Girls Soccer Preview: Wildcats have set a tough standard for themselves

Lydia Kessel, a sophomore goalkeeper, recorded 17 shutouts last year and was Shoreham-Wading River's most valuable player. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

Shoreham-Wading River may be hardpressed to duplicate last year’s amazing girls soccer season, but the Wildcats will certainly try.

Scoring 65 goals, surrendering only five and registering a 20-0-1 mark before losing to perennial New York State Class A power South Side in the Long Island championship certainly is a hard act to follow.

“It will be hard to repeat another county championship, but they should have another great year,” coach Adrian Gilmore said.

Buoyed by 17 returning players and seven starters, Gilmore certainly is optimistic as the team makes its final preparation for the Suffolk County League VI season.

Start with senior striker Megan Kelly, a four-year varsity player and a captain and all-state selection. Gilmore said Kelly was one of the fastest players on the field and “a real playmaker.”

Continue with another captain, junior Alex Kuhnle, a dominant left-sided midfielder and all-state selection whose crosses into the middle can be lethal. In fact, Gilmore thinks Kuhnle could play in Division I in college if she continues her fine form.

Move on back to defense with junior sweeper Sam Higgins, whose steady play has anchored the back line.

“Sam is a kid who leads by example,” Gilmore said. “She’s like having another coach on the field.”

And finish with the team’s most valuable player, sophomore goalkeeper Lydia Kessel, who recorded 17 shutouts. “Kessel’s a big voice in the back,” Gilmore said.

Co-captains Kelly and Kuhnle have made their voices felt as well. They have come up with a series of rules to live by and presented them to the team. For example, one is: Friendship off the field makes stronger commitments on the field.

Judging by the team’s recent success, Shoreham sounds like a rather close team.

If the Wildcats have a weakness, it’s that they have only two new players on the varsity team. Call it the cycle of high school athletics.

But don’t cry for Gilmore and her team.

“The middle school, we have some great players,” she said. “We’re just waiting for them to come up.”

This year’s cast of varsity players should give the opposition enough headaches. Perhaps the Wildcats will go deep in the playoffs once again.

When the new Riverhead coach, Brian Cunningham, says his team is going to be young this season, he isn’t exaggerating.

The Blue Waves will boast not one, not two, but three players from the middle school to help bolster a Blue Waves team that finished 1-14 last season.

“They’re very skillful on the ball,” Cunningham said. “They have great knowledge of the game and they’re just workhorses. They just work and work and work.”

Cunningham was the Riverhead Middle School coach, so he is quite familiar with the newcomers. And that doesn’t include a pair of freshmen who played for him as well.

Forward Anastasia Staton played with the varsity as a freshman last season. She is joined by freshman midfielder Isabella Carson, who played with the junior varsity team last year, and three eighth-graders — midfielder Megan McIntosh and midfielder/forwards Hailey Nitti and Krista Romer.

“They’re dedicated to the sport,” Cunningham said. “They’re travel soccer players and dedicated to the program. That’s what I want to do — to build a program.”

Riverhead has some veterans that Cunningham will rely on in senior defender Megan Brunner and junior midfielder Marisa Murgolo.

The Blue Waves have nowhere to go but up.

“We’re ripping out the negativity from last season,” Cunningham said. “It’s a brand new team.”

He continued, “As a young team, I realize they’re going to be adjustments on the field.”

But Cunningham believes the program already has begun to turn the corner.

“The girls are integrated with each other,” he said. “They have a good feel on the field because they know what they want to be. They also live and breathe the game. We really haven’t had that in Riverhead. We’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.”

Cunningham’s goals include improving from last year, finishing above .500 and making it into the Suffolk Class AA Tournament.

“We’ll see how they respond,” he said. “There’s hope. The girls are looking forward to accomplishing some goals.”

Bishop McGann-Mercy (8-8-1) lost to Mattituck in a Suffolk Class B outbracket game. The Monarchs’ coach could not be reached prior to the deadline.

Photo Caption: Lydia Kessel, a sophomore goalkeeper, recorded 17 shutouts last year and was Shoreham-Wading River’s most valuable player. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)