A possible three-peat in the Cards for Greenwich High girls lacrosse

Greenwich High School senior quad-captain Emily Johnson works the ball past her Staples opponent during a game last year. Johnson and the rest of the Cardinals will be looking to go for the class L three-peat this season. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Greenwich High School senior quad-captain Emily Johnson works the ball past her Staples opponent during a game last year. Johnson and the rest of the Cardinals will be looking to go for the class L three-peat this season. — Paul Silverfarb photo

Despite losing its top scorer and three-year starting goalie to graduation, the Greenwich High School girls lacrosse team still is the program that every team in the state is gunning for.

That’s what happens when you’re the two-time Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class L champions.

“Of course there’s always the pressure on us to win again,” Greenwich High School head coach Caitlin Keane said. “We’ve won two years in a row, so the pressure is definitely on us. It’s a new team and I think people are starting to see that and understand that. The girls are working really hard to show that they are not last year’s team, but they are still an awesome team. We’re looking to get better and better as the season rolls along. We want to start at one point and hopefully finish the season at a point higher than where we started.”

Last year, with a target on their backs, Big Red entered the CIAC class L tournament as the No. 3 seed. After crushing Norwalk 18-8 in the opening round and No. 6 Simsbury 13-5 in the quarterfinals, Greenwich upset No. 2 seed Newtown High School 11-10 in the semis and then beat top-seeded Cheshire High School 9-8 in the championship game.

Although the Cards were celebrating the championship, Keane knew that the Cheshire game was the last time Claire Feeney, Greenwich’s leading scorer, and Hannah Jeffrey, Big Red’s mainstay between the pipes, would wear a Greenwich jersey.

In addition to those two, Greenwich lost standout players like Shannon Colligan, Liz Robben, Tori Dunster, and Mackenzie Nocek to graduation. In total, 12 players ended their careers with Greenwich High School.

“I am actually pleasantly surprised where we are at this point,” Keane said. “We have a lot of new faces on the team. About half of the girls were on the team last year and the other half are new to varsity. We have to rely on the girls that were on the team last year, and I am really happy with the way we’re progressing already. The first three games out this year they’ve surprised me with how much they’ve taken in during practices and how much they’re working on their defense.”

This year Big Red will be led by senior captains Molli Haimerl, Emily Johnson, Sophie Waine, and Emma Christie.

“It’s a big honor,” Johnson said. “Being on this team for the past couple of years and seeing all the captains and looking up to them, it’s something that I definitely wanted to do. Being able to have that opportunity is such a great honor. I think we are doing a really good job. Coming out this strong this season is really great for this team. We came out a lot stronger than we anticipated, so now we can just go from there.”

“It feels really good to be a captain of this team” Haimerl said. “There’s a lot of really great returners here and a lot of good newcomers. It’s really nice to see everybody develop as the season moves along. We lost a lot of key players and our whole defensive line, so we need to regain our confidence there. We got a lot of new players that are good, and they are filling the holes nicely.”

For Keane, having those four captains is perfect, as each brings a unique quality to the team, both on and off the field.

“Molli is the voice of our defense and is putting her heart and soul into every game,” Keane said. “She’s making sure things are going well at defense and working well with our new goalies. Emily is in the midfield and controls the tempo and is so strong. She’s grown into her body and has grown into her ability. She’s an all-around great player. Sophie is another midfielder person helping out and leading the strong attack. Emma is finishing goals for us and stepped up in a huge way by scoring a couple of goals in every single game so far.”

One of the biggest changes this season for the Cardinals will be at goalie, where Jeffrey has been a mainstay for three seasons. Now that she’s graduated, freshman Caroline Schultz and sophomore Kylie Ginsburg are going to be used to fill the massive void Jeffrey left.

“Kylie actually picked up a stick for the first time three weeks before the season started and has been doing a phenomenal job,” Keane said. “Caroline is a freshman. They are both brand new and both are doing a great job. You wouldn’t know that they were new to the position. They both want to play, want to be there and want to help the team win. They are going to do whatever it takes to get it done and have improved so much.”

Backing up the duo of Ginsburg and Schultz will be a fairly new defensive unit. In addition to Haimerl, Big Red’s defense will consist of senior Claire O’Connor, junior Danielle Raviele and sophomore Natalie Paletta.

“They are the heart of the defense and the four of them are amazing,” Keane said. “Natalie has great speed, Claire has great strength and both Molli and Daniele are very smart players. We need for them to continue to play that hard and that smart. They are able to read plays before they happen. Their sliding is phenomenal this year, their communication is great and they know what to do. They follow their instincts.”

Greenwich’s midfield will be led by the duo of Johnson and junior Carolyn Paletta. In addition to Johnson and Carolyn Paletta, Keane will be looking to Waine and sophomore Jenny Goggin to help lead the way, saying that the four of them are responsible for draw controls, a must if Greenwich High plans on being successful.

“We need to control the draw controls and the tempo of the game,” Keane said. “They are very experienced and know how to control the pace when they get a little bit crazy. They know how to settle it down and win the ball. I am leaning on them for their experience at the varsity level. Carolyn’s speed is unmatched in the FCIAC and Emily’s height, strength and speed are just amazing right now. They are powerhouses and I’m glad they are on my team.”

Leading the way at the attack will be the trio of seniors Christie and Sarah Rider, as well as sophomore Anne Dunster.

“We won states for the past two years, so we are really looking forward to trying to defend our title and also get into FCIACs,” Christie said. “I think we have a lot of strong returners and have a lot of strong new players, and everybody is meshing well together.”

Although Rider and Dunster are new to the attack position, Keane couldn’t be happier with her attack’s performance.

“They are doing a great job so far, and I am looking for them to step it up in big ways for us by finishing goals and really take care of the ball for us,” Keane said. “They have been showing good discipline and patience on attack. Between the midfield and attack, you’re going to see a lot more patience from us and a lot more discipline. We like our fast breaks, but we will be settling it down as well.”

Keane believes that her team’s biggest asset is the speed and determination to play lacrosse at a high level. That said, the GHS head coach also knows that there needs to be some improvement come June if the team’s going to be successful in the postseason.

“We need to work on our discipline and controlling the tempo of the game,” Keane said. “We have to control the game, as opposed to the other team controlling play. That’s our biggest focus right now.”

Although Greenwich High had to replace a dozen athletes from last year’s championship team, Keane still believes her team is one of the teams to beat.

“Absolutely,” Keane said. “I am impressed with what they’ve done so far in the first few games. We had some strong scrimmages against really good teams from out of state, and in those games, they’ve really surprised me. My four captains are really stepping it up for us, so it’s great to see. We are getting better after every game.”

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