Home field advantage is something teams in all sports reference when talking about factors that will help them win. For the Pierson field hockey team, the best chance for success this season will come when they hit the road — or more appropriately, the turf.
The Whalers have only two home games on their 13-game regular season schedule, a decision that was made for a variety of reasons. A new grass field that was installed behind the high school in 2018 (the project cost $1.59 million and included other upgrades) is normally home base for the Whalers, and is where they practice. The grass field is always in more playable shape in the fall, when field hockey is typically played, than in the spring, which is certainly a factor in the team’s unusually road trip-heavy schedule. But the fact also remains that the field is grass, and as such, no matter how pristinely it is maintained, it will never compete with artificial turf when it comes to an ideal playing surface for a sport where the smoothness and uniformity of the playing surface makes all the difference. It makes such a difference in the way the game is played, in fact, that the team has been willing to sacrifice a chance to play at home.
“Given that we’re going from winter into spring, the ground is much harder, and we need to minimize injuries,” head coach Nina Hemby explained, saying the higher amounts of precipitation in the spring also makes it more challenging to play on grass. And then there is simply the fact of the nature of the sport.
“We’re also a better team on turf, and the sport is played better on turf.”
A big sacrifice is the fan experience; while most schools are allowing spectators at home games, many are not allowing spectators for visiting teams, meaning parents, friends and family members of Pierson players won’t have many chances to see them in action.
“Obviously, it’s not ideal,” Hemby said. “The girls would like to play at home and would like to not have to go away for almost every game. But they’re also not a team that complains a lot, and they know playing on turf works to our advantage.”
That point was illustrated on Monday, when the Whalers (1-2) dominated possession en route to a 2-0 win over host Southampton (0-3). Sophomore Emma Racelles scored twice, with an unassisted goal early in the game, and another insurance goal off a well-executed corner play in the second half, with an assist from Meredith Spolarich. Pierson had 13 corners compared to three for Southampton, and senior Grace Perello made three saves for the shutout.
It was the first win of the season for the Whalers, who opened last week with games against Sayville and Rocky Point, two of the stronger Class B teams in Suffolk County. Pierson lost 5-0 to Sayville and took a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Rocky Point.
Despite the loss, Southampton head coach Jackie Trelease wasn’t upset with the effort of her squad, which lost six starters from last year’s team, most of whom had been in the starting lineup since they were freshmen or sophomores.
“It’s always an intense game when you play a local rival,” Trelease said. “We didn’t execute the game plan we wanted in the first half. We picked it up in the second half, but couldn’t move the ball to the goal.”
Chloe Phillips did a nice job in goal, making 12 saves. She has made 40 saves in the first three games for Southampton.
Trelease said she expects her team to be in a rebuilding mode for a year or two, but said that captains Lucy Wesnofske, Lauren Halsey and Kiera Gill should lead the team this year.
Pierson has been a young team for several years, and lost only two seniors to graduation. Numbers have been low in recent years, and even without a JV squad, Pierson is carrying only 15 players on its roster, which could be a challenge throughout the year. Pierson has its sights set on defending the Suffolk County Class C title it won last year, and is the favorite to do so once again, which would give the Whalers another shot at the Long Island title it lost last year. (Southampton is a Class B school). Long Island Championships will be the end of the road for this season, as all state championships have been canceled this year due to COVID.