Top 10 Long Island high school sports stories of 2022
The 2022 calendar year did not save the best for last. The year started with the heartwarming story of a young athlete and his courageous battle for survival and ultimately a legendary run to the state wrestling title.
Meet 14-year-old wrestler Dunia Sibomana, who is now officially Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez, after his adoption by Miguel and Marissa Rodriguez of Long Beach.
In February, the eighth-grade wrestling phenom burst onto the scene with an improbable run to the 102-pound New York State Division I crown. He reeled off four straight wins in the state tournament in Albany, capping the run with a first-period pin over Ryan Ferrara of Chenango Forks in 1:32 in the final at the MVP Arena.
Sibomana turned the MVP Arena crowd of more than 5,000 into ‘Sibomania’ when he pinned the previously undefeated Ferrara for the title.
When Sibomana was 6, he and two family members were attacked by chimpanzees while playing in the jungle of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in Central Africa. His brother and cousin were killed. Sibomana survived but suffered horrific injuries to his lips and face. His right ear and facial muscles were gone, and the middle finger on his left hand was bitten off. When he was 8, Sibomana arrived on Long Island for the first of 14 facial reconstruction surgeries.
Sibomana refused to wear a wrestling mask because he wanted the world to see who he really was. Now, they see a state wrestling champion.
2. ST. ANTHONY'S FOOTBALL: A FRIGID STATE CROWN
The combination of blinding snow squalls packed with winds up to 52 miles per hour could not stop St. Anthony's football. The steady lake-effect snow coming off the frigid shores of Lake Erie and an outstanding opponent in St. Francis of Buffalo could have spelled doom for a Friars team in search of Long Island’s first-ever state football championship. But St. Anthony’s battled through the awful weather conditions and never gave up.
“There is something to say about our resiliency,” St. Anthony’s coach Joe Minucci said. “We braved the elements and showed our true character coming back to win.”
St. Anthony’s erased a 20-point, third quarter deficit, scoring four touchdowns in 13 minutes for a dramatic 27-20 win to capture the school’s first state CHSAA Class AAA crown.
Dynamic senior quarterback Dante Torres directed four straight scoring drives and scored two touchdowns on the run in the comeback. Senior halfback Frank Ruta rushed for 138 yards on 19 carries and two scores. The final play came on a defensive strip sack by defensive end Thomas Mackell at the Friars' 24-yard line.
3. WARD MELVILLE GIRLS SOCCER: WHAT A WEEKEND
A player dreams of scoring the winning goal in the state tournament. Ward Melville’s Mia Pirozzi did it twice. Pirozzi scored the game-winner in overtime in both games less than 24 hours apart. She finished a touch from Adri Victoriano following a long run and through ball by Maddy Costello with 11:32 left in the first overtime period as Ward Melville edged Clarence, 1-0, to claim the Class AA title in Cortland, November 13. A day earlier, Pirozzi finished a cross from Grace Justiniano with 5:10 left in the first overtime for a 1-0 win over Monroe-Woodbury in the state semifinal. It was Ward Melville’s first state title in program history.
4. MANHASSET = TITLETOWN
It was a historic spring season for lacrosse in Manhasset. One of Long Island’s hotbeds for the sport produced boys and girls state lacrosse titles on June 11. The boys defeated Westhill, 13-5, at Hofstra and the girls beat Honeoye Falls-Lima, 17-2, at SUNY Cortland.
“We kind of pushed each other,” said Ashley Newman, a senior midfielder. “It was like, ‘The boys won one, we want to win one,’ and then we’d win the next game and be like, ‘Hopefully they win one, too.’ It really was a special year for both of us.”
The teams were honored with a championship parade. Alexis Morton’s magical postseason run included 26 goals and 17 assists over six playoff games to lead Manhasset to the state Class C title.
5. OLYMPIC HOPEFUL IN GIRLS SWIMMING
Sacred Heart's Cavan Gormsen, a senior from Wantagh, defended her 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle Federation titles and broke her meet and Federation records in the process at the state swimming and diving championships at Webster Aquatic Center. Both of her wins were also in automatic All-American times. She also contributed to the winning 200- and 400-freestyle relays and helped Sacred Heart defend its Federation championship. She was named the meet's Most Outstanding Swimmer.
6. FLAG FOOTBALL DEBUTS
Long Island’s high school sports saw the dawn of a new age with the advent of a full season of girls flag football. There were 17 teams — nine in Nassau County and eight in Suffolk — as part of the Jets X Nike High School Girls Flag Football League. Judging from the enthusiasm, turnout and success of the season, it appears likely more school districts will sponsor the sport in the coming years. The Jets would like to hold Long Island’s championship game next season at MetLife Stadium.
Mepham's Sofia LaSpina — the first female to catch a touchdown pass in a varsity football game on Long Island — quarterbacked the Bellmore-Merrick District to the Nassau and Long Island championships. She threw three touchdown passes as the Chargers overcame a two-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat Suffolk champ Whitman, 30-20, at the Jets’ training facility. She connected with Gabby Hanelin for the go-ahead TD pass with 7:05 to play and was named Newsday’s first Long Island Player of the Year.
7. GRIFFITH RUNS INTO THE LI RECORD BOOKS
North Babylon senior Nathaniel Griffith shattered the Long Island single-game rushing record when ran 38 times for 489 yards and seven touchdowns in a 75-49 victory over Smithtown West on Oct. 1.
The 489 yards eclipsed the 2015 record of 485 set by Plainedge’s Davien Kuinlan in Nassau II. Griffith would credit an offensive line that included his younger brother, Alexander, afterward when he said “without those seven guys this would not have been possible . . . We all share this record.”
His touchdowns that day went on runs of 10, 51, 50, 5, 5, 1 and 16 yards. Griffith finished the season with over 1,700 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.
8. BASEBALL’S DIAMONDS
The shattering of so-called glass ceilings has become common these days and so it was during the high school baseball season. Port Jefferson’s Abby Rolfe and Oyster Bay’s Noelle Boruta played varsity baseball on Long Island last spring.
They took different roads. Rolfe transitioned from softball during the coronavirus pandemic after learning that there wasn’t enough interest for the school to field a team. She was the Royals’ starting leftfielder, a team captain and a middle-of-the-order hitter. She batted .438 and was the first female named All-Suffolk in baseball in Section XI history. Port Jefferson won the Long Island Class C title.
Boruta played Little League baseball and never lost her passion for it, even when presented with softball. After playing summer ball in leagues with the other Baymen, she made the team as an infielder.
9. CLUTCH WHEN IT MATTERED MOST
The word ‘hero’ gets tossed around plenty in sports, but the Chaminade boys basketball program has a pair of true heroes in assistant coach Bob Paul and athletic trainer Jorge Vargas. At a practice on Dec. 6 in the Flyers’ Activities and Athletic Center, starting center PJ Kellachan suffered a seizure, collapsed, and slipped into cardiac arrest. Paul and Vargas resuscitated him by performing CPR and using an automated external defibrillator. Head coach Dan Feeney, who called 911 and dispatched crews of players to hail the ambulance, direct it to the front of the building and clear the path for EMTs, called it “8 to10 harrowing minutes” between the senior’s collapse and the arrival of medical personnel.
Asked to describe the moment when Paul and he finally felt Kellachan’s pulse return, Vargas said “it was like God had touched the three of us.”
Kellachan, who will play basketball at Scranton next year, hopes to be cleared to play again in the second half of the season.
10. AMITYVILLE BOYS SOCCER: TRIUMPH OVER TRAGEDY
The Amityville boys soccer team united to help star midfielder Roberth Perez persevere through the grief of his mother’s untimely death and to overcome all adversaries that dared to come between them and the state Class A championship. Its season ended with a highly emotional and tearful celebration of a 4-0 triumph over Beacon in the state championship game at Middletown High’s Faller Field in November.
Amityville (20-1-1) won its third straight title by first defeating three opponents by an aggregate score of 12-1 to take the Suffolk title and then topped three foes in the state tournament — including Glen Cove, 3-2, in the Long Island championship — by a combined 10-2.
“So many teams begin a season saying they will win the state, but people don’t realize how much has to go into it,” Coach Mike Abbondondolo said. “This group believed in each other. There was self-sacrifice. They were fully committed.”