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Stephen Haynes

Stephen Haynes has worked at Newsday since 2007 when he started as a summer intern. He began working as a high school reporter in December of that year and has covered everything from fencing to football.

Can Kings Park make it four straight titles in girls volleyball?

Kings Park's Amanda Gannon reacts after scoring a

Kings Park's Amanda Gannon reacts after scoring a point on her serve againt Islip in the Suffolk Class A final volleyball game. (Nov. 6, 2013) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

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At age 8, Amanda Gannon already was the focal point of a high school volleyball team. No, really. Her mom, then the coach of the Bethpage boys team, would sometimes position Amanda on the court during accuracy drills in practice and have the players aim at spots on the floor just beside her.

"She'd put me on the 10-foot line like, 'Amanda, just stay right there,' " Gannon said, laughing. "It was kind of fun, actually."

The target once again is on Gannon, now that she is a senior superstar for the Kings Park girls volleyball team. After winning a third consecutive Long Island Class A title, Kings Park graduated its other two All-Long Island players, so naturally, the spotlight redirects to a certain 5-11 outside hitter. Nevertheless, Gannon has made it known that her goal is to deliver Kings Park's first state championship, and she willingly bears the onus.

"There's pressure," she said, "but I thrive off that. It'll only make me and my teammates better."

Gannon is a two-time All-Long Island selection and a Junior Olympian committed to Iona. She already owns the school record for kills and needs only 17 more to reach 1,000 for her career. Still, she has worked tirelessly to improve her defense and quickness this season. Gannon, who has coaching aspirations, also has become more of a vocal leader. "There's nothing she can't do on the court," Kings Park coach Lizz Manley said. "She's our best defensive and offensive player."

To think, cheerleading is what first piqued Gannon's interest in middle school. She didn't make that team, so her attention shifted to volleyball. "Being around the sport so much, it came naturally to me," she said. "I got better quickly."

As did Kings Park, when Gannon made varsity as a freshman and helped the team blossom into a powerhouse.

This group now also features two dominant 6-1 middle hitters in Kathleen Benson and Emily Stephens. Setter Stephanie Cornwell runs the offense and liberos Andrea Borkowski and Erin MacDougall anchor the defense as Kings Park appears poised for another run.

Class A challengers include Suffolk runner-up Islip. Sayville, with Jessica Griffin, and semifinalist Eastport-South Manor also pose a threat. Defending Nassau champ Long Beach is rebuilding but remains formidable with Alex Price and Gabby Ayzenberg. South Side, led by Maya Shabbir and Sydney Gabriel, and Wantagh, featuring Megan Pennino and Shannon Hubert, are among the elite.

Massapequa, the defending Long Island Class AA champ, has maintained a dynasty with 14 straight Nassau titles. The Chiefs return four starters, including standouts Mikayla Porr, Jamie Schlesinger and Allie Dillon. Kole Pollack, Jamie Smith and Julia Nicolini have great athleticism. Baldwin has a senior-laden group led by Erica Ackerman, Bridget Walsh and Kiera Knauer. Port Washington, powered by Mia Walker and Alessandra Villalta, Syosset, led by Liz Thomas, and Plainview JFK, featuring Maria Coniglio and Alison Berger, are in the mix.

Smithtown East could repeat as Suffolk champ, led by Blakely Murphy, Kendra Harlow, Haley Anderson and Fiona Phillips. Ward Melville, a strong rival, features potential superstar Alex Stein, Christine Donat, Carly Vackiel and Tracy Singleton. Victoria Homfeld and Christa LaBarbera will keep Hauppauge in contention, and Connetquot is on the rise with Mackenzie Cole, Cassandra Patsos and Lizzie Hickey.

Glenn has owned Class B, winning 13 straight Long Island titles, and remains a force with All-Long Island middle hitter Simi Familusi and setter Grace Cergol. Carley Seekamp leads runner-up East Hampton and upstart Bayport-Blue Point is a contender. Seaford graduated several key players from last year's Nassau title squad, but still is solid with Erin Russell and Shannon Fredericks. They'll be challenged by Lynbrook and Mineola. Mattituck, winner of three of the last four Suffolk titles, topped Carle Place for last year's Long Island Class C championship. With Kelly Colligan, Shelter Island is favored to win the Class D title.

St. Anthony's captured its sixth CHSAA title in the last seven years and should again be a force with setter Kelly Fitzpatrick, middle hitter Allison Impellizeri and libero Danielle Vaiano. It will be challenged by Kellenberg, led by Ally Good and Victoria Moulder, and Sacred Heart.

Suffolk Players to Watch

Kathleen Benson, Kings Park, middle hitter, Sr.

Mackenzie Cole, Connetquot, libero, Fr.

Samantha Colombo, Bellport, outside hitter, Sr.

Gabrielle Darnaby, Newfield, middle hitter, Jr.

Simi Familusi, Glenn, middle hitter, Sr.

Kelly Fitzpatrick, St. Anthony's, setter, Sr.

Amanda Gannon, Kings Park, outside hitter, Sr.

Kendra Harlow, Smithtown East, middle hitter, Sr.

Blakely Murphy, Smithtown East, outside hitter, Sr.

Alex Stein, Ward Melville, outside hitter, Jr.

Nassau Players to Watch

Maria Coniglio, Plainview JFK, outside hitter, Jr.

Sydney Gabriel, South Side, setter, Sr.

Jamie Goldstein, Syosset, middle hitter, Sr.

Megan Pennino, Wantagh, outside hitter, Sr.

Mikayla Porr, Massapequa, libero, Sr.

Alex Price, Long Beach, outside hitter, Sr.

Erin Russell, Seaford, setter, Jr.

Jamie Schlesinger, Massapequa setter, Sr.

Maya Shabbir, South Side, right side hitter, Sr.

Bridget Walsh, Baldwin, outside hitter, Sr.

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Jenna Sanossian scores with 12 seconds left to rescue Rocky Point

Sayville's Jordan Zanetti #3 scores on a penalty
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Sayville's Jordan Zanetti #3 scores on a penalty shot past Rocky Point Goalie Olivia Accardi #98 to tie the game late in the second half. Sayville was defeated by Rocky Point, 3-2 at Sayville HS in West Sayville on Sept. 15, 2014.(Credit: Daniel De Mato)

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Sayville had seized momentum, quickly erasing a two-goal deficit and tying the score in an unusual sequence with only a minute left. So when Jenna Sanossian scored the winner with 12 seconds remaining Monday, delivering Rocky Point a 3-2 field hockey victory, they were in absolute disbelief.

Rocky Point, that is.

"When things fall apart, we usually have a hard time regrouping," Sanossian said. "We shook it off pretty quickly this time."

In 59 seconds, to be exact. Sanossian drifted left and set up on the wing and, during a scrum, Nickie Sciulla gained possession of the ball just long enough to squib it outside. Sanossian collected the pass and smacked it into the near corner as the Eagles edged their Division III rival.

"This might be the most resilient group I've had; we haven't handled pressure well in the past," coach Katie Bittner said. Her team has reached at least the Suffolk semifinals in three straight years, but twice was eliminated by Sayville. "For them to respond with that little time left, it shows character."

The Eagles went up 2-0 on goals by Courtney Baldwin and Taylor Brodsky, then Sayville surged late. Julianna Giovan scored off a feed from her twin, Isabella, with 11:58 to go. And, after officials ruled the ball had been smothered after an Eagles save, Jordan Zanetti capitalized, tying it on a penalty stroke with 1:11 left.

But Rocky Point "showed some spunk," Alana Costantini said. The Eagles (3-0) deftly moved the ball in transition to set up its last shot.

Olivia Accardi made three saves for Rocky Point and its defense -- behind Costantini and Azriela Mansilungan -- dominated the first 48 minutes, repeatedly forcing turnovers in the circle. Annah Murphy made 11 saves for Sayville (1-2)

"We lose to [Sayville] in the semifinals last year and then we blow the lead today, but we came right back," Mansilungan said. "This felt magical in a way."

A pleasant surprise.

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Nick Fountis' 73-yard touchdown pass to Andrew Trent gives Bellport win

Bellport wide receiver Andrew Trent hauls in a
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Bellport wide receiver Andrew Trent hauls in a 73-yard touchdown pass over the middle to give Bellport the lead in the second half on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014.(Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

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Know that saying about closers and defensive backs needing to have short memories? It doesn't only apply to them.

Because in the second quarter Saturday, Bellport wideout Andrew Trent dropped a deep ball along the sideline (he had both hands on it, but couldn't secure the catch). Three plays later, the Clippers fumbled and East Islip capitalized with a touchdown.

"All you can do is shake it off and try to make up for it later," Trent said. "Just forget it."

Then make a couple memorable plays to atone.

He snagged a 73-yard touchdown from Nick Fountis that lifted host Bellport to an 18-14 win over rival East Islip in the Clippers' return to Suffolk II football.

"Andrew's a playmaker," said Fountis, who worked extensively at a passing camp with Trent this summer. The receiver had eight receptions for 123 yards. "Mistakes will be made, but I come right back to him and he's someone I absolutely trust."

James Watkins' fourth-down sack of Jack Hannigan gave Bellport possession at its 27. Fountis, under pressure, threw deep up the seam and Trent, despite being held, made a spectacular catch then high-stepped to slip an ankle tackle before dashing to the end zone with 37 seconds left in the third.

That was game's last score, and the Clippers' defense made sure of it. Watkins had four tackles for loss, including two sacks. Senior defensive end Devyn Branch, in his first career start, essentially sealed the win with a strip sack with 1:41 remaining.

The Redmen mounted a 12-play drive midway through the fourth, but the threat eventually was halted by a defensive back with a short memory . . . Well, maybe not. Trent defended a fourth-down pass into the end zone, sprinting from his free safety position to swat away a back-shoulder fade attempt along the sideline with 5:55 to go.

"I remembered they'd beaten us deep on a similar play," he said, referring to Hannigan's 35-yard TD to Hugens Tranquille that gave East Islip an early 7-6 lead. "It looked familiar so I got over there sooner."

Fountis also rebounded from a slow start. After being intercepted by Justin Taveras to end the first half, he went 4-for-4 for 127 yards and two TDs in the third quarter and finished 11 of 16 for 179 yards. Fountis hit Conor Haverty on consecutive plays of 24 and 17 yards -- quickly going from a third-and-17 hole to the end zone, and pulling Bellport within 14-12 in the third.

Tailback Jabari M'bhaso (70 yards) suffered an ankle injury, but Adrian Delrosario filled in with 69 yards. Bellport went 93 yards on its opening drive, capped by Delrosario's 7-yard TD run. East Islip went up 14-6 when Sean Karika (98 yards) scored from 3 yards with 2:44 left in the second.

This was the teams' first meeting since 2010, when Bellport beat the Redmen in the Class II final. The Clippers then spent the next three seasons in Division III, before returning this year.

As coach Joe Cipp III spoke to his team in its celebratory huddle, imploring them "not to overlook anybody," Watkins interjected: "Nobody should overlook us, either," he said. "Just because we're coming from Division III, don't think we're soft."

Soft? Forget that.

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Long Island Lutheran doesn't need any extra motivation to play football

Long Island Lutheran wide reciever Jordan Weeks runs
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Long Island Lutheran wide reciever Jordan Weeks runs past Nazareth defender Brian Fanor during a game on Saturday, Sept. 13, 2014.(Credit: Jack McCoy)

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Being left out in the cold is never easy.

The disbandment of its conference returned Long Island Lutheran to a nomadic football existence, an independent scrambling late to fill a schedule of out-of-town teams.

Conference V, Nassau's developmental league, after two years is no more. But while the public school teams were absorbed into other conferences, Lutheran was left on its own. No league, no postseason, and its game results affecting little more than self-esteem.

That letdown prompted coach Chris Reno to ask his players this: "Why should we even bother?" He got the answers he hoped for.

"I was a bit puzzled when I heard the news," tight end Anthony McCoy said, "but you know what? We're still playing football, something we love. You shouldn't need any extra motivation."

But it comes anyway, in the form of Shamar Stephen. The former LuHi standout was selected by the Vikings in last May's NFL draft, and the defensive tackle made Minnesota's roster. Stephen, 23, played for the Crusaders when they were without a league, but he excelled -- as did his team -- and earned a scholarship to UConn.

Stephen visits LuHi regularly and worked out with some of the players this summer, Reno said.

"It inspires you," senior center Steven Benz said. "Seeing him, it shows how far this game can take you if you do well, no matter what league you're in or not in."

Lutheran, which beat Nazareth, 32-30, yesterday, is trying to build off last year's 6-3 campaign and is doing so with a new offense. Gone is the Wing T, repalced by an up-tempo spread, installed by new offensive coordinator James Brady, who played at New Hampshire in the system established there by Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

The new scheme worked well in the season opener last week as LuHi beat Riverdale Country Day, 46-34, and Anthony Abbondanza threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns.

They also hope the addition of some of the school's basketball stars can take LuHi to new, um, heights. Devonte Green, this fall, is a running back; Chris Atkinson a wide receiver, and 6-7 forward Marvin Prochet now creates mismatches at wideout and defensive end. Atkinson had six receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown, and returned an interception for a score in his debut.

"They're great athletes so it's a big advantage, and all three played football when they were younger," said Benz, nicknamed "Google" for his smarts. He has helped ingratiate the newcomers and smooth the offensive transition.

Reno said Lutheran's schedule now is more challenging than it was in Conference V, with several difficult opponents, including Hackley and Hopkins (Conn.) upcoming.

"But the situation we're in kind of unifies us," Reno said. "We're not part of anything, so we're all we've got. But the goal is still to compete and win. It's still football."

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Isaiah White rushes for 164 yards, two touchdowns to lead Longwood

Longwood beat Brentwood, 49-0, in a Suffolk I football game on Friday, Sept. 12, 2014.

Isaiah White was anxious for this game -- more so than for any other before. A season opener at home to begin his senior year, and finally the talented tailback was healthy. The Longwood star was slowed by a concussion two years ago, and a fractured right hip cost him all but three games last season.

White's body is reinvigorated, but he entered Friday night emotionally drained. His uncle, David Brown, died Tuesday and he attended the funeral Thursday, shortly before a team meeting.

"We were close," White said of his uncle. "He used to spoil me and buy me shoes all the time . . . This week was rough, so I couldn't wait to play, be with my team and take my mind off it."

As it so often does, the field offered a respite. It also provided White a platform to showcase what Longwood longed for in his absence.

He dazzled, showing burst, power and elusiveness in racking up 164 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, leading the Lions over Brentwood, 49-0, in Suffolk I football.

"We couldn't be more excited for Isaiah," first-year Longwood coach Jeff Cipp said. "He showed everybody what we all think he's capable of."

As did senior fullback Malcolm Stowe, who ran for 147 yards and a score and was stout at linebacker, helping the Lions dominate both sides.

This was a matchup of the preseason fourth and fifth seeds, as the teams had 3-6 records. But Longwood -- along with a 42-7 drubbing in last year's meeting -- shows there's a considerable divide.

"We can be dominant," linebacker Marquise Marshall said. "I think we're great, it's just a matter of proving it repeatedly."

White's 49-yard TD scamper put Longwood on the board late in the first quarter. He exploded off right guard with great blocking, juked left and outran the pursuit. He scored again on a sweep left from 4 yards in the second, and Stowe's two-point conversion run made it 14-0.

Marquis Simpson hit Jelani Green for a 33-yard TD on a fade, then Stowe had a 35-yard TD run just before halftime. Jamal Schuman's 4-yard TD plunge created the margin with 5:53 remaining. Andrew Ferriolo and Sean Rausch each had an interception for the Lions.

"This was great for everybody, especially Isaiah," said Stowe, White's best friend. "Getting on the field gave 'Zay' a chance to relax a little, and he did his thing."

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