Clutch Kaleigh Harden Ready for Next Challenge at North Carolina

PHOTO BY SUZY NOLAN


Kaleigh Harden strode to the draw circle, fully aware of the magnitude of what was facing her. Rival Darien (Conn.) had just rattled off three straight goals in quick succession, making the CIAC Class L final a one-goal game.

The next draw would determine the game. The New Canaan senior knew it.

“I knew that when that ball went up, I was like, ‘This has to be mine or one of my teammates’,’” Harden said. “All I was thinking was I just had to get that draw.”

The North Carolina-bound midfielder came up with it, and the Rams were able to do what they’d never done — win an FCIAC and Connecticut state championship in the same season.

It was the latest example of Harden, the USA Lacrosse Magazine Northeast Girls’ Player of the Year, coming up clutch in the biggest moments.

In the FCIAC championship game, Harden helped the Rams rally from a 7-4 deficit to win 10-8, beating Darien in the final for a second straight year. Harden came up with the game-winning goal with 6:05 remaining.

She also capped her high school hockey career by scoring with 33.5 seconds left in the third overtime to lift New Canaan over Darien for the CHSGHA state championship.

“She really is an outstanding competitor,” New Canaan coach Kristin Woods said. “Her ability to focus and to just get the task at hand done is like nothing I’ve ever seen before in an athlete.”

Woods said she first saw that drive when Harden was a third grader coming up through the New Canaan youth program.

“She was a fiery little kid back then, too,” Woods said.

Harden, a two-time USA Lacrosse All-American, impacted the game in multiple ways this season for the Rams. She had 43 goals, nine assists, 64 draw controls and 21 caused turnovers, including several in the state championship game.

“She reads the ball well,” Woods said. “She had an interception in the middle of the field at one point during that state championship game. She pressured the ball behind when they weren’t expecting it. She’s all over the place.”

But Harden’s biggest contribution to New Canaan’s historic season might have been her leadership. It’s a role she grew into as the season went on with Woods saying her catch phrase of, “Let’s get better today,” was taken to heart.

Harden’s guidance helped New Canaan deal with adversity, from losses on the field and losses to key players due to injury. In the early season defeat at the hands of Victor (N.Y.), USC-bound attacker Hollis Mulry suffered a season-ending knee injury and fellow senior Carolyn Baran’s season ended with the same ailment just before the FCIAC championship game.

“Throughout the postseason, we played these games for them because they would do anything to be out there,” Harden said. “Everyone had to push themselves a little bit harder and just work a little bit harder every day to fill those roles.”

As a true leader does, Harden deflected any praise off her shoulders and onto her teammates for New Canaan’s banner season.

“I credit everything that happened to this team because it was one of the best teams I played on,” she said. “We were all so close, and whether they were on or off the field, everyone was cheering for everyone. And every day in practice, everyone was pushing everyone to be better. It was not a one-person job. It was completely collective.”

And it was collective euphoria when New Canaan was able to hold onto the ball for the final moments and capture the seventh state title in program history and the first since 2008.

“So many people on our team were so emotional, I was so proud of everyone, and everyone just had the biggest smile on their face,” Harden said. “And it just showed how hard this team has worked this whole season and just showed that everything we’ve worked on paid off. I was just so excited and smiling, and I couldn’t stop for the next couple of days thinking about it because it was just insane.”







Harden soon will become well versed in the North Carolina-Duke rivalry, joining her sister McKenna in Chapel Hill in a couple months.

But she’ll miss those grudge matches with Darien, noting her most memorable high school moments came in these last two wins.

“We see Darien in every FCIAC and state championship basically every year, so I’m definitely going to miss that,” Harden said. “They’re just always such a good team, and it’s always such a good game.”

FINAL NORTHEAST TOP 10

1. Victor (N.Y.), 21-1

The greatest season in Victor program history culminated with a first-ever New York State championship when the Blue Devils defeated Queensbury (N.Y.) 14-5 in the Class B final. Duke-bound Eva Pronti finished her senior season with 61 goals and 75 assists for 136 points and was named an All-American along with Virginia commit Olivia Bruno, while defender Grace Callahan, a Michigan commit, was named an Academic All-American. Devin Livingston, a rising junior midfielder, and rising senior attacker Maryn Savage (Binghamton) will lead the charge next season. Previous: 1

2. New Canaan (Conn.), 21-2

For the first time in program history, New Canaan captured both the FCIAC and CIAC Class L titles in the same season, and they beat rival Darien (Conn.) to do so both times. North Carolina-bound midfielder Kaleigh Harden, attacker Dillyn Patten (Cornell), goaltender Claire Mahoney (Brown) and defender Carolyn Baran were named All-Americans, while attacker Stella Nolan (Michigan) and defenders Ella Petterson and Devon Russell lead the returnees for the Rams. Previous: 2

3. Darien (Conn.), 20-2

The Blue Wave defeated No. 1 Victor (N.Y.) and everyone else they played — but it’s the two losses to New Canaan (Conn.) in the FCIAC and CIAC Class L championship games are what stands out. Still, it was another banner season for Darien, with Boston College-bound goalie Shea Dolce, midfielder Ceci Stein, a Michigan commit and midfielder Molly McGuckin (Trinity) all earning All-American honors as seniors. Juniors Chloe Humphrey (North Carolina), Ryan Hapgood (Dartmouth) and Kaci Benoit (Syracuse), each also named All-Americans, will try to win Darien's next title. Previous: 3

4. Bronxville (N.Y.), 21-1

It was a season they’ll not soon forget as Bronxville won a first New York State Class D title after three consecutive championship game losses. Seniors Caroline Ircha (Penn) and Molly Krestinski (Colgate), who were both named All-Americans, along with Kiki Tormey (Brown) and Megan Krestinski (Bucknell), who earned All-section honors, have played a leading role in turning the Broncos into an elite team. Junior Catherine Berkery (Penn), who also earned All-Section 1 honors, and goaltender Olivia Shinsato (Georgetown) will help ensure that continues next year and beyond. Previous: 4

5. St. Anthony’s (N.Y.), 15-3

The Friars captured a third consecutive CHSAA Class AA title, with Duke-bound midfielder Ava Biancardi, who had 36 goals and five assists, and Abby LoCascio, a Northwestern commit who had 20 goals and 19 assists playing starring roles in their final high school games. Goalie Shae Lembo (Stanford), midfielders Rose Christie (Villanova) and Tanner Scarola (Army) and attackers Tess Calabria and Kacey McGorry will be back trying to make it four titles in a row. Previous: 5

6. Manhasset (N.Y), 16-3

Manhasset was Title Town, Long Island, with the boys and girls teams both capturing New York State titles. Playing leading roles for the Indians, who beat Honeoye Falls-Lima (N.Y.) to capture a fourth state championship, were Richmond commit Alexis Morton, who had 26 goals and 17 assists over six playoff games and lockdown defender Alexandra Schneider (Virginia), who were both named All-Americans. Ashley Newman (Yale) and Despina Giannakopoulos were named Academic All-Americans. Schneider, Caitlyn Barrett (Duke) and Alexandra Maliagros will be back to ensure Manhasset is again a powerhouse in 2023. Previous: 6

7. Baldwinsville (N.Y.), 18-2

Baldwinsville enjoyed a title town celebration of its own with both lacrosse programs also claiming New York State titles. The Bees captured their second state championship, and first since 2000, by defeating Northport (N.Y.) in the Class A final. Syracuse commit Carlie DeSimone, who had 69 goals and 46 assists, was named an All-American, while Sydney Huhtala, Maeve Bartell, Grace Hollenback and Emma Hollenback earned Academic All-American honors. DeSimone, Mia Pozzi (Virginia Tech), Brianna Peters and Sophia Ianno (Monmouth) return, ensuring the Bees will be buzzing as one of the region’s elite. Previous: 7

8. Northport (N.Y.), 20-2

Northport fell just short of winning a second straight state title, losing to Baldwinsville (N.Y.) in the New York State Class A final. Still, the coaching tandem of legends Carol Rose and Al Bertolone mean the Tigers will roar again next and beyond. Duke commit Kylie Mackiewicz, who had 74 goals and 31 assists, Ella Cabrera (North Carolina), who had 41 goals and 20 assists, and Stony Brook-bound Bella Germani, who had 58 goals and 15 assists, will be sorely missed. Emma McLam, a Delaware commit, and goalie Meg Morris (Marist) lead the returnees. Previous: 8

9. Suffern (N.Y.), 17-4

Reaching the state final four for a second straight season is cause for celebration and that’s just what Suffern accomplished. Seniors Kate Burns (Holy Cross) and Maryland commit Emma Muchnick, who both earned All-American honors, along with seniors Jenna Myhal (Tampa) and Callie Drab (Delaware), who were named All-Section 1, were instrumental for the Mounties. Look out for rising freshman Michaela Fay, who Suffern coach John Callanan described as a “special player” next season, as well as Gabbie Direnno and Caitlyn Ruggiero on offense and Jillian Terlizzi in the cage. Previous: 9

10. Wantagh (N.Y.), 15-3

Madison Taylor was a force in all facets — the Northwestern commit had 72 goals and 44 assists on attack, had 145 draw controls and 74 ground balls and 38 caused turnovers and earned All-American honors. So, too, did junior Eva Ingrilli, a North Carolina commit, and Virginia-bound Madison Alaimo, who will likely be one of the most feared attacking duos on Long Island in 2023. Previous: 10

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