After reaching the high school field hockey playoffs last year, Riverhead coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards has a simple, yet straightforward goal for the Blue Waves this year: Go further into the postseason.
The Blue Waves (8-7 last year) just might be in a position to do that with a bulk of their team returning, losing only their starting goalie and one defender.
“I think it’s going to be a successful season,” Walsh-Edwards said. “We’ve got many people around.”
Walsh-Edwards’ optimism starts with all-county senior midfielder Danielle Napoli and senior midfielder Maria Dillingham, an all-county honorable mention selection.
Napoli is “an all-around great athlete,” Walsh-Edwards said. “She feeds the forward line well.”
Dillingham is “a runner. She has incredible speed,” the coach said. “She’s more of an offensive midfielder, compared to Dani, who is more defensive.”
Walsh-Edwards’ optimism also is bolstered by the presence of two all-division players in junior center forward Katelyn Zaneski and junior forward Emily Masse.
“She’s a fierce competitor,” Walsh-Edwards said of Zaneski, who was one of the team’s leading scorers in 2013. “She gets stronger and stronger each day.”
Masse’s stick skills make her dangerous in the circle, Walsh-Edwards said.
Four-year starter Amanda Baron is expected to be one of the back line anchors at left back.
“I call her the mother of the team, the cookie baker,” Walsh-Edwards said. “She’s that kind of kid. She’s played all over the place. She’s a hard worker. She understands all positions and I can rotate her at midfield.”
Baron is following in the footsteps of her older sister Brittney, who also stood out for the Blue Waves.
Another key defender is senior Shannon Harden, a three-year starter who is expected to play right back, whose older sister also came through the Riverhead program.
“We’ll probably have the most experience on defense,” Walsh-Edwards said.
Backstopping the defense will be a sophomore up from the junior varsity team, Grace Dow, who probably will have to adjust to the faster pace of varsity.
“The first thing she noticed it was a different game,” Walsh-Edwards said, adding that Dow said “everything is coming at her more quickly.”
But Walsh-Edwards has been encouraged by what she has seen of her 10th grader, who played and worked on her goaltending skills in the off-season. “I think each game she’ll get better and better,” she said.
There will be plenty of challenges as a sophomore giving instructions to older and more experienced teammates.
“It’s difficult for kids trying to talk to teammates who are in 11th and 12th grade,” Walsh-Edwards said. “It takes a little bit of adjustment.”
Other returning players include three juniors — forwards Carlie Hayon and Milce Garcia and defender Emily Pearce — and two seniors — forward Amanda Dickerson and defender Marissa Palermo.
Newcomers to the squad include four freshmen (forward Shannon Schmidt, sweeper Kimberlyn Ligon, defender Allyson Okula and midfielder-forward Janelle Carey) and two seniors trying their hand at the sport (forward Katie McKillop, who makes the jump from soccer, and defender Isabelle Acosta).
Riverhead was seeded fifth in Suffolk County Division II. The Blue Waves’ biggest challenges are expected to be Newfield, West Islip, East Islip and Smithtown East.
West Islip eliminated Riverhead from last year’s playoffs as the Blue Waves picked up momentum with a 7-4 finish after a 1-3 start.
“We have a track record of starting slower,” Walsh-Edwards said. “We’re always a better team at the end of the season.”
Just in time to peak for the playoffs.