Just call her Miss Clutch.
If the Riverhead High School field hockey team skipped this entire regular-season business and went straight into the playoffs, that might suit Shannon Schmidt just fine. With Schmidt, you see, the bigger the game, the bigger the moment, the bigger she plays.
That was seen last year. It was Schmidt’s goal with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left in the second half that tied the score at 1-1 before Riverhead won its playoff opener in a shootout, 3-2 over West Babylon. She also made good on her shootout attempt, as did teammates Kayla Kielbasa and Rease Coleman. Then, Schmidt did something few players were able to do last year: She scored a goal against powerhouse Ward Melville in a Suffolk County Class A quarterfinal. Schmidt said she was surprised when the ball landed her way following a deflection, with an open goal in front of her. Schmidt’s fourth goal of the year was the only Riverhead goal in a 6-1 loss, but a feel-good moment, nonetheless, for Schmidt and her teammates.
Asked if the playoffs bring out the best in her, the right midfielder answered: “I guess so. I guess I’m just good under pressure, maybe … middle of the season, I’m just like a normal player, and like towards the end of the season I just get hyped up.”
And that’s no hype.
“I think she’s super clutch in tight situations,” defender Kim Ligon said following the team’s first preseason practice Monday morning. “She doesn’t really let it get to her, overwhelm her, whereas other people might be put in that situation and might like choke, or whatever, but she always handles things so well.”
Coach Cheryl Walsh said Schmidt has a knack for rising to the occasion.
“She doesn’t necessarily score the goals in the games, but she’ll come through in the one v. ones” during shootouts, Walsh said. “She’ll come through in those types of situations. I know that I can count on her.”
Walsh said Schmidt distributes the ball a lot, but “also has a hunger to score.”
That will come in handy for Riverhead, which went 10-7 and reached the playoffs for a fifth straight year in 2016. The Blue Waves are seeded eighth among 24 teams in Suffolk Division I. They return 11 players, including nine starters.
Schmidt and Ligon, the team’s only seniors, are entering their fifth varsity season and are the longest-serving players on the team. They don’t know what it’s like not to reach the playoffs.
While Walsh would like more in the way of quantity (about 25 players reported for Monday morning’s practice), she can’t complain about the quality. “I love the girls that I have and I think they are top-notch and they’re some of the best athletes at Riverhead,” she said. “I’m so proud of them.”
Riverhead is now a full-fledged field-turf team. Last year the Blue Waves played their final regular-season game on their new turf home.
“I’m very, very excited because I feel like it’s the one sport where the surface obviously matters and I think it changes your game,” Walsh said. “It’s just a much quicker game and you have to be really skilled with the ball and keep it on your stick. The passing game is very different.”
Perhaps the biggest position change Riverhead faces this year is replacing goalie Grace Dow, who now plays for Kutztown University of Pennsylvania. The new starting netminder will be junior Victoria Stapon, who has been brought up from the junior varsity team.
But returning players like Kate Goodale, Sarah Rempe, Coleman and Kielbasa will be a steadying influence.
Schmidt, an all-county honorable mention player who is fast at moving up the field, dodging defenders and passing, will do her part. Getting back to the playoffs, she said, would mean the world to her. And if she scores a big goal or two along the way, so much the better.
“It’s probably like the best feeling,” she said of knocking in a big goal, “not for the other team, but for us.”
Photo caption: Shannon Schmidt was a clutch player for Riverhead in the playoffs last year. (Credit: Bob Liepa)