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: http://bit.ly/a2gFxN) 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 Pulse.com

LI Pulse: Softball’s Dynasty

May 1, 2010

Jim McGowan and Bay Shore Softball. May 2010 issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine.

Jim McGowan and Bay Shore Softball. May 2010 issue of Long Island Pulse Magazine.

Title: Softball’s Dynasty: Bay Shore softball coach Jim McGowan has a legacy beyond more than wins and championships
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: May 2010
Start Page: 36
Word Count: 966

Jim McGowan leaned against the chain link backstop, surrounded by reminders of his championship past, his gaze trained on the promising present but his words focused on the future.

Billboards adorn the dugout at Fifth Avenue Elementary, where McGowan built the Bay Shore High School softball program into a dynasty. These monuments to seasons past tick off accomplishments so long they read like the nutrition label on a cereal box.

On this sun-drenched Saturday, the players warmed up in the outfield for a scrimmage as the coach paused for an interview. Yes, the Marauders have high expectations after losing in the Suffolk Class AA championship series a year ago. So much promise lay ahead.

But so does the finality of a decision the legendary coach made long ago. When his daughter Taylor McGowan graduates, he’ll move on.

“I’m done after next year,” said McGowan, 58, also a social worker at the school. “I just want to go out on top. It’s time.”

Taylor McGowan literally grew up in the Bay Shore dugout. The youngest of four children sat in a stroller behind home plate as mom Robin McGowan filmed games. And when she was old enough to stand up straight, Taylor McGowan assumed the role of mascot before growing into the job of team manager.

She finally stepped into the pitcher’s circle as an eighth grader, fulfilling what she was destined to do—pitch for the Marauders. She was the Suffolk League II pitcher of the year and a Newsday All-Long Island pick as a sophomore.

“I’ve been going to games for as long as I can remember,” Taylor McGowan said. “This is something I’ve always wanted to do. I could not wait to be on the team.”

At the start of her junior campaign, she has just one goal—win.

Bay Shore has come frustratingly close the last few seasons. It lost in the 2006 state title game. In 2007, the Marauders fell to Long Beach in the Long Island championship game. The 2008 team lost to West Babylon in the county semifinals. And last year Brentwood beat Bay Shore in the county championship series. Long Beach, West Babylon and Brentwood each won state titles.

“We’re getting closer each year,” Taylor McGowan said. “This is our year. Each year we lost to the eventual state champion. It’s our turn.”

The numbers are astounding. Jim McGowan has won 609 games, 23 league, 11 Suffolk County, nine Long Island and six state championships in 27 seasons.

Yet his greatest legacy has little to do with wins, titles or accolades. Look around Long Island and you will see a softball landscape redefined by the in-your-face taskmaster. He’s tutored pitchers for rival schools. Two sons are successful high school softball coaches. Two former players coach (and countless others are assistants, coached in the past or are mainstays in different sports). And when McGowan steps aside after the 2011 season, another former Bay Shore pupil will succeed him in Jackie Pasquerella.

“My [players] are my judgment,” McGowan said. “I love my kids and respect my kids. That’s my legacy. Hopefully I made a difference in their lives.”

It’s a living legacy that says more about the man than any plaque ever could. His influence will live on long after his accomplishments become forgotten clutter in the trophy cases at Bay Shore High School.

Truth is, no one has won more high school softball games in state history than McGowan. And he’s done it his way—equal parts motivational speaker and drill sergeant with a dash of Martha Stewart perfectionism. His gruff act has drawn plenty of critics over the years.

“A lot of times [the criticism is] unwarranted,” said son Jimmy McGowan, in his 10th season as the Hauppauge softball coach. “If he was 12-10 every year people would say he gets the most out of his talent. The fact that he goes 25-2? People like winning but they don’t like winners. That’s a big part of it with him.”

“Jim is a tremendous student of the game and really works at it,’’ Hofstra coach Bill Edwards said. “He always has the kids’ best interests at heart. He’s old school and uncompromising in his values, which kids today need.”

The supporters are winning out. McGowan will be inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame on May 6.

“It’s about time,” said son Jason McGowan, a third-year softball coach at Plainedge. “I don’t know why it took this long. It’s a huge accomplishment. But he deserves it.”

Back on the field, McGowan gathered his team in a circle and went over a mental checklist before the scrimmage. Preparation is an important ingredient to his success. Little wonder why he owns an incredible .888 winning percentage and the longest winning streak in state softball history (54 wins from 1994-95 with Pasquerella in the lineup).

“Practice makes perfect,” Taylor McGowan said. “That’s what he’s been telling me since I was 7.”

Oh, Jim McGowan has a saying for every occasion.

“Our motto this year is: No better time, no better team,” the elder McGowan said. “The name of the game is pitching and we have two All-Long Island pitchers. I feel good about this team. ”

The coach knows the clock is ticking. After three decades of kicking clay, taking on umpires, developing talent and hoisting championship plaques, the end is near. He’ll tackle it on his terms.

“I try to emulate what he does and hopefully I can be half as successful,’’ Jimmy McGowan said.

He’s already there. Hauppauge reached the Suffolk Class A championship series last season while Plainedge advanced to the second round of the Nassau Class A playoffs. So long as a McGowan is on a softball field somewhere on Long Island, past, present and future remain perfectly aligned.

Galati Has Hofstra Softball Back On Track

April 26, 2010

In the span of a week, Hofstra University freshman Olivia Galati experienced the extremes of college sports: The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Cliché, yes. But the freshman from St. John the Baptist has enjoyed a season so far removed from stereotypical that bold adjectives don’t do it justice. The young pitcher has Hofstra softball off to a 34-8 start, including an impressive 13-1 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Galati was already a Long Island legend after a high school career that began at West Babylon as an eighth grader and culminated with three state CHSAA titles at St. John’s. The two-time NYSSWA player of the year dominated hitters, the way Division I prospects do.

But no one – not even Hofstra coach Bill Edwards – expected her to step into the pitchers circle for a Top 25 college program and continue to stifle opposing lineups so completely and consistently. Certainly not as a freshman.

“We knew she could throw at this level physically,” said Edwards, a pitching guru. “But for her to have the mental process she has and for her to be as disciplined as she is in the circle – she has shown she can rise to the occasion and make the big pitch against a big team in a big moment. That’s her greatest asset. She can compete mentally at this level.”

It’s been a season of memorable moments and learning experiences. Galati has beaten 18th-ranked Louisville and lost a 3-1 decision to No. 5 Michigan.

For a microcosm of her freshman campaign, just look back at the last week. Galati took a two hitter into the seventh inning of a scoreless game against Fordham on April 20. But Fordham, riding a 10-game winning streak, won after Jen Mineau took Galati deep for a solo home run. Pure agony.

On Saturday, April 24, Galati bounced back. She tossed a one-hitter and struck out 14 as Hofstra rolled past UNC Wilmington, 3-0. With the win, Galati became the seventh pitcher in program history to win 20 games in a season and just the third to reach 200 strikeouts. Simply thrilling.

“I’ve really had to elevate my game,” Galati said. “Everyone in college can hit. But I’m really enjoying college ball. It’s great that I can contribute to my team as a freshman.”

The 5-foot, 5-inch Galati is 20-4 with a 1.10 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings. She is among the NCAA leaders in nearly every category. She is also getting it done at the plate, hitting .261 with 23 RBI, good for fourth on the team.

“She’s very, very special,” Edwards said. “She’s come in here and exceeded every expectation.”

There was a consensus that Hofstra would take a step back this season after losing four-time All-CAA pitcher Kayleigh Lotti to graduation. The Pride finished 26-21 and saw its 11-year run of conference championships end in a 12-inning loss to Georgia State last May.

The naysayers are in hiding now. Great pitching will do that. The first-place Pride has eight games remaining in the regular season and can lock up the top seed in the CAA Tournament by winning its series against second-place Georgia State.

“I can’t believe the regular season is almost over,” Galati said. “It’s been quite a ride so far.”

And then?

“We would love to go to the College World Series,” Galati gushed.

Hofstra is ranked 28th in the latest ESPN.com/USA Softball poll. Edwards hopes this young team can make a run in the postseason. With Galati pitching, there just aren’t enough adjectives to describe Hofstra’s potential.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

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

LI Pulse: Hofstra Softball

February 1, 2009

February 2009 issue of LI Pulse magazine.

Title: Hofstra Softball
Publication: Long Island Pulse magazine
Author: Jason Molinet
Date: February 2009
Start Page: 54
Word Count: 910
It begins with alarm clocks blaring at 5 a.m. While the rest of Hofstra University remains sequestered in sleep, a small group of dedicated young women trek down to the locker room and then practice bubble that was once home to the New York Jets.

The Hempstead campus has yet to stir as Casey Fee and her softball teammates get their heart beats racing while pushing through endurance sprints on the field turf. There are weight training sessions too. All done before the first class of the day.

“It’s so cliché, but we work our asses off,’’ said Fee, a senior second baseman and former Long Beach standout.

Olivia Galati sat in on a few of the sweat-drenched sessions and knew this place was special – once she got past the initial shock. The St. John the Baptist senior is one of the best high school pitchers Long Island has produced in the last two decades.

So landing her would be a real coup. But how many teenagers eagerly sign up for such self-inflicted punishment?

 “Athletes on campus, we all know each other and they have respect for us,’’ senior pitcher Kayleigh Lotti said. “They see us train. They hear stories about how hard we work. But regular students? Not a lot of people know how good we are.’’

This is Hofstra softball. Bill Edwards enters his 20th season at the helm of the preeminent college program on Long Island — and University of Connecticut women’s basketball aside — perhaps the most consistent wins factory in the Northeast. It certainly holds claim to another distinction: the best team you’ve never heard of.

Consider what the Pride did last spring. Hofstra won a school-record 45 games and set an NCAA softball record by capturing the program’s 11th straight conference championship.

All that success is winning over fans. Galati signed a letter of intent with Hofstra in November. She represents an even brighter future. “They win the conference every year. I had a gut feeling I belong at Hofstra,’’ Galati said. “My goal — we — want to make it to the College World Series. We’re going to shoot for that.’’

It wasn’t always this way. Hofstra softball has a checkered past, and a history going back to 1951.

Karen Andreone, the athletic director at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, remembers her stint at Hofstra well. Her team beat then-powerhouse Adelphi and won a New York state softball title in 1979. After an assistant coach was downsized and scholarship money siphoned off, according to Andreone, she left following the 1980 season and the program endured a mostly-lost decade.

“After I left, my former players called me crying,’’ said Andreone, who went 36-24 as Hofstra coach from 1978-80. “The program was so awful.’’

Andreone’s departure coincided with growing pains on campus. But the University not only recovered, today it thrives as one of the top private institutions in the Northeast.

Softball bounced back too — eventually. The program went 16-22 in 1989, the year before Edwards jumped from Commack High School to the college game. What he stepped into was a mess. But school administrators were committed and backed Edwards the entire way.

“When I took over, there was an old pitching machine, a bucket of balls and a few bats,’’ Edwards said. “I had one-and-a-half scholarships. And that’s it. It was ridiculous.’’

While Edwards had no prior college experience, he transformed Hofstra softball as the sport grew nationally. College softball is still dominated by the West Coast powers. An Arizona or California school has won 22 of the last 25 NCAA Division I national championships.

Times are changing. Louisiana-Lafayette reached the College World Series last season, becoming the first small-conference program to crash the party. Hofstra could be the next.

“It is one of the fastest growing sports around the country,’’ Edwards said. “There’s soccer. And softball is right behind it. Kids are turning out for softball. Summer leagues are exploding. Back in the day, there were two summer teams on Long Island. Today there are 75.’’

A broader talent pool helps. But everyone, from Edwards on down, points to conditioning and coaching as the key to the Pride’s rise from mid-major conference contenders to players on the national stage.

“We teach the fundamentals and then discipline those fundamentals,’’ Edwards said. He’s is so highly regarded that Edwards flies around the country teaching courses for the National Fastpitch Coaches College.

Aside from pre-dawn workouts during the off-season, there’s practice each afternoon. The fundamentals of the game become second nature as a result. Situational awareness grows instinctive. And all the hard work creates an attitude that’s impossible to miss.

The Pride came just one win away from a berth in the College World Series in 2004 and hosted an NCAA Regional last spring. With the bulk of the team back, Hofstra opens the new season with its best opportunity yet. Its quest begins Feb. 13 in Tampa against Illinois. The home opener is March 26 against Rutgers (free admission).

Lotti, the two time Colonial Athletic Association pitcher of the year, is a hard-throwing windmiller in a sport where pitching dominates. Fee is one of three all-conference hitters returning. While each plays to their strengths, there’s a common denominator coursing through them.

It’s a fellowship only an athlete or a soldier could understand.

“We’re the scrappy players from the Northeast,’’ Fee said. “Teams know we’ll never give up. We’ve got that extra edge.’’