By Gavin Menu; photography by Michael Heller
They did it for Pierson, and for Sag Harbor and Bridgehampton. They did it for the nine previous teams of Lady Whalers who, since 1996, were among the last four teams standing but never did win the final game of the state tournament. They did it as a team—in the truest sense of the word—and now it can finally be said.
The Pierson-Bridgehampton field hockey team is a New York State champion.
Kasey Gilbride ended a grueling run to the Class C title by scoring off a penalty corner with 32.9 seconds remaining in sudden-death double overtime to beat the Cazenovia Lady Lakers, 1-0, Sunday at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
It was the Lady Lakers who beat Pierson in its last appearance at states back in 2010, adding an extra layer of intrigue to a game already wrought with intensity.
“It was our redemption year,” said senior captain Katherine Matthers, who, along with India Hemby, helped orchestrate the winning goal.
Gilbride’s goal on Sunday prevented Pierson (16-4) from entering a shootout session for a second consecutive game. The Lady Whalers had outscored Whitney Point, 3-1, in a second round of shootouts on Saturday to advance past the semifinal.
Cazenovia, which defeated Barker, 1-0, in their semifinal, had the upper hand in regulation on Sunday, earning 13 penalty corners to Pierson’s two. But in overtime, it was the Lady Whalers who had more corners, not to mention, in Gilbride, one of the best players in the state, regardless of class.
“We leave everything on the field, every time,” Gilbride said. “We showed who we are as a team, and who we are as a school. We prepared for this our entire season.”
Pierson head coach Shannon Judge said it was fitting to see Matthers and Gilbride connect on the winning play, bringing an end to a journey that began four years ago against the same team and on the same old turf field in upstate New York.
“It’s a storybook ending,” Judge said. “I think they just believe in themselves and I believe in them with such strength.”
While it was Gilbride and Matthers who teamed up on the winning goal, it was Pierson’s team defense that truly shined over the weekend. Sam Duchemin, the hero from Saturday’s semifinal, made eight saves while Hemby, Rachael Miller and Kirra McGowin consistently halted the Cazenovia attack.
Freshman Allura Leggard was a force on corner defense, and Emme Luck, Cali Cafiero and Erica Selyukova helped the team transition from defense to offense.
“We move as one,” McGowin said of the team defense. “Anything to stop a goal, that’s what we do.”
“We gave a lot of heart,” Hemby added. “We put everything we had onto the field.”
Freshman Ana Sherwood provided her usual bursts of energy from the center forward position over the weekend, and aside from previously mentioned players, will return next year along with Phiona Vall, Sheila Mackey, Cassandra Spencer, Kerrie Vila and seventh-grader Hollie Schleicher.
Gilbride, Matthers and Hemby were named All-Tournament and they, along with fellow seniors McGowin, Luck and Emma Romeo, played their final game for Pierson on Sunday.
“We’ve all been working for this since our freshman year,” Luck said. “We just made Pierson history.”
Indeed, it had been since 1978 since a Pierson team won a state title, and that was in boys basketball. The Pierson field hockey program sent teams to the state semifinals from 1996 through 2003, and then again in 2010 when this group of seniors were freshmen.
And so now the wait is over and Pierson High School, with just 306 students from a small town at the end of Long Island, is back on the map as a powerhouse field hockey program.
“We have the smallest program, the lowest numbers. It’s truly a David and Goliath situation,” Judge said about the state tournament. “Cazenovia is still a big school compared to us, so it really speaks to their heart and showing up every day and working their butts off.”