Even though they didn’t have Rease, the Riverhead Blue Waves didn’t fall into pieces.
The Riverhead field hockey team learned how to play without midfielder Rease Coleman last season after she sustained a season-ending injury just several games into the campaign. Despite the considerable loss of sidelined talent, the Blue Waves still managed to extend their playoff run to eight straight years. They went two rounds deep into the postseason before bowing out to Ward Melville.
Now, the Blue Waves (9-7 last year) will once again have to play without Coleman. The junior midfielder, who was considered a potential All-State player, has transferred to an out-of-state prep school.
That isn’t all. Riverhead graduated nine seniors and has only eight upperclassmen, four of whom are new to the varsity scene.
Having said that, Riverhead has some nice talent returning, most notably Katie Goodale, an All-County senior center midfielder, and All-Division senior forward Kristy Troyan.
Riverhead finished in fifth place in Suffolk County Division I and is seeded eighth in the division this year.
“I still think they have the capability of doing really well and making the playoffs,” said Cheryl Walsh-Edwards, who is in her 19th year as the team’s coach. “I look at it almost like a rebuilding year because I lost those nine seniors. Yet, when you look at the crew we’re putting out there, some really, really good athletes.”
Athletes like senior forward Kayla Monticiollo, senior midfielder Lauren Kenny and eighth-grade midfielder Peyton Choma. They all had starting experience last year.
Goodale, who was moved from the forward line to center midfield after Coleman went down, figures prominently in the team’s plans this season. “She’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Walsh-Edwards said. “She’s incredibly, incredibly quick, and she’s just an all-around great athlete. A tremendous work ethic, the energizer bunny, really.”
Troyan, like Goodale, has good stick skills and is quick, said Walsh-Edwards.
Two sophomores, defender Rachel Rempe and forward Ava Lily Sumwalt, bring limited varsity experience. Four juniors — goalkeeper Isabella Williams, forward Jessica Columbus and defenders Brianna Talhares and Lauren Kruger — are new to the team.
“It’s really a completely new lineup,” said Walsh-Edwards.
Walsh-Edwards said Riverhead has only 26 players — at least 10-12 below normal — between its varsity and junior varsity teams. “That’s the lowest we ever had in Riverhead,” she said. “I think [player numbers at] the East End schools [have] always been a bit of a trouble … Our focus is we have to start rebuilding and get the interest up in the sport again.”
Reaching the playoffs last year for the first time in at least five years was a big step for Shoreham-Wading River (9-6). “I expect to keep that momentum going and hope for even greater things this year,” said third-year coach Jenna Stevenson.
It was a teary-eyed ending for the Wildcats, who lost, 1-0, to Bayport-Blue Point in a Suffolk Class B outbracket game. SWR had defeated Bayport twice during the regular season in sudden-victory overtime, 2-1 and 3-2.
As painful as the playoff loss was, that postseason experience will benefit the Wildcats, said Stevenson. One of those benefits is the No. 4 seed in Suffolk Division II, which can be seen as a token of respect for what the Wildcats have and what they have done.
With that high seed comes a schedule befitting it. SWR will play all of the other top five seeded teams: Rocky Point, Miller Place, Bayport and Harborfields.
“Honestly, it’s just going to be about those big games,” said Stevenson.
SWR has some major players on its side in All-State senior midfielder Summer Steimel, All-County junior defender Chiara Hodun and All-County honorable mention senior goalkeeper Ashley Luppens.
Stevenson, who likes Steimel’s competitiveness, dedication and unselfishness, said Steimel is “a standout because she has the field vision. She’s able to feed passes and run to open space. I’m just so impressed. Every year she has just gotten better and is always a notable player on the field.”
Hodun, Stevenson said, is “honestly one of the fastest and most explosive players on the field.”
Meanwhile, Luppens is coming off what Stevenson called “an incredible year last year. She saved a lot of games for us that went into overtime.”
SWR has four other returning starters in forward Madeline Rutkowsky, midfielder Abigail Korzekwinski and defenders Destiny Keshner and Gabriella Meli. They’re all seniors except for Keshner, a junior. Also back are junior forward Samantha Sicoli and freshman midfielder Brooke Meltcher.
New to the team are defenders Gianna Ferraro and Madison DeGroot and forwards Genna Baudo and Kaitlyn Mudzinski. Another newcomer is Abigail Wing, who is in her first year of field hockey. Her position was undetermined.
“What I like best about the team is I think over the years their chemistry has gotten better,” Stevenson said. “I think their confidence has really grown.”
Photo caption: All-County senior center midfielder Katie Goodale will play an even bigger role for Riverhead with Rease Coleman’s departure. (Credit: Bob Liepa, file)