Middle Country coach Mike Messana remembers exactly what he said to his boys bowling team 10 months ago at Sayville Lanes.
Messana’s squad had finished a respectable third in the 2016 Suffolk championship behind first-place Sachem and second-place Commack. (Middle Country also had been second in 2015.)
“I told them, ‘Next year is going to be our year,’ ” Messana recalled. “I know that puts a target on our back, but everybody in the county knows it.”
Messana’s high expectations have merit. Senior anchor Kurt Schall is Suffolk’s top bowler with a 231.7 average. He and West Babylon’s Peter Ramos are the only two 2016 Suffolk All-Stars (which won the state sectional title) that return this season.
Seniors Giovanni LaBarca (209.4 average) and Mike Cotty (198.9), junior Tom Lettich (211) and sophomore Noah Axinn (227.7) round out Middle Country’s top five, which is, arguably, the best team on Long Island.
“I don’t think there’s a team in the county, or the state,” Messana said, “that can stop us.”
East Islip might very well have something to say about Middle Country’s title coronation. Justin Orobello was a member of East Islip’s 2015 state championship team, and the junior also has bowled on Suffolk’s sectional teams that won titles in 2014 and 2016.
Junior James Spina will be the Redmen’s anchor, and seniors Vinny Altman and Matt Waldron, as well as a strong group of underclassmen, will help East Islip this season.
“You have to remember Sachem,” East Islip coach Bob Cheadle said. “In my mind, you have to knock off the defending champs.”
It won’t be easy. True, coach Brian Weinstein graduated three starters from his 2016 Suffolk and state championship squads. But he has a new crop of bowlers primed for another title run.
Seniors Ryan DiMaggio (231.2 average) and Chris Dumas (227.8) are in the top five averages in Suffolk, and eighth-grader John Clark (199.3) will also be counted on by Sachem in ultra-competitive Suffolk with teams such as Longwood, Commack, Patchogue-Medford and Connetquot figuring to be in the championship mix.
Competition isn’t just limited to Suffolk County. One of the most competitive and balanced teams on Long Island is Mineola. The Mustangs boast six bowlers with averages in the 200s.
Mineola’s lynchpin is Tony Macchietto, who has bowled varsity since he was an eighth-grader. The senior currently leads Long Island bowlers with a 233.1 average.
Seniors Ryan Sellinger (217.4 average), Vito Santoli (216.3), Joe Tullo (207.3), as well as sophomore Dan Mengler (214.2) and seventh-grader Phil Macchietto (Tony’s brother, 218.6) round out the Mustangs deep squad.
“We’ll be pretty good as long as I don’t mess it up,” Mineola coach Helms Bohringer joked. “Honestly, I’ll be disappointed if we don’t finish in the top three (in Nassau).”
The Mustangs should be pushed by Bellmore-Merrick, which is led by senior Ian Randman with a 219 average and a 720 high series.
Farmingdale has been doing well under interim coach Michael Marchiotto. The Dalers long-time baseball coach will count on freshman Carmelo Randazzo (214.9) and senior Mike Coakley (214.6 average).
The question in the CHSAA is: can anyone stop Chaminade? The Flyers have won five straight team titles and looked poised for a sixth.
Sophomore Paul Igel leads Chaminade with a 209.8 average. He’s followed closely by senior captain Nick Brusseler (205.7), junior James Alaimo (204.6), senior David Bianco (204.5) and junior Bobby Wright (192).
Kellenberg is a senior-laden team led by Alex Cruz, while Holy Trinity will count on senior Bryan Bono, who finished second at the CHSAA individual championship last season. Senior Joe Miglione anchors St. Dominic, and senior Brandon O’Donnell paces St. John the Baptist in what should be a competitive CHSAA race.
“Our stated goal is to get better every match,” Chaminade coach Terence Fitzgibbon said. “We want to improve all season. That has been our key to success.”