There was certainly plenty for the Greenwich Academy Varsity A lacrosse team to celebrate Saturday afternoon in their memorable season finale against visiting Hotchkiss School.
The matchup marked Greenwich Academy’s Senior Day game and the team paid tribute to its seven seniors with a special ceremony at the game’s conclusion. Making Senior Day all the more significant was the fact that the Gators pulled out a well-earned 10-9 win over the Bearcats.
Also, during GA’s Senior Day celebration, the team recognized beloved co-head coach Katie Johnson, who is retiring from coaching lacrosse after spending 12 successful years on the sidelines.
Indeed, a lot went on at Greenwich Academy during the school’s Varsity A lacrosse team’s final game of the season, during a day the program will fondly remember.
On the field, senior tri-captain/midfielder Ellie Burdick scored a game-high five goals to pace GA to the one-goal win over Hotchkiss. Sophomore attack Katie Barr recorded four goals and one assist, senior attack Mimi Novak had one goal and two assists and senior defender/tri-captain Ellie Johnson had seven draw controls to also help power Greenwich Academy.
Off the field, Greenwich Academy’s seniors – Rebecca Arpano, Burdick, Kate Haffenreffer, Johnson, Novak, Sienna Tejpaul and Winnie Welch – were honored with speeches by their teammates during the postgame Senior Day ceremony.
“It was so amazing, our juniors and our whole team did such an amazing job and we’re so lucky to have such amazing underclassmen,” said Ellie Johnson, who will play lacrosse at Stanford University next season.
Gators co-head coach Halley Quillinan Griggs gave a heartfelt speech paying tribute to co-head coach Katie Johnson, who gave so much of herself to the program for a dozen years.
Katie Johnson has a long history with Greenwich Academy. This marked her 12th season coaching the top varsity lacrosse team at GA. She was asked to join the coaching team by former longtime coach Angela Tammaro, to fill in when Melissa Anderson went on maternity leave. She’s served as the defensive co-ordinator of the team.
A 1988 graduate of GA, Johnson played field hockey, basketball and lacrosse at the school.
“I always valued my teachers and coaches as huge influences in my life,” Johnson said. “I went on to play defense in college in both lacrosse and field hockey at Princeton and played lacrosse for Team USA for years from 1991-1993.”
Coach Johnson thoroughly enjoyed walking the sidelines at GA and helping the lacrosse athletes hone their skills.
“I love the game of lacrosse,” she said. “I love the mechanics, the strategy, the athletic and game IQ elements. I honestly think that lacrosse players are the most complete athletes on the high school landscape today. In order to succeed you need to have a combination of speed, quickness, good hands, strength, tenacity and vision.”
She appreciated the versatile, multi-sport athletes Greenwich Academy produced.
“One reason I love coaching at GA is how much we value multi-sport athletes, and we don’t just give lip service to it,” coach Johnson noted. “I’m constantly impressed with the physical attributes and skills that our athletes are bringing to the lacrosse field from soccer, hockey, basketball, and field hockey.”
“A perfect example is our draw team this year, a field hockey player with really strong wrists and forearms for directing the ball and two basketball players who can box out and work together to gain possessions,” Johnson continued. “Our seven seniors played on 17 varsity teams this year.”
In the Gators’ tight win against the Bearcats, Arpano, a senior goalie/tri-captain, made four saves in her final game at GA. She will continue her lacrosse career at Harvard University next season. Saturday’s game also raised awareness for Morgan’s Message – an organization that is dedicated to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health within the student-athlete community.
“It was fun being with everyone today, we had a great turnout and it was great to celebrate Morgan’s Message,” Arpano said. “It’s a great organization and we’re glad to celebrate it.”
Arpano reflected on playing lacrosse for coach Johnson.
“I am going to miss her so much, she’s had a great run and has touched so many lives,” Arpano said of Johnson. “She built so many great teammates and players and I’m going to miss her a lot.”
Hotchkiss scored the game’s first goal, as junior midfielder Etta Coburn went top shelf with a shot 26 seconds into the first half, making it 1-0. GA quickly responded, with Barr tallying off a dodge from the left side, evening the score at 1-1 at the 22:39 mark of the first half.
The Bearcats went ahead, 2-1, when Coburn tallied with 21:50 to play in the opening half, after controlling a ground ball close to the Gators’ goal. Burdick’s goal off an 8-meter shot tied the score at 2-2 with 20 minutes remaining, then Hotchkiss took a 3-2 edge on a goal by junior attack Daphne Barrett.
Burdick evened things up again at the 13:51 mark and Barr put the home team ahead, 4-3, 1:20 later.
After Hotchkiss made it 4-4, Burdick struck again, giving GA the lead for good at 5-4. Barr converted a free position shot after a Bearcats foul, Burdick tallied off a dodge and Barr made another 8-meter shot, extending GA’s advantage to 8-4.
Hotchkiss scored the last two goals of the first half to close to within 8-4, then closed to within 8-7 when Lilly Lavigne converted a shot 3:42 into the second half. Barr scored off a spin move and Burdick tallied after eluding a defender, putting the Gators on top, 10-7, with 18:25 left in the second half.
The visitors scored the matchup’s final two goals, but GA held on for the dramatic victory, using an effective stall in last minute-plus of play.
Following the game, Burdick, who will play lacrosse at Dartmouth, reflected on her GA lacrosse career.
“It’s crazy that it’s all done,” Burdick noted. “But we had a great performance, and it was a great season, a lot of players stepped up in different ways. It was great to see an all-around team effort all season and we won against some incredible teams that we weren’t necessarily favored against, but we won almost every one of those games against them. It was pretty amazing to see us beat some nationally-ranked teams.”
Coach Johnson had the pleasure of coaching her daughter, Ellie, over the years and Ellie learned the intricacies of being defender from her mother.
“It’s so sad, she’s been the best coach and the best mom,” Ellie said. “These past four years have been so amazing and she’s done so much for this program.”
“It’s been the best group of girls that I’ve had the pleasure of working with the past four years. Everyone on this team works 100 percent and they are my best friends.”
Said Burdick: “I am really sad to leave Greenwich Academy, we have an incredible team with super supportive teammates. Our faculty is incredible. It’s sad to leave, but I’m definitely ready to go on to the next steps ahead and I’m excited that GA has prepared me.”
Arpano (Harvard), Burdick (Dartmouth), Haffenreffer (Vanderbilt), Johnson (Stanford) and Novak (Bucknell) will each play lacrosse at the collegiate level next season. Tejpaul will compete on the field hockey team at Yale and Welch is headed to Lafayette University.
Coach Johnson looked back on her time spent with the GA lacrosse program.
“Having the privilege to coach at GA is really the honor of my life,” Johnson said. “I’m so grateful to the school to be given the opportunity to work with the girls, become a mentor and help them achieve their goals and become better lacrosse players and teammates. I love that GA holds all of its applicants and students to the same high academic and character standards, and that helps us as coaches to set the culture for getting the best out of everyone. When I step onto the turf every day I feel joy and excitement about seeing what breakthroughs one of my kids will make today in practice.”
“One of the most amazing and unexpected byproducts of coaching at GA has been the close friendships I’ve been blessed with among the other coaches and teachers at GA and beyond,” coach Johnson continued. “I owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Angela Tammaro and Melissa Anderson for helping me understand how to model the values of Greenwich Academy and how to maximize our lacrosse experience while never compromising our values as a school.
“I’ve never been anything but proud representing Greenwich Academy over the past 12 seasons, and I think our priorities as a school, athletic program and team are right on point. We are never going to compromise our values for a win, and because of that, I believe we have the respect and friendship of lots of coaches and families in the area.”
“Probably my biggest impact on the program is that I identified and helped hire Halley Griggs after the 2021 season,” Johnson said. “She’s the perfect person to lead the next chapter of GA Lacrosse, and is the total package when it comes to high level playing experience (4 time All-American at Syracuse), an impeccable character and a commitment to creating the best culture in sport that we can.
“She has a phenomenal track record of developing players and people, and she was highly recommended by my most trusted advisor and person I most admire – my sister-in-law, Ciara Thurlow, who was Halley’s co-coach at Greens Farms. I’m so excited to see the future of GA Lacrosse now that Halley is in charge – she’s a perfect leader for that program.”
Coach Johnson took the time to discuss the impact each senior on the squad had on the lacrosse program.
“We had a phenomenal group of seniors this year, and the 2023 season was right up there with the best teams I’ve been able to coach,” Johnson said. “Our captains, “the Ellies” and Rebecca Arpano, led the team cohesively on and off the field. They pushed everyone in practice, held everyone accountable and their work ethics are unparalleled. One of the best things about our seniors is that they grew up together pushing each other to be great, and they don’t have egos when it comes to mistakes and corrections.
“Our seven seniors bridged the field from the goal cage to the attacking crease this year. Kate Haffenreffer was outstanding on the draw for us this year, just an all-around great kid and one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached. She played every position on the field for us this year, depending on what we needed. Mimi Novak and Winnie Welch were great contributors in the attacking end.”
“Sienna Tejpaul and Ellie Johnson marked the opponents’ top players every game for the past two seasons. Rebecca Arpano made a huge impact, not only stopping shots in the cage but making tons of big interceptions and running the defensive sets. And Ellie Burdick is a game changing player in the midfield, making a big impact in every corner of the field whether it be the draw circle, the scoring area or defensively. We are so blessed to have this group in my final year of coaching.”
Categories: Greenwich Academy, Spring sports
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