There is one bond on the Westhampton Beach girls lacrosse team that opposing teams can never break.That is the sister connection that runs quite deep through the Lady Hurricanes.
Currently, the team has three separate sister connections that have helped raise the bar the past few seasons, with the team winning its first ever playoff game last season and reaching the Suffolk County Class B semifinals. Junior Caitlin Smith and seventh-grader Isabelle Smith are the younger sisters of Alexa Smith, who graduated last season and is now playing at Monmouth University. Junior Bella Recchion is the younger sister of Zoe Recchion, who also graduated last season and is a part of the women’s lacrosse team at Syracuse University. And last but not least, junior Bryanna Gristina is the younger sibling to Emma Gristina, who is now playing club lacrosse at Loyola University.
It’s a bond that runs deep and certainly has its benefits, according to the players themselves. Bella Recchion and Caitlin Smith both reached varsity at a young age, similarly to how Isabelle Smith is on the team now. Having older sisters as teammates helped each girl get acclimated to the varsity style much more easily and quickly.
“I think Bella and I can understand that, because when you come on to a new team at such a young age it’s intimidating, definitely,” Caitlin Smith explained. “But having your own sisters there, they’re picking you up.
“I remember my first day of tryouts, my sister was saying, ‘Don’t worry, we can pass together. If you have any issues, just come to me,’” she added. “And that’s really awesome to have and [Alexa] was always there for me and I can’t thank her enough.”
Now that Alexa, Zoe and Emma have all moved on, there have been some growing pains this season. The Lady Hurricanes are currently in a bit of a lull, losing their past four games. Being without their older siblings is definitely different, but it’s a situation that the younger siblings think will ultimately make them stronger.
Caitlin Smith plans on playing at the University of Denver when she graduates next year, and Bella Recchion will be joining her sister at Syracuse, so both are following their sisters closely at the college level.
“I think it’s good too to see how I am as an individual instead of me and [Alexa] as a unit,” Caitlin Smith said. “I also like seeing Alexa go off to college and see all the workouts she does, all the games she goes through, how she balances school work with lacrosse, because obviously, we’ll be doing that soon. So I’m very fortunate to see that so I know how to handle it.
“It’s sad not to have Alexa, because she did have a lot of goals, and she helped out the team tremendously, but we’re picking up for that this season because we’re looking out for each other more and the attack is working more as a unit,” she added.
As always, though, there are two sides to every story, and while having a sister on the team could be a blessing, it could also, at times, be a curse. Many siblings won’t hesitate to get on each other if they feel one isn’t putting in a full effort, or is making constant mistakes.
“[Zoe] kind of bullied me a little bit,” Bella said of her older sister, with a smile. “It definitely helped me out in the long run.”
Each one of the sisters, at some point, have had what they called a “heart-to-heart” talk about each other’s play.
“You want to be a good teammate. No one wants to get on anyone’s bad side,” Caitlin Smith said. “But your sister can come up to you and be like, ‘What are you doing?’
“It’s your sister, you have to love them,” she continued. “It’s good to have that. But you could get frustrated at times. Me and Isabelle, we’ve had our moments already. And we have one more year together, fortunately.”
As pointed out by Bryanna Gristina, it doesn’t take having the same last name to be considered sisters. The entire team feels like a family, which could be attributed to the annual trip the team takes to Boston. Head coach Mary Bergmann and assistant coach J.M. Jackson—who are both in their second year at Westhampton Beach—brought over the tradition that they started when they were at Shoreham/Wading River, and it’s something the Westhampton Beach squad has taken to heart.
The girls will scrimmage a few of the top teams in the Northeast on their trip—usually taken during spring break—then they’ll take in some of the sights, such as going to the mall or aquarium. Then they’ll watch a college women’s lacrosse game; this year they saw Boston College play Harvard.
“I think it’s a lot of fun,” Gristina said. “It’s mostly for team bonding, to make sure no one is afraid to talk to each other, and critique them and stuff. It helps with team work.
“It’s also great to have that exposure and see different teams from different states, to see the different styles of play,” Caitlin Smith added.
Bergmann has coached in Division II for 10 years—prior to Westhampton Beach she was at Shoreham/Wading River and Miller Place—and in that time span, she’s only coached one pair of siblings. To Bergmann, it’s really interesting how many sister connections her current team has. And there are more on the way.
“Belle Smith was my stat girl last year as a sixth-grader and now she is a major contributor on the team,” Bergmann said. “Ultimately, it will help grow the program into a competitive program in the future because you have these close connections in addition to a close-knit community.
“For the sister pairs on the team last year, it was special for them to share such a successful season, especially as seniors,” she continued. “Not many siblings get those unique experiences. Hopefully they all look back and really appreciate the extra time they got to spend with each other. In the end, you forget about the wins and losses, but you always remember the experiences and people that were there with you.”