Last season ended with the Sacred Heart lacrosse team proudly hoisting the championship trophy after winning the FAA Tournament championship.
This spring, the Tigers have the components in place to accomplish the same feat.
There will, of course, be challenges along the way, but Sacred Heart has the skill and big-game experience at each position to reach its goals.
“We are looking to go out there and defend our FAA title,” Tigers coach Tara Clough said. “We also want to be competitive in the New England Prep School league, which we are capable of doing. We have a young team with great leadership and outstanding athletes.”
The 2017 season saw the Tigers register a record of 13-4, including a convincing 18-5 win over Greens Farms Academy in the FAA championship game. The victory gave Sacred Heart its first FAA title since 2011.
Here’s a look at this season’s Sacred Heart squad.
AT THE HELM: Clough, a New Canaan native, begins her fourth season as coach of the Tigers. Prior to winning the FAA championship last spring, Sacred Heart went 13-5 in 2016 and advanced to the title game of the conference tournament, where it lost to Greenwich Academy. The Gators are no longer competing in the FAA, so like last season, will not compete in the conference tourney.
Bunny O’Reilly and Ryan Penner are each assistant coaches.
WHO’S GONE?: Grace Paletta graduated and is playing at Cornell University, where she is already excelling as a freshman. Paletta, the team’s captain last season, recorded four goals and two assists in the Tigers’ triumph against Greens Farms in the FAA final.
Also graduating were starting goalie Maddie McLane, defender Ellen Pucel, defender Emily Micciulli, midfielder Charlotte Clark and attack Haley Horn, all of whom keyed the squad’s success. Mae Briody, who also helped lead the attack, transfered to Ridgefield High School for her senior year.
POSITIONS: Senior co-captain Samantha Clark returns at attack.
“This is her fourth season on the team and she has been a starter every year,” Clough said. “She is a very strong low attacker.”
Sophomore Katie Keller is back at attack, along with senior co-captain Christina DeConcini, junior Caroline Paul and sophomore Lily DeConcini. Freshman Hannah Dempsey joins the team at attack.
Ryan Smith, who is coming off a sensational sophomore season, will be relied upon to spark the squad offensively from her midfield position. Smith, who will play lacrosse at Boston College, tallied four goals and two assists in the Tigers’ FAA title game triumph and was a clutch scorer throughout the 2017 campaign.
“Ryan is one of the best athletes I have ever coached,” Clough said. “She has great footwork and a high lacrosse IQ. She is such an impact player everywhere on the field.
Sophomore Amelia Sheehan, sophomore Morgan Smith and junior Hilary Hoover (who will play lacrosse at Cornell) also return as midfielders.
“Hilary has tremendous speed and is a great offensive threat,” Clough said. “She is a very strong defender as well as a midfielder.”
Junior Athena Corroon, who will attend The Naval Academy, sophomore Claire Chmiel and sophomore Peyton Lauricella are defenders. Starting in goal is freshman Rachel Keefe.
“We have seven freshman, seven sophomores, six juniors and two seniors, so we have a young team,” said Clough, whose squad visits Kent in its season-opener on Wednesday.
STRENGTHS: Ryan Smith is tough for any opponent to match up with and Hoover and Keller also bring scoring potential to the field. The defense should be sound with Corroon leading the way.
COACH’S COMMENT: “I want to focus on our leadership, communication and consistency,” Clough said. “For most of my players, lacrosse is their first love. My goal is to help them feel strong, confident and happy out there — continuing that passion for the game.”