02/15/13 10:31pm
02/15/2013 10:31 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, the League VIII most valuable player, after Southold's loss to The Stony Brook School in the Suffolk County Class C final.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, the League VIII most valuable player, after Southold’s loss to The Stony Brook School in the Suffolk County Class C final.

SUFFOLK CLASS C FINAL | BEARS 56, FIRST SETTLERS 39

Along with a bold fashion statement came an even bolder statement about the state of girls basketball at The Stony Brook School.

For the second game in a row, Stony Brook walked onto a basketball court Friday wearing green socks. Actually, make that bright neon green socks. Neon green, by the way, is not part of the school’s blue-and-white color scheme.

Madison Rylands, a senior guard, said that in order to try something different, the team picked out the neon green socks, “the most obnoxious [color] we could find.”

It is believed the socks brought the Bears good luck in their final regular-season game, a win over Pierson/Bridgehampton, so there they were again, wearing those same socks for the Suffolk County Class C final against Southold on Friday. Even the team’s three coaches, including the head coach, Steve Harney, wore them.

“It worked last time,” explained Rylands.

And it did work again. Top-seeded Stony Brook not only brought its record to 2-0 when playing in the green socks but, bouncing back from a four-win season in 2011-12, collected its seventh county championship in eight years and eighth overall with a 56-39 defeat of last season’s Long Island champion, Southold. It’s the second title of the season for the League VIII champion Bears (12-4).

“It’s great,” Rylands said after the game at Center Moriches High School. “The dynasty has been returned.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Stony Brook's Allie Damianos defending against Southold's Justina Babcock.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Stony Brook’s Allie Damianos defending against Southold’s Justina Babcock.

Stony Brook triumphed in convincing fashion. Southold (10-7), the No. 3 seed, trailed by 8 points at halftime, but then Stony Brook blew the game open in the third quarter, when it really turned things on. The Bears finished the third quarter on a 21-6 run — while shooting 8 for 12 from the floor — for a 47-26 lead. Ariana Odom scored 9 points during that spurt.

Meanwhile, Southold struggled through 8-for-31 shooting in the second half.

“They shot out of their minds,” Southold coach Joe Read said of the Bears. “They had to be shooting 60, 70 percent. We were missing underneath shots that we normally don’t miss.”

Odom (14 points, 9 rebounds), Rylands (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Keara Vancol (13 points) led the way for Stony Brook, which also received 7 assists from Allie Damianos.

Nicole Busso, the Southold senior forward who was recently voted the League VIII most valuable player by the league’s coaches, had a double-double in her final game for the First Settlers. She scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

“She is considered the best in our league,” Read said. “She played big in big games. She’s a big-game player, and you can build a team around her.”

The field-goal shooting was in Stony Brook’s favor, with the Bears connecting on 42 percent (21 of 50) of their shots. Southold shot 27.6 percent (16 of 58).

The foul count went against Southold, too, 15-6.

“We were completely ready for this game,” Rylands said. “We knew exactly what to do, and we did it. We were very prepared for this team. We know this team. We know every player by number and by name, so we know exactly what they’re going to do.”

Busso, who walked off the court for the last time along with Southold’s four other seniors — Sydney Campbell, Michaela Christman, Melissa Rogers and Carley Staples — said: “We each gave our hearts. There’s really not much to say at this point.”

Vancol said unity helped Stony Brook this season. Because Stony Brook is a boarding school, the players live together 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Another motivating factor was seeing its string of six straight county titles broken last year. The Bears resolved to do something about that.

“It was difficult,” Vancol said, “but at the same time, I knew that this year is the year that we could do it.”

Read, who completed his first campaign as Southold’s coach, said it was a “great season.” He added: “This year we put our hearts in it. When you lose in a big game it is really depressing, but this season? How many teams are playing right now in Suffolk County.”

Stony Brook is among the select few teams still alive in Suffolk. The Bears will next play in a Suffolk Class B-C game against Southampton or Center Moriches on Feb. 22.

Busso gave the Bears credit. “They brought it,” she said. “They had heart. They wanted it, and they came at us. They wanted that title back, and they got it.”

Now, green socks and all, the Bears are back on top of the Suffolk Class C world.

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02/15/13 10:06pm
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Allie Wilcenski, who led Mattituck with 19 points and 13 rebounds, looking for a shooting opening while Center Moriches' Vanessa Lewis guarded her.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Allie Wilcenski, who led Mattituck with 19 points and 13 rebounds, looking for a shooting opening while Center Moriches’ Vanessa Lewis guards her.

SUFFOLK CLASS B OUTBRACKET GAME | RED DEVILS 80, TUCKERS 69

Victoria Fahie’s uniform number is 4, but her relevant number was 3 on Friday night. That’s right, 3, as in one successful 3-point shot after another.

If Fahie wakes up on Saturday morning wondering if what happened on Friday night was only a dream, it would be understandable. The Center Moriches junior played what she called the best basketball game of her life. She drilled seven 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25 points for the Red Devils, who held off Mattituck, 80-69, in an intense, energy-charged Suffolk County Class B Tournament outbracket game at Center Moriches High School.

“I was so happy and so excited to be a big part of the game,” said the 5-foot-4 Fahie.

Fahie’s performance was not something Center Moriches coach Kelley Watts had not seen from her before. Fahie, who along with Claire Brady are the team’s most productive 3-point shooters, drained seven threes in a game against Wyandanch this season. She entered Friday night’s game with 28 treys.

“She’s a fantastic shooter,” Watts said. “As of late, I’d say the last six or seven games, she’s really been on fire from the arc.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck's Katie Hoeg taking aim at the basket while Center Moriches Tamia Rowland and Takia Plummer (11) try to stop her.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck’s Katie Hoeg taking aim at the basket while Center Moriches Tamia Rowland and Takia Plummer (11) try to stop her.

The 80 points was a season-high figure for second-seeded Center Moriches (12-4), which will play top-seeded Southampton (14-3), the League VII champion, in a county final on Tuesday night.

Friday night’s game was marked by its intensity and physicality, from start to finish.

Asked how she would describe the game, Mattituck senior point guard Alex Berkoski replied, “Intense, physical, and very tearful at the end.”

Berkoski added: “We left everything out there. We came out with scratches and bruises, for sure.”

Mattituck’s only lead was at 2-0, but the third-seeded Tuckers (11-8) stayed close enough to Center Moriches to remain a threat. A basket by Takia Plummer gave Center Moriches a 42-26 lead late in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Mattituck pulled as close as 6 points at 66-60 thanks to a Shannon Dwyer bucket, but no closer. Whenever Mattituck tightened the gap, it seemed that the sharpshooting Fahie was there to respond with a 3-pointer.

“We were close at some points, and then we just couldn’t get to that level where we could push over,” said Berkoski.

The foul-filled contest saw 32 fouls whistled by halftime and 48 for the game. Those fouls caught up with Mattituck. Three Mattituck starters — Berkoski, Dwyer and Alexa Orlando — had four personal fouls marked near their names by the time the fourth quarter was 23 seconds old. Dwyer and teammate Allie Wilcenski later fouled out.

The amount of energy both teams expended from start to finish was considerable.

“Every time we play Mattituck, that’s how it is,” Watts said. “The kids play very hard on both ends, both teams, and that’s how it’s always been.”

Vanessa Lewis provided Center Moriches with a season-high 17 points as well as 9 rebounds, 5 steals and 4 assists. Plummer added 16 points and 9 assists, and Brady had 11 points.

As a team, Center Moriches shot 9 for 17 from beyond the 3-point arc.

Wilcenski, a senior playing in her final game for the Tuckers, turned in a big game with 19 points and 13 rebounds, both team-leading numbers. Dwyer netted 18 points, Berkoski scored 13 and Orlando 11. Katie Hoeg came off the bench for 8 points and 6 assists.

Center Moriches defeated Mattituck in all three meetings between the teams this season. It couldn’t be said, however, that Mattituck went down Friday night without a heck of a fight.

“I’m proud of my girls,” Mattituck coach Steve Van Dood said. “They showed up tonight. They really did a good job.”
But Fahie was the difference-maker. “She was unreal,” Van Dood said. “… She lit it up on us.”

Standing outside her team’s locker room afterward, Fahie tried to explain how she approaches outside shooting. “I never know if my shot’s on,” she said. “Once I start getting into it, I feel it and I just start shooting.”

NOTES
Mattituck had four of its players recognized as all-league players: ALEX BERKOSKI, SHANNON DWYER, ALEXA ORLANDO and ALLIE WILCENSKI. In addition, Wilcenski is on the all-county ballot, said coach STEVE VAN DOOD.

Reflecting on his team’s season, Van Dood remarked: “I would say good job. The girls played hard. To get 11 wins in a tough league like we have, it’s a successful season.”

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02/13/13 8:25pm
02/13/2013 8:25 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold's jubilant coach, Joe Read, celebrating with his players after they survived a semifinal scare in Port Jefferson.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold’s jubilant coach, Joe Read, celebrating with his players after they survived a semifinal scare in Port Jefferson.

SUFFOLK CLASS C SEMIFINAL | FIRST SETTLERS 65, ROYALS 64

The Southold girls basketball team reached the Suffolk County Class C final by the skin of its collective teeth on Wednesday night.

The First Settlers survived a near-miraculous comeback by Port Jefferson to record a 65-64 win over the hosts in the semifinal encounter.

Defending Long Island champion Southold (11-6) will play the winner of the Stony Brook-Pierson/Bridgehampton semifinal in the county final at Center Moriches High School on Friday.

Southold coach Joe Read said he was “very confident” entering the final.

“This team is a scrappy team,” he said. “We’re a running team, they’re a running team. It was who ran the hardest and fastest. I was happy with the way we played. We match up really good with either one of the teams.”

The First Settlers enjoyed as much as a 61-50 lead with 4 minutes 33 seconds remaining in the game before the Royals (10-8) rallied to pull within striking distance.

“We couldn’t pull away,” Read said. “Port Jeff, they were so tenacious. They kept coming, kept coming. We’re a running team and I thought we could run them down and get them tired, but they hung in there. That’s a playoff game.”

Senior forward Melissa Rogers scored 7 of her 18 points in the final 5:23, including two foul shots to give Southold a 65-61 advantage with 21 seconds remaining.

After a turnover, junior guard Olivia Racanelli hit a 3-pointer — one of her three treys in the fourth quarter — to bring Port Jefferson to within 65-64 with four seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Rogers tried a long pass down court to keep the ball well out of harm’s way, but her pass was so high that it hit a suspension beam hanging from the gymnasium ceiling with four seconds left. The ball was ruled out of bounds and Port Jefferson was awarded possession.

After a Port Jefferson timeout, the Royals’ Rachel London inbounded the ball. Courtney Lewis missed a shot as the ball bounded away from the basket. Players from each team converged on the ball as Southold guard Justina Babcock managed to hold it as the final buzzer sounded.

Nicole Busso, a senior who dominated the boards with Rogers, led Southold with 24 points.

02/13/13 12:00pm
GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, one of Southold's five seniors, shooting over Pierson/Bridgehampton's Holly Zappola.

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Nicole Busso, one of Southold’s five seniors, shooting over Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Holly Zappola.

Instead of hearing the cheers of their friends, classmates and families, the five seniors on the Southold High School girls basketball team practiced in an empty gymnasium on Tuesday.

The First Settlers were denied the moments of glory countless high school seniors receive on Senior Night after Smithtown Christian forfeited Tuesday’s scheduled game.

Needless to say, the Southold players had mixed emotions as they prepared for Wednesday’s 5 p.m. encounter at Port Jefferson in a Suffolk County Class C semifinal.

“It definitely would have been nice to have our friends, family and teachers around because they helped us grow our lives and flourish and grow into the people we are today, to celebrate with the people who built you up and the people that made you the person you are today,” senior forward Melissa Rogers said. “It’s upsetting that we could not do that.”

Her senior teammates agreed.

“It was depressing, but in a way it saves the tears that would have to be dropped,” guard Carley Staples said. “It’s sad that I’ll never play another game in this gym. It’s like a second home. It’s tough.”

Added forward Nicole Busso: “It is pretty hard. We know the five of us that have grown up together playing basketball. This is our court. This court defines us. Whether we have a ceremony in front off a crowd or just with each other, it’s still our night, it’s still our year.”

And there is another game to play.

Instead of playing a game 24 hours before an important playoff game and worrying about injuries, the First Settlers were allowed to focus on the task at hand. At the start of practice, the team had its own ceremony as flowers and presents were handed out to the five seniors.

“It was cute and it was meaningful,” guard/forward Michaela Christman said. “I think we were all right with that.”

Christman, for example, received Sour Patch kids, Skittles and Starbursts in her gift basket.

“They know they’re my favorite,” she said. “We each got individual baskets, little balloons. They customized them to look like us and gift certificates and stuff like that.”

At the Southold boys game against Smithtown Christian later that night, the members of the girls team in attendance were recognized.

Sydney Campbell, a guard who sat out practice due to an illness, sang the national anthem, as she has done in prior games.

“It’s sad … but we all know how we feel about each other,” she said. “We know how we feel about the game. Basketball is our sport. We are going to play it no matter what. We don’t need an ending game because we’re not going to stop.”

Originally scheduled for last Friday, the game was postponed due to the blizzard. Southold wanted to move up the game to Thursday, but Smithtown Christian couldn’t.

Southold coach Joe Read put his team through a 90-minute workout.

“It was a good practice for a day before the game,” Staples said. “We practiced what we need to know for tomorrow. We didn’t work ourselves to the point where we’re going to be sore tomorrow. We worked hard mentally. So that’s what you need to do to be a good team.”

Except for a newspaper reporter watching from the stands, the gymnasium was empty.

Read saw the forfeit as motivation. He said the First Settlers (10-6 overall) wound up as the third seed in the tournament because they had an 8-3 league record at the time of the seeding, behind No. 2 seed Port Jefferson (10-7, 9-3). He added that the forfeit boosted the mark to 9-3, but it was too late to help.

“It’s really bad for the seniors,” he said of postponed Senior Night. “I feel bad for them. On top of that, we don’t get the home game the next day. It was a double whammy. It’s been that kind of a season, but hopefully this next season, which is the playoffs, is going to be more. … We’re playing pretty good. I hope we put it together and score points.”

Southold and Port Jefferson split their games. The Royals won at their place, 57-53, on Jan. 3, the First Settlers avenging the loss with a 63-55 home victory on Jan. 30.

“The first time we weren’t prepared for what they had to bring for us,” Busso said. “That was a very disappointing loss. It was our first loss of the season. It was our personal first loss in two years, considering we went undefeated last season until the [Southeast Region final]. It was kind of a wake-up call.”

Read said that he planned to use Southold’s height advantage.

“They’re a little scrappy team,” Read said. “They’re small, but they full-court press the whole game. They are tough.

“So what we want to do is use our height and dictate how the style of game is going to go. The first time we lost to them we were ahead except for the last minute. We had trouble. The second game was not a problem. … We’re looking to be calm with the ball and use our advantages, which is our height and experience.”

02/11/13 6:00pm
02/11/2013 6:00 PM

The major snowstorm that wrecked havoc with high school sports schedules in Suffolk County has delayed the completion of the boys and girls basketball regular seasons. All that snow, however, didn’t prevent Section XI from going about the business of preparing for the playoffs for those sports. Section XI, the governing body for interscholastic sports in Suffolk, released the boys and girls basketball playoff brackets on Monday.

As expected, Riverhead’s boys team earned a rare home playoff game. The Blue Waves (15-3), received the No. 5 seed in the Suffolk Class AA Tournament and will host No. 12 Longwood (11-6) of League I in a first-round contest on Friday. Riverhead, which last week captured the League III championship, will carry a six-game win streak into the postseason. In the only meeting between the two teams during the regular-season, however, Longwood beat Riverhead, 60-41, in a non-league game on Dec. 8.

The Greenport boys (10-7), who have one regular-season game remaining, will play a familiar opponent in a Suffolk Class C outbracket game Tuesday: Pierson (11-7). The winner of that game will advance to a county final against the top-seeded League VIII champion, Stony Brook (14-3), on Wednesday. Greenport and Pierson split the two regular-season games they played against each other.

Bishop McGann-Mercy (8-10) and Shoreham-Wading River (9-9) failed to qualify for the playoffs.

In girls basketball, No. 7 Riverhead (11-7) will host No. 10 Half Hollow Hills East (11-6) in a Suffolk Class AA first-round matchup on Thursday. While the Blue Waves have dropped their last two games, Hills East had won three of its last four.

Shoreham-Wading River (14-4) not only won its first league championship in 11 years last Thursday when it defeated Elwood/John Glenn in a double-overtime thriller, but it also secured the No. 2 seed in the Suffolk Class A Tournament. The Wildcats will play in a semifinal at home next Tuesday against the winner of Friday’s outbracket game between No. 3 Elwood/John Glenn (16-2) and No. 6 Sayville (11-7).

If No. 3 Mattituck (11-7) is to win a Suffolk Class B title, it will have to get past No. 2 Center Moriches (11-4), something the Tuckers weren’t able to do during the regular season. The two League VII teams will play in a Suffolk Class B outbracket game on Friday night in Center Moriches. The Red Devils defeated Mattituck by 8 and 20 points during the regular season. The reward for the winner of Friday night’s game will be a place in next Tuesday night’s county Class B final against Southampton (14-3), the League VII champion.

No. 3 Southold (9-6) will face No. 2 Port Jefferson (10-7) in a Suffolk Class C semifinal on Wednesday. Those teams beat each other once earlier this season.

McGann-Mercy (0-17) will sit out the playoffs.

07/31/11 7:57am
07/31/2011 7:57 AM

COURTESY PHOTO | Today, Alicia Conquest is a teahcer at an inner-city school in West Philadelphia. Seventeen years ago, she was among the best girls basketball players in Suffolk County and a 6-foot rebounding machine.

Alicia Conquest played basketball Tuesday.

Now 35 years old and teaching in West Philadelphia, the former Longwood basketball great laced ‘em up for a friendly game with other members of the faculty at her school’s summer camp program.

When the game was over, another teacher walked up to her with a look of curiosity: “You played in college, didn’t you?”

It was that obvious.

More than a dozen years removed from her final season at Wagner College, where she finished her senior campaign among the nation’s top rebounders, Alicia Conquest can still play a little ball. And that’s no surprise to those who knew her way back when.

“She’s the best big I ever coached,” recalled former Longwood girls basketball coach Pierce Hayes, now the coach of the Lions boys team. “She played with an incredible intensity about her every single game.”

The 20 Greatest Athletes in area history is a Times/Review countdown series that will continue over the next 18 days. Each day, a different athlete will be unveiled leading up to the No. 1 athlete of all-time Aug. 17.

Standing 6-feet tall, with a naturally muscular and athletic physique, Conquest helped put the Longwood girls basketball team on the map in the early 1990s.

A rare four-year varsity player at a high school with more than 2,000 students, Conquest stood out even as a young player, averaging more than 11 points and 14 rebounds as a sophomore starter.

By the time she finished her junior campaign, she was an All-County and Newsday All-Long Island selection.

And the Longwood girls were seeing team success like never before. The Lions won their first-ever League I title that year, going 11-1 during the league season.

Players like co-captain Gladys Caro and sophomore Beth Raptis played a major role in getting Longwood to where it needed to be, but nobody denies it was Conquest who set the team apart from the rest of the pack.

“She dominated the boards and had an excellent drop step move down low, that was extremely hard to defend,” Caro remembered. “Her hard work down low made it easier for us guards, enabling us to quickly run out for the outlet pass, because we knew she would end up with the rebound.”

“Looking back, she had to have known that she was better than most, yet she never acted in that manner. She treated everyone, even people she didn’t know with respect.”

It was during that junior season that Conquest really began to build a reputation as someone who could put a team on her back.

The Lions were trailing by a bucket inside the final minute against Patchogue-Medford on Jan. 19, 1993 when Conquest scored off an offensive rebound to send the game into overtime. Later that season she’d hit the winning basket in the final moments of a victory over Floyd.

Longwood would go on to reach its first Class A County Final in ’92-93 after Conquest scored 19 points in a semifinal win over East Islip. She scored 17 of her points in the first half.

Conquest was simply a winner at everything she did athletically. While to this day basketball is still her favorite sport, she ultimately just loved to compete.

“I would have tried any sport,” she says.

She doesn’t even remember how one summer during her high school years she played goalie on an Olympic Festival handball team.

It was just one more way she could compete, another avenue to unleash some of that intensity.

In the fall, she’d play on the Longwood volleyball team. And after basketball season was over she’d throw shot put and discus on the track team.

She even won a gold medal in the discus at the Empire State Games after both her sophomore and junior years.

COURTESY PHOTO | Alicia Conquest was two-time all Long Island player and a USA Today All-USA honorable mention during her years at Longwood.

But it was basketball, the game her father John ­— a longtime administrator and assistant basketball coach at Bellport High School — taught her to play, that she always loved the most.

The Lions would fall to unbeaten Northport, 53-37, in the 1992-93 Class A title game. It was that heartbreaking loss that would set the stage for Conquest’s signature games of her high school career.

The Longwood center entered her senior campaign on a mission. After watching the Lions improve from 9-9 in her sophomore season to 16-5 as a junior, Conquest had revenge over Northport on her mind in her final season.

The Tigers were the premier girls basketball team in Suffolk County at the time. They had won the previous four Class A championships and six titles dating back to the 1985-86 season.

Having already dialed up her leadership role on the team with the implementation of “pride jogs,” runs Conquest came up with where the squad would do laps for 20 minutes after every single game, she took her senior captaincy particularly seriously, teammates remember.

“She always challenged herself to do more and be better,” remembers Erin Vilar, who played that season with Conquest. “On top of all of that, she always motivated and challenged us as teammates to do more. She was a captain in every sense of the word, a true leader.”

And it all paid off when Conquest got her chance to exact revenge on Northport in the second round of the Suffolk Shootout tournament.

The motivated senior scored 29 points and pulled down 18 rebounds in the game, which was hosted by Northport, and Longwood went on to win 67-53. It was the first time in almost five years the Tigers had lost to a Suffolk team and coach Hayes said at the time it was the school’s biggest win ever.

But Conquest saved her best for the last game of the tournament.

On Dec. 29, 1993, the Lions entered halftime of the Shootout final down by 12 points to Sachem. Not just satisfied with a win over Northport the night before, Conquest let her coach know she wouldn’t let this one get away.

“She came to me at halftime and said ‘Coach, don’t worry about it,’ ” Hayes would tell Newsday.

She wasn’t kidding.

Led by an unrelenting Conquest, the Lions held Sachem to just six points in the fourth quarter. When the final buzzer sounded, she had scored a school record 35 points and grabbed 22 rebounds, leading Longwood to a 63-56 win and tournament title.

“She just wasn’t going to let us lose that night,” Hayes recalled in an interview this week.

The Lions would go on to finish the league season with their second straight title and an 11-1 record. But Conquest’s high school career would be cut short of where she’d hoped it would end when the Lions were shocked by No. 7 Commack in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs.

Conquest led all Suffolk players with 22.5 points and 18 rebounds per game her senior season. She would finish her high school career as Longwood’s all-time leading scorer with 1,029 points, a record that stood five seasons until being broken by another four-year starter, Cheri Eleazer. Conquest was just the 42nd Long Island girls basketball player to ever score 1,000 points.

COURTESY PHOTO | Coaches and teammates of Alicia Conquest (top row, second from left) all described her as a special person who got the most out of her abilities and inspired others to do the same.

The fact that she scored so many points, despite always being the center of attention on the court, still amazes her teammates.

“We played against some tough teams and she would sometimes have double or even triple coverage,” Vilar recalled. “She never let that get to her. She always remained dignified and focused. A true athlete.”

Added Caro: “Average was never good enough. She practiced harder, and loved the game more than anyone else I knew. She was a true leader on the court, both in games and at practices.”

Conquest made her second All-Long Island team in 1994 and was a USA Today All-American honorable mention that year.

Not just a great performer in sports, she would graduate her senior class ranked No. 16 out of 600 students.

As she looked to take both her athletics and academics to the next level, Conquest turned down a Big East offer from Providence and instead enrolled at Wagner, a Division I program playing in the Northeast Conference.

Before heading to college, Conquest realized she needed to develop her game to revolve around her natural strengths. Never a great jump shooter, Conquest could still be an elite scorer in high school.

But at the college level, she knew her ability to rebound is where she could help her team most.

It was John Conquest who taught his daughter to go after it with everything she had for every moment on the court.

Rebounding was his game, and he made sure she played the game the same way.

“He would tell me that if the ball was there for me to grab, I better go get it,” Alicia recalled.

“She just loved to play defense,” Hayes said. “She loved to rebound. She realized that’s where her strengths were and she developed her game that way.”

It didn’t take long before former Wagner head coach Pam Roecker, who called Alicia “one of a kind” in an e-mail this week, noticed that her freshman forward could make a difference on her Seahawks team.

By the fourth game of the season, Roecker had already inserted Conquest into the starting lineup. By February she was already averaging more than 10 rebounds per game, tops in the NEC and 27th in the nation.

Asked to explain her phenom’s ability to rebound the basketball in a Newsday interview, Roecker said: “She makes up her mind that she wants the basketball more than anyone else.”

It was a pattern that would continue throughout Conquest’s career, even as knee injuries began to slow her down some by her junior season.

To this day, Conquest is fifth all-time in rebounding at Wagner and her 1,106 rebounds rank her higher than any Seahawks player in the past two decades. She averaged more than 10 rebounds a game in all four years there.

The Wagner teams Conquest played on in her junior and senior seasons won a total of 35 games, and both campaigns rank in the top 10 for winning percentage in Seahawks program history.

Conquest would finish her senior year as an All-NEC player and the nation’s sixth best rebounder.

Remarkably, Conquest continued to participate in track and field during her time at Wagner. Even though it was only considered her second sport, she won the 1996 NEC shot put and discus titles, and she briefly held the school’s shot put record.

Being a two-sport performer didn’t slow her down any in the classroom, as she was the valedictorian of the Wagner College Class of 1999.

Even today, Alicia Conquest-Bulgin is still receiving honors.

In 2008, she was inducted into the Suffolk County Sports Hall of Fame.

And just last February she was honored with a State Farm “Teacher as Hero” award, for her work teaching Spanish at West Philadelphia’s School of the Future — a collaborative educational project between the Philadelphia school system and Microsoft.

In nominating her, principal Rosalind Chivis called Conquest, who also runs the school’s Saturday detention program and serves as athletic director, “the best kind of educator you could have.”

Fittingly, she coaches the same three sports at School of the Future as she played in high school. In the Fall, she leads the girls volleyball team, in the winter she helps coach girls hoops, and in the spring she works with the track team’s shot putters.

And she’s enjoying some success in the coaching ranks. The school’s basketball team reached the playoffs for the first time this season, and her prized thrower hit one of the best marks for a sophomore in Pennsylvania state history.

Still, coaching has been a challenge for Conquest.

Leading a group of inner-city youths leaves her with a difficult task her coaches didn’t have to deal with as much. She says she spends as much time trying to get her kids to focus and stay positive than she does instructing.

“Their home life and the environment they’re growing up in is very different,” she said. “It’s been challenging. I can’t coach with the same intensity my coaches had. I have to water it down for my kids.”

Toning it down is something Conquest says she’s had to do a lot more of lately. She jokes that she can’t even be as competitive when playing games at home as she was on the basketball court.

“My husband doesn’t like to lose and I don’t like to hurt feelings,” she said with a laugh.

But that competitive fire still burns from time to time.

When asked if she dominated this week’s faculty game at School of the Future, she wasn’t shy.

“Ohhhh, yeahhh,” she said with a flair. “Not scoring, but rebounding.”

Some things just never change.

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07/31/11 7:56am

UCLA COURTESY PHOTO | Nicole Kaczmarski had one incredible year at Longwood High School, before moving on to Christ the King, Sachem and eventually UCLA.

Alicia Conquest is largely considered the greatest Longwood High School girls basketball player.

Cheri Eleazer is the school’s all-time leading scorer.

But neither of those All-Long Island players would hold those distinctions if another former Lions star played each of her high school seasons at the school.

Fifteen years later, people forget that Nicole Kaczmarski, considered by many to be Suffolk’s all-time greatest girls basketball player, actually played her freshman season at Longwood.

“What a season that was,” recalls former Longwood girls basketball coach Pierce Hayes, now the coach of the Lions boys team. “We played in packed gyms everywhere we went.”

Kaczmarski made a huge splash leading Sachem High School to a state championship in her eighth grade season of 1994-95, when at just 13 years old the 5-5 point guard was named Suffolk Player of the Year.

Late in the season rumors began to circulate that the phenom, whose father Peter had won custody of her in a divorce dispute, would be playing elsewhere the following year.

Most reports had Kaczmarski heading to city power Christ the King that fall. But Newsday would later report that after Peter couldn’t sell his home in Middle Island, Kaczmarski, who shot up to 5-9 that offseason, would play for Longwood instead “because there was no place else for her to go.”

Kaz, as she was known, would end up leading Longwood to a 10-2 league record and a three-way tie for the league title. She combined with Eleazer that season — on a team that featured just one senior — to form an incredible freshman duo.

But when Longwood was shocked 46-38 by No. 7 Walt Whitman in the quarterfinals of the Class A playoffs on Feb. 25, 1996, Kaczmarski had played her final game with the Lions.

Despite never attending classes at the high school — back then Longwood ninth graders went to junior high — Kaczmarski was an All-Long Island selection for the second time and a USA Today All-American honorable mention in ’95-96. But come summer time, it was announced that she would finally make the jump to Christ the King.

It was a great single season with the Lions. Kaz scored 390 points, second-best on Long Island, and averaged 21.7 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists as Longwood went 16-4. She scored in double figures in all 20 games and hit 35 3-pointers that season.

It was during her time with the Lions that “Kazmania” began to take hold. Coach Hayes told Newsday in February 1995 that he had received letters about his freshman star from more than 50 schools.

“She was probably the most talented basketball player I have ever seen at that age,” Hayes recalled in an interview last week. “It was because of how hard she worked at it. She would stay after practice and work on her jump shot for hours when she was only a ninth grader. She released perfectly, it was almost like a textbook jump shot.”

Kaz would play only briefly for Christ the King before transferring back to Sachem, where she would finish her storied career with a then-Long Island record 2,583 points. She was the Gatorade National Player of the Year her senior season of 1998-99, a season that saw her named to every high school All-American team.

Hayes says he doesn’t think much about what could have been.

“It is what it is,” he said. “I’ll always remember her as a great kid.”

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02/05/13 8:17pm
02/05/2013 8:17 PM

TUCKERS 77, WARRIORS 48

The game didn’t have any meaning for either the Wyandanch or the Mattituck girls basketball teams in terms of the playoffs or the League VII championship. Wyandanch had already been eliminated from playoff contention. Mattituck had already secured its place in the posteason (the Tuckers are locked in as the No. 3 seed in the Suffolk County Class B Tournament, according to coach Steve Van Dood), and the league title was already beyond its reach.

And yet, for four players in white and blue uniforms, there was a good deal of significance to Tuesday night’s game.

Senior Day 2013 at Mattituck High School left some good memories for Mattituck’s four seniors: Alex Berkoski, Nicole Murphy, Alexa Orlando and Allie Wilcenski. They walked away with their teammates as 77-48 winners over Wyandanch.

As if often the case, some emotions were as much a part of the evening as the blue and white balloons and the personalized posters younger teammates made for the seniors, who played in their home gym for the last time.

“It’s really emotional,” said Wilcenski, whose eyes watered while talking about her final home game during a postgame interview. “I’m going to miss this so much, and I’m so sad.”

By contrast, Berkoski had a strikingly unemotional reaction to the proceedings. “I feel like it was just any ordinary game,” she said. “I guess the whole senior thing hasn’t really hit me yet.”

It was a junior, Shannon Dwyer, leading the way with 21 points for the Tuckers (11-6, 8-1), who recorded their fourth win from five games. Wilcenski had a productive evening as well with 20 points, and Berkoski supplied 13 points.

All 12 Tuckers who were in uniform played, and nine of them made it into the scoring column.

But the statistic of the night was in the assists category. Mattituck totaled 30 of them, with 9 coming from Katie Hoeg, and Berkoski and Orlando providing 6 apiece.

“They were moving the ball well,” Van Dood said. “We saw a lot of scoring off of three, four passes. They were running the offense. I think we did a good job of being patient with the ball.”

Wyandanch (4-13, 2-9) received 16 points from Symphony Paschall and 15 from Quiana Sutton, who hit four 3-point shots.

The only threat Wyandanch posed came early in the second quarter when it twice pulled to within 4 points of Mattituck at 22-18 and 24-20 from a straight-on 3-pointer that Sutton banked in and a basket by Paschall.

“Wyandanch actually came back a little bit,” Berkoski said, “but we finally pulled it back together and we finally got in the swing of things and we pulled it off.”

Mattituck proceeded to go on an 11-2 run and kept building on its lead from there.

“When we stick to the game plan, good things happen,” said Van Dood.

Among those good things for Mattituck were high-percentage shots. The Tuckers finished with 56.3-percent shooting from the field. They also forced 41 turnovers by Wyandanch.

Mattituck’s final regular-season game will be Friday night against Southampton. A week later, the Tuckers will play their playoff game. Van Dood expects Mattituck to be paired against Center Moriches in a county semifinal. Center Moriches defeated the Tuckers twice this season, 58-50 and 60-40.

As well as Mattituck played against Wyandanch, Van Dood didn’t overlook a couple of layups that the Tuckers missed along the way.

“You do that against Center Moriches, you do that against Southampton, and you’re not going to get the W,” he said. “We have to come out ready to play. We have to play four quarters.”

Still, it was a happy night for Mattituck’s seniors, who have played together for a handful of years.

“They’re great kids,” Van Dood said. “They’re great leaders. They’re great role models for the younger kids and just a pleasure to coach, an absolute pleasure to coach.”

Asked how much he thought the game meant to them, Van Dood answered: “I think it was a huge night for them, absolutely. They have good memories of their last game on this home court. That’s tremendous for them.”

After most of her teammates had left the gym, Wilcenski was trying to come to terms with the reality that her final days in a Mattituck uniform are nearing an end.

“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “It still doesn’t feel real to me. I don’t know, it’s so bizarre. It just came so fast.”

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07/26/11 12:03am
07/26/2011 12:03 AM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Alexa Orlando of Mattituck ran into an obstacle in the form of Westhampton Beach's Kristen Polan.

Before she had ever played in a high school varsity girls basketball game, Shannon Dwyer had already experienced the school of hard knocks in the form of — would you believe family pickup games?

Those games in the Dwyer driveway of their Cutchogue home are not for the faint of heart. They get physical.

“No blood, no foul,” said Dwyer.

Dwyer and her three younger siblings, two of whom are brothers, tangle under the basket. Sometimes their mother, Tracey, who played for St. John Fisher College (N.Y.), gets into it, too.

“Last night we were playing at like 1 in the morning,” said Shannon Dwyer.

That sort of a background has helped make Dwyer a more valuable member of the Mattituck Tuckers basketball family. A player of undeniable talent, Dwyer was the rookie of the year in Suffolk County League VII the last school season as a freshman. This coming school season she will undoubtedly be one of the players who will have her hands on the ball for the Tuckers.

“She’s really smart,” junior guard Alexa Orlando said. “She always knows what to do. She’s good at making things happen.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck's Shannon Dwyer looked to shoot over the taller Kristen Polan of Westhampton Beach.

The Tuckers suffered a blow before last season even started when they lost their point guard, Alex Berkoski, to an injury. Coach Steve Van Dood went to a point guard by committee. Sometimes the Tuckers played with a three-guard lineup on the floor. Other times they had four bigs on the court at one time. “It’s all about matchups in that league,” explained Van Dood.

Van Dood saw some good things from his mix of Liz Lasota, Dwyer and Orlando at point guard. Berkoski has returned from her injury, and all of them except Lasota are playing for Mattituck’s summer league team.

Dwyer, who like Lasota and Orlando saw time as a starter last season, is seen as a player the Tuckers can build around. She has already shown that she can handle the pressure of playing against tough teams like the Wyandanch Warriors and the Center Moriches Red Devils.

“She’s a young kid and she’s been put in some tough roles, and she’s been put in some pressure-cooker situations for us last year, and I thought she did a good job,” Van Dood said. “She has a good composure about her.”

In outlining Dwyer’s game, Van Dood said: “She’s got a good basketball IQ. She can go left, she can go right. She’s not one-dimensional. She has a decent shot when she takes it. She’s got to shoot a little bit more.”

Van Dood said Dwyer’s love of the game should serve her well. “The girls who show up to play and play with a smile on their face are going to get better, and she’s going to get better,” he said. “She’s one of those kids.”

This summer has been an adjustment for the Tuckers. Dwyer, Orlando and junior Allie Wilcenski are the only players on the summer league team who have prior varsity experience.

Those three veterans led the way Monday evening when the Tuckers defeated the Westhampton Beach Hurricanes, 28-19, in a Town of Brookhaven Summer League game at Eastport/South Manor High School. The result left both teams with 3-5 records.

Wilcenski put in a full day’s play despite fouling out with 60 seconds to go. She totaled 10 points, 10 rebounds, four steals, two assists and a block. In addition, Wilcenski defended two of Westhampton Beach’s taller players, Kristen Polan (13 points) and Alex Walker.

“I was especially impressed with Allie Wilcenski tonight,” Van Dood said. “I thought she did a very good job. The ball didn’t drop for her in the basket, but she got a lot of rebounds, a lot of second, third and fourth rebounds. She’s a hard worker. Even though she fouled out, she was still a good presence on defense.”

Who will be running the point for the Tuckers when the school season starts?

“I don’t know,” Van Dood said. “It could be both of those girls, [Dwyer and Orlando]. I don’t even want to designate a point at this point. It’s going to be in the hands of a couple of girls.”

What Van Dood does know is that he can rest easy when Dwyer or Orlando have possession of the ball.

“The one thing that impressed me, though, was the number of turnovers that those girls had last year,” he said. “For young girls, they didn’t turn the ball over much, and that’s a stat that I like to check. It doesn’t show up in the papers much, but I know when those girls are in tough situations, you can trust them with the ball. That’s important.”

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01/31/13 10:17pm
01/31/2013 10:17 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Carley Staples of Southold is swarmed by Pierson/Bridgehampton's Bridget Canavan (24), Emily Hinz (23) and Meg Evjen (00).

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Carley Staples of Southold is swarmed by Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Bridget Canavan (24), Emily Hinz (23) and Meg Evjen (00).

WHALERS 44, FIRST SETTLERS 40

It’s doubtful that anyone could fully appreciate how hard it was for Michaela Christman to watch Southold’s girls basketball team complete one of its greatest seasons ever last year — except Michaela Christman.

The team won the League VIII championship, a Suffolk County crown, its first Long Island championship since 2002, and reached a Southeast Regional final, falling one win shy of a place in the New York State final four. Christman saw much of it, as much as she could take. It wasn’t easy for her.

“Some of the time I needed a break,” she said. “It was kind of hard to watch.”

What was hard about it was being a spectator and not a player. Christman had played in the first few games of that season before her right knee decided it had other plans for her. A torn anterior cruciate ligament put an early end to Christman’s junior season. She underwent surgery, physical rehabilitation, and looked ahead to her senior season in 2012-13.

Christman undoubtedly missed playing. Southold senior Nicole Busso recalled: “Every single game she texted me: ‘How’s it going? What’s the game? What’s the score?’ She is a true basketball player.”

Now Christman, the player, is making up for lost time.

“She worked hard and she came back,” Southold coach Joe Read said. “She plays strong. She’s a tough kid. She has a beautiful shot.”

Christman plays with a brace around her right knee, which after a 44-40 loss to Pierson/Bridgehampton on Thursday night she said was “sore, but it’s fine.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold senior Michaela Christman, who is tightly defended by Pierson/Bridgehampton's Abby Ruiz, sat out almost her entire junior season with a knee injury.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold senior Michaela Christman, who is tightly defended by Pierson/Bridgehampton’s Abby Ruiz, sat out almost her entire junior season with a knee injury.

Christman can play guard or forward. She has been used primarily as a post player lately, with forward Melissa Rogers sitting out her fourth straight game Thursday with an ailing knee and watching from the official scorer’s table. That sounds all-too familiar to Christman, who said, “I know what Melissa is going through right now.”

The First Settlers are grateful to have a healthy Christman on the court again.

“It’s huge having Michaela right now,” Busso said. “I don’t know where we would be [without her]. She’s a huge help down low. She really does everything.”

Christman has rejoined Busso, Rogers and the team’s two other seniors, Sydney Campbell and Carley Staples. That fivesome has been playing together since they were 12, and they have a lot to play for this season. Southold is contending for the league title again, but the upset it suffered at the hands of Pierson/Bridgehampton in Sag Harbor didn’t help. At the start of the day, the First Settlers were tied for first place with The Stony Brook School.

Pierson/Bridgehampton (9-8, 7-4), which may meet Southold (9-5, 8-2) in the playoffs, secured what its first-year coach, Kevin Barron, said may have been the team’s “sweetest” win in two years. When the game ended, the happy Whalers hopped around the court, hugging each other and screaming over their well-earned triumph in a hard-fought, scrappy affair that didn’t see many easy baskets for either side.

Pierson/Bridgehampton, which honored its eight seniors during an emotional pregame Senior Night ceremony, saw three of those seniors score critical points down the stretch. Emily Hinz made a basket despite being fouled by Busso, who fouled out on the play, to snap a 39-39 tie with 43.9 seconds to go in the fourth quarter. A free throw by Abby Ruiz and two more foul shots by Sydnee McKie made it a 44-39 game with 10.1 seconds left.

Kasey Gilbride and Ruiz led Pierson/Bridgehampton with 9 points apiece. Bridget Canavan added 8 points and 11 rebounds.

Busso turned in a tremendous effort, finishing with 12 points, 13 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Abby Scharadin played well, too, for Southold, producing 9 points.

Pierson/Bridgehampton scored the first 9 points of the third quarter — including three straight baskets by Meg Evjen for her only 6 points — to build a 28-17 lead. But Southold gradually whittled away at the lead, tying the score at 34-34, 35-35 and 39-39.

Shooting troubles spelled Southold’s doom, though, especially in the first three quarters when the First Settlers shot 9 of 32 from the field.

Southold was undoubtedly feeling the affects of a hard-played game the day before when it defeated Port Jefferson. That may partly explain why Pierson/Bridgehampton outrebounded the First Settlers, 43-28, and pulled down 23 offensive boards.

“This team loves playing Southold,” Barron said. “It’s always a competitive game, and then on top of that, it’s Senior Night for us. The girls have had this game circled all year. I told them before the game, ‘Show the rest of the league that we’re for real.’ ”

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