Three days after the officially designated Columbus Day, the Riverhead High School field hockey team celebrated another Columbus Day of sorts.
Well, her name is Columbus and she did have a day. Boy, did she have a day.
Jessica Columbus came to Riverhead’s rescue Thursday with both goals for the Blue Waves, including the winner with exactly two minutes left in the second half of a 2-1 victory at Huntington. It was the final regular-season game for both teams, and the win may have been worth a home playoff game for Riverhead. Riverhead coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards said the playoff brackets may be released as early as Friday.
Riverhead (8-6 overall and in Suffolk County Division I) has a number of big-name players — Kristy Troyan, Katie Goodale and Peyton Choma to name a few. Perhaps flying under the radar of all that talent is Columbus, a speedy junior forward.
“This may sound horrible, but [she is] definitely underrated because I think she’s just something completely amazing,” junior goalkeeper Izzy Williams said. “I don’t think that everybody gets to see that.”
On Thursday, spectators got to see what Columbus can do with the pressure on. Lauren Kenny took Riverhead’s ninth and final penalty corner, pushing the ball out to Goodale. Goodale made a quick dodge before driving the ball toward the right corner of the goal.
“I was just hoping that any of them would get a touch on it, and Jess was right in the right place to touch it,” Goodale said. “She was in the perfect spot. We were just so relieved.”
Columbus redirected the ball with a low shot past goalkeeper Julie Rogel.
“It was thrilling,” said Columbus, who had never scored two goals in a varsity game before and never had a game-winning goal before.
Williams said of Columbus: “I’m so proud of her. She just can like whip down that field and be like a silent ninja in the back. It’s definitely great to see that she got both of them today.”
Walsh-Edwards liked what she saw from Columbus. “I always told Jess that she has amazing speed,” the coach said. “When she played on the JV level, she was definitely a standout. You get that ball to her on the right side, and she has so much speed, she would just take off. So, this is her first year on varsity, though. It’s different. You know, it’s a different game, it’s quicker, so you have to kind of change with the level, and she’s come a long way.”
Columbus made it 1-0 at 19:46. But then Huntington (6-9, 5-9) equalized just 1:46 later through Laurel Bonn from a rebound of a Williams save.
The Riverhead defense underwent a couple of periods of intense, sustained pressure in the second half, yet somehow escaped unscathed. Williams made nine saves, playing behind a defense of Briana Palhares, Lauren Kruger and Rachel Rempe.
“They saved us goals down there,” said Goodale.
After the go-ahead goal, Riverhead had to survive a couple of pressure-packed penalty corners in its zone. It wasn’t until Kenny cleared the final one with no time left that the Blue Waves could breathe easy again.
“I work really hard in practice and stuff, and we definitely train for those moments,” said Williams.
A downside came with the victory, though. Riverhead’s leading points producer, Troyan, cried out in pain as she fell to the field turf at 16:28. The senior forward turned her right ankle after stepping on another player’s foot and had to be helped off the field while applying no pressure on her right leg. She didn’t return to the game, but later walked gingerly.
Troyan has bagged 11 goals and three assists this season and is an integral part of the offense, along with Ava Lily Sumwalt (10 goals, one assist). The good news for the Blue Waves is they expect to have a playoff game Wednesday, which would give Troyan almost a full week to rest and recover.
“I just talked to the trainer really briefly, but I think it’s a sprain, so we’ll have to have our trainer take a look at her,” said Walsh-Edwards, who pointed out that Troyan is one of the team’s seven-on-seven overtime players and one of its shootout shooters.
“I hope she’s good,” Columbus said. “We really need her. She’s a big part of the team.”
So, winning on a dramatic late goal is pretty exciting stuff. Is it the best way to win?
Goodale said, “Winning’s winning, so whichever way you can do it is great.”
Photo caption: Riverhead’s Ava Lily Sumwalt leads a charge down the left side in the second half while Huntington’s Stephanie Wickey chases her. (Credit: Bob Liepa)