Riverhead’s arguably best girls lacrosse team may never get to play

Expectations and hopes were sky high. Big things were foreseen for the Riverhead High School girls lacrosse team in 2020.

Even on the final day of the 2019 season, the Blue Waves were looking forward to 2020 and all that it offered.

Who could have known?

Things had started off normally enough. After two days of tryouts, the team held practices on March 11 and 12. The players were introduced to a book to read, “Habits of a Champion” by Dana Cavalea, a former performance coach for the New York Yankees. The Blue Waves implemented some offense.

“We were really prepared for everything,” said coach Ashley Schandel, known for her belief in the power of positive thinking.

Well, almost anything.

One thing they weren’t prepared for was COVID-19.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools have been closed, the season has been put on hold and the Blue Waves are left to wonder what normal life would have been like otherwise. Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently ordered schools to remain closed until May 15, and that means high school sports are shut down until that date as well.

Now Riverhead’s positivity is being put to the test as the prospect of a lost season becomes more real with every passing day.

Riverhead senior defender Katie Goodale said she was initially optimistic about things soon getting back on track. “I guess I wasn’t being realistic,” she said. “I guess as time passed, everyone realized it was more serious than we thought.”

Schandel said, “Just looking at the severity of the virus, to me it’s not looking good as to a season.”

The 10th year in Riverhead’s varsity history looks to be a sad one, and that has nothing to do with anything on the playing field. Over the past two years, Riverhead went 22-13, going further than it ever had before in reaching the Suffolk County Class A semifinals both years before loses to Northport and Middle County at that stage. This year Riverhead was seeded second in Suffolk Division I, behind defending Suffolk Class A champion Northport. The Blue Waves are loaded with 10 returning starters. Fourteen seniors are on the 22-player roster.

Of those seniors, no less than 10 will play in college: Goodale (Syracuse), Megan Kielbasa (Johns Hopkins), attack Chrissy Thomas (Maryland), midfielder Emma Conroy (SUNY/Binghamton), goalie Sofia Salgado (SUNY/Binghamton), attack Delu Rizzo (Massachusetts), goalie Leah Zenk (Marquette), midfielder Emma Panciocco (Florida), attack Lauren Kenny (Stony Brook) and defender Cece Khan (Southern Connecticut State University). Rizzo suffered a season-ending knee injury over the winter, said Schandel.

“It’s just crazy that all that talent is on one team,” said Goodale.

Schandel said the current squad is the best Riverhead ever had. The sad thing is this group of Blue Waves may never get to show their stuff on the field.

“It’s definitely something I want to do very badly, but unfortunately it’s something I have no control over,” said Kielbasa, a midfielder.

Kielbasa is a five-year varsity player, as are Goodale, Thomas, Panciocco and Rizzo.

“It’s upsetting to have your final season of high school lacrosse taken away from you,” Kielbasa said. “I would absolutely love to put on my jersey at least one more time. I’ve been in this program six years now [the first year on the junior varsity team] and I feel like I wasn’t finished yet.”

The Blue Waves keep in touch with each other through social media and have been doing conditioning work. Schandel split the players into blue, white and black teams that each day are given competitive physical challenges, such as abdominal work and running. “It’s a way of giving them hope and being allowed to bond without not being near each other,” said Schandel.

Schandel said coaches have spoken about the possibility of playing senior games at some point or staging a summer league, but all of that, like everything else these days, is up in the air.

“That would mean the world, especially being a senior, being able to play with the team” again, Goodale said. “We’ll never have this team again.”

Should the season be canceled, the saddest thing of all may be the lost memories that never will have been created.

Schandel said, “That’s what I want for these kids and that’s what’s really sad — what could have been.”