Fall sports

Sacred Heart Greenwich field hockey preview: top-ranked Tigers enter the season with championship aspirations

Photo by David Fierro: Caroline Nemec, left and Erin Griffin are senior captains of the Sacred Heart Greenwich field hockey team. The Tigers open their season on Sept. 15 against FAA foe School of the Holy Child.

Despite experiencing plenty of success, the Sacred Heart Greenwich field hockey team may have flown under some program’s radar in past seasons, yet that’s certainly not the case now.

Sacred Heart won the NEPSAC Class A Tournament championship in November of 2019 and finished the season with a sparkling 19-1 record.

“Winning the New England championship brought a lot of eyes to our program,” Sacred Heart coach Alex Gheorghe said. “Our team knows we have to deliver and we have to work really hard to retain the title.”

Like all field hockey teams that compete in the NEPSAC, the Tigers’ 2020 season consisted of scrimmage games against opponents nearby, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This fall, Sacred Heart returns to playing a full schedule of games against its FAA and NEPSAC rivals and the goals of capturing both postseason tournament championships are back.

“We’re looking forward to getting back to the New England Championship,” Sacred Heart senior co-captain Erin Griffin said. “We were champs two years ago and it was the best feeling ever. We lost the FAA that year (in the final to Greenwich Academy) so we really wanted the New England title. Winning it and just being there was amazing.”

The field hockey scene has taken notice of Sacred Heart’s success. MAX Field Hockey ranked Sacred Heart No. 1 in its 2021 Northeast Region High School Preseason Top 20 Rankings.

“We are very excited for the season,” Gheorghe said. “Juniors and both captains will lead the team well this year on and off the field. We are planning to start the season well with the right attitude and determination. We know that the results in end will matter and we will concentrate towards that.”

Photo by David Fierro: Senior Caroline Nemec has excelled on Sacred Heart’s field hockey team since she was a 8th-grader.

Caroline Nemec and Griffin are the Tigers’ two seniors and they’re providing leadership on and off the field as captains, roles filled by 2021 graduates Beth Yeager and Fiona Lewis last fall. Yeager is playing field hockey at Princeton University and she scored two goals in the team’s recent game against Louisville. A member of the U.S. National Field Hockey Team, Yeager, who scored the game-winning goal in Sacred Heart’s NESPAC Class A title game versus Tabor Academy, was named the 2019 NEPSAC Class A Player of the Year. MaryGrace Farrell, a 2021 Sacred Heart graduate, is continuing her field hockey career at the University of Pennsylvania and Hanke Govaert, who also graduated this past spring, is playing field hockey at Cornell.

Nemec, a center midfielder, has committed to the University of Virginia, where she will take her field hockey skills. She has competed on the Tigers’ Varsity A squad since she was in eighth grade.

“It’s been great to see how the team has developed so much over the years,” Nemec said. “We’ve had a lot of players come in and out over the years and this year, we have a lot of young players, too, which is really great. Seeing how the program has grown over time is amazing. I am excited to take it to another level will be fun and interesting and a good challenge to myself when I play at Virginia.”

The Tigers open their season on the road on Sept. 15 against School of the Holy Child – an FAA opponent. They will then visit Kent School (Sept. 18) and Hopkins School (Sept. 20), before playing Taft on Sept. 22 in its home-opener. Playing a traditional schedule, after taking part in a shortened season in 2020 is one of the aspects about the season the team is eagerly anticipating.

“Last year, not being able to have a full season or any of the championship tournaments was a bummer, but it did give us time to rework and get together as a team through that hard time and pull together,” Nemec said. “This season, what we want to work on is not only winning games, which is what we definitely want to do, but also being a team while we’re doing it. Passing together, working together and building as a team up and down the field.”

Erin Griffin is ready for her role as a senior captain of the Sacred Heart field hockey team.

Caroline is one of three Nemec sisters on the team. Kate Nemec, a junior and Charlotte (“Charley”) Nemec, are also expected to spark the squad.

“It’s good, it’s fun to have us all here and it even helps that we have a lot of close friends here who have known each other forever,” Caroline Nemec said. “It helps to bring this close together and work well on the field.”

Griffin is a midfielder, who will most likely see a lot of action on the left side. Griffin has committed to William & Mary, where she will play field hockey.

“We want to play fast, so it’s important to work with everyone on the field, so we can keep scoring a lot of goals,” she said.

This marks Griffin’s third season on the team and she always looks forward to this time of year.

“I love everything about field hockey,” Griffin said. “I’ve been on the team with everyone for a while and it’s like a family. It makes it so much better when you compete with people you have so much fun with. Also, I get to lead the team with my best friend which, is awesome.”

Sacred Heart’s standout junior class includes Delfina Gonzalez Lobo, a midfielder, who recently committed to the admission’s process at Columbia University, midfielder Kate Nemec, defender Ines Araujo and Genevieve Caruso – all of whom played pivotal roles as underclassmen on the team in season’s past. Olivia Caponiti, a junior who has committed to Princeton, is recovering from a knee injury.

Charlotte Nemec and Ainsley Clough join the Varsity A team as freshman. Sarah Hill returns as associate head coach of the Varsity A squad and Abdel El-Kettani coaches the Varsity B team.

“They have been playing for a long time together and this will be a fast team that is going to work hard on passing really quick,” said Gheorghe, who has coached at Sacred Heart since 2012 and also guides the USA Men’s National Indoor Team and is the head coach of AGH Field Hockey Club, a program that he coordinates. “We don’t rely on individual players like we did in the past. This team has to all work together to win the game.”

Sacred Heart Greenwich is one of the top field hockey teams in the FAA and NEPSAC.

SCHEDULE: The Tigers have home games against Taft (Sept. 22), Oak Knoll (Oct. 2), Hamden Hall (Oct. 4), King (Oct. 6), Greens Farms Academy (Oct. 18), Rye Country Day (Oct. 20), St. Luke’s (Nov. 1) and Choate Rosemary Hall (Nov. 6). Key games on the road include: Holy Child (Sept. 15), Kent (Sept. 18), Milton Academy (Oct. 9), Hotchkiss (Oct. 16) and Greenwich Academy (Oct. 23). They will compete in the MAX Field Hockey High School Invitational in Pennsylvania from Sept. 24-26.

“We have high expectations,” Gheorghe said. “Every single year we try to win the New England and FAA title and every single game. It should be a fun season.”

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