Joyce Arbia had some advice for the “babies” of the Pierson/Bridgehampton field hockey team.
“Never give up on yourself. Work together, stay together, believe in yourself and never give up,” she said as tears welled in her eyes following a 1-0 loss to Carle Place in in the Long Island Class C Championship game at Centereach High School on Saturday.
Arbia and Mahlia Hemby, the only seniors on this year’s Pierson team, played their final high school field hockey game on Saturday and will leave behind one junior and an army of underclassmen, including eight eighth- and ninth-graders, to carry on a legacy of championship hockey.
Carle Place, meanwhile, claimed its fourth straight victory over Pierson in the Long Island final and will play a state semifinal against Johnstown on Saturday, November 16, at Williamsville North High School. The winner will face either Barker or Bronxville for a Class C state championship the following day.
Led by the play of their senior captains, Emiline Biggin and Trinity Reed, and a goal from Emma Zylberberg with 10:32 remaining in the first half, the Nassau County champion Lady Frogs controlled the action for most of the game on Saturday, playing a zone defense that was difficult to penetrate. Carle Place also maintained a constant offensive attack, finishing with 16 corners to just one for the Lady Whalers.
Hemby, who played most of the season in the field, started Saturday’s game in goal, since her coach thought it gave the team a better chance to weather an early attack. Hemby allowed the one goal, but helped fight off several other scoring chances before being replaced in the second half by freshman Maeve O’Donoghue, who went on to make nine saves.
“I’ve watched Carle Place play and Mahlia is the quicker reacting goalie,” said Nina Hemby, Pierson’s first-year head coach, Mahlia’s cousin and a former Lady Whaler herself. “I know they take quick shots, so I thought we would go with Mahlia first and see if our defense could hold them off, which it could. So we moved her back [to the field] after that and Maeve played a great game.”
O’Donoghue is one of seven freshmen on the Pierson roster, including two of its top players in Emma Rascelles and Meredith Spolarich. Their classmates — O’Donoghue, Mia Gangemi, Tahnie Sullivan, Madeline Cohen and Sophia Beech — will move up along with eighth-grader Eva McKelvey, all with another year of experience playing in championship games.
Pierson (7-9) won its fifth straight Suffolk County Championship with a 1-0 win over Babylon on November 2.
“I think the future going forward is a state team,” Coach Hemby said. “A state winning team. Give them a year. They’re dedicated and fast, with quick sticks. We’re looking at an amazing team going forward.”
The team’s lone junior moving up is Stephanie Ilagorre, with sophomores Mackenzie Wilson, Madison Stuckart, Alex Ponzini and Caroline Canavan already playing key roles this season.
Arbia will continue her field hockey career next year at Division III Fitchburg State in north Massachusetts, joining a long line of Lady Whalers who have played at the collegiate level. She will leave behind a young group of players who showed up on Saturday in brisk conditions and fought with everything they had.
“I think we were evenly matched,” Coach Hemby said about Saturday’s game. “I think my girls played incredible field hockey. This is what we’ve been growing toward and hoping to show the entire season. And they did that so you can’t be too upset.”
Especially when the future looks so bright.