Getting to the Long Island Class C Championship hasn’t typically been an issue for the Pierson field hockey team in recent years — the squad defeated Babylon, 5-0, at Centereach High School for its sixth straight county title on April 21 — but winning the Long Island title has been a bit elusive for the Whalers.
That trend continued this past Saturday, when a late goal led Carle Place to a 2-1 victory over Pierson at Berner Middle School in Massapequa. The Whalers haven’t won a Long Island Championship since 2015.
Frustrating was the first word that came to mind when Pierson head coach Nina Hemby thought about her team’s loss.
“I think that we wanted to win, we had the tools to win,” she said. “I think the girls played a really great game at a level that’s higher than we typically play at. We had great passing and moved the ball really well. It wasn’t the outcome that we expected. I don’t think the outcome matched the performance that we put up, and that’s hard to see, but they played a great game.”
Pierson came out of the opening whistle pushing the action and throwing a number of shots on goal before Madison Stuckart, a junior, finally put the Whalers on the board halfway through the first quarter after following up on a shot that was initially saved by Carle Place junior goalie Justina Cavallaro (11 saves). And although Pierson continued to have scoring opportunities throughout the first half, it couldn’t capitalize on them, which became a recurring theme throughout the game.
The Frogs pushed the action to start the second quarter and were awarded a penalty stroke with 10:51 remaining in the first half, when a Pierson player stopped the ball from going into the goal with a body part. Carle Place senior Alexandra Nagy took the shot, but it went wide left. Just over a minute later, however, Nagy would finally get her goal. Off a corner, Nagy played a nice give-and-go feed with sophomore Marisa Terrone and was able to get the ball past Pierson senior goalie Grace Perello to tie the game, 1-1, which was the score at halftime.
After a relatively quiet third quarter, Pierson pushed the action to start the fourth. The Whalers broke out on a 3-on-0 opportunity that they couldn’t capitalize on, then not even a minute later, senior Brooke Esposito and sophomore Tahnie Sullivan couldn’t capitalize on a 2-on-0 break.
It seemed as though, after all of the opportunities Pierson had in regulation, the game might need some extra time to determine a winner, but with 4:22 remaining in the game, Carle Place freshman Kaitlyn McGovern played the ball into the box, played Perello one-on-one and fired a backhanded shot through her legs to score what was the eventual game winner.
With how well Pierson played throughout the season, winning seven of its 13 games, a number of them over much larger schools, and winning a county title, it was easy to think that this year’s crop of players had what it needed to finally break through and win a Long Island title. But aside from two seniors in Perello (six saves) and Esposito — which Hemby pointed out both of whom opted to play field hockey this season rather than soccer — the team was rather young, made up largely of sophomores, one of whom, defender Mia Gangemi, was named to the All-Tournament Team after Saturday’s loss.
“There really were a bunch of missed opportunities,” Hemby said of Saturday’s game. “I think that comes from nerves, which is completely understandable. We’ll just have to make sure they’re more comfortable in high stakes games moving forward.
“I think we only have a handful of girls who have been in this position,” she added.
Hemby reiterated just how vital both Esposito and Perello’s roles were on this year’s young team and how important their contributions really were. Perello had never played field hockey before and Esposito was being home-schooled, but still showed up to every practice.
“Being senior, dual-sport athletes really brought a confidence level to this team,” she said of both players. “Grace … ended up doing an incredible job for someone who had no clue how to play field hockey, and to had to play a nerve-wracking position at that.
“Brooke really gave us a competitive edge when it came to fast breaks and situational choices, and also what we call ‘free-thinking,’ which is what we try and instill so much into the girls about thinking on the spot,” Hemby continued. “Brooke kind of educated the younger players on how to do that.”
The one good thing that came out of the loss, Hemby said, was that the players who are returning for next season, which is only a couple months away at this point, are hungry to be that next team to win that elusive Long Island title and, hopefully, return to a state tournament.
“I think the best part of losing yesterday is, after the game, the girls became more determined for the fall season,” she said. “They said, ‘Lets take this momentum and turn it into something,’ and they’re more excited about the fall season now than I think they were before. It’s right around the corner. A lot of them will continue to play extra field hockey in the offseason and we’ll be prepared for next season in the fall.”