Not long after taking over as the Riverhead High School girls lacrosse coach years ago, Ashley Schandel heard talk about a fabulous fifth-grade PAL team that would be bringing some fine players her way in the years to come. Those players are now juniors, and Riverhead may very well be looking at its best season ever.
In 2017, Riverhead reached the playoffs for the first time. Last year the Blue Waves advanced to the Suffolk County Class A semifinals for the first time before falling to Northport and ending up with an 11-6 record.
Now Riverhead is seeded second in Suffolk Division I, the highest it has ever been seeded in its nine-year history. Northport is No. 1.
“I think it’s great,” Schandel said. “I feel that it’s an appropriate spot for us … If we want to be the best team in the county, we have to beat the best teams in the county.”
It isn’t hard to see what makes Riverhead look so impressive. The Blue Waves are loaded with 19 returning players, 11 starters from a year ago among them.
Leading the way is Kayla Kielbasa, an honorable mention All-American senior midfielder and fifth-year varsity player. Last year she totaled 34 goals, 22 assists, 26 ground balls and 51 draw controls.
“Kayla’s an amazing player,” Schandel said, adding: “She’s looking great. It’s her last season. She wants to end on a good note.”
But what really makes Riverhead special this season is the talent Kielbasa is surrounded with. Junior defender Katie Goodale (39 draw controls, 31 ground balls, 21 caused turnovers) was an All-County selection. Junior attack Chrissy Thomas (25 goals, 28 assists) and junior midfielder Megan Kielbasa (38 goals, 18 assists, 37 draw controls, 33 ground balls, 19 caused turnovers) were both All-County honorable mention picks. All-Division honors went to junior midfielder Emma Conroy (32 goals) and junior goalie Sofia Salgado (103 saves). Junior attacking players Lauren Kenny (10 goals, 27 assists) and Delu Rizzo (29 goals, six assists) both made the Suffolk County All-Tournament team and Rizzo received the Suffolk Unsung Hero Award.
If that isn’t enough, junior Emma Panciocco, senior Ella Malanga and sophomore Rease Coleman were all part of last year’s starting defense. Coleman is currently dealing with a knee injury, said Schandel.
Also returning are goalie Leah Zenk, defenders Melanie Vail, Nicole Scioscia and Claudia Brown, midfielder Caleigh Kalmus and attackers Angie Graziano and Kristy Troyan. New to the team are defenders Cece Khan and Megan McIntosh and midfielders Ava Lily Sumwalt and Peyton Choma, a seventh-grader.
“They all just have the same goal of winning the county championship and going beyond that,” Schandel said. “I think they’re very confident in themselves and there’s really nothing holding us back.”
It turns out all that talk about that fifth-grade PAL team wasn’t hype.
“People are right,” Schandel said. “They are unbelievable.”
Shoreham-Wading River coach Brittany Davis isn’t pretending to know more than she does. When it comes to what her team will bring in 2019, well, it’s anyone’s guess.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t predict what’s going to happen.”
What is known is that SWR (7-9) is seeded 11th in Suffolk Division II, one of its lowest rankings in recent memory.
Change is the order of the day. Davis foresees as many as six or seven new players in her starting lineup. What’s more, she said she will have a taxi squad of sorts, shuttling players back and forth between the varsity and junior varsity teams.
One constant is Isabella Meli. The All-County senior midfielder is the team’s only five-year player.
“Isabella is one of those kids who’s a leader by example,” Davis said. “She works hard on and off the field. She’s there before practice and after practice. Her lacrosse IQ is tremendous. Not only can she shoot the ball, she can take people one v. one.”
Helping shore up the defense are All-Division junior Julie Kadletz, junior Summer Steimel and senior Jenna Lesiewicz, a Suffolk Unsung Hero Award winner. Stony Brook-bound senior attack Hayden Lachenmeyer, junior attack Amanda Padrazo and freshman defender/midfielder Alexa Constant, who was named to the county All-Rookie team, will also be relied upon.
Further varsity experience is offered by freshmen attackers Catherine Erb and Hannah Kershis, sophomore defender Brooke Langella, junior goalie Sarah Sheridan and junior attack/defender Gabby Meli.
“A lot of people are thinking we’re not going to be as good,” Davis said. “We’ve had a lot of people sitting on the bench for a while. Let them think that about us because we’re ready to go.
“If we have no injuries, we can surprise a lot of people. They’re hungry. They want it. It’s not only playing time. They’re hungry for success. I have no doubts with this group at all.”
Photo caption: Riverhead midfielder Kayla Kielbasa (34 goals, 22 assists, 26 ground balls, 51 draw controls), an honorable mention All-American, takes on a Longwood player last year. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)