Every sports team has rules, but the Shoreham-Wading River High School girls lacrosse team may have one rule for one specific player, its only true goalie: Don’t get hurt.
The Wildcats cannot afford to lose Sarah Sheridan, a junior who succeeds the graduated Gabby Cacciola as SWR’s first-string netminder. Another junior goalie, Sam Rutkowsky, underwent surgery to repair a labrum before the Christmas break. SWR coach Brittany Davis said a six-month recovery is needed, meaning Rutkowsky may be able to return around May.
That leaves Sheridan as the only one between the pipes. It’s at once exciting and maybe a little scary in terms of having no experienced backup.
As the last line of defense, the goalie position is vitally important.
“The goalie’s the main part of the defense and the backbone of the whole team,” senior midfielder Isabella Meli said during SWR’s first practice Monday.
Courage and confidence are required for the job. The latter had been an issue for Sheridan, who is in her third year on the team.
“That’s always something I’ve been working on,” she said. “Throughout the years, that’s been one of my [weaker points], confidence.”
But Sheridan must have been given a confidence-boost by her play in a handful of games last season after Cacciola sustained a concussion. That included Sheridan’s first career playoff game. She stood out in an 11-10 triple-overtime loss to Rocky Point in a Suffolk County Class C outbracket game at Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field in Shoreham. It was the second year in a row in which SWR (7-9) had lost at that stage in the playoffs in overtime, with Bayport-Blue Point prevailing the year before.
Sheridan made six saves against Rocky Point and was at her best when the pressure was really on. With the score tied 10-10, she denied Megan Greco on a close-range attempt with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left in the second half. In the first overtime, Sheridan saved Madison Sanchez’ free-position shot. Then, seconds before the second OT ended, she stopped Sanchez again.
Davis said she believed it was the best Sheridan has played. The coach sounded confident that Sheridan will be up to the task this season.
“She really stepped it up last year,” Davis said. “I was pulling for her. She’s like a super talented goalie. She just needed to gain some confidence.”
“She’s good,” the coach continued. “She’s tough. I think she’s ready for this.”
This path to goaltending that Sheridan has chosen started when she was a fourth-grader on a youth team. To determine who would play in goal, all the players were to put their sticks together, and the player whose stick was picked out was the goalie. It didn’t get that far, though. Sheridan said she didn’t mind stopping shots and she volunteered for the job.
While acknowledging that may sound “crazy” to some people, Sheridan enjoys the rush of making a big save. “The best part is the moment after a save and everyone is super pumped that you got it,” she said.
As insurance — and with an eye to possibly finding a goalie for the future, SWR is training two young players to be goalies, freshman Maggie Harding and sophomore Krystle Weber.
Davis said: “That’s what I told the younger kids … ‘Any of you can be a goalie. That’s like the one position that’s going to be wide open in the next few years.’ ”
For now, though, it looks as if the Wildcats are in good shape with Sheridan.
“I think she has a lot of potential, more than she even thinks she has, and I think once she gets a few games under her belt, she will help us out a lot,” Meli said. “At the varsity level it’s hard in high-pressure situations. Goalie is a tough position to be in, but once she just gets a little experience, I think she’s going to do really good.”
Comparing herself to a year ago, Sheridan said: “I think I’m definitely a stronger person. I’m more comfortable with myself. Yeah, it was a learning experience last year and I’m ready to roll this year.”
Photo caption: Sarah Sheridan during last year’s playoff game against Rocky Point. She made six saves for Shoreham-Wading River in a triple-overtime loss. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)