Ellis School captures WPIAL Class A field hockey championship

Saturday, October 29, 2022 | 3:17 PM

So much excitement surged through Ellis School junior Rita Gianakis as she raced to meet her teammates moments after the Tigers secured their third WPIAL Class A field hockey championship on Saturday at Washington & Jefferson College.

Gianakis almost single-handedly provided the spark, scoring three fourth-quarter goals to lead Ellis School to a 3-1 victory over Aquinas Academy and into the PIAA playoffs, scheduled to begin Nov. 8.

“I feel so proud of my team,” Gianakis said. “Everyone, not just myself. I feel like we played as a team. I’m so happy.”

Gianakis’ heroics enabled Ellis School (11-2-1) to erase a 1-0 Aquinas Academy lead that stood until her first goal with 8 minutes, 9 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter tied the score.

She scored the go-ahead goal with 4:50 left and put the outcome out of reach with an unassisted goal in the final minute.

“It’s not often you get three goals from one player,” first-year Ellis School coach Alexx Miller said. “Rita did everything she needed to do today. She was where she needed to be, listened to everything we told her and put all the pieces together.”

Gianakis wasn’t totally buying it, though, choosing to deflect some of the praise to her teammates, including junior Hannah Habershaw, who assisted on two of Gianakis’ goals.

“Couldn’t have gotten it done without Hannah,” Gianakis said. “She was my partner out there today and she passed them right to me. I’m just so proud of everyone.”

Aquinas Academy (6-5-1) clung to its 1-0 lead on Emma McGinley’s unassisted goal with 12:00 left in the second quarter. As time elapsed into the fourth quarter, Crusaders coach Jen DeWitt became increasingly hopeful it would be enough to prevail.

“Most championship games are pretty tight — 1-0, 2-1 games,” she said.

But Ellis School rallied behind Gianakis’ three late goals.

“I think we let that goal of theirs get to us a little bit,” Miller said. “I said, ‘Ladies, we’ve got to dig deep.’ We remember how bad it felt last year to lose to them, 1-0, (in the semifinals). So, really, this is our year. They did it. I’m just very proud of them.”

No matter the winner, the result would guarantee a different WPIAL representative in the PIAA Class A playoffs for the first time since Ellis School won back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2016 and ‘17.

Shady Side Academy had won the past four championships before losing on Thursday to Aquinas Academy, 2-1, in the 2022 semifinals.

DeWitt wasn’t allowing the dejection of a tough championship game loss bleed into the success of Aquinas Academy’s season, which fell just short of the school’s first trip to the state tournament.

“We just ran out of gas,” she said. “I told our girls afterwards to just keep your heads up. They fought hard all game and all season, and they have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be proud of.”

The PIAA Class A championship will be decided Nov. 19 at Cumberland Valley High School in Mechanicsburg.

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