By Jacob Sisson
The Pierson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers (5-8-2, 4-7-0) sent their three graduating seniors off in style, beating Southold/Greenport (2-9-2, 2-7-2) 2-0 in each team’s final game of the season. Despite the win, Pierson fell one game short of making the playoffs this season, making their win somewhat bittersweet.
Both teams entered the game with little other than pride to play for, and despite getting the better of their opponents earlier in the season, the Lady Whalers would face an uphill battle against a Southold/Greenport team motivated to perform on their senior day. It was also the final game in the high school careers of the Lady Whalers three captains – Amanda Busiello, Emma Ferrera and Kaci Koehne – and all three were looking to go out in style.
Pierson/Bridgehampton also entered the game with a major chip on their shoulder, having been run out of their final home game of the season to the tune of 7-0 at the hands of undefeated League VIII leaders Smithtown Christian (11-0-0, 11-0-0). Not only would the game against Southold/Greenport stand as the final test of the leadership of a very talented group of seniors, but also of the resolve of a very young and inexperienced team.
“We were very aggressive in this game,” said Pierson/Bridgehampton coach Haley Luzim. “It’s always great to win, especially for your seniors. Both teams came out with really not a lot to play for, so it was nice to see both teams came out and play hard. It was good competition, and that was nice to see. The girls did a nice job going out and going after the ball.”
Pierson took the field against Southold/Greenport defending the goal kept by sophomore goalkeeper Liz Grigonis. Ferrera and freshman Bridget Canavan shielded Grigonis in the center. Patrolling the left flank was sophomore Julia Schiavoni, while her counterpart on the right was fellow sophomore Sara Hartman. Getting the nod in midfield was Kaci Koehne, who was entrusted to set the tempo for the team, while linking up with sophomore Sophie Gianis and freshmen Marley Holder and Diana Rozzi. In charge of the scoring were Busiello and freshman Alexis Suydam.
For both teams it took a while to get into the swing of the game, with neither side controlling the ball for extended periods of time. Pierson/Bridgehampton and Southold/Greenport traded spells in each other’s end that repeatedly came to nothing as the two midfields struggled to exert their authority.
Pierson/Bridgehampton looked to be walking a fine line defensively as they were exposed on a number of occasions on the counter attack. Luckily for the Lady Whalers, Canavan was playing the role of sweeper to perfection and was always on hand to close out any Southold/Greenport attacks.
The Lady Whalers began to pick up some momentum on the ten-minute mark when Koehne and Busiello began to get themselves into the game. The first chance of the game came on the first of a number of dangerous free kicks awarded to the Lady Whalers. Busiello stood over the ball and delivered an inch perfect out-swinging cross that looked destined for the head of Koehne. Koehne missed the header by inches, and Southold was able to clear the chance and the resulting corner kick.
Pierson/Bridgehampton earned another free kick in nearly the same spot – to the goalkeeper’s left and about 20 yards out – as the Lady Whalers’ previous chance. Busiello’s kick didn’t manage to find any Pierson/Bridgehampton players on this occasion, but that feat would not be repeated on the 16th minute, when Busiello’s cross picked out Koehne, but the striker put her header just left of goal.
Busiello’s free kicks continued to pepper the goal, while Gianis and Holder began to pick up speed down the Lady Whaler’s right hand side. The Southold defense was having trouble containing Busiello, who provided the spark for her team on this day. Up top, Suydam was beginning to find space to move in and chances to get on the score sheet. Despite her young age, Suydam has provided a lot to this Pierson/Bridgehampton team throughout the season. Her contributions are even more impressive as she was not even on the varsity team at the start of the 2010 season.
“Alexis is a freshman who was not even on varsity at the beginning of the season. She got called up pretty early on because of her tenacity,” said coach Luzim. “She’ll be a nice player for us going forward because of her aggressiveness. A lot of our younger players are a little timid, and she’s really helped a lot for us and helped get some of our younger players going.”
When Pierson/Bridgehampton finally broke the deadlock at the 28th minute, it was Gianis who began the move, but Suydam who sealed the deal. A chipped ball found its way to a streaking Gianis, who latched on and took a shot from the left hand side of the goal. Southold/Greenport’s keeper did well to stop the initial effort but could do nothing to stop Suydam from hitting the back of an open net.
The goal seemed to take the wind out of Southold/Greenport’s sails, as Pierson/Bridgehampton continued to pour on the pressure. Runs from the Lady Whaler offense were coming thick and heavy, and resulted in another free kick on the 34th minute. Koehne looked like she had an excellent chance at the Busiello delivery, but the resulting collision with the goalkeeper resulted in a yellow card for the striker.
The second half drew to a close on a high note for Pierson/Bridgehampton, as Gianis brought a ball from the left across the penalty box and took a shot at the upper right of Southold/Greenport’s goal. An excellent save saw Gianis denied but the Lady Whalers hit the half time mark with all of the momentum.
As was the case in the first half, it took the Lady Whalers, as well as Southold/Greenport, some time to get into the swing of the second half. It wasn’t until the 57th minute that there was a hint of a scoring chance. Sophomore Vanessa Cruz crafted a move to the left of goal, cutting back across and unleashing a shot from outside the 18-yard box. Cruz’s initial shot was blocked but fell to the feet of Koehne, who easily slipped home what looked like Pierson/Bridgehampton’s second goal of the game. Unfortunately, Koehne had been ruled offsides and the goal would not stand.
The next ten minutes tested the resolve of the Lady Whalers, as Southold/Greenport finally found their rhythm. Southold/Greenport poured forward and kept Pierson/Bridgehampton pinned in their defensive half. The Lady Whaler defense reacted well to a number of shots, getting bodies in the way of most, and giving Grigonis easy looks at everything else. At times, the Southold/Greenport pressure was so strong that the Pierson/Bridgehampton attackers were pressed into defensive duty. If it weren’t for a vital intervention from Koehne, Southold/Greenport may have converted a dangerous breakaway and leveled the score.
Then, in the 74th minute and against the run of play, the Lady Whalers put the game out of reach for Southold/Greenport. Busiello, who had played the role of creator for much of the game, stood firm and headed home the Lady Whalers’ second goal of the game. Busiello fended off a clattering challenge from the Southold/Greenport goalkeeper and had to pick herself up off the turf to celebrate her goal. Providing the assist on the goal was Diana Rozzi, who deftly chipped over the defensive line to find the head of Busiello. All that was left was for the ball to trickle across the line to make the score 2-0.
From there, it was all a matter of controlling the game until the final whistle blew. Despite not making the playoffs, coach Luzim was upbeat about what could be considered a positive year for the Lady Whalers.
“It was definitely a rebuilding year,” said Luzim in reflection on the 2010 season. “We had three seniors, and the rest of our team was freshmen and sophomores. The seniors will be greatly missed, but they were great role models in teaching the girls how to be aggressive, to always try your hardest, as well as being very skilled players. Taking that away, it was a rebuilding year and we made some nice progress. The young players will really be key next year.”
One of those key players for the future will be sophomore defender Julia Schiavoni, who had a great game keeping the Southold/Greenport offense off of the scoreboard. “In the end of the season, she played defense because she broke a finger,” said coach Luzim. “Prior to that this season, she stepped in and played goalkeeper and did a phenomenal job for us. After she broke her finger, she moved to full back and did a tremendous job for us.”