ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead junior Maria Dillingham passes the ball between Shoreham’s Erin Blomberg and goalie Emily DeGennero to teammate Katelyn Zaneski, hidden at the moment behind the goalie, for the game-winning goal.
BLUE WAVES 1, WILDCATS 0 (OT)
Riverhead junior Maria Dillingham considered joining the cross country team this fall. It would have been a decision hard for anyone to question.
As a distance runner in winter and spring track, Dillingham was routinely one of the fastest girls for the Blue Waves. In the Division III Championship last spring, she finished fifth in the difficult 2,000-meter steeplechase event.
“I thought I was going to run cross country until I went to running camp,” Dillingham said. “And I was like, ‘This isn’t for me.’ ”
The cross country team’s loss is the field hockey team’s gain.
The speed that makes Dillingham an outstanding track athlete also helps her excel as a forward in field hockey. Her speed helped set up the game-winning goal in overtime Saturday morning as the Blue Waves opened the 2013 season with a 1-0 non-league victory over Shoreham-Wading River.
Dillingham raced through a pair of Shoreham defenders on a breakaway before crossing a pass in front of the goal to sophomore Katelyn Zaneski, who knocked the ball into the net for the game’s lone goal.
“Dillingham is really, really quick and when she’s on, she’s on,” said Riverhead coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards. “Zaneski, what she does very well is her touches. She has a beautiful stick in there so if the ball is fed to her she can touch it right into the goal.”
The Blue Waves hope the combination of Dillingham and Zaneski can create plenty of scoring chances this year.
“Dynamic duo over here,” Dillingham said with a laugh.
Whether it’s Dillingham or Zaneski carrying the ball up field, they each know they can count on their teammate being in the right spot to receive a pass.
“It depends on what side the ball is,” Zaneski said.
“She can carry across to me or I carry across to her,” Dillingham added.
The two teamed up for the game-winner with 4:35 left in overtime. In the 10-minute extra session, the teams play only six players on the field plus a goalie. That opens up the game and creates more breakaway opportunities.
Just the kind of game that allows Dillingham and Zaneski to excel.
“You need a quick team out there,” Walsh-Edwards said. “Dillingham can get a breakaway and if Zaneski is in the right spot, she’s going to score. It is exciting. It’s something hopefully we can build on as the season goes on.”
Zaneski was called up from JV midway through last season. She scored her first varsity goal in a 5-0 win over Greenport last October.
This, though, was her most dramatic goal of her young career.
“It’s a lot harder game moving up from JV,” Zaneski said.
As a freshman last year Zaneski got a taste of what varsity play was like as a reserve. This year, she’ll take on a much bigger role as a starter.
“I think she’s stronger,” Walsh-Edwards said. “A year older has made a lot of difference. She has a little bit more finesse up there with her stick. She definitely has things to work on. She’s young, but I’m looking forward to working with her.”
Saturday’s game was the first live game-action for both teams. Neither team was able to get a scrimmage in before the start of the season.
The Wildcats came out of the gates sharper and had several good scoring chances in the first half that they couldn’t convert. By the time the second half started, the Blue Waves began to get their legs under them and generate some chances of their own.
“We did everything to win the game,” said Shoreham coach J.M. Jackson. “We had more corners, more shots and controlled the ball. I’d say 95 percent of the first half was being able to finish.”
All four of Riverhead’s penalty corners came in the second half and overtime. The Wildcats had six corners.
Saturday’s game was the varsity debut for two Shoreham freshmen who have bright futures. Forward Taylor Flanagan and midfielder Melissa Manzello both got a lot of playing time, including in overtime.
“I think they’re going to have very good careers,” Jackson said. “They play well with each other and they’re very skilled for a young age.”
During the Wildcats’ recent heyday, including a run of four straight county championships from 2007-10, they often had the Blue Waves’ number — along with most every other team.
But the Blue Waves finally broke through last year and won a game against Shoreham on penalty strokes. Beating the Wildcats again Saturday was an ideal way to start the season for Riverhead.
“This year it was our turn,” Dillingham said.