Photography by Michael Heller
Kasey Gilbride, Pierson High School’s dynamic junior field hockey star, blended in with teammates as preseason practice for the school’s seven varsity sports teams began last week. The start of a new season often brings newfound hope, which is the case at Pierson this fall, even as the sting of postseason field hockey and boys soccer losses from last year held heavy on the minds of coaches at Mashashimuet Park.
“The people who are returning look great,” head field hockey coach Shannon Judge said when asked about her team’s potential this season. “But we have a lot of work to do. Kasey is coming off a national tournament and was chosen for the Under-17 National Team, which is an amazing accomplishment. She’s working herself up through the Future’s Elite Program, which is the Olympic pipeline.”
Two years ago the Lady Whalers won the Long Island Class C Championship, but last season the team was eliminated in the first round by Babylon after finishing with a 9-5 record in Division III play.
Gilbride, who was named an All-State athlete as a sophomore last season, returns along with a small corps of experienced players to lead Pierson’s most decorated program, which kicks off its season with a non-league game against Riverhead tomorrow, September 7, at home at 4 p.m.
In addition to players from Pierson High School, students from the Bridgehampton School also play on the Lady Whalers.
Other players expected to lead Pierson this year are juniors Katherine Matthers, Emme Luck, Kirra McGowin, India Hemby and Emma Romeo, who is expected to start in goal following the loss of Catherine Musnicki to graduation.
Rachel Saidman is the only returning senior on the team, and will be relied on for leadership. There are three potential freshmen starters in Erica Selyukova, Kerrie Vila and Claire Kunzeman, all of whom have good athletic ability, according to Judge. She added they would need to learn some intricacies of the game before they develop into top tier players.
Sophomore Phiona Vall also returns after playing varsity as a freshman last year.
“My core group is very good, and they are in amazing shape,” Judge said. “But it’s going to be a hard season. Southampton is now a C school because their enrollment dropped. We have a pre-season rank of fifth and the top six make the playoffs. It’s going to be a challenging season all around.”
There was a time, Judge said, when field hockey was the only choice for female athletes at Pierson and the program generally remained strong from one season to the next. Female athletes today can choose from soccer, volleyball and cross-country, all of which kick off their seasons in the coming week. The school also sends players to East Hampton for varsity tennis and began its own junior varsity tennis team last fall.
“The pool gets spread a little thin,” Judge said. “But we do what we have to do.”
Pierson boys will compete in varsity cross-country, soccer and golf this season, with the soccer team hoping to return to the playoffs for a third consecutive year.
“We have a couple of kids who are passionate about the sport, play year-round and who are pretty solid players,” said Peter Solow, who returns as the boys’ head varsity soccer coach. “So what we have to do is meld those kids with other kids who don’t have that level of commitment and who play other sports.”
Like field hockey, the boys soccer team has also enjoyed success in recent years, having reached the county final two years ago before losing to perennial state powerhouse, Port Jefferson, which returns this season as the Class C favorite.
For the Whalers to build on last year’s 7-8-2 record, they will have to replace 11 players who were lost to graduation. Leading the pack will be seniors Christian Bautista, a potent scorer, and Christian Figueroa as well as junior Gavin O’Brien. Ian Barrett returns to start in goal, and will be backed up by Nick Stephens.
“They both look very solid,” said Solow, whose teams have traditionally been strong defensively.
“But we’re still looking for scorers,” he added, pointing out that Port Jeff’s top three scorers had 56 goals last season, while Pierson’s top three netted just 15.
Forrest Loesch and Jackson Marienfeld also return as two of the school’s many multi-sport athletes, with Loesch a member of last spring’s Long Island Class C Champion baseball squad.
“One of the things we have going for us is a number of the kids have been successful in other sports,” Solow said.
Never one to pass up the opportunity for a dig at any sport other than soccer, the sport he loves, Solow added, “I tell the kids all the time, that the importance of a sport can be judged by the size of the ball.”
Pierson boys soccer will kick off the season this weekend with the annual Bridgehampton National Bank Cup and a non-league game tomorrow, September 7, at Hampton Bays before the Whalers host Westhampton Beach at Mashashimuet Park on Friday, September 8, at 2 p.m.
“We don’t have an easy game on the schedule,” Solow said.