former varsity girls basketball player said he supported the decision to release the coach. He detailed how in May he received a phone call from the district asking for permission for his daughter to be surveyed by the district’s athletic department regarding Prahalis and the basketball team.

He said he told his daughter to tell the truth and others did too and added that it was more than two complaints.

“My daughter for three years was treated terribly and was abused verbally and mentally without the board knowing, she wanted it that way and I stood by her,” he said. “Sammy’s [Prahalis] abusive record speaks for itself and anyone that asked about her knew about her reputation.”

Six former players of Prahalis were present at the meeting. Many of them spoke of how their coach was the best mentor they ever had and how they had learned and grown so much as a player during that time.

“Coach has transformed me not only as a better basketball player but also as a better person,” said Katherine Kelly, a rising senior on the varsity team. “She helped me gain the confidence I’ve been lacking on and off the court. She helped recognize my potential … She has made this team a family.”

This summer the team won in their league during the Brookhaven Town recreation program playoffs and credited their former coach for the strong summer season.

Cheryl Pedisich, Three Village superintendent of schools, spoke toward the end of the meeting to clarify some things parents brought up, including that she had said to Prahalis in a meeting that the district had failed her.

“I said the district had failed her in not giving her the proper mentorship, that I think every coach deserves, every new coach deserves,” she said. “For new coaches that don’t have that opportunity to know how to work with students is a travesty. That was something incumbent on the district and the former athletic director to make sure that happened for all new coaches. Moving forward every coach that is new will be mentored in an appropriate way.”

Post was updated Aug. 30 to include a statement from Three Village district officials. 

Ward Melville's Lauren Hansen carries the ball up the court while Commack's Casey Hearns follows close behind. Photo by Jim Ferchland

By Jim Ferchland

Former WNBA player, Commack graduate and current Ward Melville girls basketball coach Samantha Prahalis was frustrated and emotional on some calls the referee made while facing her alma mater Jan. 2. She received two technical fouls and was ejected in the middle of the fourth quarter in a 75-59 loss.

“I thought [the referees] missed a lot of calls,” Prahalis said. “If you let a few travels go, let a few backcourts go in a crucial time — we’re trying to come back, [and] there were a few big calls that I didn’t think were made.”

This is Prahalis’ first year as Ward Melville’s head coach. She was embarrassed that she was tossed, and said she has to do a better job of maintaining her composure.

Ward Melville’s head coach Samantha Prahalis, a former Commack star, coaches the Patirots from the sidelines. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I can’t put myself in a situation and get a technical, and then [to] get another one,” she said. “Lesson learned. I learned from it and we’ll learn from it as a group and we’ll move on.”

Ward Melville junior guard Lauren Hansen felt that Prahalis was in hostile territory facing her old team.

“I felt that the refs were just gunning for her,” she said. “It’s Commack environment.”

Commack assistant head coach Russ Tietjen was with Prahalias at Commack last year when she was an assistant. He is aware of her emotions on the court that translated to her emotions as a player at Commack.

“Sammy was a great player here and you can see her intensity as a coach is very similar to when she played,” Tietjen said of Prahalis. “She had a Ward Melville team who was ready to play; they played hard. That’s what good coaches do — they get their teams to play hard.”

Commack had several offensive weapons with four players scoring 16 points or more. Meanwhile, for Ward Melville, Hansen recorded 39 points and was the only player in double figures for the Patriots.

Junior guards Amanda McMahon and Katie Kelly lead the Cougars with 18 points each. Senior Casey Hearns recorded 17 and classmate Kim Shalhoub added 16. They combined for 69 of Commack’s 75 points.

“We have a group of great shooters and we like to push the tempo,” Tietjen said. “When you’re making your baskets, it looks good. It looked good today. The level of competitiveness in these girls is second to none.”

Kelly enjoyed going up against her former assistant head coach. She says it ramps up the competition.

“Sammy is a very good competitor and loves to win as much as we do,” Kelly said. “It just makes the atmosphere that much better to play in. It make us want to win even more.”

Kelly’s learned her game from former player and point guard Jillian Spagnuola who graduated in 2016, when the team went 22-1. Kelly is doing her best fill Spagnuola’s shoes.

Commack’s Katie Kelley looks to make a play up the court. Photo by Jim Ferchland

“I learned everything from Jill,” Kelly said about her play style. “I learned how to run the point and organize the offense.”

After being down by at most 30, the Patriots went on a big run in the four quarter and cut the deficit to 12 after Prahalis was ejected. Senior forward Shannon Brazier said her coach ignited the spark.

“We just weren’t going to go down without a fight,” Brazier said. “We wanted to do it for coach and wanted to come back for her.”

Hansen’s scoring prowess is nothing new to her. Brazier says that’s always how her teammate plays. But the junior’s main focus is to face Commack again in Ward Melville territory.

“The loss brings us motivation to come back and go harder and beat them next time,” Hansen said. “We’ll bring a crowd next time, too.”

With Prahalis as the opposition to Commack, she enjoyed battling in her old stomping grounds.

“It felt good,” Prahalis said. “Ward Melville is my home now. I love Commack, I grew up there, but I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

Ward Melville’s next game is at Brentwood Jan. 5 at 4 p.m. The Patriots fall to 2-4 on the season with the loss while Commack improves to 7-1. The Cougars travel to William Floyd  Jan. 5. Tipoff is currently
scheduled for 4 p.m.

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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.”