Coach rebounds from illness

Coach Stephen Piorowski leads his team at Bayside High School during practice. Photo by Jon Premosch
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Steve Piorkowski has a smile on his face and a megaphone in hand, spouting play by play like a street ball announcer while watching his Bayside girls’ basketball team practice. It is a scene hard to believe possible a year ago.

This time last season the longtime coach was bound to a neck brace and a wheelchair as he battled myeloma and a compression fracture and absorption of his C6 vertebra. He has since recovered quicker than anyone thought possible.

There is still some work to be done as he is nearly halfway through a six-month period of chemotherapy every Monday to lower his blood plasma levels. Still, Piorkowski is happy to be back with his team. Being in first place is only a bonus.

“I don’t know how to accurately describe it,” he said. “To get in the building in September was a big goal. To get back to coaching basketball in November is a big goal. To have us be 10-1 right now is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Piorkowski was unsure how good his team was going to be. Bayside lost four starters from a squad that with him in mind made a Cinderella run to the PSAL Class A semifinals as a No. 38 seed. His outlook changed the minute he saw freshmen Jasmine Brunson and Theresa Leung. He knew he had something special.

“Right away,” Piorkowski said.

The athletic Brunson, who plays her travel ball with Positive Direction, has been a revelation for the Commodores. She is averaging 22.3 points per game and 5.4 assists. Leung is averaging nine points and has taken over the point guard duties from senior Jada Munoz, who moved to power forward.

“It balances the team out,” Munoz said.

They are winning even though neither freshman has been completely healthy all season. Brunson has had a nagging knee injury and Leung is recovering from a foot problem. So far they have fit in seamlessly with returning forward Lauren Stanton and role players Vanessa Jimenz and Brittany Naposki, allowing them to push the pace and press. It’s a mix of players with great potential.

“I think we can go really far,” Brunson said. “Everyone on this team has talent. There is nothing we can’t do.”

The Commodores will see just how far in the coming weeks when they have a chance to claim the division title. They can avenge their only loss to August Martin and try to beat Forest Hills for the second time. Both have just one loss as well.

The players not only want to do it for themselves but for Piorkowski, who they call inspirational. He wasn’t around for their run to the semifinals last season. They want him to experience that this time around.

“We definitely want to take him on the ride,” Munoz said.

Posted 9:02 pm, January 31, 2013
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Reader feedback

Susan from Massapequa says:
This is so encouraging. Keep up the good work and never give up!

Thanks to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation for working so hard to create awareness and the drugs to help fight this disease.
Feb. 7, 2013, 8:46 am

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