Lacrosse: Gamblin’s The Man

July 26, 2010

BUFFALO—The stands at Canisius College had already cleared out. Hell, his entire team was long gone too. Hicksville High School rising senior Brandon Gamblin didn’t notice. He was locked in a duel with his own demons and an empty cage.

It was nearly 10 p.m. on Friday night, a half hour after one of the more physically and emotionally draining games of lacrosse Gamblin had ever played. A midfielder on the scholastic boys lacrosse team representing Long Island at the Empire State Games in Buffalo, favorite Long Island had just suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Central region.

The 8-7 defeat in sudden death overtime fell squarely on an offense which hardly possessed the ball in the first quarter and failed to score in the first 22:53 of the game. Sure, Gamblin did his part. He broke the ice with a powerful blast of a goal early in the third quarter to make it 5-1 and restore some much needed confidence.

But his shot was stopped by Central goalie Tyler White time and again in the second half. That’s why Gamblin stayed behind on a shadowy turf field bathed in the soft glow of the light towers, taking shot after shot at an empty cage.

“I was angry,” Gamblin said. “I felt we shouldn’t have lost that game.”

There’s no arguing with the result. Gamblin, a UMass commitment, played with a vengeance the rest of the way. After pouring in six goals to down New York City on Saturday, Gamblin proved just as unstoppable in the gold medal game on Sunday. He scored four times as Long Island (5-1) erased a 4-2 halftime deficit to beat previously unbeaten Central, 7-6. With the win, Long Island became the first region to earn gold in five straight Empire State Games since boys lacrosse became a sport in 1984.

The Kyle Keenan-to-Gamblin connection was so fluid, you’d think they had been teammates for longer than one month. In the end, the relationships the Long Island scholastic boys lacrosse team built—starting with tryouts in June and continuing with 12 exhibition games in Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania – ended with a gold medal performance at the Empire State Games on Sunday in Buffalo.

“That was just unreal,” West Islip rising senior midfielder Michael Sagl said. “They were just finding each other. Keenan is a great feeder. Gamblin is a great shooter. They were finally able to hook up and it was just fun to watch.”

Keenan, an X attack, directed the offense with precision throughout the four-day tournament. That he had an uncanny ability to find fellow Smithtown West teammate James Pannell for open shots was no surprise. That he hooked up with Gamblin again and again spoke volumes of how well this team of all-stars meshed.

Keenan fed Gamblin for three of his four goals on Sunday.

“It’s not like I was looking for him. He was just open,” said Keenan, a Duke recruit. “He’s got a nose for the goal. He wants to score whenever he’s on the field. That’s his personality.”

It wouldn’t have been possible without the stellar play of Connetquot goalie Zach Oliveri (10 saves), who was in every respect the defensive stopper of the tournament. FOGO Jake Froccaro, a Port Washington junior, also played an important role after missing a game with a mild concussion suffered against Central.

Even Oliveri couldn’t stop Central the entire time. Long Island was victimized for goals twice in the final 1:14 of the first half when Ithaca’s Riley Lasda spun off his defender and broke free in the box. His score was followed by Tom Grimm’s quick strike to make it 4-2 Central with 43 seconds left. Grimm, a Syracuse commitment from Carthage, had the game-winner against Long Island on Friday.

The third quarter belonged to Long Island the entire tournament. This game was no exception. Pannell scored 1:39 into the third, and after pelting the Central goal with a barrage of shots, Garden City’s Tom Gordon scored the equalizer on a feed from Keenan with 4:01 left in the third. Gamblin juked past his defender and fired home the go-ahead goal to make it 5-3 with 1:37 left.

Long Island kept up the pressure from there. Keenan found Gamblin charging toward the net and the Hicksville scorer did the rest to extend the lead to 6-4 with 10:52 to go.

Fayetteville-Manlius attack Ari Waffle scooped in the rebound past Oliveri to make it 6-5 with 7:40 left.

But the Keenan-to-Gamblin connection struck once more to keep Central at arm’s length. Gamblin scored his 18th goal in six-game tournament – and fourth of the day – with 6:52 left.

“It was all a mindset game,” Gamblin said. “We needed to start playing smart, take smart opportunities.”

Jamesville-Dewitt’s Alex Hatem scored his second goal of the day on a diving play at the net close the gap to 7-6 with 4:20 left.

Long Island’s defense kept Central off balance from there. And after Central’s Austin Curtis received a one-minute penalty for slashing, Keenan and Sachem North’s Michael Andreassi held the ball and ran out the clock. All there was left to do was celebrate.

Blog originally posted at LI

Long Island’s Mosaic Of Champions

June 14, 2010

It was a gold rush weekend for Long Island high school sports, the most eventful and manic three days of the entire school year. That’s because state champions were crowned in baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, Federation boys golf, girls golf, softball and track and field.

There were fantastical individual efforts. West Islip senior Nicky Galasso, the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse player, finished his career with yet another state Class A championship as the Lions beat Fairport, 13-5. The game, played before the home crowd at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium, saw Galasso score once and add six assists. The point total gave Galasso 500 in his high school career, breaking a 33-year-old Long Island record.

There were memorable group efforts. Look no further than the runners from Garden City. Senior Emily Menges ran the anchor leg for two winning relay teams at the state Federation track and field championships in Vestal. The foursome of Taylor Hennig, Katie O’Neill, Emma Gallagher and Menges won the 4 x 800-meter relay in 8 minutes, 49.88 seconds, a new state record. Just 40 minutes later, the Trojans 4 x 400 relay of Jenna DeAngelo, Michelle Rotondo, Catherine Cafaro and Menges also won.

And in some cases the venue itself was the star, such as Bethpage Black hosting the state Federation golf championship on Sunday. Sorry, Long Island. Upstate Brewster’s Mike Miller won his third Federation title.

Then you had the Long Island sweep in girls lacrosse, with Farmingdale (Class A), Garden City (B) and Shoreham-Wading River (C) each crowned champs. It also marked Garden City’s fifth title in a row – remarkable by any measure.

There were once-in-a-generation teams putting it all together to win. Lindenhurst baseball, riding a 21-game winning streak and its first county title since 1963, battered Guilderland, 15-2, to win the program’s first state Class AA title in Binghamton. Senior first baseman Jon McGibbon, who signed with Clemson and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 29th round, went 3-for-4 with two RBI.

Let’s not forget the coaches. Great community feeder programs certainly help high school teams achieve. But nothing compares to having a passionate and knowledgeable coach in place. There is no greater marker for success.

Jim McGowan (profiled in Long Island Pulse magazine’s May issue: is exhibit A. The Bay Shore softball coach capped his 27th season at the helm by winning his seventh state championship on Saturday. The Marauders captured the state Class AA title by scratching out a run in the bottom of the seventh to beat Clarence in the semis, 3-2. Then Liz Weber shut out rival Cicero-North Syracuse, 4-0, in the final.

Weave it all together and what you have is a mosaic of champions from across the Island. They each found a way to come out on top in one unforgettable sports weekend.

Blog originally posted at LI

Long Island’s Greatest Sports Dynasties

April 12, 2010

When Sachem East’s Phil Schaefer scored in overtime to lift the Flaming Arrows past West Islip, 13-12, in boys lacrosse on March 31, it was one of those goals heard round the state. After all, Sachem East had just beaten a dynasty.

West Islip went 22-1 and finished second in the Under Armour/Inside Lacrosse national rankings a year ago. It capped the program’s third state Class A title in four seasons.

OK, it’s way too early to kick dirt on the Lions’ dynasty. West Islip could well be the last team standing eight weeks from now. But it got Jason Molinet and Long Island Pulse thinking about the greatest team dynasties in Long Island high school sports history.

And West Islip doesn’t crack the top 10. Believe it or not, there have been even more dominant teams through the decades. To be eligible, you need to have a state championship on your resume. Sorry, football fans. Long Island doesn’t compete in the state playoffs. So Hempstead’s great run in the 1980s and the sustained success of St. Anthony’s fall by the wayside.

Other great programs, such as Miller Place badminton and Ward Melville girls swimming, weren’t considered, either. In fact, only teams from the modern state championship era (1978-present) made the list. But what a list! Here are our picks:

1. South Side girls soccer (1987-2009): No one can top the Cyclones’ unprecedented domination in girls soccer. They’ve won 15 state titles at two different classifications since 1987, including five of the last six Class A championships. South Side is tied with West Genesee boys lacrosse for most team championships in any sport. Credit Bob Bigelow and successor Judi Croutier for establishing a great team ethic . In Bigelow’s final season in 2001, South Side finished with a 46-0-3 unbeaten streak and a national championship, No. 1 in the NSCAA poll. He went out as national coach of the year too.

2. Ward Melville boys lacrosse (1988-2000): Iconic coach Joe Cuozzo built the program over 37 seasons, winning 700 games and 22 Suffolk, 15 Long Island and seven state titles. He is the winningest boys lacrosse coach in national high school history. But Ward Melville’s run of six state Class A titles in 13 seasons was a magical one in a lacrosse-mad state. The school forced out Cuozzo after the 2006 season, but the coach found a new home at Mount Sinai and led the school to a 2008 state title. Take that!

3. Amityville boys basketball (2000-2003): No boys basketball program in state history has won four championships in a row. Amityville did it with three different Suffolk players of the year leading the way, from Tristan Smith (2001) to Jason Fraser (2002) to A.J. Price (2003-04). In fact, Price (Indiana Pacers) and the Warriors led in the 2004 title game until he fouled out with two minutes left. Coach Jack Agostino put together one great team after another and never let them lose focus.

4. Bay Shore softball (1994-2005): Six state Class A or AA championships, highlighted by back-to-back titles and a record 54 consecutive wins from 1994-95. Bay Shore has won 11 Suffolk and nine Long Island titles during the run. Coach Jim McGowan built a dynasty on great pitching and produced 46 All-State players in his 27 seasons as coach. He entered the season as the winningest softball coach in state history with 609 wins – and the team to beat once again.

5. Cold Spring Harbor girls soccer (1985-2000): The Seahawks won or shared 13 state Class C titles, highlighted by streaks of five in a row from 1989-1993 and 1996-2000. Don’t sell this small school short, either. Cold Spring Harbor often played up against Class A and B competition during the regular season and more than held its own. Coach Steve Cacioppo has won 17 Long Island titles since he took over in 1983, including a Class B crown in 2008. The Seahawks are alive and well.

6. Garden City girls lacrosse (1995-2009): Ten state Class B championships, including the last four is quite a feat. Coach Diane Chapman has the winning touch. The program has won 14 Nassau and 12 Long Island championships since 1994. Chapman also built a pretty successful field hockey program too, with six state and 13 LI titles since 1991. No Long Island coach can claim more championship hardware. Debbie Russell Masterson was the girls lacrosse coach from 1995-2000.

7. Southold boys soccer (1979-85): Six state titles in a seven-year span? Remarkable in any decade and at any level. Southold coach Bob Feger had one prolific family to thank. The youngest of five soccer-playing brothers, Greg O’Brien (four-year starter from 1982-85) scored 119 career goals, establishing a new state record at the time. He added three more in the 1985 state Class D title game, a 9-2 Southold victory over Section V Angelica.

8. Bridgehampton boys basketball (1978-98): The eight-time Class D champs can claim a unique place in state history because Bridgehampton has the smallest enrollment (often less than 30 students) of any school to bring home a state crown. Carl Johnson played on the first championship Killer Bees team in 1978 (coincidentally, the first boys basketball state champion of the modern era) and coached a three-peat from 1996-98. How impressive is this feat? Only talent-rich Mount Vernon has won as many titles.

9. Hempstead boys basketball (1983-2001): When you say basketball, you think Hempstead. The Tigers won 18 county, 12 Long Island and three state Class A titles from 1983-2001.The school took nine Nassau championships in a row from 1993-2001 and six LI titles in a row from 1985-90. The program simply produced one great talent after another. Coach Ted Adams, in the NYS Basketball Hall of Fame, led Hempstead back to a Nassau Class AA championship in 2007.

10. Carle Place field hockey (1983-90): The Frogs won or shared six state Class C titles, including three in a row from 1985-87. They also won eight Nassau titles in a row. Carle Place coach Gloria O’Connor left after the 1988 season with a 146-18-21 record. She is currently the coach at Adelphi. Ashley Duncan took over at Carle Place and directed field hockey to back-to-back state titles (1989-90). Under O’Connor, the field hockey team also dominated. In the pre-state championship era, the Frogs won 73 games in a row.

Blog originally posted at LI

Long Island Fall Sports Wrap

November 30, 2009

Memorable plays and magical playmakers marked this high school sport season on Long Island. The fall saw many dynasties continue – from South Side girls soccer to Ward Melville girls swimming – and new faces reach the pinnacle – welcome to the show Half Hollow Hills West football. 

It also saw several great athletes finish high school careers in style from Holy Trinity running back Anthony Brunetti, a four-year starter, rushing for 2,000 yards to South Side girls soccer star Crystal Dunn fulfilling her promise with a state crown.

Long Island Pulse magazine followed it all with giddy excitement. Here are our highlights:

Best Finish: When Freeport lost quarterback Paul Ketchens to injury in the Nassau Conference I quarterfinals, it turned to running back Kevin Allen to show senior leadership and direct the offense. All Allen did was power his Red Devils to the Long Island Class I football championship. Freeport’s 38-14 win over Floyd ended five years of Suffolk dominance over Long Island’s largest classification. In fact, it was the first Nassau victory since a powerhouse Freeport squad blew out Floyd in 2003. Allen rushed for 1,095 yards and 17 touchdowns in four playoff games and finished the season with a Nassau-record 35 touchdowns. Amazing!

Best Career: Rockville Centre is Soccer Town, USA. And after churning out one great team after another, the South Side girls soccer program produced a player who will go down as one of the best in Long Island history, and certainly the area’s best since Team USA forward Christie Welsh starred at Massapequa in 1997-98. Who? Crystal Dunn.  The four-year player wrapped up her senior season by winning her third state title. She blasted four goals as South Side routed Section V champ Greece Arcadia, 6-0, in the state Class A championship game. Dunn, who signed with the University of North Carolina, tallied nine goals and six assists in the playoffs. Not coincidentally, South Side failed to win a state title in 2008 when Dunn missed all but three games playing for the U.S. under-17 national team. That’s a strong finish to a great career.   

Best Repeat: After dropping a 2-1 decision to Newfield and tying with Ward Melville to open the season, the Comsewogue boys soccer team set aside the shaky start and reeled off 20 straight wins. The culmination came in Oneonta on Nov. 23 with a 2-0 win over Section III New Hartford to claim the state Class A championship. Keith Vigorito, a prolific scorer the last two seasons, put a goal in the title game to help the Warriors win back-to-back championships. Only two other boys programs have repeated as state Class A champ since the tournament began in 1978. Sachem claimed consecutive crowns in 1997-98. Section II champ Shenendehowa won or shared the state Class A title four straight seasons, from 1990-93. So give the Warriors their due.

Best Defense: Great defense defines championship football teams on the high school level. But few defenses in recent memory have done more than the unheralded group at Garden City. The Trojans’ immovable D allowed four touchdowns—and 28 points – all season to finish 12-0. That includes nine shutouts. The highlight came in the Long Island Class II title game when Garden City shut down previously unbeaten North Babylon to win 9-6. A fumble recovery on special teams set up the winning 38-yard field goal by Ryan Norton. Now that’s clutch.

Best Marketing Mogul: Nobody jumped onto the national stage quite like Half Hollow Hills West basketball standout Tobias Harris. He was considered a top 100 recruit heading into the summer. But through relentless travel with his AAU team and workmanlike effort at countless skills camps, the 6-8 Harris became one of the most talked-about talents Long Island has ever seen. Adding to his national profile: Harris Twittered his every move and became every basketball fan’s friend on Facebook. After several high-profile visits this fall to hoops hotbeds, from Syracuse to Kentucky, Harris waited until the day after the early signing period ended in mid-November to announce – on ESPNU and in Times Square, no less – that he was attending the University of Tennessee. P.T. Barnum’s got nothing on this kid.

Blog originally posted at LI

Long Island Football Championships Preview

November 23, 2009

State champions in field hockey, soccer and cross country were crowned over the weekend, played out with all of New York hanging on the outcome. Yet the blissful isolation of Long Island high school football – which long ago opted out of the state tournament – creates buzz and a level excitement not seen in any other sport or venue. 

Four Long Island championship football games take place at Hofstra and Stony Brook, each with its own history and legacy. Many of the schools are title-game regulars, from Amityville to Garden City. Thanksgiving week is all about these monumental games. So enjoy the show. Here is the rundown on each contest:

 Class I

Who: Floyd vs. Freeport

When: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 4:30 p.m.

Where: LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook University

On Floyd (10-1): The Colonials won their fourth Suffolk Division I crown in five seasons by knocking off previously unbeaten Sachem North, 27-6, on Sunday. Coach Paul Longo turned loose a young prospect to win as sophomore Stacey Bedell ran for 170 yards and two touchdowns.

On Freeport (9-2): Kevin Allen, who moved to quarterback the last two playoff games, rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns to help the Red Devils get past rival Farmingdale, 34-20, in the Nassau Conference I title game. Allen raised his season TD total to 31, passing former NFL star Amos Zereoue for the most in Nassau history.

The Skinny: Freeport, which won its sixth county title, has played five games decided by a touchdown or less this season. Floyd has also had its share of close calls, but relied on stingy defense to deliver when it matters. These two programs have big-game coaches in Longo and Freeport’s Russ Cellan. But it will be the playmakers – Bedell and Allen — who decide this one. 


Class II

Who:  North Babylon vs. Garden City

When: Friday, Nov. 27 at 4:30 p.m.

Where: Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University

On North Babylon (11-0): The Bulldogs earned their ninth trip to the LIC since 1992 with a 17-10 win over East Islip. Preshod McCoy ran for 134 yards and a touchdown in the Suffolk Division II final. Coach Terry Manning has a history of riding great backs to championships. McCoy, who amassed 1,416 yards on 226 carries and 22 touchdowns, is the latest.  

On Garden City (11-0): Brian Fischer has emerged as the top producer in a crowded backfield. Coach Tom Flatley owns the highest winning percentage of any high school football coach (100 wins minimum) in Long Island history. And this season was all about great coaching translating to the field. The defense recorded its ninth shutout in a 14-0 win over Wantagh in the Nassau Conference II title game. It marked the 17th county title (Flatley’s 14th) for the Trojans.

The Skinny: North Babylon has done enough to win, but hasn’t rolled through foes like the Bulldogs of years’ past. It’s been a group effort for Garden City. These two teams have used sheer force of will at times. Expect this one to be a physical, low-scoring affair where one play may decide it.


Class III

Who:  Half Hollow Hills West vs. Lawrence

When: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m.

Where: LaValle Stadium, Stony Brook University

On Hills West (11-0): Stony Brook recruit JeVahn Cruz rushed for 303 yards and three touchdowns as the Colts shut out Hauppauge, 29-0, for the Suffolk Division III title. The electric quarterback has run for 21 touchdowns and helped Hills West average 37 points a game. 

On Lawrence (9-2): Kenny Barnett ran for 162 yards and four touchdowns to roll past No. 1 Lynbrook, 41-7. Syracuse-bound quarterback John Kinder is an exceptional athlete, the school’s best since C.W. Post QB Rob Blount.

The Skinny: Lawrence avenged two regular-season losses in impressive fashion, downing Plainedge, 56-28, in the semis and then routing Lynbrook in the Nassau Conference III championship. The Golden Tornado is on a tear. Each team can score in a hurry and relies on multi-dimensional quarterbacks. The defense that can do the best job at containing the quarterback wins. 


Class IV

Who:  Amityville vs. Seaford

When: Friday, Nov. 27 at 12 p.m.

Where: Shuart Stadium, Hofstra University

On Amityville (9-2): Amityville trailed Glenn, 11-2, with 4:01 left before exploding for two scores to rally for a 17-11 win in the Suffolk Division IV championship game. Sophomore wideout Willie White caught 39- and 60-yard touchdowns in the final minutes. The Warriors will need that type of explosiveness to upend Seaford.  

On Seaford (11-0):  The Vikings shut out Locust Valley, 33-0, to capture the program’s third straight Nassau Conference IV title and fifth since 2002. Coach Rob Perpall has put together some great defensive units during the run. This team, with five shutouts, is no different.

The Skinny:  The Rob Anderson to Mike Gallo connection has come up big for Seaford all year. And running back Justin Buckley has a knack for finding the end zone. Mark Jerrick, Da’rell Hatcher and Gavin Kretz have all gotten the ball for Amityville and have each scored important touchdowns. Who will step up with all of Long Island watching?

Blog originally posted at LI