The old sports adage, “it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season,” rang true Friday when Sacred Heart Greenwich tried to gain its third victory of the season against longtime neighborhood field hockey rival Greenwich Academy – this time, with the FAA Tournament title at stake.
Victorious against Greenwich Academy twice during the regular season, Sacred Heart Greenwich was denied a third triumph over the Gators this fall when the rivals faced off in yet another intense, dramatic encounter before an enthusiastic crowd.
With each scoreless minute that went by in this action-filled matchup, the tension and anticipation mounted and then, with just over minutes remaining, it happened.
Senior defender Ellie Johnson’s goal off a penalty corner with 2:02 remaining in the fourth quarter lifted second-seeded Greenwich Academy to a 1-0 win over top-seeded host Sacred Heart in the championship game of the FAA Field Hockey Tournament. The game marked another thriller between the Gators and Tigers.
On the game-winning goal, GA senior midfielder Laetitia Cartellieri received the insert pass on the left side at the top of the circle and quickly tapped the ball to Caroline Busler. A junior forward, Busler carried the ball into the circle on the right side, drawing two Sacred Heart players to her, then sent a diagonal pass to Johnson, who was positioned near the left post. Johnson stopped the ball and from close range, quickly knocked it past Tigers senior goalie Olivia Caponiti, who dove to her right. The ball settled inside the left post and Greenwich Academy held a 1-0 lead with 2:02 left in the fourth quarter.
“We decided to do one of our corners that we had predetermined,” said Johnson, who will play lacrosse at Stanford University. “Caroline Busler got it on the right side and had an awesome unselfish play. She slipped it to me right in the middle and I one-touched sweeped it into the left corner. It was such an unselfish play by Busler and I couldn’t’ have scored without her.”
Scoring opportunities don’t come around that much for Johnson, a tri-captain, who is one of the Gators’ mainstay defenders, so it was indeed, an especially memorable moment for her.
“This is definitely the top one for me,” Johnson said. “It’s great to do it with my teammates on my side.”
Approximately 30 seconds after Greenwich Academy scored on its penalty corner, Sacred Heart drew one, as they pushed the ball up the field and aggressively applied pressure in the circle in an attempt to score the equalizer. The Gators’ defended the game’s final penalty corner well, however, and captured the FAA Tournament’s championship trophy.
“I would like to congratulate Greenwich Academy for winning,” Sacred Heart coach Alex Gheorghe said. “It could have gone either way, both teams worked hard. For some reason, we couldn’t convert at the right time and that cost us in the last two minutes. GA tried to defend the best as they could on our last corner and they did a good job.”
Both teams are having outstanding seasons and should receive good seeds in the NEPSAC Class A Tournament, which begins next week. SHG has a record of 15-3, won the FAA regular season title and was awarded the No. 1 seed in the league tournament, after going undefeated against its FAA foes during the regular season. The Tigers earned a 3-2 comeback win over the Gators on Sept. 30, scoring three goals in the fourth quarter, then posted a 2-1 win against Greenwich Academy on Oct. 22. Friday’s much-anticipated matchup was a rematch of the 2021 FAA Tournament final, which was won by Sacred Heart.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our team, every single one of them put everything they had into it, they gave it their all,” said Sacred Heart senior defender/tri-captain Ines Araujo, who anchored her squad’s defensive play. “Some of these girls have been on this team for five years, others for no more than a week. So, the fact that we can come together as a team shows that we’re a family.”
“It was unfortunate that we couldn’t execute in the times we needed to, but overall, we played amazing and kudos to them, they played a great game as well,” said Araujo, who will play field hockey at Lafayette next year.
Greenwich Academy, which last claimed the FAA Tournament championship in 2019, heading into Friday’s title game, is 16-3 on the season, going into this coming week’s NEPSAC Class A Tournament.
“It was amazing, both teams played insanely well, it was extremely competitive out there, but we finally pulled it off,” said GA’s Laetitia Cartellieri, a tri-captain, who will play at Harvard in 2022. “It was definitely a rowdy game, but it was amazing.”
Indeed, the rivals played standout defense, battled for possession throughout and exhibited impressive passing, as they dealt with Friday’s inclement weather.
“It was a very emotional game, but we all worked hard we all put ourselves out there,” said SHG senior midfielder/tri-captain Delfina Gonzalez Lobo, who has committed to play field hockey at Columbia University. “We are not done yet, we have next week and we are coming out with everything.”
The first quarter saw the Tigers nearly score at the 8:25 mark, as a cross ball slid near the cage and out of the circle. With Gonzalez Lobo, senior midfielder Kate Nemec, senior forward Vivi Caruso and junior forward Payton Sfreddo moving the ball up the field and putting pressure on the Gators, the Tigers threatened to score late in the opening quarter.
Ranging out of the goal to make a save, Greenwich Academy freshman goalie Chloe Cleves slid on the turf and while doing so, took a hit to her mouth, causing her lip to bleed. She exited the game with 5:38 to go in the first quarter, was replaced by Persia Shipman in goal, then returned to action in the second quarter.
“She came out and played aggressively and got a nice big cut on her lip,” GA coach Jamie Brower said. “The fact that she got it taped up and came back in was so impressive.”
In the second quarter, Caruso, sophomore Charley Nemec, Kate Nemec, Gonzalez-Lobo and sophomore Ainsley Clough helped keep the ball moving for Sacred Heart, while senior tri-captain Sienna Tejpaul, Busler, Laetitia Cartellieri and sophomore Lavinia Cartellieri paced GA.
The Gators drew a penalty corner at the 9:39 mark of the second quarter, but the matchup remained scoreless due to a save by Caponiti. Sacred Heart’s best scoring opportunities came with 2:40 to go in the second quarter, as it earned three consecutive penalty corners.
Yet the game was scoreless heading into halftime, as Johnson and freshman Mallory Walker helped clear the ball out of harm’s way.
“Both teams have a lot invested as schools, invested as club players – it’s a very intense, competitive environment for both teams and I’m so proud of how they managed their emotions today,” Brower said.
Third quarter action saw Caruso register a shot on goal for SHG and Busler and Cartellieri take shots for GA.
“We came out and played as gritty as possible and we came out and did exactly what we wanted to do,” said Tejpaul, who is heading to Yale, where she will play field hockey. “We kept the pressure high the whole game and we didn’t let anything rattle us. That shows the mental toughness the team has and I’m so proud of us.”
The Princeton-bound Caponiti made six saves for Sacred Heart, which is now looking to make another strong run in the NEPSAC Class A Tournament. The Tigers lost in the NEPSAC finals a season ago.
“We definitely will be working for that,” Gonzalez Lobo said. “This season has been great, we’ve had a lot of good results. We are going to come back stronger than ever, I know it.”
“I am so proud to be on this team and I could not be more grateful to have these players next to me on the field,” Gonzalez Lobo continued. “I know I can rely on every single one of them every day.”
Said Gheorghe: “We are going to focus on New Englands and hopefully, we’ll get a good result there.”
On the game-winning goal, Busler showed quick thinking in directing the ball to Johnson.
“It was a scrum, it wasn’t supposed to come to me, but we reacted on the spot and someone approached me on the defensive side, so I just slipped it left to Ellie,” Busler said. “She was open and she finished.”
“It was so exciting, we haven’t beaten them since I’ve been in high school, so we’re so excited about the win and we’re excited about next week,” Busler continued.
Said Tejpaul: “This is what we worked our whole careers for, so it feels amazing to win the FAA title.”
Tejpaul praised the squad’s underclassmen for handling the pressure that comes with competing in a tournament final.
“We have four starting freshmen, which is amazing and every single one of them stepped up to the plate,” she said. “I’ve never been so proud of a freshman class. I’m so honored to play with them.”
Both teams are contenders for the NEPSAC Class A title, so they could be meeting again soon – for a fourth time season. Right now, Greenwich Academy is thinking about its third meeting against Sacred Heart.
“We wanted to have as much fun as possible and be really supportive on the field,” Laetitia Cartellieri said. “We talked before about the third time’s the charm and I’m definitely going to believe that for a long time now.”