The night Rebecca Lillis has dreaded is fast approaching.
Lillis, the Greenport/Southold high school field hockey coach, was misty-eyed on the first day of preseason practice, knowing it was the beginning of the end.
Tears will be shed on Wednesday, Oct. 19. It will not just be any Senior Night under the lights at Greenport High School’s Dorrie Jackson Memorial Field, but the game against Babylon will be Senior Night for the Clippers’ three six-year varsity players. Virtually unheard of. It will feature an emotional tribute to Toni Esposito, Madison Tabor and Katie Tuthill, who share 18 years of varsity experience among them.
“Oh yeah,” Tabor said. “Tears will be flowing.”
This season brings the swan song for the three seniors, who are strong players at different positions. Tabor, a center forward, and Esposito, a center midfielder, both earned All-County honorable mention last year. Tuthill was an All-Division goalie.
Their careers have spanned over a series of ups and downs. They experienced a playoff game and one or two rebuilding seasons.
“This is our sixth year,” said Tabor, who has tallied 13 goals and eight assists this season. “It’s crazy.”
In some ways, she said, it seems like a long time, and in some ways, it has flown by fast.
It all started when they were sixth-graders and encouraged to join an indoor field hockey league. On a weeknight evening in the winter, the three walked into the Greenport High School gym and that changed everything.
Lillis recalled: “I said, ‘Come on over and just give it a try. See if you like field hockey,’ and that was it.”
The three of them were new to the sport.
“We were literally kicking the ball,” Esposito (one goal, seven assists) said. “We had no idea. They gave us a stick and they were like, ‘Run, hit this ball and don’t use your feet.’ … [Former coach Todd Gulluscio] was like, ‘Just give it your best.’ We had no idea what we were doing.”
That changed soon enough. The following year, as seventh-graders, they were pulled up to the varsity team by Gulluscio, the coach at the time.
Esposito and Tabor started some games as seventh-graders. Tuthill split time playing in the field and in goal until her sophomore season, which ended early because of a concussion. Last year was her first full season as a varsity goalie.
But all three are connected by their long journey together with the Clippers (4-6 overall and in Suffolk County Division III).
“These are like my sisters,” said Tuthill, who has made 91 saves this season. “I mean, we’ve really been best friends since kindergarten. We’ve played every single sport together since Day One.”
Lillis, who has been the Clippers’ head coach for five years, speaks highly of the trio, both as players and as people.
“I’m proud of their dedication,” she said. “We’ve had our ups and downs. They’ve really met those challenges and done the best they could with those. I’m just very proud of them. They’re amazing girls and I’m just honored to be their coach.”
None of the seniors have committed to colleges yet or have definite plans to play in college, so this could be their final days playing field hockey. That is why Tabor said she is trying to savor every moment.
“I loved every second,” she said. “I mean, pretty much every second.”
For previous senior games, the threesome had to write speeches for teammates. Not this time. On Wednesday they will be listening to what others have to say about them. “We watched everyone graduate over our six years and now it’s finally our turn,” said Tuthill.
Lillis knew this night was coming for a while, but that hasn’t made it any easier.
“That game under the lights is going to be a sad night for me,” she said. “That’s going to be a tough day. I’m going to miss them.”
Photo caption: Greenport/Southold’s three seniors, from left, Toni Esposito, Katie Tuthill and Madison Tabor, are all six-year varsity players. (Credit: Rebecca Lillis, courtesy photo)