Pierson Field Hockey Set To Defend County Title

Joyce Arbia works a drill during practice on August 26.

The Pierson field hockey team will have a new leader on the sidelines this season, as it tries to defend its Suffolk County Class C title.

Former varsity assistant coach Nina Hemby has stepped into the head coaching position after Kim Hannigan decided to step down to spend more time with her family. Hemby is as familiar with the Lady Whalers program as anyone, which should make it a smooth transition. She worked as Hannigan’s assistant for the last two years, and was a standout defender for Pierson during her time as a student-athlete at Bridgehampton High School. Hemby, a 2011 graduate, played an instrumental role on the team that made it to the state tournament in 2010.

Hemby inherits a team that is defined by youth, with only two seniors, one junior, and a slew of freshmen, sophomores and middle-schoolers on the roster. The biggest loss to graduation was in goal, as Charlotte Johnson, a longtime starter and All-County player, is now at Duke University. Hemby’s younger cousin, Mahlia Hemby, a senior, is ready to step into the starting role there after time as a backup goalie last season. The younger Hemby played the field last year as well, and was a goal scorer, so the Lady Whalers will need some younger players to step up and emerge as scorers, especially because Pierson lost another key scorer and playmaker, center midfielder Paige Schaefer, to graduation. Schaefer was an All-Conference player and longtime varsity starter. She’s now playing at Lehigh University. Pierson also lost defenders Olivia Auperless and Sophia Bitis to graduation.

Returning on defense are three solid players in sophomore Micky Wilson and freshmen Meredith Spolarich and Mia Gangemi. Coach Hemby expects them to anchor the defensive line.

In the midfield, senior Joyce Arbia and freshman Emma Racelles are solid returning players, while the forward line will showcase plenty of new faces, with a large group of freshmen, a few of whom are returning to varsity, expected to step up.

Lady Whalers Joyce Arbia, left, and Mahlia Hemby. MICHAEL HELLER

Pierson was ranked ninth out of 14 teams to start the preseason, after finishing ninth last year with a 5-9 record. The Lady Whalers are one of four Class C teams in Division II, along with Babylon, Port Jefferson and Southold/Greenport.

Hemby said she is looking forward to the new chapter as varsity head coach.

“I spend a lot of time with them, so I think our communication and chemistry works really well,” she said. “And I think we’re really trying to create a strong team since we’re so young. We’re really looking to continue to improve, improve, improve and build strong players out of this next generation.”

Pierson will open the season at home against Greenport/Southold on September 10 at 4:30 p.m.