Greenwich field hockey scores early, often in 5-1 win

The Greenwich High School field hockey team needed a game like this.

After a rough week, the Lady Cardinals returned to Cardinal Stadium for a Columbus Day matinee against perennial powers Pomperaug High School and exploded onto the scene from the start, scoring three goals in the first half and finishing with the 5-1 victory over the Panthers.

“I am really impressed,” said Greenwich High School head coach Ally Orrico. “The girls have been working really hard and today they really brought a lot of the things in that we worked on in practice and really executed them. We have so much talent on this team, but we have to play with a team concept instead of 20 superstars. We need to get the idea of playing like a unit, and once they do that, we are going to be a formidable opponent for anybody in the state and the league.”

Helping pace the Cardinals against Pomperaug was senior captain Liz Stillman, who netted three of the team’s five goals. While Stillman was able to get to the goal quite a bit Monday, she said it was because of the team’s belief in defense first.

“One thing that we have very strong on this team is our defense,” Stillman said. “I can always count on them to get the ball out and shoot it up. That is something that helps the forward line because we don’t have to constantly use energy to recover. We know that our sweeper, our center mid and our defense would be able to stop them in their tracks. That is something that we can build off of. It’s kind of like building a house without a foundation.”

Stillman got the ball rolling early for Big Red. On a corner opportunity with 26:34 to play in the first half, Ali Larkin started the play and passed to Sydney Cole. After Pomperaug goalie Abby Dolan deflected the ball, Stillman gained possession, worked the ball around a few defenders and fired the shot in the back left corner of the net for the 1-0 lead.

“Emily Brash took an amazing hit on goal and the goalie deflected it,” Stillman said. “I saw the opportunity from the left that I could bring it around the defender and sweep it in from the top. One thing our team does well is that we come out with a lot of energy from the start, and that gets a really good tone going for the game. From there we are able to do our thing, remain calm and win.”

Five minutes later, Big Red had a chance to add another goal, as both Cole and Claire O’Connor had point-blank shots at the net; however, the Pomperaug goalie made the saves.

“We just wanted to come out really strong,” Cole said. “Usually Pomperaug is a really strong team and they were a good team today. We wanted to get a few goals to start the game and that’s what we did. Emily, Liz and I work really well together, so we wanted to dribble around quickly and get a shot off.”

With 7:11 to play in the first half, Greenwich tacked on another goal, as senior captain Emily Brash launched a shot that found the top of the net for the 2-0 lead. Less than 30 seconds later, it was Greenwich’s Emma Montgomery who blasted a shot from the left corner of the net that bounced off Dolan’s pads and into the net for the 3-0 advantage.

“We have to work on moving the ball down the field and cutting to the ball more,” said first-year Pomperaug head coach Anne Strobel, who took over for legendary coach Linda Dirga. “I think we came out flat. We have a very young team and I think they were a little intimidated, but we pushed through it and they didn’t dominate us in the second half. That was promising.”

Just as she did in the first half, Stillman got the scoring under way to start the second. Only 27 seconds into the half, she took the pass from Brash in front of the net and pushed the ball through the left side for the 4-0 lead.

Pomperaug finally tallied a goal with 25:25, as Joanna Rizza took advantage of a corner opportunity and beat Greenwich High goalie Freddie Bancroft.

“We had an hour practice yesterday where all we did was corners, and it was nice to execute what we practiced yesterday,” Strobel said.

Although Bancroft gave up the goal, that was all the GHS goalie and her defense let in the rest of the way. With 16:05 to play the Panthers were on the attack, as Hayley McCormack blasted a shot heading toward the left corner of the net. However, Bancroft was there to make the diving deflection and her defense cleared the ball out of harm’s way. Bancroft finished with five saves on the day.

“Freddie did another outstanding job,” Orrico said. “We also have a lot of young defenders and they are starting to learn what they are supposed to be doing and what their responsibilities are. Hopefully we can continue to move in this right direction and continue to build on the youth that we have and create depth.”

Stillman netted her third goal and closed out the scoring for the game as she unloaded a high, arching shot that eluded Dolan in goal with 4:12 to play.

“Liz has been working really hard at that left post,” Orrico said. “She really was very disciplined today, and her lane discipline was the difference in her converting all those opportunities that she had. I was happy to see that her hard work paid off today.”

Greenwich, which was attacking the Pomperaug zone throughout the day, finished with 20 shots, while the Panthers had eight. The Cardinals also had the 9-6 advantage on Pomperaug in corner opportunities. With the victory, Big Red upped its record to 7-3 on the season and Pomperaug fell to 4-4-0-2.

“We have the talent to be a scoring powerhouse, but it’s a matter of being disciplined in the lanes we need to be in,” Orrico said. “Field hockey is a hard game because your instinct is that you want to go to the ball all the time. If you lose your lane discipline, that disallows you to convert on your opportunities. Today we were really where we were supposed to be and the result was that the girls were able to convert on their opportunities.”

While the Cards beat Fairfield Ludlowe High School on Saturday, Greenwich had a tough few games before that. The defense was playing stellar last week, but the team was unable to find its offense, falling to Brien McMahon and New Canaan high schools, 1-0.

“We had a rough week and now that we are in the second half of the season, we are starting to pick it up and work to perfect those little things that were hurting us in the beginning,” Stillman said.

While the road has been challenging for Greenwich, it doesn’t get any easier. Yesterday Greenwich faced off against perennial power Wilton High School; however, results were unavailable at press time.

“The only thing we look at is taking it one game at a time because this league is so hard,” Orrico said. “We can’t overlook anybody. Wilton is going to be a huge test for us. If the girls can put it all together, I think we could be a really tough opponent for them. It comes down to execution. We have the skill to come out and compete with them, but now we have to execute out in the field. We have to bring out our A game.”

After a home game against Danbury High School Monday night, Greenwich will be on the road against the same Cheshire team that knocked Big Red out of the class L playoffs during last year’s magical postseason run.

“There is a lot of anger behind that, but we’re going to transform that anger into great play and use all our talent and skills,” Stillman said. “We need to keep our head in the game and not think about who or where we are playing.

“We have a bunch more tough games coming up, but we are looking forward to trying to get as many wins as we can,” added Cole. “Right now we are doing pretty well, so I’m hoping it keeps going.”


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