It came across as a revelation. About halfway through the last high school girls lacrosse season, Shoreham-Wading River coach Brittany Davis heard one of her players exclaim, “Oh my God, we’re good!”
If the Wildcats didn’t know how good they were at the beginning of last season, they sure do now. An overtime loss to Mount Sinai — its second one-goal defeat to the Mustangs in 2016 — is all that kept Shoreham from reaching the Suffolk County Class C championship game.
“That stings,” said Davis.
But it’s also a motivator. Shoreham (12-5), which returns all but two of its starters, is seeded fourth in Suffolk Division II and primed for another playoff run.
“I think the best thing about this team is they realize what their worth it,” Davis said. “With them knowing that, they can only get better.”
The Wildcats are loaded with talent, led by three all-county midfielders in Samantha Higgins and sisters Erin and Sophia Triandafils. Eleven Wildcats have committed to playing college lacrosse.
Higgins is a senior headed to Yale University. Both Triandafils sisters, Erin, a junior, and Sophia, a senior, have plans to play for Penn State.
Two attackers, senior Jesse Arline and Isabella Meli, were all-division players. Two of their teammates, junior goalie Gabby Cacciola and senior defenseman Grace Blomberg, were named to the all-county tournament team while junior attacker Mikayla Dwyer received the Division II Unsung Hero Award.
Also offering experience as starters are junior attackers Campbell Brandt and Madison Farron, and senior defenseman Haley Rose.
“I think they realize what they’re capable of after last season,” Davis said. She added, “If they can play together, they’re unstoppable.”
With those two close losses to Mount Sinai still fresh in their minds, the Wildcats will play their first game of the season on March 28 against, you guessed it, Mount Sinai.
Once Riverhead’s varsity and junior varsity teams were selected, copies of a book were distributed and the players were given a reading assignment, of all things. The book, titled, “The Energy Bus,” is about “positive ways to fuel your life, yourself and your team,” said coach Ashley Schandel.
The power of positive thinking is very much on Riverhead’s mind these days.
“You’re the driver of your bus,” Schandel said. “That’s the first rule and you decide how hard you’re going to work. The girls have decided they’re on the bus and they’re going to decide how far they can take this bus.”
Last season ended in tears for the Blue Waves (8-8), whose 17-16 home loss to Longwood on the final day of the regular season cost them what would have been their first playoff appearance.
“We’re trying to make history in Riverhead and our next step would be to make the playoffs,” Schandel said. “I’m working my hardest to get the team to where they need to be to make the playoffs. I have high hopes for us. We do have a tough schedule, but we have a lot of girls who are focused on getting in the playoffs and winning.”
Riverhead, seeded 12th in Division I (the top 11 teams will reach the playoffs), has virtually all of its starters back, led by sisters Kayla and Megan Kielbasa, who were both all-county midfielders. Kayla, a sophomore, led the team with 56 draw controls and Megan, a freshman, had a team-leading 26 assists and 39 ground balls.
Senior defenseman Julia Thomas is an all-division player, freshman defenseman Katie Goodale (17 caused turnovers) made the Division I all-rookie team and junior goalie Rachel Cornstein (121 saves) was the recipient of the Division I Unsung Hero Award.
Senior defenseman Kelly Horyczun, senior attacker Aly Romer, junior attacker Shannon Schmidt and freshman attacker Chrissy Thomas were also regular starters. A pair of freshmen to look out for are midfielder Emma Panciocco and goalie Sofia Salgado.
“It’s going to be an exciting year,” said Schandel, who hopes it will also be an historic one for Riverhead.
She said, “We are all on the bus.”
Bishop McGann-Mercy coach Walter Flaherty described his team’s outlook for the new season as “upbeat.”
The reason for that view is the commitment he has seen from his players. Last year Mercy had to absorb the absence of 14 players who went to Europe on a school trip during the season. The Monarchs finished 2-12.
Not only will that not be quite as big an issue this year for the Monarchs, Flaherty said, but players attended a camp last summer, attended captains practices in February and hit the weight room.
“We’re hoping to improve on the 2 and 12,” Flaherty said. “Everybody’s fully committed. They’re fired up.”
That includes Siobhan Merrill. The senior midfielder was an all-league choice and the team MVP, registering 22 goals and 18 assists.
“She’s my best player by far,” Flaherty said. “She’s looking very good. She’s fast, she’s smart and she’s got a nose for the cage. She can easily play at the next level if she chooses to.”
Merrill captains the team along with senior midfielder Kiernan Devaney, Savannah Hauser, a senior attacker who is coming back from a knee injury last year, and Megan Kuehhas, a senior who is moving from defense to attack. Two other seniors, goalie Emma McGuire and defenseman Mia Behrens, figure prominently in the team’s plans.
Other returning players are attacker Brooke Kappenberg, midfielders Libby Daddi and Kathleen Devaney, defensemen Madison Willmott, Kaitlyn Donnelly, Kathleen DeWitt and Leila Kearney and goalie Olivia Maxwell.
Mary Grace Hartmann, a sophomore in her first year on the team, will start at crease attack. Two freshmen have cracked the starting lineup as well, Molly Tuthill, who can play midfield or attack, and defenseman Kelsey Bundrick.
Photo caption: The Shoreham-Wading River team hits the field for practice Monday. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)