There was a moment in the madness, amidst the smiles and the cheers, the hugs and the tears (of happiness), where Greens Farms Academy girls soccer coach Andrew Henry took a moment to take it all in.
“Unbelievable,” Henry recalled. “It was unreal.”
At the far-right end of the field was the scoreboard, an exclamation point at the end of Westminster School’s Hovey Field that told the story: GFA 1, St. Luke’s 0.
On the left side, he saw his players, his girls, his Dragons; hugging and dancing and celebrating like they had just won the 2023 New England Prep School Athletic Conference’s Class C championship.
Because they had. And it wasn’t unreal. It was a real as real gets. So, Henry, six years at the head of the GFA girls soccer program, smiled.
“I know it’s real because I see everybody here that I love, the girls; so, I know it’s real,” Henry said with a huge grin. “I know it’s real. But it’s unreal, man. First time in history.”
On a gorgeous Sunday fall morning, the Dragons made history, winning the program’s first New England championship in a fashion that simply epitomized this team, this season.
In his post-game speech to the team, Henry reminded the Dragons that their chameleon-like resilience helped bring them to this moment.
They could win beautifully, like they did when they knocked off top-seeded Brewster Academy on Saturday, another 1-0 game.
Or they could win in less stellar fashion, being forced to play a more patient game against an opponent willing to pack it in.
That patience finally paid off.
With 24 minutes and change left in the game, Lauren DeLaurentis’ corner kick found the foot of junior fullback Julia Johnson, scoring the game’s only goal.
“We had a corner kick in the first half and I ran near post and Lauren put a perfect back-post, so Andrew screamed at me that I can’t run near post anymore. I definitely kept that in my mind and made that run back-post. I wanted it on my head, but (Lauren) put it perfectly on my foot and the goalie misread it and it was wide open.”
Added DeLaurentis, “I always look for Julia. Always. I just try to the ball to her because I know she’s going to score.”
From there, the Dragons defensive did the rest and did so brilliantly—as they had over this entire postseason—turning things up a notch in the New England tournament.
Consider: Since Sacred Heart-Greenwich’s goal with 26 minutes left in the FAA championship game, the GFA defense hasn’t surrendered a goal for 346 minutes.
“That’s a big number,” said GFA goalkeeper Mae Morelli, who pitched her third straight New England tourney shutout. “That’s a cool number to hear.”
Three hundred and 46 minutes. How long is that?
It’s five hours and 46 minutes.
It’s like watching the movie Godfather and then Godfather II back to back.
For the younger crowd, it’s watching Taylor Swift’s Era Tour movie twice and still having 40 minutes left over to think about how incredible this GFA defense was in this tournament.
After shutting out No. 8 Berwick Academy in the quarterfinals, the Dragons made the 256.8-mile trip to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, to face top-seeded Brewster Academy.
That trip would have taken the team four and a half to five hours, depending on traffic.
Still less time than the Dragons defense failed to surrender a goal.
“I’m so insanely proud of them,” Johnson said. “Andrew does a great job putting us against pressure: 8 v 3, 8 v 4, 9 v 4. Really preparing us well. But it comes down to while we have a lot of young talent, all it takes to play good defense is a little grit and we have a lot of that.”
So much so that the Dragons were able to overcome St. Luke’s pack-it-in defense to keep GFA off the board. During the regular season, the Dragons topped the Storm by a 5-2 count.
“They stayed defensive and got it out as much as they could,” Henry said. “That type of game is frustrating, but you just have to stay patient.”
Waiting patiently for that one corner kick, that one moment where player connects with player, and history is made.
“We practice set pieces,” Henry said “You never know how it’s going to turn out, but two of our top players connected on that. We put a lot of work into and sometimes it takes a set piece like that.”
Henry has put a lot of work into the GFA program since his arrival six years ago, but he admits it didn’t take him long to see the potential of the GFA program.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” the coach said. “I just wanted to be in a competitive environment and help kids develop. When I got here I realized quickly I had to reassess my goals , that we could absolutely win here. These kids are smart here and smart kids who have heart will always do well. So, we reset our goals.
And now the rest—as real as it gets—is history.
The victory capped off GFA’s season with a 16-3-1 mark.