History Made! Sacred Heart Claims NEPSAC Class A Title
By Paul Silverfarb
The Sacred Heart Greenwich field hockey team capped off its memorable season in historic fashion Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers, competing in the highly talented New England Prep School Athletic Conference tournament as the top seed in Class A, beat third-seeded Tabor Academy 2-1 in the championship game to bring home the school’s first ever New England title.
“Once it was official that we won the game, I felt an incredible amount of pride in our team,” said senior co-captain Sydney Gallop. “All season, we hoped to win the NESPAC league and we knew in our hearts that we could do it. Especially with such a small team, we had so much faith in ourselves and each other that it was euphoric finally being able to reach our dreams.”
For Sacred Heart Greenwich head coach Alexandru Gheorghe, the moment the clock ran out and celebration began was something he won’t ever forget.
“It was incredible,” he said. “It was always our main goal and finally we were able to achieve that goal.”
Although Sacred Heart ended the game golden, the start was far from desirable. Tabor Academy found the back of the net with six minutes to play in the first half and held a 1-0 lead midway through the second.
With 12:51 to play in the game, it was the Tiger’s Caroline Nemec that knotted the contest. She took the corner opportunity pass from Beth Yaeger and fired the shot at point blank range to open the scoring for SHG.
And it was Yaeger that closed out the contest in dramatic fashion. Sacred Heart finished the game with 20 corner opportunities, but it was the one with 1:21 to play in the game that struck gold. Nemec gained possession of the ball in the middle of the crease and passed to Yaeger to the right of the Tabor goalie. Yaeger then blasted a shot that gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
“Being a NEPSAC Class A champion feels so rewarding,” senior co-captain Morgan Smith. “Our team worked so hard to claim this title and I am so proud of everything we have accomplished this season. Even though half of our team is new, either freshmen or transfers, we really became a cohesive unit as the season progressed. Being able to call ourselves NEPSAC champions is something that we take great pride in and we hope to be holding onto the brown for many years to come.”
And with the victory, the Tigers finished its season with a 19-1 overall record and an impressive championship trophy that athletic director Liz Dennison, along with the field hockey team, will be proudly displaying.
According to Dennison, “They absolutely did the work that it took to get there. To see them achieve their goal and this accomplishment that Sacred Heart has never done before in field hockey was a real special moment, both for them and the whole school.”
“It was a great season,” Gheorghe said. “We scored over 100 goals and outscored our opponents by close to 45 goals. It was a great season and I am so proud of this team.”
And helping the team get to where they finished were its two captains, Smith and Gallop.
“They were great captains,” Gheorghe said. “They have different personalities and work together really well. They kept the team together and kept the dynamic together. They managed everything both on and off the field and kept on pushing the team hard.”
Gallop said that since she started on the team her freshman year with Smith, the two captains have been working hard towards achieving the goal of one day hoisting the NEPSAC championship trophy over their heads.
“I think our biggest advantage this year was the mentality with which we addressed every game,” Gallop said. “Because Morgan and I were on a team that did not even qualify for the NEPSAC tournament during our freshman year, we really wanted to make sure that every player on our team knew how much it would take mentally to achieve this goal.”
Smith said that with a small roster and a lot of new girls to the team, she wasn’t sure how the season would shake out. She was hoping that her senior year wouldn’t be a rebuilding year. But it was after the team’s opening game of the season, a 7-0 contest against School of the Holy Child, that she started to change her mind.
“From scorching hot temperatures in late August all the way until the beginning of November, we worked hard every day on becoming one unit and working together as a team,” Smith said. “We made sure that passing was emphasized throughout the season and the idea that assists were more important than goals themselves.”
The way the Tigers were able to rebound was something that made the season even more special. Sacred Heart ran the table during the regular season and cruised through the Fairchester Athletic Association tournament. However in the championship game against crosstown rival Greenwich Academy, it was the Gators that picked up the road victory and conference championship.
Instead of crushing their season and letting the disappointing loss to GA ruin their season, Sacred Heart regrouped and came up huge in the NEPSAC tournament. Against Taft in the quarterfinals, the Tigers dominated cruising to a 7-0 victory. That set up a contest against Westminster in the semifinals and a SHG win 3-1.
“The consistency in which this team performed was definitely impressive,” Dennison said. “It’s really hard to do that every day with everything you’re managing as a student-athlete.”
The victory against Westminster set up their contest against Tabor in the championship game.
“That loss against Greenwich Academy was a turning point to our season,” Gheorghe said. “We realized that we were not perfect and that we have things to improve on. We were able to fight for it. We realized that the only chance we had winning a championship was to win the New Englands.”
The victory against Tabor to claim the New England championship proves that the process at Sacred Heart Greenwich has been paying off. In addition to having a top-level varsity team that plays some of the top teams in the country, and strong varsity B team, the program has also benefitted from expanding to the lower school and the ability to play on a beautiful field hockey turf field that was built a few years ago.
“My goal as athletic director is to really have a view of our program, from fifth grade through varsity,” Dennison said. “It’s a progression to get where we are right now,” Dennison added. “It doesn’t take one season and it doesn’t happen overnight.”