This is Hassan Olowu’s first head coaching job beyond middle school, and he’s excited about being the new coach of the Riverhead High School girls soccer team.
“I’m buzzing,” Olowu, a 34-year-old English citizen, said after a recent practice. “I’m excited. I don’t know if it ever comes out during practice, but I’m always trying to figure out ways to make the team better, give them confidence.”
Although the Blue Waves might have had their best collection of players ever last year, they also played a difficult schedule and finished with a losing season. Olowu and his players have their work cut out for them once again, but it looks as if the Blue Waves are not shortchanging themselves on effort.
“I don’t ever have to question their effort,” Olowu said. “They give a hundred percent on the field. … I’m challenging them in practice. I told them, the harder the practices are, the easier the games are going to be, and vice-versa.”
Two all-county players, junior forward/midfielder Ashley Drozd and senior defender Tanya Rast, are undisputed talents on opposite ends of the field.
“These are players that in many ways just let their soccer do the talking,” Olowu said. “They give maximum effort in practice and they assert themselves through their play in the field. Nothing short of admirable.”
Savannah Smith, a senior defender, was the team’s most valuable player last year. Emily Oruc, a senior defender, is one of the team leaders. Alex McKillop, a junior forward, has made strides. Rachel Conti, a sophomore midfielder, was brought onto the varsity team late last season and performed wonderfully, said Olowu.
The goalkeeping situation isn’t settled, but to hear Olowu talk about it, that may not be a problem so much as a blessing. He has Carolyn Carrera, a sophomore, and Amanda Gallo, a senior, to choose from. They both can play in the field, too.
“I have two quality goalies, so it’s a great situation for any coach to have,” Olowu said. He added: “One of the things I like about them both is their mental toughness. They have different qualities, unquestionably, but I’m comfortable starting either one. It’s the kind of headache that any coach wants.”
Among the team’s 11 seniors are: Tyesha Harrell, Christina Stapon, Catherine Romero, Corrine Moore, Joanna Kurzyna, Alicia Kratoville and Amber Dillon.
The roster also includes Megan Weiss, Shelby Britt, Rachel Blank, Emily Jehle, Katie McKillop, Sierra Roces and Megan Brunner.
“I have a lot of players who have shown a lot of grit and a lot of ability,” Olowu said. “As long as they have a jersey, they have a role to play. No one’s here to make up numbers. So, the truth is, anybody here can make an impact.”
From one coach to the next, one thing has always remained constant at Shoreham-Wading River over the past six years: winning.
Stability at head coach for the varsity team, as well as with the coaches on the lower levels, has been hard to come by for Shoreham.
Now with Adrian Gilmore taking over the program, the Wildcats hope they have the right person in place who will look to lead the team for years to come.
“I definitely want to stay,” Gilmore said before the Wildcats’ scrimmage against William Floyd on Monday. “I plan on coaching as long as I’m teaching, if they’ll let me.”
Gilmore, a fifth-grade teacher for six years at the Miller Avenue School and a former soccer player at William Floyd High School, became the fourth head coach in as many years when she was formally hired at the end of August. She is the fifth coach the team has had since 2005. In each season since that point the team has made it to the playoffs, a destination they will be in good position to reach again with a talented core of returning players.
“So far the girls are really great,” Gilmore said. “A really nice group of kids that just want to do well.”
Gilmore played soccer at Concordia College in Westchester and later coached at Bronxville and Edgemont. She was waiting for a coaching opportunity at Shoreham and happened to call one day to throw her name in the mix for any positions that might have been available. She heard back about the varsity position and soon after had the job.
While she wasn’t formally approved until the end of August, she knew she was in line for the job. So she got the chance to see about nine or 10 of the girls play in the Town of Brookhaven Summer League.
“I went to a lot of the summer games,” she said. “They didn’t know who I was. A couple parents thought I was from the newspaper because I was taking notes.”
The Wildcats advanced to the Suffolk County Class A semifinals last year, falling by 3-0 to Islip after beating Elwood/John Glenn in the opening round.
They return an impressive core, led by Syracuse-bound Kari Quinn. Since erupting for 16 goals as an eighth-grader, Quinn has been a dominant force for the Wildcats at whatever end of the field she plays. Last year in an all-state season, Quinn tallied 10 goals and 10 assists.
“It’s really nice to see someone who can control the field in such a positive way,” Gilmore said. “She’s a team player.”
Another key midfielder returning is senior Shannon McDonnell, who scored eight goals with seven assists last year in an all-county season. Quinn and McDonnell are the captains along with senior Victoria Creta, who was all-league last season.
Meghan Seabrook, who missed some time last year because of injury, gives the Wildcats another scoring threat.
In goal, the Wildcats return sophomore Kelly Wynkoop, who started last year. “She looked awesome over the summer,” Gilmore said.
Alex Amato will anchor the defense at sweeper. She is currently out with an injury and should return in the next few weeks, Gilmore said. With Amato out, the Wildcats will use Kate Birkmire and Meghan Serdock at sweeper.
Gilmore said they have some youth on the team as well with several freshmen.
Jacki Paton sounds excited when she talks about her Bishop McGann-Mercy team, and for good reason. The Monarchs may do some exciting things this season. Over the course of several days, Paton said, the Monarchs made about two weeks worth of progress.
“We’re young, inexperienced, but overall, the young kids coming in have some more soccer background, so we’re going to go through our ups and downs, but when we’re in those ups, it’s going to be exciting soccer,” the coach said. “We’re going to create more on the offensive end.”
The team is built around five returning starters in senior midfielder Brieanne Bieber, senior forward Karlin McIntyre, senior midfielder Victoria Tremble, senior sweeper Amanda Burriesci and junior defender Shannon Willmott. Two other players are back, sophomore defender Nicole Spezzacatena and junior midfielder Phillipa Ross.
The team’s starting lineup includes three freshmen and an eighth-grader. The eighth-grader, goalkeeper Juliana Cintron-Leonardo, is one of those exciting players.
“She’s all athleticism, and she makes some one-handed saves,” Paton said. “She is fun to watch.”
Meghan Bossone, a freshman midfielder, has earned a place in the starting 11 along with freshman midfielder Hannah Steinhauer, freshman defender Claire Sullivan and sophomore forward Kayla Schroeher.
Also new to the team are junior defender Courtney Walsh, sophomore midfielder Ashley Busuttil, freshman defender Marta Wyszynski, sophomore defender Selena Garcia and junior midfielder Carol Pollock.
Paton sees plenty of potential in the new players. On top of that, she has a steady player in Bieber controlling midfield, a scoring threat in McIntyre, a wall on defense in Burriesci, and Tremble running the wing.
Joe Werkmeister contributed to this article.