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Ward Melville High School

Coach Ken Eriksen with members of Team USA softball team. Photo by Jade Hewitt from USA Softball

Coached by 1979 Ward Melville High School graduate Ken Eriksen, Team USA softball team ran out of walk-off magic in the gold medal game Tuesday.

After coming from behind to beat Australia, 2-1, and then Japan by the same score in the last two games before the final, Team USA couldn’t rally to beat Japan in the gold medal game, falling 2-0.

Coach Ken Eriksen during practice with Team USA. Photo by Jade Hewitt from USA Softball

Eriksen, who had a successful college baseball career, has extensive softball coaching and playing experience, including as the current head coach of the University of South Florida for over 24 years. He has had several roles with the national team over the years, including as an assistant on the 2004 Olympic team that won gold in Athens. He became head coach of Team USA in 2011.

Members of the local athletic community expressed their admiration for the coach and his involvement at the Olympic games.

“For one of our former student athletes to be coaching on the highest stage possible in the world is something we’re so proud of,” said Kevin Finnerty, athletic director of the Three Village Central School District. Eriksen’s role shows “that our students, through hard work, effort and time can” reach their goals.

Joseph Burger, who has been coaching softball at Ward Melville for seven years, appreciated the connection between Eriksen and the high school.

“When you have a Ward Melville graduate coaching the Olympic team, that sheds a great light on the sport and what we’re trying to do here,” Burger said. “This is very positive for the program.”

Burger appreciated how Team USA showed sportsmanship at the end of the loss, which, he said, reflects well on the coach.

Burger, who posted the Team USA softball schedule on the high school softball team’s Instagram page, said the games set a great example for his players.

The Olympians are “aggressive toward the ball,” he said.

Rising Ward Melville junior third baseman and team captain Alicea Pepitone watched the gold medal game.

“They played their hearts out this whole series in the Olympics,” said Pepitone, who would like to play in college. “They should be proud, even though it didn’t go down the way they wanted it to.”

Pepitone thought it was “awesome” that Coach Eriksen attended Ward Melville. She recalls watching softball in the Olympics in 2008.

“I want to be one of those girls on that field and wearing that jersey,” she said.

Reached by email before the final game, Eriksen responded to TBR’s questions from Tokyo.

TBR: Who were some of your softball mentors growing up in Setauket?

Eriksen: My coaching mentors from Long Island were Russ Cain at Gelinas Junior High School and Coach Everett Hart. They were both tremendous teachers. They both taught the game, and you would never know you were up by 10 or down by 10. They treated and respected the game as it should be … a teaching platform for life.

TBR: Have you emulated any of the coaching patterns you observed as a player?

Eriksen: Most definitely. It’s all about the players’ ability to be prepared for any situation and trust them to react to the situations.

TBR: What is the best advice you received as a player?

Eriksen: Trust your preparation. Less is more.

TBR: Do you use that advice with the players on USA softball? 

Eriksen: Every day.

TBR: Is the sport of softball any different than it was during the age of Jennie Finch?

Eriksen: It’s more competitive worldwide now than it was prior to 2008. You can see that by the competition in the last four World Championships and the 2021 games.

TBR: Does the sport require any different skill sets?

Eriksen: Absolutely as it does comparatively to baseball.

TBR: How is USA softball any different from softball in the rest of the world?

Eriksen: The expectations sometimes are unrealistic in respect of not thinking it’s a global game.

TBR: Does your team or does the program emphasize specific skills that differentiate it from softball in the rest of the world?

Eriksen: Not really. Everyone spends an inordinate amount of time trying to be flawless.

TBR: What is different about coaching and playing?

Eriksen: It was easier to play! Only had to worry about me!

TBR: Have you had to learn different skill sets as a coach than you had as a player?

Eriksen: Obviously when you are dealing as a manager in any organization there is a “human hierarchy of needs” that each player presents to you as a coach. When you have a unit that is together for years, you better understand the people first.

TBR: Was it challenging to coach and play softball without anyone in the stands?

Eriksen: Not really. When you are locked into the moment, all noise is irrelevant in the heads of elite athletes.

TBR: Was the team able to provide the energy and excitement that the crowd might normally offer in the context of a more typical softball game or season?

Eriksen: We bring it every day regardless. That happens when you wear U-S-A on the front of your jersey.

TBR: What’s next after the Olympics?

Eriksen: For me … getting away from the spotlight. Won’t be hard. I love the “game,” but it’s a game. It’s not my whole life. The old saying … “gone fishing.”

Members of WMHS Class of 1980, shown above at a prior reunion, will get to celebrate their 40th reunion one year later on July 31. Photo from Lesley Hunter

As pandemic restrictions lift, more leisurely activities are showing up on people’s calendars, among them high school reunions.

Members of WMHS Class of 1980, shown above at a prior reunion, will get to celebrate their 40th reunion one year later on July 31. Photo from Lesley Hunter

For one Ward Melville High School class, it’s all about plus one. Toward the end of 2019, members of the Class of 1980 began planning their 40th reunion. A few months later, planning came to a stop due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now the class is gearing up for their 40+1 reunion at Danfords Hotel, Marina & Spa in Port Jefferson, July 31.

The class was one that grew up during a time when the area saw an increase in population with people arriving due to jobs at the recently built Stony Brook University and the construction of homes in the alphabet section of Stony Brook.

Charlie Lefkowitz, who along with fellow former classmates Kim Keady, Lesley Hunter and Paul Magidson is planning the reunion, said with members of the planning committee living across the country, a lot of planning was already being conducted using email, phone and Zoom.

Lefkowitz said at the beginning of last year, they began to see the slowdown in responses. Even though New York State lifted restrictions slightly at the beginning of last summer, the committee knew the 50-person limit wouldn’t be enough to accommodate everyone and people from out of state wouldn’t be able to make it.

“Pulling the plug was not a very hard decision, because a lot of people were coming from, especially in California and from Massachusetts, states that were so restrictive,” Lefkowitz said.

While they tossed around the idea of canceling the reunion altogether, they finally decided to plan a reunion for 2021.

Keady, who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, said it helped that their former classmates had trust in them that they could pull it off.

“We were really lucky because our classmates just had faith in holding steady and pausing, and they just trusted us,” she said.

“People have lost folks and been very fearful for good reason during this time. I think that gratitude levels are going to be really high.”

— Kim Keady

Lefkowitz said while there are still some people who can’t attend due to other events or health reasons, in the last few months the response has been overwhelming with more than 100 attending so far. He added that planning was still touch and go at first at the beginning of the year because even though restrictions were being lifted, there were still some state-mandated requirements at the time such as no dancing and wearing masks when not eating. He said once the number of vaccinations increased and the infection rate decreased the group became more optimistic.

“Everyone’s saying it’s 40+1,” he said. “We’re one year older and one year wiser.”

Hunter, who will be traveling from California, said a friend who is an epidemiologist looked at the venue to check out the airflow in the party room, and they are making sure Danfords keeps the doors of the room open. She indicated it made the decision to go ahead easier after their friend looked at the room.

“She said you don’t know what’s going to happen next year,” Hunter added. “It’s the best as we know it could be this summer.”

Keady said she believes the reunion will be even sweeter.

“People have lost folks and been very fearful for good reason during this time,” she said. “I think that gratitude levels are going to be really high.”

The reunion will include a memorial event the night before at West Meadow Beach for those who have passed through the decades followed by drinks and cocktails at The Bench in Stony Brook, one of their former hangouts. Keady and Hunter added that the Class of 1981 has been invited to join them, too, making it not only “plus one” for the added year but the added class.

For more information, visit www.wmhsclassof80.com.

Hundreds of smiling faces filled the front lawn of Ward Melville High School as the Class of 2021 received their diplomas Sunday, June 27.

Valedictorian Chana Lyubich and salutatorian Allen Hu were among the speakers at the commencement event. Both said they were grateful that there was only one graduation ceremony this year. Last year, the high school held 11 separate socially distanced graduation ceremonies in July to comply with New York State COVID-19 restrictions and guidelines.

Lyubich and Hu thanked their teachers and administrators for helping students navigate the various challenges during the last two academic years. Lyubich said during the pandemic the graduates learned that plans can change in an instant, and “it’s OK to not know where the future will lead us.”

“Now it’s a good time for us to learn and explore because as we mature we not only learn more about the world, but also about ourselves,” she said. “And in the past year, a lot of national issues have been brought to the forefront of discussion, and we might be under the misconception that if you don’t follow a specific path, you won’t contribute to the solution. It can be seen in order to make an impact you need to make grand gestures and bring immediate change. In actuality, lasting change is often more gradual and is brought about through the actions of everyday people. All of us — regardless of our future careers and trajectories — can make the difference in the world through the small choices that we make.”

During the ceremony, Principal William Bernhard gave out two awards. John Woram was recognized for his bravery and courage in fighting cancer. Connor Hughes received a perfect attendance award for all 13 years of school.

After the graduates received their degrees, as the bells rang from the school’s tower, they threw their caps in the air.

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Harrison Rosenzweig and Andrew Vicari work on the COVID-19 memorial garden they created at Ward Melville High School. Photo from Harrison Rosenzweig

After a stressful 2020 that seeped into 2021, two Ward Melville High School students have created a respite from a taxing world.

Harrison Rosenzweig and Andrew Vicari, who will be seniors in September, have taken a small spot on the south side of WMHS outside of the school’s greenhouse to create what will be known as the COVID Peace Garden. The garden was officially unveiled at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday, June 23.

The rising seniors wanted to create a space where the community could have a peaceful spot to reflect on the losses and lessons learned through the pandemic.

Rosenzweig said in a phone interview before the unveiling that the two came up with the idea at the beginning of 2021 when the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths were spiking. The data, the rising senior said, he would check regularly.

“I saw the amount of cases and I saw the amount of deaths, and I was like I know there’s nothing we can do right now — we can’t personally help other people — so, maybe we can just do something peaceful and nice to just add to the community,” Rosenzweig said.

Vicari agreed.

“We saw the cases going up, and it was just crazy to go through this together,” he said. “So, we really wanted to do something to give back to the community and put smiles on people’s faces.”

Vicari added they also wanted to honor the essential health care workers. The two were fortunate not to have anyone in their family or friends come down with COVID-19.

They decided to design a garden  — including a tree, flowers and a bench — feeling it would be a nice addition to the school grounds where students, faculty and community members could come and enjoy.

To raise money the students sold baby blue rubber bracelets that feature a small flower design and the words “Three Village Peace Garden.” They sold the bracelets online and with the help of school administration during lunch periods.

Preparing the garden began with visiting local nurseries to buy a tree and flowers. When they went to Olde Towne Gardens nursery next to the high school, and the owner heard about what they were doing, he donated the tree. Rosenzweig added that Stop & Shop in Setauket also donated flowers.

He said the plot they picked out had grass and a lot of weeds, so it took about seven hours to clean up. They also built the bench and designed a plaque to be placed on it. Rosenzweig said he and Vicari received some help including from his mom Susan who helped with planting, and Andrew’s dad who helped with wood cutting.

“The day that we finished planting the flowers was very relieving,” Rosenzweig said, adding they were concerned when they first saw how many weeds were in the area.

Vicari said the work was “surprisingly strenuous.”

“I wasn’t expecting it to be as hard as it was, but we actually got through all of it, and it’s all planted so I’m super happy,” he said.

Rosenzweig said while the work was tiring it was worth it.

“I was exhausted but seeing that — stepping back and seeing the garden — it was really nice to see what we created.”

Nick Paccininni during his days as a Ward Melville wrestler. File photo

Hometown supporters of a Ward Melville graduate and Head of the Harbor native will gather to cheer him on virtually at a popular local spot when he makes his mixed martial arts debut in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Friday, June 18.

Nick Paccininni training in San Jose, California. Photo from Nick Piccininni’s Instagram

Nick Piccininni, a 24-year-old MMA fighter, will be fighting during the XFN-371 event at the River Spirit Casino. While Piccininni is competing in Tulsa, family and friends can gather at The Bench Bar and Grill in Stony Brook to watch the match, which will be live-streamed. Owner Marios Patatinis said the fight will be shown on all the TVs in The Bench, and the night will feature various drink and food promotions. At the beginning of the week, reservations were already limited.

The Bench, with the Country Corner bar in East Setauket, which Patatinis also owns, are sponsoring Piccininni. The restaurant owner said the sponsorship came about because one of his managers, Michael Cohen, is a friend of the MMA fighter. Sponsorships help athletes with expenses incurred while training.

“Ultimately, what we get in return is partnering up with a local kid who’s on to some big dreams, and we’re glad to be part of that,” Patatinis said.

Piccininni is currently training at the American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, California, according to his father Anthony Piccininni.

His father said his son began wrestling in the Three Village school district when he was in seventh grade, but was unable to compete that first year in the league and county tournaments due to being too young. He went on to become a four-time New York state champion.

After graduating from Ward Melville with an impressive high school wrestling career under his belt, he attended Oklahoma State University where he continued competing in the sport. During his time with the university, he was a three-time NCAA Division I All-American and a four-time Big 12 Conference champion.

“Ultimately, what we get in return is partnering up with a local kid who’s on to some big dreams, and we’re glad to be part of that.”

—Marios Patatinis

The folkstyle wrestler decided to compete in the flyweight division of MMA when the 2020 college sports season was cut short due to COVID-19. His father said Nick attended the university on a full scholarship, and while he thought about continuing to achieve his master’s at OSU where the odds of becoming an assistant coach at the university were good, with the 2020 wrestling season cut short, he decided to go into MMA.

“He was only 23,” the father said. “He still had his competitive spirit, and he wasn’t ready to enter into the coaching world, which he probably will do sometime down the road, whether it be 10 or 15 years.”

Anthony Piccininni said it’s not unusual for OSU wrestlers to go on to compete in the MMA world. Among the former OSU athletes who went on to become MMA fighters are Johny Hendricks, Randy Couture and Nick Piccininni’s mentor Daniel Cormier.

The father said his son was always a fan of MMA but the family didn’t realize how much so until recently. When he was younger, Nick always thought he may be a professional athlete, as he also excelled in baseball as a pitcher for the Patriots.

“When he was going through college, I had no idea that he had the passion for MMA,” the father said. “But in his senior year is when he obviously had to make his decision, and he did. We support him. It’s his dream.”

Nick Piccininni said in an email from California that he appreciated the support he has received from home. He said The Bench and Country Corner are two of his biggest sponsors.

“I am grateful to come from a town where so many people continue to care about my career,” he said. “So, seeing everyone support me on my upcoming fight is amazing to see.”

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Ward Melville — No. 4 seed — hosted Bay Shore — No. 5 — in Division I boys lacrosse playoff action where the Patriot defense shut the Marauders down in the second half for a 7-3 victory Jun. 11.

Ward Melville junior Tyler Flynn scored twice, and five different teammates each scored once. Protecting a 3-goal lead at the half, the Patriots defense allowed one goal in the final minute of the game.

The win lifts the Patriots to 12-3 on the season and advance to the semi-final round. Ward Melville expected to travel to Huntington to face the No. 1 seed, but Sachem North at No. 9 picked off the Blue Devils gifting the Patriots with another home playoff game Monday Jun. 14. Face-off is at 4 p.m.

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The Bulls of Smithtown East came to Ward Melville May 13 looking to keep their 4-0 undefeated season alive. They had after all outscored their opponents, 63-44, through four games, but the Patriots also at 4-0 scored 55 goals allowing only 14.

Ward Melville had the upper hand through three quarters of play when the Bulls rallied scoring four unanswered goals in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots prevailed to win the Division I matchup 12-7.

The win lifts the Patriots into second place in their division behind Huntington through five games.

It was Ward Melville senior midfielder Summer Agostino who stole the show notching six goals for the Patriots in a Division I match up against Middle Country to lead her team to a 15-8 victory on the road May 10.

Kate Spinks’ goal with seven minutes left earned the freshman her hat-trick, and midfielder Amanda Lee and Jillian Gironda both scored twice.

Middle Country senior Alyssa Oddo found the back of the net on two occasions, as did sophomore’s Kate Timarky and Juliana Speziale. Sophomores Olivia Annuziata and Kaitlyn Ippolito each had one goal apiece.

Freshman goalie Ava Carillo had nine saves in net for the Patriots as Middle Country’s Tabitha Bernstein stopped seven.

The win lifts the Patriots 2-1 as the loss keeps Middle Country searching for their first win of this early COVID-compressed season.

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Photographer John Dielman captured the Ward Melville boys lacrosse team in action May 4. In their first game of the season, the Patriots beat Sachem East, 18-8.

After a lost season last school year due to COVID-19, the Patriots were back in the game on their home field Tuesday. Attendance at the games are restricted to two guests per player due to pandemic guidelines.

The shortened season will consist of 14 games in 30 days followed by a playoff period that will go only as far as the Long Island championship.

Fresh off their win in the opening round of the Class AA playoffs, Centereach (8 seed) hit a road block in the quarterfinal against top seeded Ward Melville where the Patriots struck early and often blanking the Cougars 5-0 at home April 16. 

Junior midfielder Kate Ancona’s strike found the net seven minutes in followed by senior Katie Cosenza who found gold a minute later to take a 2-0 lead. Nicole Fabris was the go-to senior for Centereach but was doubled teamed all game and struggled to find a look for the Cougars.  

With 24 minutes left in the half, Peyton Costello’s foot spoke to put her team up by three. 

Abigal Foster answered the call 16 minutes into the second half when her shot found its mark for the Patriots to take command of the game, and teammate Ryley Meckley joined the scoring frenzy to ink the 5-0 win and with it, advance to the semifinal round. 

Centereach senior Gianna Oliveri had six saves in net and Elyse Munoz the sophomore stopped five for the Patriots. 

The Patriots retake the field April 21 in the semifinal round where they’ll host Northport (No. 4) at 4pm.