The Greenwich Academy and Sacred Heart Greenwich water polo teams spent the first 14 minutes of Saturday’s game matching each other goal-for-goal in an evenly played first half.
Yet the second half belonged to Greenwich Academy.
Scoring all five of the matchup’s third-quarter goals, the Gators opened a lead they wouldn’t relinquish and proceeded to post a 14-8 victory at Brunswick School’s Mehra Natatorium. Junior Nina Chamberlain scored a team-high four goals, while sophomore Devan Fauser and freshman Tess Charney each recorded hat tricks for Greenwich Academy, which entered halftime in a 4-4 tie with Sacred Heart.
Senior co-captain Kaitlin Ganshaw and junior Lily Sorensen, also a co-captain, each scored twice for the Gators (1-1).
“It was a hard-fought game,” GA coach Ulmis Iordache said. “We had a tough first quarter, but our defense was able to bounce back. They got a couple of breakaways and scored some easy goals in the first quarter, but then after that we did a much better job of controlling the ball and converting our opportunities.”
Greenwich Academy won the NEPSAC water polo championship four consecutive years (2016-2019), but like all teams in every sport, the squad was sidelined in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The NEPSAC Tournament will not be held this year as well, since most team’s schedules are modified because of the pandemic. However teams are grateful to just be back in action this spring.
“It’s so exciting to be back in the water,” Ganshaw said. “I missed being on the team and playing with my friends so much. It’s a lot of fun and being back in real games is so exciting.”
Sacred Heart, which began its season with a 16-2 win against Staples, received four goals from Isabella Adams and three tallies from senior co-captain Isabella Lippolis. Alexandra Marshall added a goal for the Tigers, who trailed 2-1 after the first quarter, before forging a 4-4 halftime tie.
“They have a lot of club players and more experience than us, but for how early it is in the season and how we didn’t have a season last year, we played really well,” Sacred Heart senior co-captain Karina Adams said. “Being out here in person with my teammates it’s the best thing ever, after we didn’t have a season last year. It’s great, especially finishing out my high school career.”
Lippolis scored the matchup’s first goal, then Fauser tied it at 1-1 for GA with 2:25 remaining in the opening quarter. Sorensen converted a shot at the quarter’s 1:23 mark, giving the Gators a 2-1 edge. Isabella Adams made a penalty shot 45 seconds into the second quarter, evening the score at 2-2, then Lippolis scored off a shot from approximately 15 yards out, making it 3-2.
Back-to-back goals from Ganshaw put GA on top, 4-3, before Isabella Adams knotted the score at 4-4, heading into halftime.
“Sacred Heart came out really strong and were very passionate,” Iordache said. “Ganshaw, one of our captains, did an amazing job. She led the team and she kept us in the game in the first half and stepped up.”
Added Sacred Heart coach Gabriel Maldonado: “The girls played very hard and they played very smart. We have to work on better execution, but we have a good team. We are a very young program, this is only the program’s fourth year and we were playing GA, the champions the last four years, so it’s really hard. They are good team and very well-coached.”
In the pivotal third quarter, GA outscored SHG, 5-0, to take a 9-4 advantage. Chamberlain began Greenwich Academy’s third-quarter run putting a penalty shot past Tigers goalie Claire Pittaro, making it 5-4. Charney tallied in transition and Chamberlain converted a perimeter shot, putting the Gators in front, 7-4. Chamberlain and Charney added one more goal apiece in the quarter, capping the victors’ 5-0 run.
Sorensen, Charney and Fauser helped pace GA’s offense in the final quarter with goals.
“We started out a little bit rough, but once we got our head in the game and really started to come together as a team, we pulled through and played really well in the second half,” said Sorensen, who like Ganshaw, has been a member of the Gators’ water polo squad since she was in eighth grade. “This season, we want to look at our games and improve upon what we could have done better the previous game.”
Pittaro made nine saves in goal for the Tigers.
“We are going to try to get better with our strategies and try and come back and get a ‘W’ next time,” Karina Adams said.
Added Sacred Heart assistant coach Annie Robinson: “Everyone is really passionate about playing and winning, especially since our team didn’t compete last year. Everyone came back ready to play this year and we have a full season ahead of us.”
Senior Else Esmond earned the win in goal for GA, which has been aided by the effective leadership from its captains.
“It’s an honor to be a captain and I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything,” Ganshaw said. “Water polo has brought so much joy to my life and I have learned so much, it’s been so amazing.”