For years the Riverhead High School field hockey team was in the tricky position of having a foot in two worlds — one on grass and the other on field turf.
Although many of its opponents had field-turf homes, Riverhead played its home games on grass. That was until late last fall when the Blue Waves played their final regular-season game on their brand new field turf at the Pulaski Sports Complex.
Now Riverhead is a full-fledged field-turf team. Coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards figures her team will play the majority, if not all, of its games on turf. And that, she said, is a good. A real good thing.
“It’s been a long time coming and it’s the way the game should be played,” she said. “The game is just better played on turf.”
As compared to playing on grass, field hockey on field turf is a much faster game with precision passing.
Riverhead (10-7 last year) is coming off a fifth straight playoff appearance, having lost to mighty Ward Melville in a Suffolk County Class A quarterfinal. With 11 returning players, including nine starters, Riverhead is seeded eighth among 24 Division I teams.
Leading the way are the team’s only seniors: all-county defender Kim Ligon and all-county honorable mention midfielder Shannon Schmidt.
Also among those back are three all-conference choices: junior right wing Kayla Kielbasa, sophomore forward Kate Goodale and freshman midfielder Rease Coleman. Junior defender Sarah Rempe received the team’s Unsung Hero Award. The other returning starters are junior left wing Angie Graziano, sophomore forward Kristy Troyan and junior midfielder Christy Falisi.
Juniors Laryssa Olsen and Regan Montefusco both saw time at various positions last year. One of them will be a starting defender or they may share playing time.
Riverhead’s biggest loss may have been the graduation of three-year varsity goalie Grace Dow (Kutztown University of Pennsylvania). In her place, the Blue Waves are looking to junior Victoria Stapon.
Stapon’s sister, Anastasia, is new to the team along with fellow forwards Sarah Gustafson and Taylor McKnight and defender Emily Bazarewski.
“I think the team looks really good,” Ligon said. “I’m super excited.”
How do Riverhead’s chances look for a sixth straight trip to the playoffs?
“I’m feeling very positive,” Walsh-Edwards said. “I feel if everybody rises and plays like they’re capable of playing, they’ll find themselves in playoffs.”
Shoreham-Wading River’s new coach, Jenna Stevenson, got a glimpse of what her players can do during summer league games, and she liked what she saw. “Just the skill level of some girls is pleasant to see,” she said.
The Wildcats (6-8), seeded ninth in Division II, have a defense that will be bolstered by senior defenders Campbell Brant and Michelle Steimel and sophomore goalkeeper Ashley Luppens.
“I think we have really good defense,” Stevenson said, “but I think the positive part of our defense is they will move into the offense.”
Steimel’s sister, sophomore midfielder Summer Steimel, is a projected starter along with junior midfielder Michele Corona and junior forward Rachel Biemer. Freshman defender Chiara Hodun and sophomore forward Abby Korzekwinski are competing for starting positions.
“I think they look really good,” Stevenson said of her players. “I think it’s going to be a really good year for them.”
Photo caption: Kim Ligon, an all-county defender, is one of Riverhead’s two seniors. (Credit: Bob Liepa)