This could turn out to be one special season for the Shoreham-Wading River High School girls soccer team.
The Wildcats return 10 seniors and lost only three players to graduation, so they are primed to go a long way.
“If they work hard, states are not out of reach for them,” coach Adrian Gilmore said. “They’re great athletes. Soccer is a game of a little luck and I hope the luck is on our side this year.”
Gilmore was referring to the Wildcats’ elimination from the Suffolk County Class A semifinals, a 1-0 loss to Elwood/John Glenn.
If there are any weaknesses on this year’s team, League VI opponents will be hard-pressed to find them because Shoreham (13-3-1) is solid at every position.
Start in goal with junior Lydia Kessel, a three-year starter who was a sixth-team All-State selection and who has the county career shutout record in her sights.
“She’s a phenomenal goalie and she has a very strong defense in front of her,” Gilmore said. “She also owns the field. I don’t worry about what happens back there.”
Continue with senior defender Sam Higgins, who anchors the back line along with senior Ali Cacace, who has played through several injuries.
Senior midfielder Alex Kunhle, a fourth-team All-State selection, is devastating from the left side, whether it is free kicks, shooting or passing. But since the Wildcats will play home matches on a narrower turf field for the first time, Gilmore wants Kuhnle to go to goal more.
“She such a great leader,” Gilmore said. “I’ve seen her take the younger girls under her wing.”
Junior Sophie Triandafils and senior Sarah Stietzle round out the midfield.
Striker Megan Kelly, a first-team All-State choice, will be difficult to replace. But Gilmore said the tandem of sophomore Nicky Constant, a finesse player, and junior Erin Triandafils, a speed merchant, could become be a difficult front-line combination to handle.
Following a team tradition, the seniors created a new motto this season: Practice like you’ve never won; perform like you’ve never lost.
Added Gilmore: “I always say to the girls: ‘Every team wants to beat you, so you have to play harder.’ ”
Riverhead (0-14) won’t have an elite team, but the Blue Waves’ program has continued to grow and expand. Second-year coach Brian Cunningham saw 39 girls come out and the middle school team will have not one, but two squads.
“We’ve shown a tremendous growth,” he said. “It looks like it’s going to be a good season.”
Riverhead has moved up to League II due school population growth.
Not unlike last year, the Blue Waves will be a young team, but one with more experience.
Freshman Krista Romer, who had plenty of varsity time as a defender last year, will play at forward or midfielder as the team’s scoring threat.
“She’s particularly crafty with the ball,” Cunningham said. “She was one of our bright spots.”
The back line is set with senior Julia Thomas, sophomore Isabella Carson and freshman Megan McIntosh.
Midfielder Abby Greaves, one of a handful of seniors, has taken on a leadership role.
Cunningham has liked what he has seen. “We have a strong defense and kids who can put the ball in the net,” he said.
Which is why he would be content finishing in the middle of the pack.
“Somebody’s going to win most of their games and somebody’s going to lose the most of their games,” he said. “Hopefully we fall in the middle of the spectrum. That’s our goal this year.”
Bishop McGann-Mercy (7-7-1) hopes to return to the Class B playoffs after Madeleine Joinnides scored on a last-second goal in a 1-0 League VII season-finale victory over Southold/Greenport to clinch a spot last year.
Meaghan Macarthur was named the new coach, succeeding Mary Jackson. Macarthur could not be reached prior to deadline.
Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River has no worries in goal with All-State junior Lydia Kessel, a three-year starter. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)