For 2021 Sacred Heart Greenwich graduates Hannah Dempsey and Grace Lillis, competing at the Girls High School Lacrosse National Championship was the perfect way to officially end their lacrosse careers with the Tigers.
“This season was awesome,” said Dempsey, who along with Lillis served as one of Sacred Heart’s captains this past spring. “Being able to have a full schedule, even though we missed playing some of those boarding schools, was great and the extra icing on the cake was having that national tournament. We were the FAA regular season champions, but there wasn’t an FAA Tournament this year, so having this national tournament was a great way for us to to end the season.”
The Girls High School Lacrosse National Championship took place Wednesday-Friday at Farmington Sports Arena. The ultra-competitive tournament included 39 premier teams in the nation and the first two days of the event featured pool play. On Friday, the semifinals and championship game were played.
Sacred Heart played Wednesday and Thursday, registering a record of 2-2. The Tigers topped Taft School on Wednesday, 12-7 and defeated a team from Oregon on Thursday, 15-4. They lost to Canadaigua on Wednesday and were edged by Ridgewood (N.J.) Thursday.
Though the Tigers’ season against their high school foes concluded in May, they were pleased to travel up to Farmington for the national competition.
“I thought that it was a great way to end the season, because we were able to have some practices after school ended,” Lillis said. “Playing with the girls one final time meant a lot.”
Said Sacred Heart coach Aly Costigan: “Overall, it was a great tournament and great exposure for us to play awesome teams.”
In their opening game on Thursday, the Tigers lost a close matchup against Ridgewood, 10-8.
“Our team played very well and we came out super strong,” said Dempsey, a midfielder, who will play lacrosse at Bucknell next season. “Playing super strong and playing the full game were our goals. We went out there and we gave it our all and I was really proud with how we played. It was pretty evenly matched throughout, a back-and-forth type of game.”
Rising senior Fiona Lewis and Lillis helped pace Sacred Heart’s offense against Ridgewood.
“We had a bunch of different goal-scorers and our defense deserve a lot of credit,” Dempsey said. “They stayed tough throughout the game.”
Lillis, who is headed to the University of Pennsylvania, where she will play lacrosse, was impressed with the team’s performance throughout the tournament.
“It shows how strong our team is,” she said. “We were able to make adjustments from the day before on our offense and defense. Playing in that tournament was really exciting for us.”
In their second game Thursday against an Oregon-based team, Sacred Heart cruised to a 15-4 victory.
“It was nice to play a team from across the country,” Lillis said. “The tournament provided a unique opportunity to play teams from far away. It brought teams from different parts of the country together.”
Said Dempsey: “We never have an opportunity to play a team from the West Coast, so it was fun. We received a combined scoring effort, most of our attack scored once or twice, which was a theme throughout the tournament.”
Lillis is eagerly waiting for her college days at UPenn to begin. She will be reunited with former Sacred Heart teammate Morgan Smith, who is a member of UPenn’s women’s lacrosse squad. Competing in lacrosse and athletics has taught Lillis plenty, with one lesson being perseverance. During a late-season game of Sacred Heart’s lacrosse season in 2018, Lillis sustained a knee injury, which effected her anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and meniscus. To get back on the field, Lillis had to undergo a lot of physical therapy and remain positive.
She missed her sophomore season while recovering from her knee injury, then like everyone, had to sit out the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So Lillis was certainly excited for the 2021 season to start.
“I was thrown a couple of curve balls, with the knee injury and COVID, so I was really grateful that we had the opportunity to play this season,” Lillis said. “What inspired me to get back on my field were my teammates. They gathered around me, supported me and were always inspiring me.”
Lillis will spend much of the summer training to compete at the next level. Toward the end of the month she will compete in the Committed Games – a tournament featuring incoming college freshman and rising seniors who will play the sport for their respective colleges.
“I’m extremely excited to be moving on to University of Pennsylvania,” Lillis said. “It is a great opportunity to go to a school that has academics and a competitive team.”
When Dempsey reflects on her Sacred Heart lacrosse career, one of the aspects she remembers is the improvement she displayed each season.
“My lacrosse career at Sacred Heart continued to progress,” Dempsey said. “As a freshman I started out on attack, but as some seniors they left the program there were more shoes to fill. As I got older I was able to build my confidence and step into different roles. I have a lot of great memories, especially those rivalry games vs. GA (Greenwich Academy). Those games were also super fun, competitive and really hyped everyone from teams up.”
Dempsey is following the summer training program Bucknell gave her and on Wednesday she is visiting Bucknell for the school’s Prospect Day.
“I’m really excited to play at the high level that Bucknell competes at,” she said. “I also met some other girls in the class and they are super awesome.”