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 Pulse.com

An Amityville Kind Of Day

January 18, 2010

Some days are about more than the game. When you’ve coached as long as Jack Agostino, past and present can converge in memorable ways. The Amityville High School boys basketball coach enjoyed one of those moments on Friday, Jan. 15.

It started with a tinge of disappointment. The school had hoped to retired the No. 12 jersey of former hoops star A.J. Price. A rookie with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, Price was in the area to play the New Jersey Nets that night.

But for the second time in a month, the ceremony was put on hold because, Agostino said, the Pacers wouldn’t allow Price to miss the shoot around.

“His coach will not allow him to be late to the shoot around,’’ Agostino wrote in an email. “They love taking rookies’ money.”

Turns out the afternoon game at home against rival Westhampton had a storyline all its own. The Warriors rolled to an 86-50 win, earning Agostino his 400th career win and locking up a spot in the Suffolk Class A playoffs.

Agostino is 400-92 in 23 seasons at Amityville and the Warriors clinched a playoff berth for the 23rd straight season, each remarkable feats in their own right. (Hempstead’s Ted Adams became Nassau’s winningest boys basketball coach in December with his 480th win.)

“My players kept hugging me and congratulated me,’’ Agostino said. “That was a special moment.”

But the day was far from over. Price gave Agostino 500 tickets to distribute for the Pacers-Nets game that night.

Price won a pair of state championships at Amityville, and lost in the state title game as a senior in 2004. He was a two-time Newsday Suffolk Player of the Year before going on to a turbulent but fruitful career at the University of Connecticut. Indiana drafted Price with the 52nd pick in the 2009 NBA Draft.

So Price is someone the entire Amityville community admires and roots for.

After Amityville’s big win on Friday, it was time to see Price do his best. A large contingent journeyed to the Meadowlands to see the point guard. The rest of the night? Better to let Agostino sum it up.

“The Nets Pacer game was even better because so many of my former players were in attendance,” Agostino said. “Billy Kretz, Richard Payton, Eugene Nottingham and Trevor Mcintosh were all there supporting A.J. We are so proud of him. He still has great relationships with his guys from Amityville. A.J. played real well, exciting the fans with a couple of dazzling plays. He ended up with 8 points, 4 assists and a couple spectacular passes. We all hung out after the game and shared stories with A.J. and his parents. This day was a gift from God. I’m truly a blessed man.”


Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Newsday: Jack Agostino

March 12, 2004

Newsday logo

Title: Coach, confidant & pal; Agostino may not be top tactical guy around, but caring personality and his ability to relate to kids make him No. 1
Publication: Newsday – Long Island, N.Y.
Date: Mar 12, 2004
Start Page: A.78
Section: SPORTS
Text Word Count: 1403

It is the day before a playoff game and Jack Agostino is pacing the gym with precision, pushing a wide brush along the grainy wooden floor as he goes. Watching over this ritual are championship banners that hang proudly from institutional white walls.

Sometimes Agostino, Amityville’s boys basketball coach, enlists a player to do the chore. More often than not, the coach sweeps the court in the quiet time before each practice. A clean gym is the foundation to a productive workout. And Agostino believes games are won – he’s lost infrequently – at these afternoon sweat sessions.

“Really, the work is done at practice,” Agostino said. “You don’t have to over-coach. If you prepare them, they’ll perform.”

Janitor is just one of the roles Agostino plays. He is a trainer, scout, teacher, disciplinarian, counselor and mentor to the teenagers who fill the Amityville gym.

After 17 seasons at the helm, Agostino is more than just the coach of Suffolk’s most successful basketball program. He is the caretaker of a dynasty that won its first Suffolk title in 1932 and was a perennial league champion long before he arrived.

Town of winners

The Warriors (19-4) continue their quest for an unprecedented fifth straight state championship at 7:30 tonight at SUNY-Old Westbury. After dominating the Class B ranks the previous four seasons, Amityville will play Nassau champion South Side in the Class A Southeast Regional final/Long Island championship. And while Amityville has climbed to great heights during this terrific run, winning basketball is nothing new for this South Shore town.

“We breed athletes,” said Detroit Pistons guard Mike James, a 1993 graduate. “Growing up in Amityville, we basically called it the suburban ghetto. You don’t have many options. You either play sports or you get in trouble.”

The kids who grew up on the courts at Bowden Mack Park in North Amityville know the game. What this basketball- rich town needed was something more than a brilliant tactician.

Enter Agostino. Before he began coaching, he taught special education students – and still does. It’s a job that demands patience and understanding. Those interpersonal skills serve him well at the end of the bench.

“Anything I can’t talk to my parents about, I can go to him,” Connecticut-bound guard A.J. Price said. “He’s like a second father.”

So much so that the phone calls come at all hours. Agostino, 41, and Debbie, his wife of 18 years, live in Centereach and have four children.

Joseph, 13, Jenna, 10, Julia, 7, and Jonathan, 4, each plays basketball. But the Agostinos have an extended family that dates to the 1987-88 season. That is when coach Fred Williams died unexpectedly on the eve of the season and the school turned to an unproven junior varsity football coach to fill the void after others turned the job down.

Lifetime relationships

“The relationship he takes on with his players – I joke that I have eight kids,” Debbie Agostino said. “They’re always calling. Mike James still calls. I think most people come home and that’s where the job ends. I have Jason Fraser calling at 11:30 at night.

“He’s so good to these kids. He’s always there if they need help. Sometimes you wonder, do people really appreciate what he does? They really have no clue what he does with these kids. It’s about relationships.”

Perhaps that’s because the coach is a bit of a chameleon. The exterior Agostino presents is of a man who enjoys the trappings of success. His blazers have “Suffolk Coach of the Year” inscribed over the breast pocket. The program has a contract with Nike that nets free warmups and shoes. The clippings of big games fill the walls of his modest office, fighting for space among catchphrases such as “Tradition Never Graduates.” Rick Pitino and Mike Jarvis have been regulars on the other side of his desk in recent seasons.

But that exterior is all just show. The real Agostino, a former three-sport athlete at Centereach who moved on to play basketball at St. Joseph’s (L.I.), readily admits he is not Long Island’s best game coach. So he’s a regular at clinics. And he’s constantly adding tricks of the trade he’s gleaned at the Five Star or adidas camps to his repertoire.

“The good thing about Jack Agostino is, despite his success, he’s worked to become a better X’s-and-O’s coach,” Long Island basketball historian George Davila said. “He’s not the greatest tactician and he knows it. But he tries to improve himself. I see him working to get better.”
Not that there’s all that much room for improvement. Agostino owns a 315-77 record, good for a .803 winning percentage. His teams have won 14 league, nine Suffolk, six Long Island, four state public schools and two state Federation championships. The Warriors have been unstoppable in their own county, ticking off 76 wins in a row against Suffolk schools.

Creating a family

The side of Agostino players see is one who tries to make practice an enjoyable experience rather than some burdensome task. He is an inviting figure who connects with promising third-graders, grooming them to be part of the program in a very few years. Mostly, he brings a level of patience and understanding to inspire players, some of whom don’t have many adult influences.

“He brings unity,” said Al Lorenzano, a volunteer assistant coach who grew up in town. “When one kid goes through something, the whole team does. It’s a family. He bonds with the kids. The kids respect Jack. He brings out the best in the kids.”

Just look at two gems whom he molded into NCAA Division I players. Point guard Tristan Smith and the 6-10 Fraser grew up not far from each other in North Amityville. Their families didn’t have much. But when it came to basketball, there was nothing they didn’t have.

Agostino shepherded them athletically and academically and was a key figure in the recruiting process. Each won state titles and earned Suffolk player of the year awards. Smith moved on to St. John’s before transferring at the end of last season to St. Francis (N.Y.). Fraser became a McDonald’s All-American in 2002 and toyed with jumping straight to the NBA before deciding to attend Villanova.
Agostino had their futures mapped out at an early age.

“Coach Agostino does a good job of getting them young,” said former All-Long Island pick Oliver Hinckson, now a teacher in Orlando. “He lets kids from elementary school see the team. I remember Jason and Tristan coming to games. They saw that and they understood. That’s why Amityville is so good. The players understand what it takes.”

Maybe Amityville’s assembly line of Division I prospects will dry up someday. Maybe players will grow tired of putting in the extra hours needed to be a winner. But so long as Agostino remains coach, inspiration is only a quick sweep of the gym away.

“I always tell them, ‘It’s a privilege to play,'” Agostino said. ‘”That basketball is going to bounce with or without you.'”