Following a 2019 season in which it sported a sparkling 18-1 record and captured its third straight FAA Tournament title, the Sacred Heart Greenwich lacrosse team was sidelined last spring, like all sports squads in the nation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the spirit of lacrosse is in the air at Sacred Heart this spring and the Tigers are aiming to pick up where they left off two seasons ago.
“I’m really excited about our team this year,” Sacred Heart senior midfielder/tri-captain Grace Lillis said. “We have a younger team and a newer team, but everyone is super excited to be out here and ambitious, which is going to help us this throughout the season.”
Though the FAA announced on its website that a season-ending tournament will not be held, FAA regular season games will still be played. So Sacred Heart is preparing to continue the dominance its enjoyed in the conference in recent seasons and is eagerly anticipating several different opponents it will face this season.
The Tigers won’t compete against as many NEPSAC boarding schools as they had in season’s past, since certain schools are not having spring seasons, or are not traveling as much. However, Sacred Heart has scheduled matchups against opponents that play in the FCIAC, schools such as Ridgefield and New Canaan. They also have a scrimmage against visiting Darien on Thursday and will of course, play longtime neighborhood rival Greenwich Academy – twice this season.
“We’re playing a lot of the FAA schools and we’re really lucky we have a lot of super competitive schools next to us,” said Lillis, who also swam and ran cross country for Sacred Heart. “We are playing Darien Thursday (a scrimmage), which is really exciting and GA twice, which is always really fun.”
Patrolling the midfield with Lillis is senior tri-captain Hannah Dempsey, who like her fellow captains, has embraced her leadership role.
“In a year of COVID times, it’s definitely more difficult, because it’s harder to do the team-bonding activities that you normally do,” Dempsey said. “We try doing other things on campus, while making sure we practice social distancing. So we are going to try to do those things as much as we can.”
Coached by Alyson Messinger Costigan, the Tigers are led in goal by senior tri-captain Rachel Keefe. A member of the varsity squad since she was an eighth-grader, Keefe has competed in numerous significant games during her career.
“It’s been so amazing to be a part of the program the past five years and to see the team grow and evolve each year,” said Keefe, who will continue her lacrosse career at the University of Chicago. “What’s made the program so strong is team chemistry. All the girls are super close and not only have we bonded on the field, but off the field as well.”
Lillis will take her lacrosse skills to the University of Pennsylvania next season. Her cousin, Morgan Smith, a 2020 Sacred Heart standout, who flourished for the Tigers, is a member of the UPenn lacrosse squad.
“I’m very excited to be back on the field this year, because I also missed my sophomore year,” said Lillis, who sustained a knee injury as an underclassman on the team. “Everyone is super excited to be on the field with one another and we’re looking forward to having a great season. I’m also super excited about playing at the next level with my cousin, Morgan Smith.”
Along with Smith, 2020 Sacred Heart graduates Amelia Sheehan and Katie Keller are playing collegiate lacrosse. Sheehan is at the University of North Carolina, while Keller is competing at Duke University. Dempsey is heading to Bucknell, where she will play lacrosse. Messinger Costigan appreciates the skills and leadership the captains bring to the squad.
“Rachel Keefe is a great player, she’s well-rounded and fundamentally strong,” Messinger Costigan said. “She’s is a consistent presence on the field and she gives the defense and the team a lot of confidence with what she does in the cage. Hannah is a good communicator on our team. She is very vocal and well-balanced on both ends of the field and is committed to the team’s all-around success. Grace is so strong- minded and such a strong player. Like Hannah, she gets up and down the field and gets all the little things right.”
Fiona Lewis, Mia Cesare and Ella Drummey are also among the Tigers’ seniors. Lewis, who is expected to help ignite the Tigers’ offensively, plays attack and will also see some action as a midfielder. She will join the lacrosse team at Pomona Pitzer. Cesare will be relied upon to pace the offense, while Drummey is one of the team’s mainstays on defense.
“The senior class is unique and very well-rounded by position,” Messinger Costigan said. “They have had a unique experience in high school and they have matured a lot from the experiences they have had.”
Franny O’Brien, who has committed to Notre Dame and Lauren Griuriceo, are among some of the team’s standout junior athletes. Messinger Costigan is in her second season as coach, but it’s the first season her team will be playing games, since the Tigers’ 2020 campaign was a COVID-19 washout.
“We really only got past tryouts last year and then our season was cut, so to I feel in a lot of ways we are picking up where we left off,” she said. Overall, it’s exciting it brings a challenge, but a good challenge. They are happy to be out here and play and I’m happy to coach.”
Messinger Costigan, who was a star lacrosse player at North Carolina (2016 graduate) is assisted by Emily Meier.
“There’s been a gap since the last time we played, so we do have some rebuilding, but we have some strong and talented girls that will fill the gaps of not playing the last two years,” Messinger Costigan said. “I am excited to work with them and teach them some things that will bring them to even higher level.”
Indeed, the Tigers are eager to start the season and showcase their potential.
“Practices have gone super well, the intensity is super high,” Dempsey said. “You can see in everyone their ambition to be on the field and to push each other to be the best that they can be, especially after not playing last year. We are looking to push each other and progress as a team together.”
Added Keefe: “We’re coming into practice with a really great mentality each day and persevering. We want to work hard and inspire each other to do the best we can each day.”