Greenwich Academy field hockey keeping the good times rolling

So far, so good for the Greenwich Academy field hockey team.

Despite all the young athletes that comprise this year’s field hockey team, seven games into the season and the Gators are showing the fight, skills and determination that makes teams look like seasoned-veterans.

“I think that with every game that we play, we come away with a number of things we need to improve on,” Greenwich Academy head coach Jaime Brower said. “It might be our fitness or might be our scoring or even our attacking. Each game has been an important learning tool for us and we knew that coming into the season. We have a lot of young players that lack the game experience, so I think every time we play someone else, it’s an opportunity to see where we are now, what we need to improve on and what we are doing correctly.”

In the team’s first seven games, GA is a solid 7-1 on the season. In fact, the team’s only loss was a 1-0 defeat to powerhouse Hotchkiss School in overtime on Saturday.

“As much as nobody likes to lose, losing can be a real character builder,” Brower said. “It’s easy when you’re winning to keep everybody happy. To see how the team and the coaches and the program reacts to a loss is going to be a very telling sign. The game against Hotchkiss is over and now we move on from it.”

And GA did exactly that.

Earlier today, Greenwich Academy returned to action after falling for the first time this season and took care of Taft School, 3-1.

“They showed me a little more fire today,” Brower said. “It’s something we are working on and are continuing to work on. In the second half we came back ready to go and it was a sight to see.”

With 13:57 to play in the opening half, Kate DeFrino got the ball from Tatiana Viola and Alexa Murray and found the back of the cage for the 1-0 lead.

In the second half, the Gators added to its lead, courtesy of Viola. With 22:37 to play, Viola took the pass from Olivia LeSueur and gave the Gators its second goal. Less than 10 minutes later, Viola rounded out the scoring for GA, as she got the ball from Katrina Kraus, Alexi Olney and LeSueur with 13:30 left and scored the team’s third goal.

In net, Julia Booth finished with three saves. Greenwich Academy ended the game with 10 shots on goal, but for Brower, it was the 15 penalty corners that made her day.

“It was definitely a good win for us,” Brower said. “Taft is a very strong team and their goalie played great. For us to battle and get this victory was really important. The girls came out with a much stronger second half than first half and I think it was a good game to have after Saturday’s tough loss. It’s good for us to have to keep our level of play and focus up.”

The key to Greenwich Academy’s early success has been its stellar defense. Through six games, the only team that was able to find the back of the cage against the Gators was Hotchkiss. In total, GA has outscored its opposition a combined 19-1.

“The goals-against for us is definitely a high point for us at this point of the season,” Brower said. “There’s a lot of field hockey still to play, so we don’t want to harp on the good or bad that much.

Helping lead the way on defense has been Booth between the pipes.

“Julia (Booth) has been very steady in goal and has done a nice job developing our defensive unit,” Brower said. “She communicates with the defense so that understand what they are supposed to do and why. I think Haley Carmichael at center-back has really gained a lot of confidence with each game played and will serve us well down the road.”

Sophia Viola, Annie Khoury have been starting for the Gators at defense, but Ellie Otton and Charlotte Gilliland have also logged key minutes.

“I think the biggest strength right now is understanding how to play as a unit as far as where they should be when the ball is at a certain place,” Brower said. “Julia and Haley have done a remarkable job. They get the defense organized before the ball is actually coming down the field, so that way everybody knows what open players are around, what their role is and what their responsibility is. What we still need to work on is not giving up so many corners.”

For the Gators, having that cushion of a sound defensive unit is music to the ear for Greenwich Academy’s offense. Throughout the young season, if GA’s offense finds the back of the net only twice in a game, most likely that would be enough.

“I think that is a confidence that we go in with, but it’s one that we need to continue to develop,” Brower said. “When we are facing the faster teams like Hotchkiss and Taft, we have to adjust and handle that speed accordingly. We have to change our game. We have to keep working and evolve our defense every day to maintain the steady record that we started.”

When it comes to offensive firepower for the Gators, the trio of Tatiana Viola, LeSueur and Katrina Kraus have led the way.

“Tatiana has a very strong and polished hand-eye coordination,” Brower said. “She’s very fearless in front of the goal. Olivia has a really good shot and her stickwork is solid. Katrina brings non-stop effort. At one point she will be shooting on goal and the next moment she will be recovering to the defensive 25 to make a tackle. She’s a solid workhorse on the field.”

Brower said that Alexa Murray, Caroline Keller and Erika Kraus also are key offensive contributors because of how they have hard shots, add scrappiness to the forward line and work hard every time the ball is near them.

“They each bring some different skills to the offensive side of the ball and we need to, as coaches, figure out how to use their skills to our advantage,” Brower said.

While the Gators won six of their first seven games, Brower still believes that there’s work to be done.

“We need to improve on our ability to give ourselves more chances to score. We were even with Hotchkiss with shots, but they had 11 corners and we had only one. We need to continue to work on putting that offensive pressure on and keeping it on in the circle. We need to be more of a scrappy team around the goal. We’re a little too nice right now, so we need to get more aggressive around the goal.”

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