June 21, 2006

High School Sports Year In Review

In the first of a two-part series, The Independent takes an in-depth look at the highlights of the 2005-2006 South Fork high school sports seasons.

The fall sports season brought plenty of thrills from many area teams although no one excited more people than the Southampton varsity football team. The Mariners, which won the Division IV title this past fall, went all the way to the Suffolk County Division IV championship game, falling by a close 17-14 score to Babylon in overtime at Stony Brook's Ken LaValle Stadium in a contest played under arctic-like conditions.

Leaning on the inspiration that Chris Bunce provided, the Mariners rolled through their Division IV opponents with little difficulty, compiling one of the best seasons in school history despite not being considered a legitimate contender during the pre-season. Bunce, South-ampton's leading rusher and one of its top defensive players, suffered a broken bone in his leg during Southampton's win over Hampton Bays on October 22 and was lost for the season.

But instead of nursing the injury from his home, Bunce continued to motivate his teammates by attending both practices and games, standing on the sidelines with crutches as he watched his friends excel beyond expectation because of that presence. "It's sort of an inspirational thing," said teammate Noah Hatfield-Biondo, a senior leader who became a major offensive/defensive force for the Mariners. "Everybody knows that they have to step up and play a bigger role now because Chris can't be on the field. He's still on the sidelines, so he's still a big part of what we've done and what we're about."

Moments after Southampton's championship game loss, Biondo said, "The initial feeling [after losing to Babylon in overtime] was just frustration, but we really brought football back to Southampton. We played a great game. It was a great experience. Maybe the better team did lose, but there's no shame in losing that game, that way. We just came up a little short." The Mariners may have come up short on the scoreboard, but not in effort and heart. It was a season that can be summed up in one word; magical.

Players including Bunce, Hatfield-Biondo, Zach Epley, Kevin Mockler, Tim Gallo, Jason Halsey, Anthony Wilson, Will Steinke, Steven Andrews, Tyrone James and Zach Antilety each put forward standout performances during a season that saw the entire team establish itself as a blueprint for future Mariners teams to follow.

"It's a tough way to end the season, but our kids handled it well," said Southampton head coach Darren Phillips. "On the bus ride home [from the game], we told them that the sun will rise and life will go on tomorrow . . . It's only a game. We had a great year. We had a lot of kids rise to the occasion this season and we're proud of all of them. The kids enjoyed the whole process and had a lot of fun this season. The game is just the outcome. The journey and the process is what it's all about."

Westhampton, Southampton's gridiron neighbors to the west, narrowly missed making the playoffs despite recording an impressive 6-2 record in Division III. The Hurricanes Matt McAllister became the first recipient of the Joseph Taylor Memorial Scholarship.

Jefferson Ramirez helped put the East Hampton boys' varsity soccer team back on the map and provided one of the few bright spots for South Fork boys' soccer with a historic 29-goal season for the Bonackers, who missed the playoffs by only three wins. Ramirez was a goal-scoring machine from start to finish, totaling the second highest goal total in Suffolk County on his way to an All-County selection. Ramirez, one of the most exciting players on Long Island, did all of this despite being a junior!

Led by senior captain Heather Geddie, the Pierson varsity field hockey team won the Suffolk County Class C championship, giving longtime coach Debbie Jayne a fitting sendoff. Jayne, who has coached the team for 32 straight seasons, announced her retirement before the start of the Lady Whalers phenomenal season, a season that saw Pierson reach the Long Island Class C title game. Geddie, Pierson's starting goalkeeper was named to the elite All-State team along with junior Bethany Semlear. Senior Brian Beck made the All-Long Island team as did junior Brina Stachecki.

Southampton's field hockey team also had a strong campaign, finishing its season with a 9-5-2 overall record that saw the Lady Mariners lose a heartbreaking 2-1 game to Shoreham-Wading River in the Suffolk County Class B semifinal. Southampton's biggest win came late in the season when it handed future Suffolk champion Miller Place its only loss; a 2-1 overtime thriller highlighted by junior Rachel Taylor scoring the game-winner off a cross pass from teammate Hope Stratford.

Coach Kathy McGeehan's veteran leadership helped spearhead the East Hampton varsity girls' volleyball team to a first place finish in League V as the Lady Bonackers compiled a 14-2 overall record. Co-captains Willa Johann and Caity Grant led East Hampton to its fourth straight league championship as one of the most successful volleyball programs on Long Island ran its record to 46-2 over the last four years.

The East Hampton varsity golf team claimed its fourth league title in the last five years by going 9-1 in League VIII. After starting the season 1-1, the Bonackers rallied to win their last eight matches led by seventh grader Zach Grossman. Grossman was a phenom on the links, winning nine of his 10 individual matches while seniors Jeremy Wells, Mike Graham, Ken Morsch and Rob Wooding each had fine individual seasons. Garner Minetree, an eighth grader and John McGuirk combined to go 14-3-1 despite being new to the varsity.

The Southampton boys golf team finished its regular season with a share of the League VIII Championship after tying East Hampton with an 8-1 regular season record. The co-championship was the Mariners first league title since the fall of 2001 as senior Wolfie Zarras, Julian Pascual, Zeke Zarras, John Ludlow, Christian Greco, and Steve Ham combined their efforts.

In girls' tennis, Southampton freshman Olivia Kronemeyer advanced to the finals of the Division IV Tournament before bowing out 6-0, 6-1 to champion Ali Harding. It just so happens that Harding was representing Westhampton Beach. Kronemeyer was just one of a handful of standout South Fork girls' tennis players who was in the championship tournament. East Hampton's Molly Nolan lost to Kronemeyer in the opening round and Hampton Bays' Tarrin Joslin fell victim in the second round. Kronemeyer, the lone Lady Mariners singles tennis player to qualify for the county tournament, bested the Lady Bonackers top representative Rebecca Rubenstein 6-1, 6-1 in the semifinals.

Southampton's Alex Dunham gave an impressive showing in the county tournament despite being unseeded, defeating Eastport/South Manor's Alyssa Tillinghast in a four-set match before being bested by Rubenstein 6-0, 6-1 in the next round.

East Hampton's girls' tennis team had another outstanding season, going 10-4 overall and finishing in second place in League VII. The Lady Bonackers' season culminated with an appearance in the quarterfinals of the county tournament as Rubenstein, a freshman along with senior Louise Hollander both were named All-County; Hollander for the third straight year. Seventh grader Molly Nolan, a Montauk native won all of her singles matches while players such as Amanda Goldberg, Roxanne White, K.K. Shapiro, Katherine Jemiola and Jessica Strauss were All-League honorees.

The Southampton girls' varsity soccer team achieved a major goal, finishing its season 6-5-1 despite not fielding a varsity squad the previous year. The Lady Mariners ensured that they would walk off the field with a winning record by blanking Amityville 6-0 in their final game of the season as goals by Jessica Tortorice, Desiree Halaska, Jackie Rodriguez, Leanna Pascual, Jena Arnister and Heather Sachtleben sealed the deal.

Senior goalkeeper Gen Spellman recorded the shutout in her final varsity game.

Next week, The Independent will take a look at the highlights of the winter and spring high school sports seasons.

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