After beating West Islip, the team to beat for Division II, 1-0 early on in the season, head coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards knew that her field hockey team was for real.
“I was in tears after that game,” Walsh-Edwards said. “I was so proud with how they played. Even though it was just 1-0, we really played great hockey. Beating a team like that makes you feel so hopeful and makes you think that they can achieve great things.”
And boy did they ever.
Riverhead strung together five consecutive league victories, the best start in Walsh-Edwards’ 14-year tenure as head coach. And following a 1-0 loss to Newfield on Monday, Riverhead now stands at 9-4, destined for a high seed in the playoffs. Though they stumbled a bit down the stretch, losing a few close games that could have really gone either way, ultimately it’s nothing to hang their head about. Every loss hurts. But this one wasn’t too bad. There was even some laughter in the post-game speech.
Maria Dillingham, a four-year varsity player and consistent contributor was out with an injury but is expected to be back for the season finale at Smithtown East on Wednesday.
“Missing her in the lineup was definitely huge,” Walsh-Edwards said. “But field hockey is an 11-player game. I don’t think Maria goes out and wins games on her own but it does affect the game when girls have to play out of position. They’re so used to playing together at certain positions so it makes things more difficult when one of your important players goes down.”
It’s especially difficult to readjust to a new lineup because Walsh-Edwards decided to run only two midfielders this season whereas most teams tend to play with three. Dillingham and Danni Napoli are both high-caliber players that impact both sides of the field. Their motors never seem to run out fuel.
“My two mids have always been Maria and Danni so not having one of them throws off the way things work,” Walsh-Edwards said.
“Not being able to play with Maria was definitely a challenge,” Napoli said. “I’m always working with her the entire game switching back and forth because we’re the only two mids. So working with someone new was difficult. But I think when Maria comes back, everything will click again.”
The team expected to do well this season. The quick start was no surprise for Napoli.
“Making the playoffs last year was a huge confidence boost coming into the season,” Napoli said. “We only had two starters graduate so we had pretty much the same personnel so we knew we had something special. And Katie Mckillop joined the team too so that was a huge lift.”
Mckillop, a soccer player by trade, decided to join the field hockey team for her senior season even though she’s already committed to playing soccer in college next year.
Asked why she decided to forego soccer this year, Mckillop didn’t have an immediate answer but Walsh-Edwards, who was listening in, answered for her saying, “because she loves me! I’ve been begging her to play for years!”
All jokes aside, Mckillop simply didn’t see playing for the soccer team as a way to improve her game. And besides all her friends play field hockey.
“We just have an incredible bond on this team,” Mckillop said. “I think that’s a reason why we’re so successful.”
The Blue Waves finish the regular season at home on Wednesday against first-place Smithtown East. A win against the (12-1) Bulls would certainly vault the Blue Waves up the standings and essentially guarantee a home playoff game in the first round of the playoffs.
Is the win possible?
“We’re going to do our best,” Mckillop said.
Napoli cut right to the chase.
“I think Smithtown East should watch out.”
RiverheadLOCAL photos by George Faella