On the bus ride back from Cortland after the Shoreham-Wading River girls lacrosse team won the state championship in June, it didn’t take long for the conversation to turn toward the future.
Several girls were already looking ahead to next fall and the start of field hockey season. On the bus with them, assistant coach J.M. Jackson also had an eye on the next season. After seven years coaching JV field hockey and assisting with the varsity, Jackson was about to take over the varsity program that for decades was under Lea Calligeros.
Jackson is now the coach of one of the most successful field hockey programs in Suffolk County, a team loaded with returning players. Calligeros opted to retire at the end of last season after an illustrious career that included a state championship in 1997 and four straight county titles from 2007-10.
For someone who never played the sport — field hockey is predominantly a female sport in America — Jackson said he learned under Calligeros as he got a better feeling for coaching the sport over the years.
Last spring Jackson contemplated taking a year off from coaching as he went through a difficult time with his father passing away. But he ultimately felt an obligation toward continuing what Calligeros had built.
“It would have broke my heart to see that many returning kids have a new coach come into the program and basically start everything over,” Jackson said.
The Wildcats saw their run of county titles come to an end last season when they were knocked off in the first round of the playoffs. While the Wildcats did lose their top two players in Debi-Michelle Jantzen and Kaitlyn Taddeo — both of whom are playing Division I field hockey in college now — they return a strong core that should have the team in the hunt once again for the top spot in the county.
“I think the girls from a very early time recognized that everyone was going to have to step up to get this done this year,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have to spread out our scoring, spread out our points and pretty much move up the field as a unit.”
Senior Christina Malave returns as a versatile player for Shoreham who can play both defense and midfield. Senior Lauren Lustgarten will be a “mainstay on defense,” Jackson said, along with Kim Pflumm.
Senior Kendal Conway, who started last year in goal, returns between the pipes. Senior Amanda DeGennaro returns as a midfielder/forward.
The Wildcats have gotten some new players to join the team this year as well from the lacrosse team. Seniors Clare Blomberg and Alex Fehmel both decided to join the team this fall.
Blomberg played on the JV as a sophomore and had a strong season. She decided not to play last year and focus on preparing for lacrosse. Fehmel, meanwhile, had never played field hockey before deciding to give it a go as a senior.
Last year Alyssa Fleming joined the team for the first time as a senior and had an immediate impact as one of the team’s leading scorers. Fehmel, who will play forward, could have a similar impact.
“She just knows where to be on the field,” Jackson said. “She knows how to get open.”
Blomberg informed Jackson her intentions to play field hockey again on the bus ride back from Cortland. Fehmel overhead them talking about it and she expressed her own interest in playing.
“We joked around and I didn’t know if she was serious at the time,” Jackson said. “We’ve come to find that she’s been training pretty hard with some of the girls over the summer.”
The Wildcats will have a couple tough scrimmages to get ready for the season, including against Ward Melville, one of the top teams in Class A every year.
In Division III the Wildcats can expect the usual cast of teams to be the top competition. Miller Place, the team that knocked Shoreham out of the playoffs last year, returns another deep, talented team. Jackson said last year the Panthers had eight or nine girls playing JV who would have been good enough to make the varsity at most schools.
The Wildcats will find out soon enough how they match up against the Panthers. The two teams open up against each other in Division III Sept. 13.