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Field Hockey: Tough season has its rewards for Riverhead

This wasn’t going to be easy.

That was the warning Cheryl Walsh-Edwards gave her Riverhead field hockey team before it entered the 2021 season, its first since 2019. The 2020 campaign was pushed back to this past spring, but the Blue Waves didn’t get to play then because of school budget cuts.

And so, Riverhead found itself behind a large eight ball.

Riverhead’s preseason seeding of 13th among power-rated Suffolk County Division I’s 22 teams was perhaps more a reflection of the program’s past successes than anything else. The reality is Riverhead is remarkably thin in terms of varsity experience. Only two players, seniors Rachel Rempe and Ava Lily Sumwalt, had seen any significant playing time at this level before the season. The rest were raw.

Furthermore, numbers are down, with a 16-player roster. And, because of its seeding, Riverhead played the division’s top four seeded teams.

“I said, ‘It’s gonna be a tough one,’ ” Walsh-Edwards said. “[Seeds] one, two, three, four, and we got a little beat up.”

Interestingly, Riverhead’s first game in two years was a 5-1 thumping of Lindenhurst. But then the Blue Waves took their lumps with five straight losses: 6-1 to Sachem East, 2-0 to Huntington, 5-0 to Ward Melville, 6-0 to Northport, 5-1 to Sachem North.

Coming off a 1-0 win over Half Hollow Hills four days earlier, Riverhead registered a second straight win Tuesday, 3-1 over William Floyd in Riverhead’s final home game of the season at Pulaski Sports Complex. Riley Dunbar, Rempe and Isabelle Vene scored for Riverhead (4-7, 4-7).

It made for a happy memory for Riverhead’s nine 12th-graders on Senior Day. Among those seniors are: Jayden Binkis, Bianca Bossey, Dunbar, Alexandra Goodale, Olivia Goodale, Sophia Haupt and Ellie Schultz.

Dunbar and Rempe both scored off rebounds from Jocelyn Arnold saves for a 2-0 halftime lead. Arnold stopped 12 shots.

Sumwalt sustained a bloody gash on the side of her left thigh in the game’s early minutes when she was struck by an opponent’s stick. The center midfielder said she didn’t notice it until Rempe told her that her leg was bleeding.

The Blue Waves, playing their first season since 2019, celebrate their 3-1 victory over William Floyd. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)

“There’s actually like an imprint of the girl’s stick” on the thigh, said Sumwalt, who left the field to have the leg bandaged before quickly returning to the game.

Vene provided the finish on a ball Alexandra Goodale fired into the goal area for a 3-0 lead 5 minutes, 5 seconds into the third quarter.

Bossey (seven saves) lost her shutout bid when Victoria Nelson, assisted by Sydney Marchese, scored 6:05 into the fourth.

“I definitely think the energy and our intensity was in this game,” Sumwalt said. “I feel like everyone was just in it, like everyone was excited to play, everyone was in the right spots. Everyone was running all over the field and I think everyone just was happy to play and just played their hardest.”

Rempe, a left midfielder, said: “I think it was very special just being able to play because we didn’t have that year [2020], and the energy we brought today was amazing. It’s just very special to win.”

And to play again.

The Blue Waves missed a lot, being forced to sit out this past spring season.

“I missed like the family aspect, coming to practice every day, seeing my friends and just being with everyone and being in shape,” Rempe said. “I think, even though you try running at home, you tried doing everything, but it’s nothing like coming into turf and just playing with all your friends.”

Rather incredibly, Riverhead has a chance to finish the season at 7-7 with three road games remaining against Smithtown West, Copiague and Connetquot.

Walsh-Edwards, in her 21st year coaching the team, acknowledged this has been the strangest season because of the unusual circumstances. It has been a season that has hammered home a lesson for Sumwalt.

“I feel like the biggest thing was like don’t take anything for granted,” she said. “Like, we would have never thought that the [school] budget wouldn’t pass and we wouldn’t have the sports and © no one thought about that ever happening, so I feel like, don’t take anything for granted. Just play every game your hardest and give it your all.”