GREENWICH — The first half of Saturday’s game between top-seeded Greenwich Academy and No. 4 Hotchkiss School in the semifinal-round of the NEPSAC Class A Field Hockey Tournament was a stalemate, with both squads having their moments.
But Greenwich Academy owned the second half and because of that, it’s heading to its final destination.
Registering three second-half goals, Greenwich Academy advanced to the final with a convincing 3-0 victory over Hotchkiss at Tammaro Field Saturday.
The Gators (18-1) play either second-seeded Phillips Andover Academy or sixth-seeded St. Paul’s School in Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. championship game at Ethel Walker School in Simsbury.
Hotchkiss, which was edged by GA 2-1 in overtime on Nov. 2, finished its season at 12-3-1.
Sophomore midfielder Maya Walker, sophomore forward Grace Schulze and senior forward Sofia Viola tallied one goal apiece for the Gators. Senior forward/co-captain Karina Schulze assisted on all three goals.
“The past two years we made it this far, but we never made it to the finals,” Karina Schulze said. “This year we were hoping to make it that far and it feels like a dream. We are so excited.”
Greenwich Academy last won the NEPSAC Class A championship in 2012. They lost to Phillips Andover Academy in the semifinal-round of the tournament the past two seasons. The three goals came during an impressive 14-minute span for GA.
“I was proud of how they came out and went after it,” GA coach Jamie Brower said of her team’s effort. “It is a great rivalry with Hotchkiss, which is such a great program with a lot of tradition and so much skill. Our kids did a nice job of working together to go after it.”
SEIZING CONTROL IN SECOND HALF
After withstanding five Bearcats penalty corners, the Gators took a 1-0 lead with 20:36 remaining in the second half on their second penalty corner of the game.
Karina Schulze sent the insert pass to senior Manveer Sandhu, who crossed the ball to Walker on the left side. Walker drove a hard shot past Hotchkiss senior goalie Emma Smith, giving GA a 1-0 lead.
“We were looking to draw corners, because we had a bunch of balls in the circle, but weren’t able to finish,” Walker said. “So at halftime, we talked about making sure we got as many penalty corners as possible. I was really nervous, because I thought I was going to miss and something was going to go wrong. But it went in the goal and went really well.”
The home team extended its advantage when Grace Schulze used her speed to tally in transition. Viola and Karina Schulze helped set up Greenwich Academy’s second goal.
“It was a nice give-and-go between me and Sofia and I don’t think the defense could catch up with our passing,” Grace Schulze said. “It was all Sofia’s work, I just tapped it in at the end.”
The Gators were a fired up team right from the start of the second half.
“We were remembering what it felt like last year when we lost in the semifinals and we didn’t want to feel that way again,” Grace Schulze said.
Keeping the Bearcats off the scoreboard following another penalty corner, GA gained a 3-0 lead off a counter-attack. This time, Viola scored after being setup nicely by Karina and Grace Schulze.
“Our goals really turned the momentum in our favor,” Karina Schulze said. “We took fast free hits, we were connecting with our passes and our communication was good.”
Maggie Reville, a senior goalie, made three saves, all of which came during the second half for Greenwich Academy. Two of them came off penalty corners initiated by forward Lindsay Reed of Hotchkiss.
“Everyone worked together really well and our communication was amazing,” Reville said. “It was beyond anything we have done before. This is the first year any of the seniors on our team has made it to the finals, so we’re excited.”
Said Brower: “Our defense has really been working on being patient and we did an excellent job defensively on their corners.”
GREENWICH ACADEMY 3, HOTCHKISS 0
HOTCHKISS 0 0 — 0
GREENWICH ACADEMY 0 3 — 3
Records: Greenwich Academy 18-1; Hotchkiss 12-3-1
Goals: GA — Maya Walker, Grace Schulze, Sofia Viola; Assists: GA — Karina Schulze 3, Manveer Sandhu, Viola, Grace Schulze; Goalies: H — Emma Smith (2 saves); GA — Maggie Reville (3 saves).