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Annie O’Shea jets down the World Championship track. Photo from the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation

She traveled thousands of miles to the same cold, unforgiving mountains in Europe, Canada and the United States. Small mistakes on ice tracks around the world had robbed her of precious tenths and even hundredths of a second. Not this year though, and not for this new Annie O’Shea.

Annie O’Shea goofs around with friends Kendall Wesenberg, Matt Antoine and Nathan Crumpton. Photo from Annie O’Shea
Annie O’Shea goofs around with friends Kendall Wesenberg, Matt Antoine and Nathan Crumpton. Photo from Annie O’Shea

The Port Jefferson Station native and standout track and field graduate from Comsewogue High School, where her mother Linda works in the district office, spent a dozen years training, racing and demanding more every year in the high speed sport of skeleton racing to get to where she is now.

This year, on the International Bobsleigh & Skeleton Federation World Cup circuit, O’Shea finally turned tears of anguish into tears of jubilation — finishing no worse than sixth in each of her last six competitions and, in the process, winning precious medals.

“I’ve had some good races here and decent races there in the past, but I’ve never been able to do it more than once or keep the momentum going,” O’Shea said. The positive energy that helped her generate a breakthrough season has created a “great feeling” for O’Shea.

Her run started on her home track of Lake Placid, site of the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympics, where she often felt pressure to do well. In the second week of January, she sprinted past a cacophony of cowbells and encouraging shouts from a supportive crowd for about five seconds, dove headfirst on her sled and earned her first World Cup gold medal. Her performance easily surpassed her ninth-place finish on the same track a year earlier.

Annie O’Shea competes at the World Championship in Igls, Austria. Photo from the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation
Annie O’Shea competes at the World Championship in Igls, Austria. Photo from the USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federation

From there, it was off to Park City, where she came in fourth, narrowly missing a medal. Undeterred, O’Shea trekked to Whistler, Canada where she collected the second silver medal of her career. She won her first silver World Cup medal four years earlier in La Plagne, France.

O’Shea ended the season in fourth place overall, a mere seven points away from third. She also finished the World Championship race in Igls, Austria, which includes four different heats, in fifth place, a personal best.

“It’s been many, many, many years coming,” O’Shea said. “This is worlds different from how last year ended. I feel like a different person in a really good way.”

She attributes much of her successful season to developments that started last summer, when she started working with a life coach.

Brett Willmott, her conditioning coach and the associate Head Track and Field Coach at the University of Vermont, said O’Shea took important steps last summer not just mentally, but physically as well.

“When she finished the season last year, she was beaten up a little bit,” he said. “Things didn’t go the way she wanted. She had a foot-down moment” where she addressed her challenges head on. By June, the “workouts were going better than they were before.”

Annie O’Shea, second from right, poses for a photo with fellow athletes and friends. Photo from Annie O’Shea
Annie O’Shea, second from right, poses for a photo with fellow athletes and friends. Photo from Annie O’Shea

During the season, she also bought into head coach Tuffy Latour’s philosophy of believing in the process. She has also bonded with a close-knit group of teammates, including rookie Kendall Wesenberg and men’s sliders Matt Antoine and Nathan Crumpton.

“She did all the right things and put everything together at the right time,” said Latour. “I push on all the athletes to believe in one step at a time and to minimize their distractions.”

Latour said athletes are sometimes their own worst enemies, especially when they are so focused on results that they forget about all the little adjustments they need to make to succeed.

Latour suggested that O’Shea has turned a corner, and become a “real team leader.”

O’Shea said she’s stopped paying attention to the clock and concentrated on staying in the moment.

“I focus on what’s right in front of me and not what’s behind me or four corners ahead, because I didn’t get there yet,” she said.

O’Shea’s mother recalls all the times she took her daughter to practices for Empire State games. In the last dozen years, she and her husband John made the six-hour trek up to Lake Placid to watch their daughter live as she flew by overhead on the track. When O’Shea competes in Europe, her mom gets up at 3:30 in the morning to watch her.

“When she’s finished with a race, I can always tell whether she’s happy or not,” Linda O’Shea said. The time she spent supporting her daughter is time she “wouldn’t give back for anything.”

The 28-year old skeleton racer said she knows her family is always watchimg her and appreciates their support, particularly during the years when everything didn’t come together the way it did this year.

“My mom and dad and sisters all reminded me of how proud of they are of me,” O’Shea said. Hearing how happy they are with her success this year “makes me feel like [the medals are] not just for me. It’s for all of us.”

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.”