Greenwich High girl lacrosse gives repeat performance

While winning a state championship seems like nothing new for head coach Caitlin Keane and the rest of the Greenwich High School girls lacrosse team, Saturday afternoon’s Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference class L championship victory was something special.

With Big Red’s 9-8 victory over top-seeded Cheshire High School, Greenwich, seeded third in the playoffs, successfully defended its class L crown and capped off a streak in which the Cardinals appeared in the past three class L title games.

“This season was completely different than last season,” GHS senior Shannon Colligan said. “It was something special, just like last year, but it’s for different reasons. It feels good, and even a little better, because I’m a senior this year and we have 12 seniors. I think every single senior that was on the field or on the bench this game was on the field or bench in our last championship. To leave this legacy here and have two state championships under our belts when we leave is an unbelievable feeling.”

While the victory capped off a stellar season for Greenwich, today’s victory at Bunnell High School meant a lot more to Keane.

“It’s an awesome feeling, but it’s so bittersweet,” Keane said. “I am really sad to lose my seniors. I feel like I’ve raised them since their freshman year. I had them for four years and I am a little sad right now. I am very happy that we won, but I don’t want to lose those girls. A lot of people next year have some big shoes to fill.”

Senior Claire Feeney and sophomore Carolyn Paletta led the way in scoring for Big Red, netting three goals apiece. Junior Sophie Waine each added two goals.

“This feels unbelievable right now,” Feeney said. “From day one of our season, we wanted this. It’s a great feeling coming out as a senior and leaving with a bang. I am so proud of every single player on the field. Everybody that came in or was on the bench was great. It was a team effort. Hannah in cage was unbelievable and Shannon was great. It was a lot of fun.”

Also netting a goal in the class L championship game was fellow senior Tori Dunster, who also added an assist.

“This is every single player’s dream to be here and win it all,” Dunster said. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team that led us here. I love this team. They are like a family to me. We are all really close and I never been so close to teammates before. They are great and I am so happy that we were able to do this today. Our team speed has been our big thing all year and every part of our team stepped it up. The defense, midfield and attack all were perfect today.”

Throughout the first half, Greenwich held onto a lead, grabbing a game-high 7-3 advantage and going into halftime with the 7-4 lead. With the score deadlocked at 3-3, Greenwich highlighted the half by going on a 4-0 to finish out first half action. Waine netted two goals during the run, while Feeney and Carolyn Paletta added one more each.

“We start off really strong and come off firing,” Colligan said. “In the semifinal we had that lightning delay that messed with us and we started off slow in the second half. Today was the same thing. We came out firing and strong, but we had a 10-minute halftime instead of seven and that kind of messed us up a little bit. It took away from our momentum and we let them come back, but we do what it takes to get the win.”

Despite Greenwich’s offense spurt, the Rams weren’t going to go down without a fight in the second half. With 10:25 left in the game, Alison Hoynes blasted a shot while the Rams were a man up and knotted the game at 8-8.

However, the lead didn’t last long. With 7:59 left, Feeney fired a pass to Carolyn Paletta, who was cutting towards the net. Paletta was able to beat Cheshire goalie Courtney Andes and gave the Cardinals a 9-8 lead. Big Red wouldn’t give up the lead the rest of the way.

“The pressure really stayed with us and we did an unbelievable job,” Feeney said. “I don’t know what it is, but there is something that sparks in us at the last 10 minutes that keeps firing and it’s exactly what we need. We are so blessed to have that.”

In net, GHS senior Hannah Jeffrey was stellar in net. With time winding down and GHS clinging to a 9-8 lead, the Rams had the ball and were threatening. With 18.1 seconds to play, Cheshire’s Lauren Anderson gained control of the ball and fired a shot at point-blank range, but Jeffrey stood tall and made the enormous save to preserve the victory. Helping keep the Cheshire offense from any clear looks was Megan O’Leary, Izzy Mackell, Liz Robben and Molli Haimerl.

“I was definitely a little nervous with them 20 seconds left and having them come down the field, but I have awesome defenders and trust every single one of them,” Jeffrey said. “They did a great job forcing that outside shot, which made my life a lot easier. I then focused on watching the ball all the way down to my stick.”

Cheshire’s Courtney Andes finished with six saves, while Jeffrey totaled 13 on the day. In addition to the saves, Jeffrey was named the class L championship game’s most valuable player.

“Hannah had some amazing stops for us in those last couple of minutes,” Keane said. “She looked like a field player out there at times. She was composed and used to be a field player, so she could come out of the cage and feel confident in herself.”

With the victory, Greenwich capped off its season with a 19-3 overall record, while Cheshire fell to 20-3.

This wasn’t the first time Big Red saw the Rams. In last year’s class L semifinal game, the No. 6 seeded Lady Cardinals came away with the 11-6 win over second-seeded Cheshire. Back on April 14, Greenwich traveled up to Cheshire and came away with the commanding 17-6 victory. That was the last time the Rams lost a game prior to the class L championship.

Despite the early season blowout, Keane knew that wouldn’t be the case during Saturday’s contest.

“We called it and knew it was going to be a close game,” Keane said. “We knew our games are always close and we mentally prepared for that. We knew we weren’t going to come out and blow them out of the water. We were going to have to fight to the end and the girls did that.”

While Big Red came away with the championship hardware, the Cards will be having to replace some big time threats on the field, as seniors Lindsay Nielsen, Feeney, Mackell, Colligan, Dunster, Mackenzie Nocek, Caroline Brennan, Jeffrey, O’Leary, Hayden Stein, Robben and Tory Carr played their final game for GHS.

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