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May 7, 2018 7:29 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Success Of Westhampton Beach Girls Lacrosse Can Be Linked To Local Youth Program

The same group of girls during their PAL years, with Shelby Meduski, far left, Emilee Downs, Caitlin Gallagher, Hailey Daleo, Olivia Santore and Eleanor Kast.
May 8, 2018 1:49 PM

It wasn’t long ago when just reaching the playoffs was a lofty goal for the Westhampton Beach girls lacrosse team.

After qualifying for the postseason in 2013—the first since 2007 and just the second time it accomplished the feat in its then 14-year existence—the Lady Hurricanes made it a point to go a little bit further each season. From winning its first playoff game in 2014, to earning its first-ever home playoff game in 2016, then reaching the county semifinals last season, Westhampton Beach is no longer the Cinderella team it once was but rather a legitimate county championship contender year in and year out.

That’s due, in large part, to a tight-knit group that has come up together through the local youth leagues and travel teams. Hailey Daleo and Eleanor Kast, now seniors, were eighth-graders on the team that started its playoff run in 2013, and both, along with fellow seniors, Emilee Downs, Caitlin Gallagher and Shelby Meduski, and along with junior Hollie Schleicher and sophomore Isabelle Smith, each credited their time playing together since they were young as a big reason for the culture change the program has gone through the past few years.

“It was new and interesting winning our first ever playoff game,” Daleo said. “Those girls on that team never experienced something like that. To win that game and see the looks on the seniors’ faces ... it just feels good that now we’re in a situation where can go further as a team.”

“In years past, the goal was get to playoffs, make the first round. That’s something now that we’re expecting to do and go further from that,” Smith added. “I think it shows how the program has grown throughout the years.”

Schleicher, who is a cousin to Smith, moved to the district from Sag Harbor this school year, but she was not at all a stranger when she joined the team. Since the Sag Harbor area just recently started a girls lacrosse youth program, Schleicher had been traveling to Westhampton to play with her cousin and the rest of the Lady Canes for the past couple of years. Having Schleicher join the fold this year was a smooth transition for her and the team, thanks to their time together with the local youth programs.

“I started here and now I’m ending here, which is a really cool experience and I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone but the people who brought me into the sport,” Schleicher said.

It helps to have a strong leader at the top and Mary Bergmann has been just that. She took over the program in 2014 and the Lady Canes have made the playoffs ever since, but Bergmann knew she was taking over an up-and-coming program when she first started and credited those within the local youth leagues for putting the girls on the right path.

“I think that any chance to make meaningful connections with teammates from a young age helps you at this level,” she said. “Knowing where a person cuts, or how a person transitions the ball, cuts out a lot of the guesswork. These seniors are always on the same page and that continuity will hopefully continue on to the younger players.”

This season’s senior crop was the first group of players Bergmann was able to teach when she took over four years ago.

“Being able to teach and coach kids like this has been everything I ever hoped for while I was searching for a job,” she said. “There is such a deep connection with these kids, as if they are sisters. Sometimes they fight like sisters, but like any family, those moments pass and they move on. They are committed to each other, to this team, and to this program. No matter the outcome of this season, that will always be the case.”

Many of the girls said the team certainly has a “uniqueness” to it and that it can be tough to deal with all of the different personalities. But it’s those types of things that make the team like a sisterhood.

“We’ve always had each other’s back, and not just on the field, not just during lacrosse, but in school and in anything,” Downs said.

“We’ve been friends our whole lives. That translates onto the field,” Gallagher said.

Bryan Schaumloffel took over for Carrie Bender four years ago as director of Westhampton Beach Girls Youth Lacrosse, and he felt that the youth program should be an extension of the varsity program, and therefore worked closely with Bergmann and coordinated efforts to make the program’s work as seamless as possible. He said the plan is to have the girls play together from first to sixth grade, then from middle school to junior varsity and finally varsity.

Schaumloffel called the current varsity team a bunch of “superstars.”

“They’ve got a lot of talent,” he said. “Belle Smith is one of the top girls in the country in her grade. Daleo, Kast, Downs, they’re all stars, and that’s why we try and emphasize the younger girls to go to their games. We really try and build up the varsity program and get the girls excited for the future.”

This past Saturday the program held a PAL Day where it had teams from its youth lacrosse program interact with the varsity players before and after the game. From creating signs of players that hung along the fences at the varsity field, to having the teams announced at halftime, it was clear the youth program is going strong.

“We’ve seen continued steps of growth and we’re trying to make Westhampton a lacrosse town,” Schaumloffel said.

Others have taken notice of the program as well, reflected in the number of college commitments the team has seen this season. Smith and Schleicher—who were both named to Newsday’s Top 100 Players on Long Island this season, Smith even making the Top 10 To Watch list—have already committed to play at Boston College after they graduate, while Daleo and Kast (Stony Brook), Downs (Towson), Gallagher (LIU Post) and Meduski (Cortland) will all be playing at the college level starting next year. Kerry Dillon (Iona) and Lindsay Rongo (Stony Brook) have also committed to play in college.

Having that many college commits on one team, and to continue to raise the bar each season, can certainly bring added pressure to succeed. The Lady Canes currently sit in third place in Class C with an 8-5 Division II record (9-6 overall) with 135.44 power points. But as the players noted, no one puts more pressure on themselves to succeed, while some don’t look at it as pressure.

“I think it’s more of an opportunity,” Schleicher said. “I feel like it was meant to be. Especially because they’re seniors, we want to end together in a county championship.

“Everyone’s all in.”

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