Greenwich Academy and Sacred Heart Greenwich have shared a storied field hockey rivalry for several decades, but this season the Greenwich-based programs authored perhaps the most intense chapter of their rivarly.
The 2022 chapter of Greenwich Academy-Sacred Heart Greenwich field hockey rivalry included four games between the two highly successful squads, with the Gators and Tigers winning two of the matchups apiece.
And of course, as is usually the case when Sacred Heart and Greenwich Academy test their skills against each other, each of the four games was decided by one goal.
The latest one-goal thriller between the Tigers and Gators occurred Wednesday when they met in the quarterfinal-round of the NEPSAC Class A Tournament and it was GA emerged victorious by a goal.
Sienna Tejpaul’s goal off a breakaway with 19 seconds in the 10-minute overtime session propelled third-seeded Greenwich Academy past sixth-seeded Sacred Heart, 2-1, and into the semifinal-round of the NEPSAC Class A Tournament.
Greenwich Academy, which has been on a tear, especially late in the season, plays second-seeded Phillips Academy Andover in today’s 11 a.m. NEPSAC Class L semifinals at Middlesex School.
“I’m proud of my girls for digging as deep as they did, that was not easy,” GA coach Jamie Brower said of her teams’ quarterfinal-round win. “I hope Sacred Heart knows we have the utmost respect for them as a program, as players and for the coaches. They run an amazing program and we’re so lucky that they’re so close and we get to play them often.”
Sacred Heart finished its 2022 season with an impressive record of 15-4. The Tigers won the FAA regular season and were the No. 1 seed in the FAA Tournament. They lost to Greenwich Academy in last week’s FAA Tournament final, 1-0, on a goal from GA senior Ellie Johnson in the final two minutes. The Gators and Tigers went 2-2 against each other this fall, with SHG winning the first two regular season games, 2-1 and 3-2, then GA taking the next two in the postseason.
“It was like a semifinal or final to me,” Sacred Heart coach Alex Gheorghe said of the quarterfinal matchup between the rivals. “It could have been a final. I thought it was a great game by both teams. We’d like to congratulate Greenwich Academy for the result today, they obviously, had a great game, but we played well as well and it was a great matchup.”
Following 60 minutes of intense, back-and-forth action that saw both teams have their moments, Wednesday’s NEPSAC Class A quarterfinals went to a 7-on-7 seven overtime session. It seemed like it was heading to another overtime period, or a penalty stroke shootout, but junior forward Caroline Busler and Tejpaul combined for the winning play.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in overtime, Greenwich Academy senior midfielder Lavinia Cartellieri lifted a hard pass through the midfield that found the stick of Busler on the left side of the field. Busler quickly carried the ball toward the goal, where Sacred Heart senior Olivia Caponiti was waiting.
Busler drove a shot on goal from close range that was saved by Caponiti, but the rebound went to Tejpaul who was aggressively charging the cage. Tejpaul got her stick on the ball and knocked it inside the left post, giving GA the dramatic victory.
“I saw Busler had a fastbreak and she was going straight down the field and I had to come up behind her and help her,” Tejpaul said of her winning goal. “She took one shot, I think it rebounded and I came up behind her and finished it off.”
Tejpaul, a senior captain, felt confident in the team’s prospects heading into overtime.
“I have so much faith in our 7-on-7 lineup, it’s the best 7-on-7 lineup, it’s the strongest 7-on-7 lineup I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I knew we were going to get it done. I knew we had to play as hard as we could for the first 10 minutes and get it done.”
Chloe Cleves got the win in goal for GA, which saw Sacred Heart apply a good amount of pressure in the opening half. Along with Tejpaul and the Cartellieri sisters, Busler has emerged as an offensive force for the Gators this season, creating key goals. She described the game-winning goal.
“Lavinia was on the left side and she played a really big ball and it was just kind of a Hail Mary opportunity with such little time left on the clock,” Busler noted. “It got through some Sacred Heart girls and I was 1 vs. 1 against the goalie. She made a really good play on the ball and stopped me and Tejpaul came in from behind and finished it. It was definitely a great team effort.”
The competitive fire between GA and SHG is evident every time these squads meet.
“They’re an amazing team, we’re always nervous and amped up to play them,” Busler said. “We know a lot of them and consider them good friends. We really respect them as a team and we’re so excited to get the win against such a strong team.”
After the teams were scoreless in the first half, Sacred Heart seized a 1-0 lead in the third quarter. Senior midfielder Delfina Gonzalez Lobo, one of the Tigers’ captains, converted a shot off a penalty corner, giving Sacred Heart a 1-0 lead with 12:45 remaining in the third quarter.
The Tigers maintained a 1-0 advantage the remainder of the quarter and into the fourth quarter, as Caponiti, a senior captain, made several nifty saves. Caponiti recorded nine saves for the game.
“She had a great game, she was the best player out there for us today,” Gheorghe said of Caponiti.
Nemec, Gonzalez Lobo and Vivi Caruso helped pace Sacred Heart’s play offensively, while senior captain Ellie Johnson was one of the anchors of GA’s defense.
GA knotted the score at 1-1 on a goal from senior captain Laetitia Cartellieri in the fourth quarter with 7:34 left to play. The Laetitia sisters combined on the equalizer, as Lavinia, a sophomore, sent the insert pass to Laetitia on the penalty corner, resulting in a goal.
“It was an extremely intense game,” Laetitia Cartellieri said. “I thought both teams played incredible and quite honestly, it could have gone either way. At the very end, we put everything out there and it was just an insane game.”
As the game progressed, GA’s level of play increased and it had positive momentum heading into overtime.
“The first half wasn’t the strongest, but especially after we scored in the fourth quarter, that was our strongest time,” Laetitia Cartellieri said. “I thought the third quarter was also good.”
The loss marked the end of the Sacred Heart field hockey careers of the team’s eight seniors. The group also led the Tigers to the NEPSAC Class A Tournament final in 2021.
“It’s a big loss losing eight great seniors,” Gheorghe said. “We had a good season. I’m sorry it ended here but we tried the best as we could. I’m very proud of the team.”
Greenwich Academy took several penalty corners before tallying the winning goal in 7-on-7 overtime.
“They are so good, their goal is so talented and so effective,” Brower said of SHG. “They just have so many talented players. It’s our fourth time meeting this season, it always comes down to one goal and it could go either way every time.”
Said Tejpaul: “You have to take every game as it comes each time we play Sacred Heart and I’m just glad we got it done on the final one.”