A program still trying to gain traction in the competitive landscape of Suffolk County girls soccer, the Riverhead Blue Waves opted to join the developmental league last year.
That meant no shot at the playoffs, but it also meant a few more wins and competitive games. The developmental league, which featured schools from across the county that would have struggled in their respective leagues, was originally thought to be a two-year commitment for Riverhead.
But the Blue Waves will find themselves back in League III this year, against teams like Smithtown East, Half Hollow Hills West and West Islip. Placement for schools is done on a year-by-year basis, according to Section XI assistant director Donald Webster. The schools must request to join a league such as the developmental league, Webster said.
Riverhead coach Hassan Olowu said he found out the team would be out of the developmental league, which still exists, during the summer. Olowu said they plan to take another look at the developmental league after this season.
“We’re trying to keep our development going,” he said. “But we do use this as a measuring stick to see where we are as a team. A couple of the girls are going to be here for a couple of years. We’re going to see where we are as a group and then reevaluate at the end of the season.”
The developmental league this year features Amityville, Central Islip, William Floyd, Southampton, Hampton Bays and Copiague.
Olowu, who’s entering his third year as varsity coach, said the team is looking forward to the opportunity to take on greater competition.
“We are looking to start the league with a blast,” he said. “We’re going to be very forceful and we’re going at every team.”
The Blue Waves will rely on the veteran experience of goalkeeper Carolyn Carrera to anchor their defense. A Hofstra University recruit for both soccer and lacrosse, Carrera will serve as team captain this year.
“She gives the team a quiet kind of confidence,” Olowu said.
The Blue Waves will get a boost this fall with the return of junior Katie McKillop, who had her entire year wiped out last year while she recovered from an injury. McKillop can play anywhere on the field and will see time up front and in the midfield.
Sophomore Aleah Gonzalez will be relied on to provide some of the offense for the Blue Waves, who lost their leading scorer to graduation.
Senior Emily Jehle returns at center midfield. Sophomore Kelly Garcia will play in both the midfield and on defense and sophomore Keily Molina will play in the midfield.
The Blue Waves open the non-league season Sept. 11 against Rocky Point. The league season begins Sept. 12 at home against Newfield.
“We have a few tough games but I’m quite sure the girls can handle it,” Olowu said. “They’re a tough bunch.”
It had been a long time since the Shoreham-Wading River Wildcats underwent a true rebuilding year. Before last season, the Wildcats had strung together a consistent run of playoff appearances.
That streak came to an end when the Wildcats finished one point shy of a playoff spot last season in a year where most of the team’s losses were by one goal.
“I think losing such key players the year before, they didn’t have the confidence they have now,” said Shoreham coach Adrian Gilmore.
After a busy offseason and a successful summer league, the Wildcats return the core of last year’s team with more experience and the confidence to take the next step back to becoming a playoff team.
To make that happen requires an obvious solution: score more goals. Executing that is the tricker part.
“This offseason we really worked on shooting and playing in and around the 18,” Gilmore said. “Just having that confidence to take more shots.”
The Wildcats have plenty of talent spread across the field. Junior Courtney Clasen has been a key player the past two years and will be relied upon in the midfield and as a goal scorer.
Sophomore Meghan Kelly can provide goal scoring for Shoreham. Kelly had an impressive season last year as a ninth-grader on varsity and put in double-digit goals during the summer league.
Freshman Alex Kuhnle should help increase scoring chances. Kuhnle played on the varsity summer league team and quickly made an impression.
She showed off a strong left foot and a tremendous ability to place the ball where she wants it.
“She has great ball skills and I’m excited to see her play with the full team,” Gilmore said.
Kuhnle will be a key player on both ends of the field for Shoreham.
On defense, the Wildcats return senior Kate Birkmire at sweeper. Senior Logan Hoffman, who played mostly in the midfield last year, will switch to stopper on defense this year.
“She’s kind of my voice on the field,” Gilmore said.
In the net, the Wildcats return senior Kelly Wynkoop, a varsity starter since her freshman season.
The Wildcats have a smaller roster this year than in the past, with 19 girls on varsity and 16 on JV. Gilmore said the future still looks bright, though, with a big group of athletes currently in eighth grade. At Shoreham, eighth-graders can’t move up to JV, only to varsity if they’re deemed capable of playing at that level.
In League VI this year the Wildcats will face the typically strong competition like Miller Place and Bayport-Blue Point.
Shoreham will play two scrimmages before the season begins Sept. 11 with a non-league game Eastport-South Manor. The league season kicks off Sept. 16 against John Glenn.