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Riverhead field hockey has the speed to succeed

Riverhead's Kayla Kielbasa on Sept. 9. / Richard T. Slattery

The Riverhead field hockey roster is small in size but rich in talent.

With Suffolk powerhouses such as Ward Melville, Sachem East and Northport, it is easy to overlook the Blue Waves, who have only 15 players, 13 of whom return with varsity experience.

Several other teams have 20 or more players, and Riverhead coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards tries to use that as a motivational tool.

“Smaller...

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The Riverhead field hockey roster is small in size but rich in talent.

With Suffolk powerhouses such as Ward Melville, Sachem East and Northport, it is easy to overlook the Blue Waves, who have only 15 players, 13 of whom return with varsity experience.

Several other teams have 20 or more players, and Riverhead coach Cheryl Walsh-Edwards tries to use that as a motivational tool.

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“Smaller numbers allows for most players to get plenty of playing time," Walsh-Edwards said. "However, by not having high numbers, it can be easy to become complacent, because there’s no one on your heels looking for playing time. We have to play at a high level with consistency."

So Walsh-Edwards finds ways to keep the girls improving. Many coaches point to Riverhead as an up-and-coming program with a ton of athleticism.

Speed is one of the team's strengths, and a new turf field will only make Riverhead more dangerous. Grass can slow down the game, so a quicker surface should help the Blue Waves.

“I have some very good athletes, who have speed, and I think having turf has improved them even more,” Walsh-Edwards said.

Rease Coleman, a sophomore center-midfielder, is beginning her third year on varsity and could be a difference-maker this season.

“She tends to be defensive-minded,” Walsh-Edwards said. “We are trying to get her out of that mindset, and encouraging her to be more offensive. She’s wants to play at the next level and she can definitely be a Division I player.”

Last season’s top scorer, senior Kayla Kielbasa, and junior Katie Goodale, are leaders with strong chemistry on the forward line. They've built a bond in two sports as they also play on the school's lacrosse team. Guarding the net will be senior goalkeeper Victoria Stapon, who notched five shutouts last year. The team will look for her to pick up where she left off.

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But Riverhead does not believe in an individual game and is looking to push further than last year's first-round playoff win. The Blue Waves, who made the playoffs the last seven seasons, defeated West Islip for their first home playoff victory in school history. Their experience, a new field built for speed and a strong keeper could help Riverhead push deep into the playoffs.