Thursday’s matchup against Staples marked the Greenwich High School girls lacrosse team’s first game since the 2019 CIAC Class L Tournament 23 long months ago and a lot has changed since then to say the least.
Most of the Cardinals’ roster is different from two seasons ago and Tara Clough is coaching the team.
Hired in 2020, Clough finally got to coach her first game since she took over the helm and it was certainly a memorable matchup for her and the new-look Cardinals.
Starting the season later than most teams in the state because it was in quarantine for two weeks, Greenwich provided quite an introduction to its 2021 campaign, registering a dramatic 11-10 victory over Staples at chilly Cardinal Stadium.
“I’ll never forget this,” said Clough, who previously coached at Sacred Heart Greenwich. “Staples is an amazing team, those kids are really strong athletes, so I knew coming out here it was going to be tough. We had players step up.”
One of the numerous players stepping up for the Cardinals was freshman midfielder Emma Abbazia, who recorded a team-leading four goals and one assist. Sophomore attack Cece Tauber, who also played in her first varsity game, scored the game-winning goal with 1:24 left in the second half – a tally that put the Cardinals on top, 11-10.
“I felt like overall, it was a total team effort,” Clough said. “They really trusted each other and they wanted it, they hustled and played with a lot of heart. We have a young team, we did everything we could to prepare for this game and it’s awesome to see all these great moments.”
Senior midfielder Grace Collier tallied three times, while senior attack Delaney Roth, Tauber, sophomore midfielder Sophia Neitzell and junior midfielder Noey Johnson added one goal apiece for Greenwich (1-0). For Staples (2-1) senior Shira Parower scored four goals, while senior Emma Ashe had three goals and two assists. The Wreckers started their season with an overtime win against Ridgefield and a victory over Stamford.
“It was an amazing team effort, we did everything the coaches asked for,” said Roth, one of the Cardinals’ captains. “We fought for every ball, played until the last whistle, we played for each other and came out with the first win of the season.”
Said Collier: “It was a phenomenal way to start the season, it was everything we hoped for. We told everyone to come out firing, we embraced the underdog mentality and we really came out and worked hard. At the end of the day, we wanted to win 50/50 balls, we wanted to stay in the game as long as we could and I think we did just that.”
On the game-winning goal, Tauber gathered a pass deep in the Wreckers’ zone and snapped a shot from close in past goalie Sara DiGiovanni, giving Greenwich an 11-10 advantage.
“I was open on the back side, I saw the opening, so I tried to attack as fast as I could,” Tauber said of her go-ahead goal. “Playing my first game of high school lacrosse is really cool. I’m definitely proud of the team chemistry, we are a young team, so it was great seeing how well we meshed and worked together in our drives and our feeds.”
Collier’s goal off a free position shot gave Greenwich a 10-9 edge with 5:52 remaining in the second half, then Staples knotted the score with a goal at the 3:10 mark. With Greenwich leading 11-10 after Tauber’s tally, the Wreckers were stopped on their ensuing possession. The Cards had possession in final 20 seconds with Roth controlling the ball in her stick. She carried the ball down field, eluding Staples defenders, to close out the game.
“It was definitely a little stressful, I didn’t even know how much time was left,” Roth said of the game’s closing seconds. “I just wanted to run to open green and kill out that clock.”
Both squads looked strong offensively in the first half. Parower opened the scoring 3:58 into the game and after Abbazia tallied, the Wreckers notched four straight goals to seize a 5-1 lead. McKenzie Didio (two goals) and Parower sparked Staples’ surge. But a pivotal stretch occurred just past the midway point of the first half, as Greenwich tallied five consecutive times to gain a 6-5 advantage.
The Cardinals received goals from Abbazia, Johnson, Roth and Neitzell during the run, which gave the team confidence and momentum.
“We had a freshman (Abbazia) stepping up and coming up with possessions and finding the openings,” Clough said. “It’s a great day for Greenwich, I don’t think people knew what to expect. People aren’t as familiar with our squad and our talent and players stepped up and played big against a really tough Staples team.”
The Cardinals, who received four saves from senior goalie/captain Hailey Hires, entered halftime with an 8-6 lead, before the Wreckers tied the score at 8-8 during the back-and-forth second half. DiGiovanni had nine saves for the visitors.
“We have a lot of threats on offense, we are a really deep team,” Collier said. “Emma Abbazia had a phenomenal game, but a lot of players stepped up to a new role and really did a great job today.”
Greenwich visits New Canaan on Saturday at 9 a.m.
“Coming into this we had a lot of adversity with the two-week quarantine, but we knew that if we played for each other, that no matter what the odds we could come out with a win,” Roth said. “Our biggest goals were to play with composure, get the good looks and make sure we finished when we got the opportunities.”