Girls lax has wide-open path to title
Wood to coach against former team -- Wilton
The Rams won't get the rematch they wanted.
And because of that, the path to winning the FCIAC title, seemingly, just got easier.
New Canaan's girls lacrosse team fought its way past Greenwich in Monday night's FCIAC semifinal, knocking off the Cardinals 14-11 on their home turf to set up a surprise championship tilt.
The Rams will try to avenge last year's championship game defeat, although it won't be against Darien, the team that knocked them off a year ago.
The second-seeded Rams (15-2), who lost in the finals the last two years, earned a return trip to the championship game and will play against upstart fourth-seeded Wilton (11-6-1), winners over top-seeded Darien. The two will square off in the finale at Brien McMahon High School Friday at 4 p.m.
"It feels good. We got here last year and we weren't able to finish, and now we have a second chance to finish," said New Canaan's Sarah Mannelly, who led the offensive attack with five goals against Greenwich.
A 16-5 winner over Greenwich back on April 27, the Rams didn't have such an easy time this go-around, as the No. 3 Cardinals refused to let the Rams pull away.
Anjalie Christie and Olivia Hompe both scored three times to help lift the Rams. Kacey Pippitt added a pair of tallies and set up four others. New Canaan goaltender Charlotte Spitzfaden kept busy and made 11 saves.
Mannelly came up with four ball controls off faceoffs, Christie had three and Pippitt two to help the Rams gain possession and score. On defense, Hannah Femia forced four turnovers, as the Rams won the ground ball battle.
Greenwich was within a pair of goals at 12-10 in the waning minutes before Hompe and Mannelly scored in a span of a little more than a minute and a half, the Mannelly tally coming with 3:22 to play in the game, to all but out the Cards out of reach.
Greenwich senior Taylor Stafford registered three goals and one assist, while senior Sarah Kramer had a hat trick for Greenwich, which scored three of the game's first four goals and trailed by just one goal early in the second half.
Trailing 10-6, the Cardinals tallied three unanswered goals -- the last of which was by Kramer off a free position -- closing to within 10-9 with 17:59 remaining in the second half. The Rams, however, stretched their advantage back to three during the next five minutes.
"It feels great," Christie said. "It feels awesome to be in the finals. We're really excited. We're looking forward to it."
After the win, much of the talk was about the probability of facing Darien -- not only last year's FCIAC title-game winner, but also the only FCIAC team to knock off the Rams in conference play this season.
"We're hoping to play them again since we lost to them at the start of the season. We sort of want a rematch," Mannelly said before Wilton went out and overcame a 7-0 deficit to pull out a wild 17-16 triple overtime win over Darien.
And Wilton has a couple of weeks of game play under its belt since the last meeting (May 6) with New Canaan. The Rams outlasted Wilton 20-14 in that contest.
"I'm excited for it," said Wood, a Wilton alumnae. "The Wilton girls really worked hard for the win and they deserve the championship game. It's going to be another hard-fought contest and it's always great competition. Both teams have phenomenal players."
The Rams don't expect this to be an easy game just because they avoided the Blue Wave.
"I think we need to take care of the ball a little better," said Wood, noting that some turnovers that didn't prove to be costly against Greenwich just might in the championship game.
Christie talked about the three things Wood emphasizes to her players for them to succeed: focus, determination and confidence.
"If we can come out with all of those things we have the potential," Christie said. "We've worked so hard this whole season. To have all of our hard work pay off in the final is what every team dreams of."
-- Dave Fierro contributed to this article.