By Jacob Sisson
Heartbreak has a way of spawning motivation among athletes. When the prospect of victory is torn away from you at the very last moment — especially when that moment ends your season — athletes tend to come back with an intensity seen in few other venues. Such is the case for the Pierson Field Hockey Team, which enters 2010 having lost to Port Jefferson in double overtime in the 2009 Suffolk County Class C title game. It was the second year in a row that Port Jefferson had ended the Lady Whaler’s season in the championship game, and after posting a 10-6 record in 2009, this year’s team will have and extra drive to make it to its third title game in as many years.
The Lady Whalers will need to replace six seniors that graduated in 2009, if they wish to fight their way into the playoffs this season. Luckily a group of eight seniors have risen to take their place, led by senior captains Alexa Lantiere and Lindsay Warne, both All-County award winners in 2009, and Sam James, who was given an All-Tournament award last season. Also returning to the team after an award winning 2009 are Junior Sarah Cafiero, who was given an All-Division award and Freshman Kasey Gilbride, who took home All-Conference honors last year. In total, the Lady Whalers return seven starters to a team that is well prepared to make another run at the county championships.
“We have a high outlook for the season and have set our goals very high,” said Lady Whalers’ coach Shannon Judge. “Our continuous goal is to move up the ranks throughout the post-season. Seniors Lindsay Warne and Alexa Lantiere will lead the team offensively; both received All-County honors and are tops players on Long Island. Both have extraordinary ball handling skills and at the same time are able to transition them to team play. They have excellent field sense and work very well together.”
Offense will be key to the success of the Lady Whalers who enter the season as the number four ranked team in division three “which is considered the toughest division with consistent powerhouses Shoreham Wading River, Miller Place, Port Jefferson, East Hampton and Rocky Point,” said Judge. Outside of Warne and Lantiere, Judge will rely heavily on underclass talent to supply goals and dictate the pace of the game.
“Junior Sariah Cafiero has been a top goal scorer the last two years, which we expect to continue with the help of forward junior Lilah Yardley,” said Judge. “Senior Sarah Barret and freshman Kasey Gilbride will control the flow of the game in the midfield area. Both have an excellent understanding of the game and are play creators.”
Sam James returns for her senior season as the anchor of the Lady Whalers’ defense that Judge points to as the springboard for the team’s offense.
“Defensively leading the team will be senior Sam James who is able to make the defensive line an offensive threat with her strong hit and stick skills. Also on the defensive line are junior Melanie Stafford, freshman Katherine Mathers and Bridgehampton senior Nina Hemby,” said Judge. “Our goalie Christy Deery graduated and taking her place is junior Catherine Musnicki and sophmore Holly Zapolla.” Musnicki will have a chance to grow and develop while stepping into the starting roll and allowing Zapolla a chance to learn and fill in as needed.
Despite playing in one of the area’s strongest divisions — Judge calls it “the toughest” — the Lady Whalers won’t be caught by surprise by their competition.
“We are facing the same competition as last year, and will continually work on improving our short passing game with a push for the fast break,” says Judge, who has all of the tools to push the division to the bitter end.
A trip to Sachem East on Wednesday got the Lady Whalers’ season underway in what was a key non-league tune-up that will provide key preparations for the team’s first league game against Greenport/Southold/Shelter Island next Wednesday. Just one day later, Pierson will travel to Miller Place to tackle their second league game of the season, where they hope to establish a winning rhythm that will persist throughout the season.