The championship game of the FAA Field Hockey Tournament just wouldn’t be the same if Sacred Heart Greenwich and Greenwich Academy weren’t dueling for the title.
The longtime neighborhood rivals had faced each other in the tournament’s championship game for well more than a decade and Saturday, there they were again vying for the trophy.
It’s always an end-to-end intense matchup when the Tigers and Gators meet – especially in a winner-take-all game – and there was certainly plenty of spirit on the field when they renewed their rivalry Saturday, before a large gathering.
Receiving goals from Vivi Caruso and Ines Araujo, top-seeded host Sacred Heart Greenwich posted a 2-0 win over second-seeded Greenwich Academy to keep its perfect FAA record intact and capture the FAA Tournament title.
“We are very happy with the win, this was a great game,” said Sacred Heart coach Alex Gheorghe, whose squad has an undefeated record against FAA opponents this season. “We were very tactile. Our defense did not make any mistakes, we marked their players very close. Both teams played very well.”
The Tigers, who registered a 3-1 regular season win against the Gators on Oct. 23, scored one goal in each half in Saturday’s action-packed matchup.
“It’s such an amazing feeling, after going undefeated this season in the FAA,” said Sacred Heart senior co-captain/midfielder Caroline Nemec, who recently signed a National Letter of Intent to play field hockey at the University of Virginia. “This game, we were able to pull through and having this win really showed what we have done this season and what we have accomplished.”
Said Sacred Heart senior midfielder/co-captain Erin Griffin, who also turned in a strong performance: “It’s amazing, I’m so happy right now. We worked hard for this and to have it pay off is unbelievable.”
The victory extended the Tigers’ winning streak to 14 games and raised their overall record to 18-3. Their season continues when the NEPSAC Class A Tournament commences on Wednesday. Sacred Heart won its first NEPSAC title the last time the tournament was held, in 2019.
Greenwich Academy (15-6) will wait and see if it will qualify for NEPSAC Tournament. The tournament committee decides which eight teams in each NEPSAC tournament qualifies.
“I think it was a much better game than the last time we saw them,” Greenwich Academy coach Jamie Brower said of her team’s performance in the final. “Our decision making and our attacking mindset was much better than last time. They’re a very talented team and it’s hard to walk away with a loss, but there’s a lot we can learn from the game today and there’s a lot that we can improve on.”
Sacred Heart had a pair of solid possessions early in the first quarter, as freshman Charley Nemec, Vivi Caruso, Caroline Nemec and Delfi Gonzalez Lobo applied a significant amount of pressure.
GA drew a penalty corner at the 9:40 mark of the opening quarter, but the game remained scoreless. Caroline Nemec put a pair of hard drives toward GA’s cage, while Sienna Tejpaul and JP Pittignano worked hard to clear the ball out of the Gators’ zone.
With 5:36 remaining in the first quarter, Sacred Heart seized a 1-0 lead. Caroline Nemec’s shot on goal deflected off the pads of Greenwich Academy goalie Ellie Volpe and the ball found the stick of Caruso, who was positioned near the left post. Caruso knocked the ball past Volpe inside the right post, putting the Tigers on top, 1-0.
“We just got inside the circle and I was able to sweep it in and it got the job done,” said Caruso, a junior. “It set the tone for the rest of the game.”
In the second quarter, Volpe stood strong in goal, making four saves, as Caroline Nemec, Gonzalez Lobo, Charley Nemec and Griffin each registered shots. Greenwich Academy took a penalty corner with four minutes left in the second quarter and goalie Teresa Harkins kept SHG in front, with a save.
“Our team is fast and speedy and we had to get our sticks down, because they have good stick skills,” Griffin said. “This is our home turf and the ball moves really quickly and we know how to possess and maintain it.”
Once the third quarter began, the Gators generated several scoring chances behind a pair of penalty corners and free hits. But GA couldn’t solve Sacred Heart’s stingy defensive effort. The Tigers have allowed only one goal against its FAA foes this fall.
“I thought this game went a lot better than the last,” Pittignano said. “We did have a lot of opportunities, but we needed to capitalize on them.”
Said GA senior midfielder Cameron Brower, who like Pittignano is one of the team’s captains: “The way they structure themselves and the way they have chemistry together it’s really hard to keep up with. But I think if we use our speed more, we could capitalize on our opportunities.”
After withstanding pressure from Greenwich Academy, Sacred Heart padded its lead with an important goal late in the fourth quarter. Awarded a penalty corner, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead, executing well on its corner.
Araujo sent the insert pass to Caroline Nemec, who moved the ball back to Araujo, who finished the play in front, making it 2-0 with 5:19 remaining in the final quarter.
“It was a joint effort with the whole team,” Araujo said of her goal. “I was so happy to score that goal for the team.”
“On that corner we knew that was a big corner to put us up more, mainly it was putting the ball in front of the goal, having the players around and being sure to get that in,” Caroline Nemec added.
Volpe made seven saves in goal for the Gators, while Harkins stopped four shots for the Tigers.
“We wanted to focus on generating more shots and more pressure on the goalie and we did a good job of that today,” said Jamie Brower, whose team beat Sacred Heart in the 2019 FAA Tournament final. “It’s just about figuring out what needs to be done to capitalize on those chances.”
Like Sacred Heart, GA was pleased with its defensive effort.
“We just focused on staying low, marking our players, connecting with each other and talking a lot,” said GA senior defender/captain Elizabeth Dale, who helped pace the defense, along with junior Ellie Johnson. “We’re working hard getting better every day and if we’re in New Englands we’re going to have a great shot at the trophy if we work together.”
Sacred Heart will get one of the top seeds in the upcoming NEPSAC Class A Tournament, as they hope to win their second title of the season.
“I’m proud that we did it for our seniors Erin and Caroline,” Caruso said. It’s an amazing feeling to win with a team like this.”
“It was a good effort, we were fast, we worked hard and that was our key today,” Griffin said.