Greenwich High girls soccer building momentum for playoff push

Head coach Danny Simpson warned his Greenwich High School girls soccer team during one of the team’s first practices of the fall season that something like this would happen.

After going virtually unnoticed throughout the preseason and the first half of the regular season, Greenwich High, the two-time defending Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference champions, were making serious noise in the conference, posting an impressive 7-1-1 record and demanding some attention.

Well, that’s exactly what Big Red got during the second half of the season. The opposition was fired up over playing the perennial powers from GHS, and it showed.

“It’s the same every year,” Simpson said. “You get to a certain stage of the season and the players start to look a little jaded and I can see right now that the players are starting to fall away. If I can, I need to pick them back up again and get them refocused because this is the time of year where champions are made.”

Since Greenwich High’s 6-0 victory against Stamford High School back on Oct. 9, the Lady Cardinals have picked up one victory the rest of the way, beating Danbury High School 1-0 on Oct. 15. Although Greenwich has won only one game during this stretch, it hasn’t picked up any losses either. Three of the five games ended in ties during the stretch; only one goal was scored from each team. The other games for Big Red ended in scoreless ties.

“At the beginning of the season, we weren’t really talked about much, which was surprising because we were back-to-back FCIAC champions,” senior forward Naomi Leeds said. “Once the season got moving, teams started getting more and more nervous to play us. They also brought their best game. That’s good for us because we know in the FCIAC tournament that teams will be bringing their best game to play us. Having hard games is only helping us prepare.”

In the five ties during the month of October, Greenwich knotted Ridgefield, Staples and Wilton high schools 1-1 and ended without a goal against Trumbull and Darien high schools.

“I think towards the end of the season, we’ve played some quality FCIAC contenders and they are showing they’re willing to want to fight. Credit goes to my girls because they’ve showed their aptitude in wanting to keep their title. If you can go 14 games unbeaten in this league, it says a lot about the character of the girls.”

“The team definitely isn’t up to where we would like it,” Leeds said. “We definitely didn’t want six ties, but we’re going to try and fix everything before the tournament and if we get those things fixed, I think this team could win the quarters, semis and hopefully the finals of the FCIAC. Our attacking needs to improve and take more shots. I would like to get other people involved, so that way when we do take shots, we have people ready to get the rebounds.

With Greenwich winning back-to-back FCIAC championships and looking like it is still in the mix in going for a three-peat, Simpson said his squad is the team that the opposition circles on their schedules as a key contest.

“All the ties aren’t from a lack of effort,” Simpson said. “We talked about this at the beginning of the season. Everybody wants to play the FCIAC champion the hardest. Against Darien, we just finished the game, and one of our girls talked to one of their girls and said that if they’d played like this all season, they wouldn’t have lost seven games. The girl said that they haven’t played like that all year but they did because it was against Greenwich. My team has a target on their backs because everybody wants to beat the team that is holding the FCIAC title.

While Simpson is concerned about his team, he knows there is still time to fix the problems.

“I think we’ve got time in training and I think if we go about our business the right way, we could fix this,” Simpson said. “But it’s going to be a challenge and we don’t make it easy on ourselves here. We could have picked up a couple more wins, known we could have had home field advantage and bye going into the playoffs and everything would have been fantastic. But as it is, we’ll do it the hard way.”

Helping Greenwich High School stay unbeaten 14 times during the regular season has been its defense. Leading the way on defense has been senior captain Sarah Mischanti.

“All those low-scoring ties are a testament to how strong we are in the back,” Mischanti said. “Danny puts a lot of emphasis on defending. The girls on defense are reliable and know how to play. Our defense has a lot of heart. We don’t plan on giving up anything. We go into every tackle 120% and we know that nothing could go by us.”

Joining Mischanti in the backfield is junior Caroline Markowitz, junior Megan Bartholomew and senior Margaret Parker. Greenwich has done its best to keep the opposition out of harm’s way.

“They have been a staple back four for us,” Simpson said. “They’ve worked so far for each other. There are times where you rely on your offense and other times you rely on your defense; while we are going through this tough stretch, our defense has stood firm.”

One of the pleasant surprises for Big Red has been the play of starting goalie Kylie Ginsberg, a sophomore.

“She came up with a phenomenal game against Trumbull after returning from an injury,” Simpson said. “She has had an incredible year for us. She never really had a grooming season. She had to go right into the forefront because of the injury to Maddie (Graham). She’s coped with that fantastically.”

“We won FCIACs with Maddie and now Kylie is looking like she’s following the same path,” Mischanti said. “She’s doing a great job. Every save she makes, we are all amazed. The best part is that she’s so humble. We will give her a hug after she makes an amazing save to tip the ball out of bounds and she’s saying how sorry she was to have the ball go out of bounds. As the season progresses, she knows her role more and more and is getting more confident every day.”

Simpson believes that his entire defensive unit is so strong because of the consistency and trust they have with each other.

“They work hard for each other,” Simpson said. “With the talent we have in the backfield, we have the confidence to take risks going forward and that will be beneficial when it comes to the playoff stretch. When it comes to championship material, one goal has been enough in some games. We aren’t a high scoring school and if you play a strong defense, it can win you a championship.”

Helping Greenwich try to break out of its scoring funk will be senior forwards Stephanie Gittings, Leeds and Molli Haimerl.

“It’s all about holding the ball more and being more relaxed instead of trying to do things too quickly and turn right into a defender,” Leeds said. “I would like to hold it up and pass, so that I give the rest of my team enough time to get up there in the final third.”

“They are all quality players and every striker goes through a rough patch and I know they are going to come out of it,” Simpson said. “Somewhere along the line, someone’s going to feel the brunt of their dry spell.”

Yesterday, Greenwich played its final regular-season game of the season and battled Westhill High School. Results were unavailable at press time. As of press time, Greenwich is seeded fourth overall with 30 points. Both Ridgefield and Ludlowe are at 29 points. Trumbull is at the top spot with 33 points, while Fairfield Warde sits at the second spot with 32 points. St. Joseph is third overall with 31 points.

“The playoffs are a different beast,” Simpson said. “Once you’re in there, all bets are off. On any given day, any one team can beat you. That’s why we are so proud of our three FCIAC titles. If we get the opportunity to defend our title, then we’ll definitely give it our best shot.”

Saying that the team is experienced in the postseason, Mischanti believes a three-peat is a strong possibility.

“We are doing really great and have such a high level of play,” Mischanti said. “I know it’s been frustrating with the ties. We know that we are better than all those ties. We aren’t satisfied with ties anymore. We now expect ourselves to win and are disappointed when we don’t. That’s great because with that attitude, only good things could happen.”

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