By Gavin Menu
The word “young” was tossed around early and often last season as the Pierson-Bridgehampton field hockey team, with just one senior on its roster, set out to add to its legacy of winning championships.
True to their youthful form, the Lady Whalers were inconsistent during a season in which they went 10-7 overall and had to petition Section XI for a postseason berth before losing to rival Southampton in the Suffolk County Class C final.
The team’s lone senior from last year, Rachel Saidman, graduated in June and following the loss to Southampton underclassman were left tearful, speaking only about “next year” and what the future might hold for the program.
Flash forward to this fall and youth should no longer be a problem for Pierson, which returns a stacked senior class led by returning All-State phenom Kasey Gilbride, who will play Division I field hockey at the University of Richmond next year. Other key returning seniors include Katherine Matthers, Emme Luck, Kirra McGowin, Emma Romeo and India Hemby, who joins the Lady Whalers from Bridgehampton High School.
Pierson also has a core of strong younger players who now have a year of experience under their belts.
“Well we’re still young, but now they’re freshman rather than eighth graders,” head coach Shannon Judge said this week as the team got back to pre-season practice. “And I have a great group of seniors.”
Gilbride returns after a stellar junior year in which she set a school record with 30 total points, which was the second most on Long Island. She also set school records for goals in a single season (22) and goals in a single game (5). After playing long stretches at midfield last year, Gilbride will primarily play attack this season where her scoring has the potential to go through the roof, a scary thought for opponents of the Lady Whalers.
“Kasey is an unbelievable offensive threat,” Judge said. “Her stick handling is quick, strong and precise.”
Both Gilbride and Matthers played as freshmen on the Pierson team that lost in the New York State Class C final in 2010 and this past summer they were teammates on the United States national futures team. Now they will be one of the more potent one-two punches in Suffolk County.
“Kasey and Katherine will be an enjoyable duo to watch play,” Judge said. “Katherine controls and maintains the offensive threat, while distributing to Kasey and the forwards to score.”
Luck was also part of the team that went to the state final and she, Hemby and Gilbride will make for a strong and experienced forward line.
“These seniors have been to the state tournament, they know what it takes to get there and how to win,” said Judge, whose goal, like most years, is to advance as far as possible in the postseason.
On defense, Romeo started in goal for the first time last year and played well, but she will move to the sweeper position this fall, anchoring a defense led by McGowin, who plays year-round for East End Field Hockey. Juniors Rachael Miller and Phiona Vall are also returning defenders while Sam Duchemin, a junior who moved over from the volleyball team, and Sheila Mackay will compete for the starting job in goal, according to Judge.
Holding down the midfield alongside Matthers will be two of Pierson’s most talented young athletes in sophomore Erica Selyukova and freshman Ana Sherwood, who came on strong last season to earn All-Division honors.
Rounding out the roster are freshmen Cali Cafiero and Allura Leggard and sophomores Kerrie Vila and Cassandra Spencer.
The Lady Whalers are seeded third out of 13 teams in Division III this year, where Miller Place returns as the favorite after an undefeated season that ended with a state Class B championship.
Joining Pierson in the Class C ranks are Southampton, Babylon, Port Jefferson and Greenport/Southold/Shelter Island.
The Lady Whalers will begin the season with five straight road games, starting with the opener at Bayport-Blue Point on Monday, September 9 at 4:30 p.m. The team’s first home game will come against Port Jefferson on Saturday, September 28 at 12 noon, although a road game against local rival East Hampton is scheduled for September 20 at 4 p.m.