It was the first week of practice and the start of her junior lacrosse season when Sophia Bitis felt her left knee snap. It was March 9, 2018, and Bitis wouldn’t play competitive high school lacrosse again until just a few weeks ago.
Now the Pierson senior is back to her usual self, running attack for the East Hampton girls lacrosse team and leading the Lady Bonackers into the next phase of program development.
“I tore my ACL and meniscus so early in the season that I never even got to scrimmage my own team,” Bitis said following an 18-8 loss to Longwood at East Hampton High School on Saturday morning. “I got really lucky because my recovery was easier than I thought it was going to be and was I back on the field in exactly six months even though my surgeon told me it would be nine months to a year, at least.
“Instead of going to lacrosse practice, I would go to physical therapy, six days a week, sometimes even twice a day, for six months,” she added. “The most challenging part was staying positive through the whole process. It was hard for me to sit on the sideline and watch when, my whole life, I was on the field or court playing. But I knew I had my senior year to look forward to so that gave me a lot of motivation.”
Head coach Jessica Sanna has returned to the team after a one-year hiatus and expects the Lady Bonackers, who are ranked near the bottom of 24 teams in Division II, to be competitive. A big boost, she said, comes from the Pierson players. There’s Grace Perello, a sophomore who scored five goals against Longwood on Saturday, Emma Rascelles and Tiana Treadwell. And, of course, there’s Bitis, Sanna’s senior co-captain.
“She’s one of our leaders and she really gets the girls motivated,” said Sanna, who now works as a teacher in the district and is committed to growing the program from the varsity team down to the youth league. “We have a great group of girls. We have a really young program but we’re happy with the effort they’re putting in.”
Prior to her injury, Bitis had her sights set on playing Division I lacrosse but needed that all-important junior season to prove her game was worthy. That all changed in a moment, and now her focus has shifted somewhat.
“Missing junior season was brutal. That’s the year you get recruited,” Bitis’s mom, Stephanie, said. “But is she going to play in college? Yes.”
Bitis said her top choice at the moment in Division III Chapman University in Los Angeles, where she visited over the winter break and “fell in love” with the school.
“In terms of playing in college, my injury couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” she admitted. “After I got hurt, I started doubting that I would reach my goal of playing in college. Lacrosse is a sport that begins recruiting for college very early, so going into my junior season uncommitted made me put a lot of pressure on myself. When I got hurt I assumed my chances were done.”
Bitis said her mom and Pierson Middle School principal Brittany Carriero helped push along the recruitment process and found Chapman, which has a beautiful athletic facility and field right at the heart of the campus. Bitis originally had her sights set on Stetson University in Florida, but that is a Division I program, and, in the end, a connection was never made.
Despite those challenges, and after watching her team play a full season from the sideline, Bitis, who attended every home game for the remainder of her junior season, has returned hungrier than ever.
“It was incredibly hard,” she said about missing last season. “Lacrosse has been my favorite sport since elementary school, and I went into my junior season with a lot of expectations for myself and my team. To have that all gone within three days was really hard.
“We have an extremely young varsity team this year with almost the whole team being in the 10th grade or younger,” she continued as the conversation shifted to present day. “Personally, by being a senior, I want to be a leader for the younger girls and to just have fun with the season and learn as much as I can. This is going to be my last high school sport so I really want to end on a high note.”
The Lady Bonackers will host Islip on Thursday, March 28, at East Hampton High School at 4:30 p.m. and Babylon on April 2 at the same time.
South Fork Boys Off to Rocky Start
The South Fork boys lacrosse team, which includes players from East Hampton, Southampton, Bridgehampton, Pierson and the Ross School, is off to a tough start in its first season in Division I. The Islanders dropped games to Port Jefferson (15-10 on March 15), Bellport (14-9 on March 19) and Connetquot (14-3 on March 22) in the early going, and will turn their attention next to a home game at Southampton High School against Smithtown East on Thursday, March 28, at 4:30 p.m.