It’s a celebration!
For one, it was Wildcats coach Lea Caligeros’ birthday. And, more importantly for the team, it was a performance they all insisted was their most impressive thus far as Shoreham-Wading River topped host Southampton, 5-1, yesterday in a Division III showdown.
Alyssa Fleming had two goals and an assist and Kaitlyn Taddeo had a goal and two assists to lead the Wildcats, who improved to 4-0 (3-0 in conference). Mandy Hearney and Christina Malave also scored, and Kendal Conway made nine saves.
“I think they were the strongest team we’ve played so far,” Taddeo said of Southampton, whose only loss had come to first-place Rocky Point in penalty strokes. “They played well, and we responded. We played really well offensively and defended. I’m proud of how we did.”
The Mariners took the lead 3:01 into the game on Keeling Pilaro’s goal off a pass from Meggie Gallo, but Taddeo tied it at 25:10. Hearney gave SWR a 2-1 lead 10:49 before intermission, and the Wildcats pulled away in the second half.
“I thought we played a great,” said Caligeros, whose players sang “Happy birthday, Miss C” to her after the game. “I think this was our best effort. [Debi-Michelle Jantzen] played well and Taddeo took charge in the midfield, and we had scoring from different players. It was a real team effort and I was really pleased.”
Especially pleasing for the coach was her team’s second-half output. They had beaten East Hampton in their previous game, 3-2, but that score had been 3-0 at one point and they wound up having to cling tight to the lead late. This time, they passed on the tension.
“That was one of our goals – not letting up once we get ahead,” Taddeo said. “When you’re playing on turf, the game moves really fast and teams can catch up in a hurry. One of our focuses going into the game was to start out strong and keep it up.”
Another highlight was Jantzen playing through pain. She took a stick to the ankle late in the first half – prompting the coach to burn Shoreham’s last timeout at 2:29 – but the senior toughed it out. Jantzen spent halftime stretching the ankle and running sprints to keep it warm. She played until being subbed out with 4:47 remaining and her team holding a four-goal lead. Even then, the All-American seemed reluctant to come out.
“She’s always in the middle of things, playing center-mid, and there’s always traffic around,” Caligeros said. “When you’re as good a player as she is, there are always going to be more than one or two players in your area. She got hit and she played through it. She did a great job and she gives everything every time.”
This isn’t the Shoreham-Wading River team of recent years – a group that had the unique advantage of being a young roster with more experience than others more senior-laden. This is somewhat of a rebuilding year as several new players are getting worked in. But so far it looks as if they’re constructing an edifice as quickly as a Lego set.
“I knew we had a good nucleus, but we have some people starting for the first time and experience makes a difference,” Caligeros said. “But they’re getting that now and it’s good to be able to learn while the team is still doing well.”
And the shiny sticker goes to Fleming, who had three points. Not bad considering she’s a first-time field hockey player. Fleming, a defender on the lacrosse team, quickly earned a position as starting forward.
“It’s fun, but my teammates have to help me out a lot,” Fleming said. During the game, teammates and the coaches yelled instructions to her – mostly about where to position herself on a particular play. “It’s great having two of the best girls on Long Island (Jantzen and Taddeo) telling you what to do, so I’m definitely learning.”
Fleming used to run cross country during the fall, but some cajoling from a few friends – Lauren Lustgarten especially – got her to take a shot at field hockey. “She taught me the rules and trained me over the summer,” Fleming said of Lustgarten. “We’d go to the high school, pass the ball around and work on stuff… The girls said my main sport’s lacrosse and field hockey is like lacrosse with the ball on the ground.” Kind of. Sort of. Little different pace, though. A lot more whistles.
“It’s tougher to get the ball around in field hockey,” Fleming said of the transition. “I can’t dribble for the life of me. But I’m working on that.”
It’s a work-in-progress, but Caligeros said it’s working out.
“I told [Alyssa] I wish I had you as a ninth-grader,” the coach said. “She’s amazing. I think she has so much athletic ability and that’s helped her catch on to the game quickly. It’s just the nuances that are different from lacrosse in terms of positioning… She’s learning under fire and doing a great job. She’s already starting and that’s an accomplishment.”