For almost half of the players on the Riverhead roster, this was their introduction to high school varsity field hockey. Girls, meet Ward Melville.
Yes, that Ward Melville.
Mighty Ward Melville.
The Ward Melville that reached the Suffolk County Class A final last year. The Ward Melville that is seeded second this year in Suffolk Division I. The Ward Melville that is one of the best teams in the county.
Under just about any circumstances, that would be a rough way to christen a season. But, taking things a few steps further, consider where Riverhead is.
Cheryl Walsh-Edwards said this is the youngest and least experienced of the Riverhead teams she has coached in her 23 years in charge. The Blue Waves, seeded 14th among Division I’s 22 teams, return only one starter, Charlotte Dow, from the 2021 team that went 6-8 and barely missed making the playoffs.
Dow is one of only three seniors, Vanessa Leon and Ashley Monticciolo being the others. Aside from Dow, the only other players with any varsity experience before this year are Kerry Stavracos, Morgan Stromski, Isabella Vene and Leon. Three players — Emma Kennedy, Kyleigh Lennon and Abigail Maaiki — have made the Herculean leap from middle school field hockey straight to the varsity.
And if all that isn’t enough, this is the smallest roster Walsh-Edwards has ever had: 15 players.
So, enter Ward Melville into the equation Friday at Pulaski Sports Complex and do the math. It added up to a 6-0 Ward Melville win. For a start-of-the-season test, this was the field hockey version of an advanced algebra pop quiz on the first day of school.
With only one scrimmage against Southampton behind them, the Blue Waves took the field against Ward Melville. “I was shaking,” said Lennon.
Walsh-Edwards, in a pregame interview, said her players were “very excited, but again, you know, it’s like I’ve never had a team where the bulk of them have never played in a varsity game, so I don’t think they quite know what to expect.”
She added, “You can’t even compare JV to varsity. The speed of the game is just totally different.”
Ward Melville boxed Riverhead in its own half of the field for virtually the entire first quarter. It took only 3 minutes, 53 seconds before Alexa Kidd scored the first of her three goals off a scramble with the goalie, Stavracos, on the ground. Kyra Gianelli (assisted by Grace Mulham) and Peyton Phillips followed with goals to give the girls in green a 3-0 lead through 15 minutes.
Riverhead showed improvement in the second quarter, but still conceded goals by Kidd and Julia Rotoli in the final 23.5 seconds of the quarter for a 5-0 score by halftime.
In a show of sportsmanship, Ward Melville coach Shannon Sioss had her team ease off and not press the attack in the second half. Kidd scored her third goal off a pass from Phillips with 20 seconds left.
Ward Melville took 20 shots (Stavracos saved 11 of them) and earned 20 penalty corners while holding Riverhead without a shot or a penalty corner.
“Well, I knew it was gonna be a tough game, but I think the main focus of the game was to improve,” said Dow.
As one of the players making the huge jump from middle school to varsity, Lennon said: “There’s a big difference, like the game was much faster. There’s a lot more running. It’s a lot more, but I think we played good considering they’re one of the better teams.”
Riverhead has a true asset in Dow. An all-division forward last year, Dow has been moved to center midfield where her high work rate is being put to use. “It’s a lot more running,” she said.
Walsh-Edwards spelled out what she is looking for from her young players. “To me, it’s just going out and working really hard and not giving up, you know, regardless of what the score is,” she said. “That’s the most important thing to me, build the character a little bit and you got to play until the end of the game, you know, and some games you are gonna win and some you’re not.”
All things considered, Dow said, “I think for our first game of the season it was exceptional, and we definitely have a good season ahead of us, a lot to improve upon, and I can’t wait to see us at the end [of the season] and how good we become.”