GREENWICH — Neighborhood rivals Sacred Heart Greenwich and Greenwich Academy each entered their much-anticipated matchup unbeaten, while allowing only a handful of goals between them all season, so something had to give when the two field hockey powers met on Saturday.
Setting the tone early with two first-half goals enabled the Tigers to emerge from the 2019 version of this always intense game with their perfect record intact.
Two-time defending FAA Tournament champion Sacred Heart held yet another foe off the scoreboard, shutting out host Greenwich Academy, 3-0, in a key league game.
With the win, the Tigers raised their record to 10-0 and remained in first place in the FAA. Should Sacred Heart win the remainder of its league games, it will earn its first ever FAA regular season title — a championship that has gone to Greenwich Academy in previous seasons. The Tigers will also gain the No. 1 seed and home field advantage in next month’s FAA Tournament.
“We were really focused from the beginning, we knew it was going to be the hardest match of the season,” Sacred Heart coach Alex Gheorghe said. “GA is really fast in transition and they have very skilled players. But we kept our composure and pressed hard all the time and generated early goals.”
Katie Keller, Fiona Lewis and Beth Yeager scored one goal apiece for the Tigers, who edged the Gators, 2-1, in overtime in the 2018 FAA Tournament finals.
“This is what we’ve been looking forward to all season,” Tigers senior midfielder/co-captain Morgan Smith, who helped pace the squad’s strong midfield/defensive effort. It’s really nice to see the hard work pay off.”
Greenwich Academy’s record stands at 12-1-1. Both the Gators and Tigers are ranked among the top five in the NEPSAC.
“Our team played very well the last three quarters of the game,” GA coach Jamie Brower said. “Sacred Heart is an excellent team that’s very well coached and a lot of fun to watch. They outplayed us today.”
Said Greenwich Academy senior centerback/co-captain Maya Walker: “We’re evenly matched teams. I don’t think the score was indicative of how close the game actually was. We have a few things to clean up, but other than that, I’m really proud of our team. It was a fight to the end.”
SETTING THE TONE
Quickly moving the ball up the field, the Tigers tallied with 27:28 remaining in the first half. Controlling a pass from sophomore Caroline Nemec, Keller drove a perimeter shot from the right side of the circle past GA junior goalie Kathryn Gregory, inside the left post, giving SHG a 1-0 lead.
At the 17:51 mark, Sacred Heart extended its advantage. This time, Lewis, who had plenty of space to shoot, converted a shot from approximately eight yards out, giving the Tigers a 2-0 edge.
“We’ve always been talking about shooting from any angle and that helped us get going in the game,” Sacred Heart senior defender/co-captain Sydney Gallop said. “After that first goal, we knew we could do it.”
The Tigers, who moved the ball quickly upfield on each goal, seemed to catch the Gators off guard a bit.
“Those two goals, I have to go back and watch again,” Brower said. “Everyone was kind of not sure what happened, but we know we need to play tighter in the first half. We were not as organized as we needed to be and they capitalized on a little bit miscommunication on our side. We battled and worked really hard though.”
Greenwich Academy drew a penalty corner at the 23:20 mark of the opening half, with Julia Freedman sending the insert pass to Katharine Glassmeyer. As has been the case all season, SHG defended the penalty corners effectively on Saturday.
With freshman Olivia Caponiti in goal, Sacred Heart has yielded only three goals through 10 games.
“We defend as a team,” Gheorghe said. “We knew who to mark, it was a team effort. It was important to defend the circle and not allow corners.”
Added Smith: “That is coach’s thing — no goals. Olivia (Caponiti) is a freshman, but she played on our team last year, so she is used to the hard shots. Our defensive unit is a tight unit that’s played together for several years now.”
STRONG SECOND HALF
GA’s best scoring opportunity came with just under 23 minutes left in the second half. Lila Murray broke loose on a breakaway and found herself 1-on-1 with Caponiti as she charged toward the cage. Caponiti was able to clear the ball as it approached her.
Yeager gave the visitors a 3-0 lead when she scored off a penalty corner with 10:31 to go in the second half. MaryGrace Farrell sent a pass Yeager’s way and positioned near the top of the circle, Yeager drove a hard shot home for the game’s third goal.
“We were practicing our corners all week and were just keeping them simple and trying to get a shot on cage,” said Yeager, a junior. “I knew I just had to get in on cage and I’m happy it went it. The insert was great on that play.”
Sophie Freedman, a junior, and Grace Schulze (senior) each sparked GA, as they attempted to put pressure on a Tigers team that’s tough to generate shots against.
“Credit Sacred Heart, they played really good defense every time we tried to get an opportunity,” Freedman said. “I’m really proud of how our team stuck with it though. They scored two early goals and we played really strong after that and held it together. Our passing was good and we did a good job of finding each other.”
Said Schulze: “They started really strong and we had a slow start, so they capitalized on their opportunities early. We had a hole and couldn’t get out of it. If we see them again, we have to be able to prevent quick shots and clean out the rebounds.”
Gregory made four saves for the Gators, while Caponiti stopped two shots for the victors.
“From the beginning of the game, we were playing as a team and we did a good job of moving the ball,” Yeager said. “We were pressing as a team well and really got them under pressure.”
Said Walker: “Every time we lose we use it as motivation to fight through the rest of our games. We’re hoping to see them again and the next time we hope it goes our way.”
Sacred Heart visits Westminster on Monday, before hosting Canterbury on Wednesday. Greenwich Academy travels to Loomis Chaffee Wednesday and Westminster on Saturday.
“We have to just keep going, hopefully, we’ll beat all the boarding schools,” Yeager said. “The FAA Tournament is coming up, so we have to keep playing hard as a team.”
“It’s nice that we could get to host the FAA Tournament,” Gallop added. “The NEPSAC schools are so far away too, so if we can host a NEPSAC playoff game that would be nice too.”