Brrrr!!! It was cold outside on Monday afternoon, with a biting wind to boot.
The first day of spring sports practice is usually not as pleasant as it sounds. Then again, it was lacrosse weather, and that was appropriate.
To the candidates trying out for the first Riverhead High School girls varsity lacrosse team, the sense that they were involved in something historic might have been a warming thought.
“We’re starting something new,” said Emily Oruc, a junior defenseman/middie who said that years ago she didn’t even know that lacrosse existed as an option for female athletes.
The Blue Waves, who will play in Suffolk County Division I, are venturing into the varsity game after two junior varsity seasons. Riverhead will open its season with a non-league game on March 22 against the Matttituck/Greenport/Southold Tuckers at Cutchogue West Elementary School.
“We’re excited to start this new era of girls lacrosse in Riverhead,” said Rich D’Alsace, the coach of the newest entry to Riverhead’s varsity sports lineup. “The program’s growing and it’s another step forward, and we’re all excited about it.”
D’Alsace, 28, estimated that about 44 players attended Monday’s tryout. He said players will be split into varsity and JV teams on Thursday. The varsity team is expected to consist of 18 to 20 players.
Players ran, participated in drills, and ran some more under the watchful gaze of D’Alsace, his assistant coach, Jim Janecek, and the JV coach, Tracy Carron.
The Blue Waves are not totally green to this game. Most of the candidates have prior lacrosse experience, and D’Alsace figures that 15 players from last year’s JV team will be on the varsity team.
Some of the players play on travel teams. Carolyn Carrera, a freshman center midfielder, is one of Riverhead’s more experienced players, taking up lacrosse when she was in third grade. Because no girls program was available at the time, she started out playing against boys in her first three years in the sport.
Still, the jump from JV to varsity lacrosse is a significant one, not to be taken lightly.
“I think the speed of the game is really what’s going to set it apart,” D’Alsace said. “They’re used to one speed. They’ve always played at this speed. We can practice it, we can drill it, we can talk about it, but until they get on the field for the first time, that’s going to be something that they’re going to need to deal with.”
Carrera said: “It’s going to be a lot faster, a lot more faster and intense. We just need to work up to that level.”
True enough, the pace of varsity play is faster and players are more aggressive, but junior attackman Bethany Peters is confident the team will be able to adjust. “I honestly don’t think it will be that big of a jump because if you think about it, we’ve played these same girls before” at lower levels, she said. “I think it’s going to be a little bit of a leap, but I think we can handle it.”
The Blue Waves are bolstered by the fact that they are coming off a winning season at the JV level, which D’Alsace said was a big step in the program’s development.
New beginnings are nothing new to players like sophomore attackman Megan Conroy, who played for Riverhead’s first middle school team as well as its first JV team. “I think it’s not going to be as bad as everyone expects it to be because … we’ll be playing the same girls,” she said. “They might be getting a little bit better, but so are we.”
Because the schedules in girls lacrosse are power rated, the Blue Waves will theoretically play against teams roughly similar in ability. That gives them a sense that they can be competitive.
“I would like to see us definitely win games, and we’re going to have tough losses,” Carrera said. “It comes with the territory. But whether we win or lose, we’re in it together as a team. We’re improving with everything we do. It’s just part of the process.”
D’Alsace is not about to sell his team short, either. “My number one goal is to be competitive,” he said. “I understand that there’s going to be a learning curve, and I understand that we’re going to have our losses, but with the power-ranking system that we have in girls lacrosse, I do expect to win games, and I don’t find it impossible to be a winning season.”
Conroy said: “We’re really just hoping for a lot of improvement. Win or lose, that’s really what we want. You can only hope for the best.”