BOB LIEPA FILE PHOTO | Melodee Riley led Riverhead with 13 goals last season and received all-county honorable mention.
There are no bull’s-eyes hanging in the Shoreham-Wading River field hockey team’s locker room with Garden City logos plastered across them. For four straight seasons the Wildcats have fallen in the Long Island championship game to the Trojans, consistently one of the best teams in the state.
As they begin a new season this year, the Wildcats’ thoughts remain far removed from any chance of redemption that may come their way in November.
“We keep our goals to the regular season,” said Shoreham Coach Lea Calligeros. “We don’t talk about anything but making the playoffs. We don’t talk about anything beyond that.”
That emphasis on the present has helped the Wildcats maintain near flawless regular-reason records. They approach each game with a clear focus, always respecting the opponent’s capability. And in a sport where one goal is often the difference between victory and defeat, they’ve time and time again emerged on top even as the bull’s-eye is centered on them.
The Wildcats open the 2011 season in pursuit of a fifth straight county title and ninth in school history. While they lost 11 players from last season, they return two of the best in Suffolk County. Seniors Debi-Michelle Jantzen and Kaitlyn Taddeo are two versatile players who can dominate up and down the field. Mostly, though, they make their biggest impact where it matters most: by scoring.
Jantzen, an all-American last season, led Long Island in points last year with 42. She was also a first-team all-Long Island player. In the Wildcats’ county championship win against previously unbeaten Sayville last fall, Jantzen scored three goals.
Taddeo, a two-time all-county player, finished last season with 30 points and was the fourth highest scorer in the county.
“They’ve been with me for a long time,” Calligeros said. “We’re ready for our last hurrah together.”
ROBERT O'ROURK FILE PHOTO | Last season Kaitlyn Taddeo tallied 30 points for Shoreham-Wading River, the fourth-highest point total in Suffolk County.
Senior Kristin Torres, who plays defense, is another key returnee. An all-division player, Torres contributed offensively as well last year with 10 assists. Most of those came via penalty corners, where Torres was key in setting up shots for her teammates.
Senior Amanda Hearney returns to play forward and a newcomer to the team is senior Alyssa Fleming, who is in her first year playing field hockey.
“Alyssa’s been a great addition to our team,” Calligeros said. “She’s a hard worker, upbeat, positive personality.”
The bulk of the team is made up of juniors, most of whom are returnees to varsity.
Junior Christina Malave returns on defense where she started last year. In goal the Wildcats turn to a new starter in Kendal Conway, who was a backup last season.
“She’s worked hard in the off-season,” Calligeros said. “I think she just needs a little experience. She really knows the position.”
The Wildcats will open the season Thursday at home against Port Jefferson.
Calligeros said she expects the competition in Division III to be just as strong as it has been in the past.
“It’ll be a challenging season as usual,” she said. “We’re a strong division and I think that’s what helps us in playoffs as a group is that we’re pretty battle ready by the end of the season.”
For the second straight year, the Riverhead Blue Waves finished in seventh place in Division III, and for the second straight year, they fell one agonizing place shy of a coveted playoff berth.
So, again, the Blue Waves are seeded seventh in the division — for the second year in a row.
“We’re always talking about this year being our year or next year being our year,” Riverhead Coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards said. “I’m hoping it’s this year. It’s the same type of situation where we need to beat the people below us, definitely, and upset a team that’s ahead of us in order to try to get in there.”
Of course, that is easier said than done in a division that includes the likes of Shoreham-Wading River, the Miller Place Panthers, the Comsewogue Warriors and the Pierson/Bridgehampton Whalers. The Blue Waves, who lost only two players from last year’s team, are determined, but determination alone isn’t enough to reach the playoffs.
“I don’t think there’s one of them that doesn’t want it, and they’re all working hard towards it,” Walsh-Edwards said. “… But they know what we’re up against. We’re in a tough division. We have a very tough schedule. You can’t take anything for granted.”
Melodee Riley, a senior forward, led Riverhead with 13 goals last season and was rewarded with all-county honorable mention. The third-year varsity player can run like a deer.
“She’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Walsh-Edwards said. “She’s like lightning, works very hard in practice. She’s good at whatever she does.”
Junior midfielders Christy Brewer and Amanda Graziano were both all-league choices. Brittney Baron, a senior midfielder, is in her fourth year of varsity play. Allison Doscinski, the senior goaltender who posted several shutouts last season, is another returning starter along with senior forward Sabrina Harris, junior defender Christina Sacchitello and junior defender/forward Corinne Kimmelman.
Riverhead is blessed with experience. Defenders Vanessa Martin, Jenna Kockenmeister and Rebecca Kerr-Smith as well as forwards Jocelyn Zaneski and Sydney Kito are also back for another season.
Five new players have been added to the squad: goaltender Maria Dillingham, defender Gabriella Serpico, midfielder/defender Danielle Napoli and forwards Rebecca Reilly and Amanda Baron.
“Their passing game, it’s something that we’ve been working on,” Walsh-Edwards said. “To move to the next level, we definitely have to improve that.”
“I’m excited,” she continued. “I think we have a lot of pockets of speed out there. If we get the stick skills up to our speed, hopefully we can reach our goal.”
Bob Liepa contributed to this article.