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Girls Lacrosse: Riverhead to get its first taste of playoffs

The high school girls lacrosse playoffs are a new ballgame. That’s especially true for Riverhead.

For the first time in the team’s seven-year history, Riverhead will step onto a field for a playoff game Wednesday. As an added plus, it will be on their own field, too.

“It’s huge,” said coach Ashley Schandel.

Riverhead (10-6) received the seventh seed in the Suffolk County Class A Tournament and will face No. 10 Huntington (9-7) in an outbracket game at the Pulaski Sports Complex. The winner will advance to a quarterfinal against No. 2 Smithtown East (14-2) on Monday.

“The energy that we have right now is going to push us through,” said Schandel, who is in her fifth year as Riverhead’s coach. “They’re excited about it. These girls want to go further than making the playoffs.”

A winner in three of its previous four games, Riverhead, seeded 12th in Division I before the season, faced a tougher schedule this season than it did last year, said Schandel. But big wins over Huntington and West Islip propelled the Blue Waves into the postseason with the most wins in program history.

Depth on offense has been a strength for Riverhead. The team’s three top scorers are freshman midfielder Megan Kielbasa (37 goals, 30 assists), freshman attack Chrissy Thomas (35 goals, 28 assists) and sophomore midfielder Kayla Kielbasa (44 goals, 16 assists), according to figures compiled by Newsday. But Riverhead can also get offensive production from others like Delu Rizzo, Alyssa Romer, Emma Conroy and Emma Panciocco.

Draw control will be critical, with Kayla Kielbasa handling draws. “Kayla’s been doing a fabulous job for us,” said Schandel.

A 17-16 home loss to Longwood on the final day of the 2016 regular season cost Riverhead an historic playoff berth. Schandel said the Blue Waves are playing with confidence and a different mind-set than they had last year. “They realize that anything is possible,” she said. “We are playing to win now; we’re not playing not to lose.”

Referring to the 18-11 defeat of Huntington in Riverhead on April 12, Schandel said: “It’s a revenge game for Huntington. They want to take us out.”

Huntington, led by Abby Maichin (55 goals, eight assists), is an aggressive team, said Schandel.

The playoffs are new to Riverhead’s players, but not to Schandel, who was a four-year player for Shoreham-Wading River teams that won county and Long Island championships. She said it’s important for her players not to let “nerves get to us. There’s really no room for getting the kinks out.”

That’s playoff lacrosse. It comes with the chance for advancement and the threat of finality.

“Now everything’s on the line,” Schandel said, adding, “This is it. You have to win.”

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Photo caption: Kayla Kielbasa’s work on draws could be critical for Riverhead in its first playoff game against Huntington. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk file)