Division III has long been recognized as having the toughest competition in Suffolk County’s three field hockey leagues. And it just got tougher.
New alignments of the three divisions this year have resulted in Division III becoming even stronger. The purpose of realigning the leagues was to group schools together according to size, with Class A schools in Divisions I and II, and Class B and C squads in Division III. As a general rule in high school sports, larger schools typically have stronger programs. But in field hockey, tradition is usually the better indicator of a team’s success from year to year.
The realignment meant that Division III said goodbye to Riverhead and William Floyd, while welcoming Sayville, Babylon, Harborfields and Bayport/Blue Point. Riverhead and Floyd, while larger schools, have had traditionally weak field hockey teams. Sayville, meanwhile, is a perennial contender for the county Class B title, and Bayport, Babylon and Harborfields are typically middle-of-the-pack teams. Those squads are now in the mix with powerhouses Miller Place, Shoreham/Wading River and Rocky Point.
The realignment means that already tough competition is even tougher for East End squads Pierson, Southampton and East Hampton—but the coaches of the three teams are confident their players can rise to the challenge.
The Lady Mariners enjoyed one of the best seasons in program history last year, advancing to the state championship before losing to undefeated defending champion Greene.
Southampton will have a new look this season, both on the field and the sidelines, as nearly all the starters from last year’s team graduated, and the squad also has a new head coach. Jess Zukosky takes over the reins this year after Kim Hannigan left to accept the head coaching position at Dowling College. To call Zukosky “new” is a bit misleading, however. Zukosky was previously the head coach before Hannigan took over in 2006, and she is making her return to the program this season. Hannigan had originally asked Zukosky to coach the junior varsity last year, but Zukosky had to decline as she was undergoing treatment for cancer. But when Hannigan made the decision to leave after last season, she contacted Zukosky again. By then, she had finished treatment and was ready to jump back into coaching.
Zukosky inherits a young team without a single senior on the roster. Several talented players from last year’s team graduated, including All-State center back Emily Wesnofske, a five-year varsity player, as well as All-Conference defender Andrea Abbate, All-State Tournament team defender Gina Curreri, All-Division midfielder Rienna Russo, and midfielder Jessa Laspesa. Southampton also lost All-State player Keeling Pilaro, a male player who was granted permission to play on the team last season after a lengthy battle with Section XI, the governing body of high school sports in Suffolk County. Pilaro has transferred to a different school.
While a bulk of the team’s talent left the field, several key players have returned, most notably junior Meggie Gallo, a midfielder/forward, who was an All-State player and one of the team’s most prolific goal scorers. Southampton also returns two Suffolk County All-Tournament team players in sophomore forward Chloe Schmidt, who became a serious scoring threat in the postseason, as well as junior defender Leila Thomas. Junior Caroline Ricca, another strong defender, also returns to the team, and Southampton has its starting goalie back, sophomore Alex Ambrose. Junior defender Keara Wood is another key returning player for the Lady Mariners.
Gallo will be the cog in the midfield/forward line. The forward line will be bolstered additionally by Schmidt, sophomore returnee Miranda Maloney, and freshman Victoria Russo, while freshman returnee Shelby Pierson and freshman Erin Morgani will play in the midfield. The defense will be led by Wood, Thomas, Ambrose, Ricca and sophomore Kayley Ritz. Gallo, Ricca and Wood are the team’s captains.
Zukosky said the biggest challenge will be bringing the young players up to speed at the varsity level.
“They need to learn how the different positions work and flow together on the field,” she said.
Southampton has a good chance to make a return to the Class C playoffs, as the top three Class C teams in Division III advance to the postseason, and there are only five Class C schools in the division—Southampton, Pierson, Port Jefferson, Greenport/Southold and Babylon.
Southampton will open the season on the road at Babylon on Monday, September 9, at 4:30 p.m. and will host Sayville in its home opener on Wednesday, September 11, at 4 p.m.
Despite being one of the smaller schools, the Lady Whalers should be one of the top squads in Division III this year, and will have their sights set on the Suffolk County Class C title.
Pierson lost just one senior, Rachel Saidman, from its county finalist team last year, and returns one of the best players on Long Island in All-State and All-County selection Kasey Gilbride. Gilbride was a dominant force on the field last year, scoring 22 goals, the single-season record at Pierson. She finished second among all players on Long Island for total points (goals and assists). She received a scholarship to play at Division I University of Richmond next year, and Pierson head coach Shannon Judge is expecting big things from her. Gilbride is a year-round player, competing with the Strong Island travel team. She also was selected to participate in the National Future Tournament over the summer.
“Kasey is an unbelievable threat,” Judge said. “Her stick-handling is quick, strong and precise. I definitely expect her to exceed her points this season. She is always thinking of her next move. Her game and field sense is what makes her a total threat.”
Gilbride will play on attack rather than having to compete in the center midfield position, which will free her up to score even more goals. Filling in the center midfield spot is another talented player, senior Katherine Matthers, who earned All-County honorable mention status last year. Matthers is also a year-round player and was also selected to play in the National Futures tournament.
“It’s awesome to have two players from such a small school be selected to play at an elite level,” Judge said, adding that she expects Matthers to control the middle of the field and distribute the ball to Gilbride and the other forwards. She said that Matthers and Gilbride will be “an enjoyable duo to watch.”
Joining Gilbride on the forward line are returning senior Emme Luck and India Hemby, while returning freshman Ana Sherwood, an All-Division player, and sophomore Erica Selyukova will flank Matthers in the midfield.
Returning senior Kirra McGowin, who plays year round for East End field hockey, will anchor the defense, along with senior Emma Romeo, who was an All-Division goalie last year. Romeo will see most of her time at sweeper this season, as Sam Duchemin has joined the team and will play goalie. Duchemin was an All-County pitcher for the state semi-finalist Pierson softball team in the spring.
Several other key players are returning, including freshman Cali Cafiero, a utility player who will most likely play on defense, freshman forward Allura Leggard, and defender/goalie Sheila McKay. Juniors Rachel Miller and Phiona Vall are returning defenders. Sophomores Keri Vila and Cassandra Spencer are also returning to the team and will see time on the field.
Pierson is ranked third in the preseason among 14 teams in the division. Judge said Miller Place, coming off an undefeated division season and a trip to states, should be strong, as well as Shoreham, Rocky Point, Sayville and Bayport.
Pierson will open the season on the road at Bayport on Monday, September 9, at 4:30 p.m. and will visit Miller Place on Monday, September 16, at 4:30 p.m. The Lady Whalers will host East Hampton for their home opener on Friday, September 20, at 4 p.m.
The Lady Bonackers will be led by a quartet of seniors along with several young but experienced underclassmen as they embark on what should be a competitive season in Division III. And while the competition will be even stiffer this year with the addition of several strong teams, the team has good reason to believe it can challenge for a spot in the Class B postseason.
The Lady Bonackers have experience on defense, with plenty of veteran players. Junior Leonella Acevedo will return to her spot as the starting goalie, while seniors Shannon McCaffrey, Kathryn Wood and Cecelia Fioriello will also anchor the back line. Junior Cammie DiGate and freshman Cybele Adamcewicz will also see time on defense. Juniors Casey Waleko and Alyssa Bahel, two talented returning starters, will anchor the midfield. They’ll get help from juniors Kelly Boles and Georgia Bennett, as well as freshman Brooke Rivkind, a newcomer to the team.
The forward line will be led by returning juniors Amanda Calabrese and Sophia DePasquale, two of the team’s leading scorers last year. Senior Mary Nolan and freshman Grace Amaden will also contribute on offense.
The team has also experienced changes on the sideline, as Robyn Mott takes over as head coach. Mott was the junior varsity coach the last two years. She’s a 2000 Pierson graduate, where she played field hockey, basketball and softball. Mott was a member of the field hockey team at SUNY-Oswego. She said both she and her players are ready to make some noise in Division III after narrowly missing the postseason last year.
“I want us to be a tough opponent,” she said. “Our team goal is to score in every game. We had problems scoring last year, so we want to have a full-throttle offense.”
Mott will lead the team along with assistant coach Kaylie Peters and JV coach Jen Reich.
East Hampton will open the season at Hampton Bays on Monday, September 9, at 4 p.m. and will visit Shoreham on Monday, September 16, for a 4:30 p.m. game. The Lady Bonackers won’t have their home opener until September 27, when they host Babylon at 4:30 p.m.