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Article Published November 25, 2019

Guilford Girls’ Soccer Caps Magical Run by Capturing State Crown

By By Peter Vander Veer

The Guilford girls’ soccer team recorded a slew of dramatic victories throughout the 2019 postseason, and so it was only fitting that the Indians played another nail-biter when they faced East Lyme for the Class L state title. Guilford capped off its magical run by earning a 2-1 win over East Lyme in the Class L State Tournament final at Dillon Stadium in Hartford on Nov. 23, giving the Indians their ninth state championship in program history.

Guilford, which had advanced to the final by edging out Suffield on penalty kicks in the semis, finished with a mark of 18-2-4 in a campaign that also saw the Indians win the SCC Tournament. When all was said and done, Guilford won eight playoffs games on its way to claiming conference and state crowns—and seven of those victories were decided by a single goal.

“This is surreal. It hasn’t hit me yet that we’re state champions,” senior Emma McSweet said. “We worked so hard this year and overcame some obstacles. I’m just so proud of how well every one of my teammates played tonight.”

No. 6 seed Guilford fell behind 13th-seeded East Lyme 1-0 after the Vikings scored a goal less than six minutes into the game. Senior captain Gabi Garcia-Perez netted the game-tying goal for the Indians to make it 1-1 at halftime, after which fellow senior Lily Riccio buried the game-winner early in the second half. Riccio was named the Most Valuable Player of the game for the Indians, who took home their first state crown since 2013.

“Giving up that goal so early in the game sparked us. Once we gave it up, our offense came alive,” said interim co-head coach Rick Geremia. “We began possessing the ball, and good things happened after that.”

East Lyme grabbed the early lead on Guilford when Meredith Healy scored the first goal of the game from Ella Mazzulli just 5:12 into the Class L final. With 19:20 to pay until halftime, Garcia-Perez knotted the score when she took a perfect centering pass from fellow senior Maggie Mandel and drilled a high shot into the net to make it 1-1.

“That was my first goal this year in regulation, and I’m dedicating it to my dad Dennis, who has told me all year long that I need to penetrate and get some shots on net,” Garcia-Perez said.

Garcia-Perez’s goal gave the Indians a boost heading into the second half. Interim co-Head Coach Fred Franzoni wanted Guilford to ride that momentum and strike quick for the go-ahead score.

“When we went into halftime tied, I told these kids that we needed to come out early in the second half, score, and then try and take command of the game,” said Franzoni.

That’s exactly what Riccio did by scoring on a breakaway to give Guilford a 2-1 lead just 1:22 into the second stanza. A misplay by an East Lyme defender opened the door for Riccio, whose shot into the lower right-hand corner of the net couldn’t be handled by Vikings’ goalie Lillian Massung.

From there, Guilford’s vaunted defense—led by senior captain Madison Gambardella, McSweet, and junior Taylor Gambardella—dug deep to keep East Lyme off the board the rest of the way.

“I was able to come up on the outside and defend any attacks they threw at us,” McSweet said. “They kept running pretty much the same plays, trying to go wide, and then bringing the ball back inside if they could. It allowed me to anticipate well every time.”

East Lyme was able to get the ball through the Indians’ defense with a little more than two minutes left in the game. However, senior keeper Claire Mackenzie rushed out of the net and pounced on the ball to stymie the Vikings’ final chance of the night.

Mackenzie made one save in goal for Guilford, which outshot East Lyme by a 13-3 margin. The Indians took five corner kicks and didn’t allow any on their way to earning their second championship banner of the year.

Garcia-Perez talked about how difficult it was to win SCC and state titles this season. Guilford had won the SCC Tournament with a 2-1 victory over Shelton in the league final on Nov. 6.

“Our conference is so competitive. Winning that was a big accomplishment for this team,” said Garcia-Perez. “Winning this is extra special. It’s the last time that our seniors will play for Guilford High School. It’s very emotional. I just can’t thank our coaches, our parents, and all of those people who followed us all year long enough. It’s wonderful.”

A few days before the state final, the Indians posted a 2-1 semifinal victory against No. 2 Suffield in a game that came down to penalty kicks at Xavier High School on Nov. 19. Guilford got the nod by winning the decisive PK session by a 3-1 margin.

Junior Lexie Greene gave Guilford a 1-0 lead when she scored with 12:10 left in regulation, but Suffield tied the game by scoring a goal with a little more than eight minutes to play.

Following a pair of scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, the two sides went to penalty kicks to decide the winner. Perez, sophomore Gabby Sansone, and McSweet converted for the Indians, while Mackenzie stopped three of the four shots she faced to help Guilford prevail.

From the Sidelines

The athletes on the Guilford girls' soccer team are senior captains Gabi Garcia-Perez and Madison Gambardella, seniors Claire Mackenzie, Angie Rusconi, Lauren Hess, Lily Riccio, Maria Jennings, Maggie Mandel, and Emma McSweet; juniors Julia Rubbo, Olivia Ste. Marie, Kelsey Lynch, Sophie Watrous, Sophia Gabriel, Lexie Greene, Taylor Gambardella, and Moira Kellaher; sophomores Audrey Kamen, Brenna Fissell, Taylor Farace, Olivia McMahon, Gabby Sansone, Abby Moore, Amelia Rattet, Lauren Cunneen, and Lily Mariconda; and freshmen Kat Baseggio, Ari Tomassi, and Ava Lepro.

The Indians posted a record of 10-2-4 during regular-season play this year. Guilford claimed two victories over Hand (5-0, 3-0), Foran (2-0, 5-1), and Lauralton Hall (3-0, 2-1), along with one win apiece against Cheshire (1-0), North Haven (2-0), Law (3-0), and East Lyme (1-0). The Indians lost contests to Mercy (1-0) and Law (2-1). Guilford earned ties with Cheshire (0-0), North Haven (1-1), Mercy (0-0), and Old Lyme (0-0).

Guilford began its postseason journey by winning the SCC Tournament title as the No. 3 seed. The Indians earned wins against No. 6 Foran (1-0) in the quarterfinals, No. 2 Mercy (1-0) in the semifinals, and No. 4 Shelton (2-1) in the final to win their sixth SCC title in program history.

In the Class L State Tournament, No. 6 seed Guilford defeated No. 27 North Haven by a 2-0 score in first-round action and then netted a 2-1 (5-3 on PKs) victory over No. 22 Law in a second-round game. After that, Guilford earned a 1-0 double overtime win against No. 3 Pomperaug in the quarterfinals, followed by a 2-1 (3-1 on PKs) win versus No. 2 Suffield in the semifinals. Guilford finished off its year by posting a 2-1 win over No. 13 East Lyme in the championship game to finish the year at 18-2-4 overall.

This is the ninth time that Guilford has won a state title and 11th time the Indians advanced to the championship game. Guilford defeated Branford (2-0) in the 2013 Class L final, shared the Class L title with Farmington after a 1-1 tie in the 2003 final, beat New Canaan (4-0) in the 1992 Class M final, Hand (2-1) in the 1991 Class M final, Hand (5-0) in the 1990 Class M final, shared the Class M title with Lyman Hall in 1989 following a 2-2 tie in the final, defeated New Canaan (3-2) in the 1987 Class M final, and Manchester (2-1) in the 1984 Class L final. The Indians lost to Simsbury (2-1 in 2OT) in the 1994 Class L final and to E.O. Smith (2-0) in the 1981 state final.