Featured Story

Field Hockey: Stapon saves Waves in shootout

Vika Stapon’s previous shootout experience amounted to the number she wore on the back of her uniform: 00.

The senior goalkeeper for the Riverhead High School field hockey team not only had never played in a shootout before, but had not had much practice handling one v. one situations in practice.

So Stapon found herself in unfamiliar territory Monday after Commack and Riverhead remained tied at 1-1 through 60 minutes of regulation time and 10 minutes of seven-on-seven overtime. At that point, the outcome of the game fell on the opposing goalies and five shooters from each side. Starting with the ball 25 yards away from goal, each shooter has 10 seconds to try and score.

That’s real pressure.

“It was very” nerve-racking, said Stapon.

Not that her nerves showed. Stapon managed to deny all five Commack shooters as Riverhead prevailed, 1-0, in the Suffolk County Division I game at the Pulaski Sports Complex. Then, Stapon, who appeared emotional immediately afterward, was swarmed by happy teammates.

“I was so happy,” she said. “I said, ‘We did it!’ ”

Goals are hard to come by in field hockey, and that includes shootouts. It has been several years since field hockey switched from strokes to shootouts to settle ties after overtime. In that time, it appears as if goalies have figured out how to handle them.

“The game has evolved,” Riverhead coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards said. “The goalies are now stronger at defending … The longer that we do them, I just think that goalies get better at them.”

Commack (5-5, 4-2) sent shooters Ava Amato, Amy Pasquale, Taylor Weber, Ally Forman and Jenna Giardina out for the shootout. Riverhead (6-3, 6-3) countered with Kayla Kielbasa, Katie Goodale, Angie Graziano, Christy Falisi and Kristy Troyan. Goodale, Riverhead’s second shooter, was the only one to find the net, using a reverse sweep to put the ball past goalie Shannon Smith (eight saves).

What’s the secret to handling shootouts as a goalie?

“Just stay on your toes and just be aggressive,” answered Stapon.

Goodale is not particularly a fan of shootouts. “I don’t like them really much,” she said. “We’d rather just win during the regulation … I don’t think anyone likes going that far, but when we do have to get that far, I just get more energy and mental toughness, I guess.”

Commack gave Riverhead all it could handle. The game was only 97 seconds old when the Cougars went in front as Pasquale slammed a shot beyond Stapon’s left pad.

But Troyan came through with an equalizer 4:54 into the second half.

Stapon (five saves) came through some big stops in the second half and the biggest of all, perhaps, in overtime when she made a pad save on Pasquale.

“She played amazing,” Goodale said. “Since she shut everyone out [in the shootout], that just shows how phenomenal of a player she is and how strong she is as a goalie. She’s a huge part of our team.”

As for Goodale, she’s a transformed forward moved to center midfield where she acts as the hub of the wheel.

“She stepped into that center mid role and that’s been a lot of pressure for her,” Walsh-Edwards said. “She’s really stepping up. It’s a big change going from being a forward who was all about scoring goals, and she did it well.”

Prevailing in a dramatic shootout is rewarding, if somewhat draining.

“It’s just like more relief that we got what we needed to do done,” said Goodale.

For her part, Walsh-Edwards could do without shootouts, though.

“It makes my heart race,” she said. “I don’t like a game to come down to that.”

[email protected]

Photo caption: Riverhead goalkeeper Vika Stapon is congratulated by happy teammates after the Blue Waves prevail, 1-0, over Commack in a shootout. (Credit: Bob Liepa)