Girls Lacrosse: Riverhead hurt by penalties in tight loss to Walt Whitman

One can hear the passion in her voice when Riverhead girls lacrosse coach Megan Pepe works the sidelines. Following a 14-12 defeat to Walt Whitman (5-5 Division I, 5-5 overall) Friday at Pulaski Street Complex, Pepe needed a few minutes to gather her thoughts before giving an interview.

“My mind is going a million miles a minute,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

Though there was a full crowd on hand, Pepe was the loudest of them all, directing her team and urging the younger players to step up and make a drive to the net when the opportunity arises. Riverhead, a team with only three seniors, has been struggling with inexperience. 

Walt Whitman’s game-plan was absolutely clear from the outset: shut down the Blue Waves leading-scorers Liz Hanham and Logan Pilon. There was a defender glued to them at all times, refusing to give up any open space for them to get creative and find ways inside to score. Pilon, a sophomore, has scored 39 goals so far this season, 6th most in Suffolk County. Hanham is only a few behind at 35. 

Whitman’s defensive strategy opened up opportunities for a duo of Riverhead’s freshmen midfielders – Abbey Maaiki and Kyleigh Lennon – to make an impact. Maaiki scored 3 unassisted goals as Pepe had the offense spread out when she had the ball, allowing her to go one on one against Whitman defenders. When given the green light by the coach, who was urging her to “take what you have”, Maaiki sprung between defenders, flashing a swift spin move and finishing with solid shots. Lennon made the scoring book as well, netting 2 goals. 

“It’s a sign that things are looking much better now than the beginning of the season,” Pepe said. “Yes, Pilon and Hanham are our top scorers but now we have freshmen getting into the mix and the defenders are clearing the ball better to our midfielders which is something we struggled with. It’s all starting to come together here and I’m super proud of them.”

Riverhead (3-7, 4-8) was up against the 8-ball Friday, winding up on the wrong end of some controversial yellow cards that put them in the penalty box. At one point, three players were off the field at the same as the Blue Waves got hit with their fourth yellow card midway through the second half. That forced the team to finish the game with one less player on the field.

Even so, Riverhead fought to the finish. The Blue Waves twice captured the lead and despite falling behind 14-9 with 10 minutes to play and being a player short, they put together 3 unanswered goals to keep the game tight until the end.

“It was obviously difficult trying to get back in the game a man-down,” Pepe said. “And then two-men down and then three-men down. But they played hard and didn’t let it bother them. It showed a lot of courage from our girls.”

“It shows the heart this team has,” assistant coach Amanda Dickerson added. “I think overall … this was such a statement game for them. Even though it didn’t fall our way today, the fact they fought and gave it their all, even though they were up against obstacles, shows what these girls are made of.”

Though the playoffs might not be in the cards for Riverhead this year, the team is young – most of the players will be returning next year and the following. The flashes of success are definitely apparent. Riverhead will be a force to be reckoned with and Pepe will do everything in her power to make it come to fruition – even if it means losing her voice. 

“I told the girls that this was going to be a hard year,” Pepe said. “With how hard the team is working this year, it will set the tone for the years to come. As we grow and mature, the talent level will eventually outweigh the inexperience.”