Freshman’s Goal Leads Pierson to Fifth Straight Championship

Seniors Mahlia Hemby, left, and Joyce Arbia celebrate after their team's 1-0 victory over Babylon in the Suffolk County Class C Championship game at Patchogue-Medford High School on Saturday. Gavin Menu photos

Emma Rascelles is one of the most seasoned players on the Pierson/Bridgehampton varsity field hockey team. And she’s only 14.

The do-it-all freshman from Pierson High School scored the lone goal of the game Saturday at Patchogue-Medford High School and the Lady Whalers knocked off Babylon, 1-0, to win the Suffolk County Class C Championship, the program’s fifth straight title dating back to 2015.

The Lady Whalers won a state championship in 2013 and have won countless county and regional titles during the program’s storied history. But this year’s Lady Whalers are near babies — it’s in fact one of their nicknames — compared to most varsity programs, with a roster that includes five eighth-graders and seven freshmen.

“They’re such an amazing group of girls and they work so hard and I’m just so proud of them,” said Mahlia Hemby, who with Joyce Arbia, are the only two seniors on the team. “Pierson field hockey is such a big thing and they brought their game.”

Pierson will advance to face the champion of Nassau County for a Long Island title next Saturday, November 9, at Centereach High School at 11 a.m.

The opponent for that game in recent years has been Carle Place, a perennial Class C powerhouse that ended the last three Pierson field hockey seasons, including a 7-0 score just last year. The winner of the Long Island final will advance to a state semifinal at Williamsville North High School over the weekend on November 16, with the final played the following day.

“I think we got our nerves out,” said Pierson’s rookie head coach, Nina Hemby, Mahila’s cousin, who played for the Lady Whalers before graduating in 2011. “The first half of the game was all jitters. Then toward the end they calmed down. They said ‘We play field hockey this way, let’s spread the field and let’s pass and shoot.’”

Saturday’s 1-0 final score was identical to last year’s county championship game against Port Jefferson, which Pierson won on a goal by Mahlia Hemby as senior Charlotte Johnson pitched a shutout in goal. Johnson now plays at Division I Duke University, while the Lady Whalers have turned to what else — a freshman — in Maeve O’Donoghue, who on Saturday made a series of big saves to preserve her first-ever playoff shutout.

“I was just really excited — and pressured,” said O’Donoghue, who almost decided to play volleyball this season. “I was just thinking I have to do what I’ve trained for the whole season. I was nervous but I was also confident. I was trusting in our defense.”

Pierson’s Emma Rascelles fires her game-winning shot on goal with just under seven minutes remaining in the Suffolk County Class C Championship game on Saturday.

Rascelles scored her goal with 6:37 remaining in the game on Pierson’s 11th and final corner, knocking a loose ball into the back of the cage after a solid entry pass through the circle by Arbia. Rascelles, who also plays varsity lacrosse and is already one of the top female athletes at Pierson, said the team this year has improved tremendously from last season, when she was on varsity as an eighth-grader.

“I just felt over excited. Energy was rushing through me,” Rascelles said about the moments before she scored what turned out to be the game-winner. “Last year was really challenging when we played here. This year we felt like a team, we bonded and that’s how we got our goal.”

The Lady Whalers will quite likely have to play better next Saturday to advance to the state semifinals, with a potential game against Carle Place, a program that has just as much championship pedigree as Pierson. The season and the careers of Arbia and Mahlia Hemby will on the line.

“I think we have to get more confident and play our game of field hockey,” Hemby said as the team cleared off the field on Saturday. “And not change it for anyone or any game.”

Joyce Arbia, in foreground, sets the defense with Mackenzie Wilson and Emma Rascelles in support.
Pierson senior Mahlia Hemby battles for possession against Babylon on Saturday.
The 2019 Suffolk County Class C Champion PIerson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers.