In the end the long bus rides, the grueling overtime periods, and the suffocating pressure were worth it.
In the end, the Pierson/Bridgehampton Lady Whalers proved to the entire state what they already knew – nothing could break the resolve of this team. The goal, all season, has been the New York State Class C Field Hockey Championship. Sunday, the dream became a reality.
First came Saturday, a crucial semifinal match against Whitney Point, played, like the final, at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.
Whitney scored in the first half to take a 1-0 lead, but the locals responded when Emme Luck scored off an assist from Katherine Matthers. Throughout the grueling second half, Whitney attacked, only to be thwarted by Pierson's blanket defense led by Allura Leggard, Rachael Miller, Kirra McGowin and India Hemby.
Then, of course, there was the final line of defense – the rock, Samantha Duchemin, in goal. Like so many times during the season, Duchemin would be tested; time and time, she would display her vast array of acrobatic moves to record critical saves. The team would need all of her considerable skills, and every ounce of her energy, before the weekend finally ended.
The two teams battled through two scoreless overtimes and moved into a shootout phase – a rotating offensive player would have 10 seconds to shoot at the goal. Matthers and Hemby each scored for the locals, but Whitney scored twice as well. Thus, a second shootout, and this time three Whalers -- Kasey Gilbride, Hemby and Ana Sherwood, found the net. When Duchemin executed a kick save – coming off a cartwheel, no less -- exhausted Coach Shannon Judge's charges had earned a berth in the title game the following day by virtue of a 2-1 win (3-1 in the second shootout).
The opponent in the finale was Cazenovia (15-4-1), which was fitting. In 2010, Pierson was denied a state title by this very team, and revenge was definitely the name of this game, especially for Matthers and Gilbride, who played in that game as freshmen. Once again, the team found itself locked in a defensive struggle, but it was Cazenovia that was the more aggressive team, especially in the second half.
The Lakers attacked repeatedly, but with Hemby and Leggard leading the stubborn defense the Whalers were able to repulse most advances. Duchemin was there on the rare occasions when Cazenovia made it to the net, recording seven saves during the scoreless game.
Into overtime it went, with both teams clearly exhausted but determined. Again, neither side was able to draw blood, and the two teams moved into second overtime.
Pierson, for the most past, had the same players on the field throughout the ordeal. "They've been running for three months so they're used to it" said Judge, matter-of-factly.
The second overtime was winding down as well, when suddenly Gilbride, off a pass from Matthews, broke free. On a team full of stars, Gilbride shines the brightest. She will attend Richmond on a field hockey scholarship, and during the offseason competes on the Junior National Team. Simply put, in sports parlance, Gilbride is a superstar at this level. "This is it," thought Judge. Revenge was at hand for Gilbride. She drove off the right wing, drew a horde of defenders, and suddenly, with the flick of a wrist, sent a reverse into the left corner of the net. It was golden.
"It was amazing, euphoric," Judge said. "It was vindication on a lot of levels." Not only had Pierson lost the 2010 final, but the team had fallen short last season as well. "I thought we could have won it all last year," the coach said. For Judge, it was the culmination of seven-year coaching career. The state championship, she said, "has always been a personal goal of mine."
The exhausted players suddenly found a second wind, jumping, giddily embracing, cradling their gold medals. It was a moment in time that will be frozen forever in their memories, a realization that a bond now existed between them that can never be broken. It was, said Judge, "magical."
In addition to the players mentioned above the 2013 Class C New York State Champions are Kirra McGowin, Emma Romeo. Rachel Miller, Phiona Vall, Sheila Mackey, Cassandra Spencer, Kerrie Vila, Calista Cafiero, Ana Sherwood, and Hollie Schleicher.
Gilbride, Hemby, Matthers, Luck, McGowin and Romeo are seniors.