As the first two games of its season indicated, scoring goals shouldn’t be an issue for the Greenwich High School girls water polo team, which despite having a new-look roster, is intent on producing the same successful results it registered in season’s past.
“We want to try to have an undefeated season and be in the pool as much as we can,” said Greenwich coach Paul Constantin, who has guided the girls’ water polo program since 2016. “There’s definitely a lot of chemistry on our team. The majority of the team plays year-round too, not just high school and those who play year-round are very helpful to the girls that joined the high school team and are not playing year-round. They are very hands on and I like seeing that.”
Greenwich began its season with a 14-6 win against Greenwich Academy this week. In a junior varsity game, the Cardinals also edged Greenwich Aquatics’ middle school program, 20-19. Both games saw numerous players record goals in the winning efforts. The 2021 Cardinals squad is captained by juniors Bella Schraa and Emma Phillips, both of whom are experienced water polo players.
“I went into this season feeling really confident in our team, because we have a strong freshman class this year, which definitely is relieving, because we lost a big senior class last year,” said Schraa, who sparks the Cards at the center position. “So we have the players to make up for that.”
Schraa, who tallied three goals in Greenwich’s season-opener against Greenwich Academy, was selected as a member of USA Water Polo’s Cadet National Team and Futures International Roster. She also made USA Water Polo’s Senior Nationals roster that same year. Competing in the sport since she was a 10-year-old, Schraa is also on USA Water Polo’s Academy team.
“I plan on playing in college and the academy team includes both college and high school athletes, so it’s a good experience,” Schraa said. “I’m also excited to play in Junior Olympics this year with Greenwich Aquatics this summer, but currently, I’m focused on the high school season and being undefeated.”
Phillips, a center defender, has also been active in the sport for a while. She and Schraa also compete on Greenwich’s girls varsity swimming team, which helps them keep them sharp for when they play water polo. During games, Phillips usually draws the assignment of guarding one of the opposition’s top offensive players. The Cardinals co-captain is pleased with what she’s seen from her teammates thus far.
“I’ve been really impressed with how people are dedicated and coming to practice,” Phillips said. “This year it’s kind of asking a lot, there is a lot going on with COVID and we know that people have had to make sacrifices, so that’s something that we really appreciate.”
Phillips also appreciates her opportunity to serve as one of the squad’s captains.
“Bella and I both feel really honored and really proud to be captains, because we have such a great group of girls and we’re so grateful to get that experience and have that leadership role,” Phillips said. “We hope everyone is having as much fun as we are and we love working with Paul too, so we’re really lucky.”
Besides a handful of players, the Cardinals’ roster has greatly changed since it last competed in 2019. The 2020 season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Kaila Carroll, Charlotte Hallisey, Jenna Handali, June Akpata, Lilly Hopper and Marcella Winget were among some of the 2020 graduates from Greenwich’s water polo squad. Constantin had exciting plans for his team in 2020.
“Before the pandemic started, we had planned a trip to Europe – Scotland,” Constantin said. “We literally tried to take on the world by traveling overseas and take on a bunch of colleges. “Unfortunately, things took a turn for everyone. So we ended up not having a season.”
The members of the Cardinals team fondly recall last season’s senior class, which meant a great deal to the program.
“I was really close with the seniors and I still touch base with most of them, they are doing amazing in college,” Schraa said. “Even though they lost their senior years, they are starting strong in college careers, which is amazing and me and Emma are so proud of all of them.”
Twin sisters Charlotte and Anneliese Ashley are the squad’s only seniors. The Cardinals have another set of twins in sophomores Ashley and Olivia Hopper. Along with Schraa, Phillips, and the Ashley and Hopper twins, competing for Greenwich’s varsity team in its season-opener against Greenwich Academy were CJ Weigel, Ellen Norell, Cecile Whittle, Daisy Decker, Richa Vaid, and Mikaela Browning. In the JV game against Greenwich Aquatics’ middle school program, Olivia Knapp, Michelle Alfaro, Ava Baine, Daisy Gray and Bronte Brock saw action, along with the Hopper and Ashley sisters, Norell, Decker and Vaid.
Greenwich is in action Monday against Greenwich Aquatics’ senior team. They will also face Sacred Heart Greenwich, Staples and other local teams this spring.
“Last year, we were pretty confident we were going to be undefeated, because we had some of the top athletes in the Northeast playing on the team,” Schraa said. “This year, we still have some of the best players in the Northeast.”
Said Phillips: “We want to make sure that we have a safe season, a fun season and we want everyone to grow in their confidence as a player. Some tactical things we want to improve on is 6-on-5, which is when you have an advantage on offense. To win as many games as possible and improve that tactical element are among our goals.”