Whalers Field Hockey Team Is Already Eyeing Next Year

Visions of next year were dancing in the players’ and coaches’ heads
The Pierson-Bridgehampton field hockey team parried eight of Cazenovia’s penalty corner plays, but not its ninth. Kurt Leggard

The Pierson-Bridgehampton field hockey team lost 2-1 to the Cazenovia Lakers in a state Class C semifinal Saturday, but while the defeat obviously stung, visions of next year were dancing in the players’ and coaches’ heads not long afterward.

Bethany Semlear, the Whalers’ first-year head coach, a Pierson grad herself who played D-1 field hockey at the University of Connecticut, where she was red-shirted in her freshman year, and who later played a year at C.W. Post, where she did her graduate work, said during a conversation Monday that she agreed with one of her hard-charging players, Ana Sherwood, that “the sky’s the limit next year.”

There were only three seniors on this year’s team, Kerrie Vila, the sweeper, being the sole starter among them. Semlear is expected to have only three seniors next year too, but the three — Sherwood, Cali Cafiero, and Allura Leggard — hold great promise. 

“This year was basically a learning experience for us, but I agree with Ana. Next year we ought to be able to go further than the semifinals.”

Vila said after Saturday’s loss that she’d be surprised if the Whalers lost a game next fall. 

Pierson went 10-8 in league play, “playing mostly B schools,” and finished at 11-9. It got to the state’s Final Four by defeating Carle Place 1-0 in the Long Island regional game, thanks to Paige Schaefer’s first-ever goal, scored, said Semlear, “with less than four minutes to go. . . . It came off a corner. The ball went out of the circle, but our backup, Ava Lantiere, hit it back in. Paige [a freshman], who was in front of their goalie, collected it and put it in.”

While her team had played at full throttle throughout the regional game, her charges, for some reason, she said, were “flat in the first half of the state semifinal. . . . It wasn’t nervousness; I don’t know exactly why it was. They just weren’t focused.”

During that first half, Cazenovia, the team Pierson-Bridgehampton beat two years ago on its way to the school’s first-ever state title, seized the momentum, taking eight shots on goal and executing six penalty corner plays, awarded as the result of fouls committed within the circle surrounding P-B’s cage.

“They were very fast — they caught us off-guard,” said Semlear, many of whose players are also speedy.

Cazenovia got on the scoreboard first, when, with about six and a half minutes left until the halftime break, a penalty stroke was awarded the upstate team after a shot had hit Cafiero’s “leg or arm when she was standing on the line behind our goalie. . . . It was a good call.”

The stroke, said Semlear, “was a low shot to our goalie’s non-stick side. It was a good stroke.”

Semlear’s charges turned it around, however, in the second half, which she said she thought the Whalers dominated.

The locals tied it at 1-1 five minutes into the second half when Claudia Patterson, a sophomore from Bridgehampton who had taken up a position near the left post, deflected past Cazenovia’s keeper a shot that had been taken by Sherwood.

The Lakers replied with what proved to be the game-winner with about seven minutes left to play. “It came off a deflection, like ours,” said Pierson-Bridgehampton’s coach, “off a corner play shot taken from near the top of the circle.”

It was the only corner play of the nine awarded Cazenovia that morning that went awry for Pierson-Bridgehampton, which, Semlear said, had during its recent practices concentrated on defending corners, using Leggard, a sprinter in the spring, as its flier, the first defender to the ball.

Asked if her players had had any chances after that, the coach said, “Oh yes, we did. We had some fast breaks [Sherwood air-dribbled the ball for about 70 yards on one of them] . . . we had a few opportunities, but just couldn’t get it in.”

Patterson came close to tying the score again in those final minutes, but, with the goalie down and Cazenovia’s cage open just a few feet away, a defender foiled her. 

Cazenovia went on to lose Sunday to Whitney Point, the defending champion, 3-1, in the state Class C final.