10/31/13 7:42pm
10/31/2013 7:42 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead's Danielle Thomas tries to put a hit past Ward Melvile's Alex Stein.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Riverhead’s Danielle Thomas tries to put a hit past Ward Melville’s Alex Stein.

SUFFOLK CLASS AA TOURNAMENT | PATRIOTS 21, 25, 25, 25, BLUE WAVES 25, 13, 14, 14

The Riverhead and Ward Melville girls volleyball teams might have wondered if Halloween 2013 would bring them a trick or a treat. The truth is, the spectators were the ones who were in for a treat.

Playoff volleyball on Halloween.

“It doesn’t get any better than that,” said Riverhead coach Amy Greene.

And not many teams are better than Ward Melville. It was favored Ward Melville that won the entertaining, well-played playoff match on its home court Thursday. After dropping the first game, No. 6 seed Ward Melville took the next three games for a 21-25, 25-13, 25-14, 25-14 victory in the Suffolk County Class AA Tournament first-round match.

No. 11 Riverhead (11-5), playing its first playoff match in three years, knew it was in for a tough match against Ward Melville (12-2), which reached the state tournament last year for the eighth time in team history. The Patriots are co-champions of League I along with Sachem East.

It looks as if Ward Melville has the ability to return to the state tournament this year.

“I feel good about them,” the team’s 15-year coach, Charlie Fernandes, said. “I do. I feel like we’re a very good team. I think we’ve been a little overlooked. I’m fine with that. We know what’s going on in our gym.”

Riverhead experienced it firsthand, and gave a good account of itself in the process. The Blue Waves went with a starting lineup of Megan Brewer, Dezarea Brown, Hali Martens, Joanna Messina, Danielle Thomas and Sara Tucci, with Joscelin Morrow playing libero. They won the first game, a tight, back-and-forth affair in which Ward Meville committed 15 unforced errors. The Patriots did not look happy as they headed to their bench before the start of the second game.

“I think we woke up some beast,” said Greene.

Maybe so.

Ward Melville then raised the level of its play noticeably. The Patriots never trailed in the second and fourth games and were behind only briefly in the third game.

“They got a little scare put into them, and that’s not always the worst thing,” Fernandes said. “I liked how we finished today. We have a tendency sometimes to run really hard and maybe taper off when we get a five- or six-point lead. We kept coming today.”

And how.

Carly Backiel, a junior setter, provided the Patriots with 38 assists.

The Patriots have hitters, too. With Backiel’s accurate setting, Ward Melville put away 36 kills, 14 of them coming from Amanda DiGirolamo and 9 from Alex Stein, to wrap up its fifth straight win. Leigh Gulbransen went 26 of 28 serving with 4 aces.

“Alex Stein can bury a ball,” Fernandes said. “Christine Donat can bury a ball. Amanda DiGirolamo almost is so good that you don’t notice how good she is. She’s so quietly effective. The kid hit like .500 tonight.”

Tucci had 22 assists for Riverhead.

Players on both sides were committed on defense, flinging themselves to the floor to pop up balls and digging drives that often don’t come back. It surely wasn’t the sort of volleyball that is played at the family picnic.

“It was good volleyball,” Fernandes said.  “… Big-kid volleyball is what I call it. We were blocking and swinging at each other, and that’s what you want to do. It’s intense. It’s in your face.”

Fernandes was complimentary of the way Riverhead played. “I think Riverhead is a program on the rise,” he said. “I have to give a lot of props to their coach. I think she’s doing a great job. … She has that program on the right path.”

What has helped Riverhead the most this season?

Brewer didn’t hesitate to provide an answer. “Hard practices,” she said. “We definitely go hard at practice. Our coach really works us.”

Greene said she is constantly pushing her players to improve. That may explain the team’s strong showing this year.

“This season has probably been the best I’ve seen Riverhead play,” said Greene, a former standout for the Blue Waves who went on to become an All-Conference outside hitter at Eastern Connecticut State University. “We finished the season as strong as they possibly can. They should have no regrets. I have no regrets. They put their hearts out there, and even in that last game, that fourth game when we were down by so much, they never gave up.”

The loss marked the end of the high school playing careers of five Riverheaders: Allison Fox, Brewer, Martens, Thomas and Tucci. They leave the team with some nice memories.

“I couldn’t ask for a better season,” Martens said. “It was just great. We’ve come so far. I’m just like happy that we even made it to playoffs.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

02/22/12 10:34pm
02/22/2012 10:34 PM

ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Jalyn Brown drives to the hoop in the first half of Riverhead's 67-42 win Wednesday night.

SUFFOLK CLASS AA QUARTERFINAL | BLUE WAVES 67, PATRIOTS 42

The familiar figure of Jerry Wiesmann was once again stalking the sideline in front of the Riverhead bench. Blue Waves fans had grown accustomed to seeing that when Wiesmann coached the school’s boys basketball team, guiding it to a New York State final four and two Suffolk County finals. This time, though, Wiesmann was running Riverhead’s girls basketball team in its biggest game of the season to date.

Wiesmann, one of Riverhead’s assistant coaches, filled in for the team’s head coach, Dave Spinella, who was serving a one-game suspension for his ejection from the team’s previous game. Things went so smoothly for third-seeded Riverhead in its Suffolk Class AA Tournament quarterfinal win over No. 6 Ward Melville on Wednesday that it didn’t appear as if the Blue Waves missed a beat.

The Blue Waves did what they have been doing all season. They put their quickness to good use, darting up and down the court, and ran Ward Melville out of the tournament. Jalyn Brown, a senior point guard who played in her final game in the Riverhead High School gym, led four Blue Waves in double figures with 24 points in a 67-42 result, extending Riverhead’s winning streak to 19 games.

“The game plan that Spinella put together worked very well,” said Wiesmann, who had another assistant coach, Spinella’s predecessor Jim Janecek, sitting next to him on the bench. “Tonight’s game is a testimony to this man’s hard work and what he did all year in his work with the kids. … They were on automatic pilot.”

It surely seemed that way at times.

League III champion Riverhead (19-1) hounded Ward Melville (12-6), the League I runner-up, double-teaming the Patriots’ standout senior guard, Caysea Cohen. The Blue Waves went to the free-throw line 40 times, sinking 25 of those foul shots. They pulled in twice as many offensive rebounds as Ward Melville and nearly twice as many rebounds overall.

Their reward is a place in the county semifinals for the first time since 1984, according to Wiesmann. Riverhead will play No. 2 Lindenhurst or No. 10 Northport on Saturday at Farmingdale State College.

“This has been my dream since the eighth grade to go to the final four,” said Brown, who was born 10 years after Riverhead’s last county semifinal appearance. “It’s been a long time. There’s a lot of tough competition out there.”

This season Riverhead has been providing opponents with tough competition in the form of its athleticism and speed. It was a tall order for Ward Melville.

“We couldn’t match up with them,” Ward Melville coach Lawrence Combs said. “Athletically, physically, Riverhead’s hands down the best team that we’ve seen, and we just couldn’t keep up.”

Riverhead held Ward Melville to only 5 points in the first quarter, and the Patriots squeezed the last 2 of those points on a bucket by Meagan Murtagh just before the buzzer ended the period.

The Blue Waves made Ward Melville work to bring the ball across the mid-court line. By the time the Patriots were within shooting range, they often had 15 seconds or less to get a shot off. One time the shot clock expired.

“We’re just very athletic and quick, and speed kills,” Wiesmann told reporters. “I think that might be our biggest edge on our opponents, our quickness. I don’t think too many teams see this type of quickness.”

And then there was the hostile environment Ward Melville encountered. A spirited crowd of Riverhead fans, some shirtless with blue numbers painted on their chests, was loud throughout the game.

Riverhead led, 34-22, at the half, and stretched that lead to as many as 26 points when a 13-2 run made it 64-38 with a little over two minutes left in the game.

“We were prepared,” said Riverhead forward Melodee Riley.

Brown, who Wiesmann considers to be the best guard in the county, finished 4 points shy of her career-high after exiting with 1 minute 15 seconds left.

Riverhead received plenty of production from Riley and Kaila-Riane Nazario, who both posted double-doubles. Riley accounted for 14 points and 13 rebounds. She also made 10 of 11 free throws. Nazario had 11 points and 11 rebounds by the time she fouled out with 3:26 remaining.

Another key figure in Riverhead’s game, Shanice Allen, supplied 10 points and 5 assists.

Riverhead held Cohen to 14 points, 11 of those coming in the second half. Tara O’Hern had 9 for the Patriots.

“We were ready,” Wiesmann said. “We had all day yesterday and this morning to discuss what we were going to do in Dave’s absence, and it worked out well.”

bliepa@timesreview.com

01/09/12 7:58pm
01/09/2012 7:58 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | With the aid of his new bowling ball, Austin Douglas of Riverhead put up a 558 series with a 213 high game.

BLUE WAVES 27, PATRIOTS 6

Scott Hackal sounded upbeat, and he had good reason to be. Not only because his Riverhead High School boys bowling team had just posted a feel-good win, but because this has turned into something of a feel-good season for the Blue Waves.

That may be a bit surprising, considering Riverhead lost all five of its starters from last season, each one of them taking a 200-plus average with them. Most of the current Blue Waves were on that team, but didn’t get much playing time.

Despite all of that, Riverhead is competing for a playoff spot.

“It’s a pleasant surprise,” Hackal said. “We’re learning, we’re getting better; that’s the key. This is not an easy game. It’s a frustrating game, but they’re working and getting better.”

The fruits of that labor are starting to be seen. On Monday, for example, three Riverheaders posted series scores over 550 in a 27-6 defeat of Ward Melville in a Suffolk County League III boys bowling match at Wildwood Lanes in Riverhead. A 229 in the opening game paved the way for a 580 series by Riverhead junior Louis Ambrosio. Chris Mazzucca, a senior, opened a 577 series with a 210 in the first game for Riverhead, which also received a 558 series from junior Austin Douglas.

“We’re moving right up and we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing every game,” said Ambrosio, who threw 16 strikes and made 10 spares. “We’re getting better and better.”

Riverhead played two seventh-graders, Forrest Vail and Jon Visek. Vail rolled a 215 in the third game and Visek had a 202 and a 165.

“I play eight people, and whoever I put in there seems to get the job done,” said Hackal.

Tom Slawski recorded a 535 series with a 200 high game for Ward Melville. Teammate Tom Bogia posted a 204 in the last game.

Riverhead swept the three games, 936-814, 910-899, 926-876.

Riverhead (129 1/2 points) and Ward Melville (75) started the day as the bottom two teams in the seven-team league.

What Hackal might have liked best about Monday’s match were the 69 spares his team converted, 15 more than Ward Melville.

“That’s huge,” Hackal said of the spares. “That’s better than anything else. I think we missed maybe two one-pin spares. Early in the year we were missing eight to 10 a game.”

Douglas, who like Ambrosio is a lefty, seems to like his new bowling ball. He capped his day with a 213 in the third game. Douglas said he has seen definite improvement in the team, which he said turned in its best performance of the season.

“From the beginning of the year now until now, it’s a completely different team,” he said. “… We had very little experience coming in to this year, and I feel like we skyrocketed.”

Riverhead hopes to extend its season in the playoffs, which may be possible. Of the team’s four remaining matches are two critical ones on the road — tomorrow versus Connetquot and Jan. 23 against Patchogue-Medford.

“We’re close to a playoff spot,” Hackal said. “We have to win a couple of matches on the road. Positive points in those away matches, and we’ll be fine.”

bliepa@timesreview.com