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Article Published August 8, 2020

Guilford Eager to Hit the Field in 2020

By By Dean Bibens

The Guilford High School field hockey team put together an epic season during the fall of 2019. Head Coach Kitty Palmer’s squad ran the table to achieve an undefeated record of 23-0, while winning both the Southern Connecticut Conference title and the Class M state championship. Guilford’s perfect season marked the second-straight year that the team claimed conference and state crowns.

With 13 players having graduated, it will be quite a challenge for Guilford to replicate last year’s accomplishments in 2020. However, Coach Palmer, who’s entering her 39th year at the helm, still feels confident that her squad will see another successful campaign this fall.

Palmer thinks that much of Guilford’s success will stem from its experience at the goalkeeper position. Guilford, which has won 31-straight games dating back to 2018, comes into the year with two experienced goalies in senior Eve Young and junior Julia McDonald. Young started throughout the regular season and during the SCC Tournament last fall. McDonald then stepped into the net for the Class M State Tournament and helped Guilford defend its title.

Coach Palmer said that she feels confident no matter who is holding down the fort for Guilford in goal.

“It’s going to be an open competition,” said Palmer. “Both girls are deserving of the position and the starting role, but we are going to alternate and see who is having more success. I know they are both going to excel.”

Another key athlete that’s returning for Guilford is senior captain Hannah Tillier, who was one of the team’s most productive players on offense last season. Tillier, a forward, scored 22 goals to go with 22 assists on her way to earning All-SCC and All-State First Team honors in 2019. She also made the New Haven Register All-Area Team and was the Register’s All-Area Most Valuable Player, in addition to being named the SCC co-Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC final.

“Hannah is extremely athletic, unselfish, and is involved in all our offensive plays,” Coach Palmer said. “She only cares about the team’s success and will be a great leader for all the girls to emulate.”

Guilford’s other captain is senior midfielder Madden Cunningham, who recorded four goals with one assist last year. Coach Palmer described Cunningham as the type of player who can do it all for Guilford.

“Every team needs a Madden. She sacrifices everything to win,” said Palmer. “She doesn’t need notoriety, but we are not as successful without her. She does the little things—marks the opponent’s best player, tips the balls in on corners, and rushes on our defensive corners. She’s a vocal captain that will also lead by her hardworking example.”

Junior midfielder Maddie Epke returns for Guilford on the heels of a season that saw her garner All-SCC and All-State First Team accolades. Epke was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament and the Most Valuable Player of the Class M state final, in which Guilford defeated rival Hand by a 3-2 score to take the title. All totaled, Epke had 26 goals with 15 assists on the year.

“Maddie is a tremendously talented junior athlete. She has been and will be our center mid,” Palmer said. “She’s involved with every play. We want the ball on Maddie’s stick, and good things happen. She works hard every day to be better and is always willing to try new things. The bigger the game, the better and more focused she plays.”

Senior defender Ella Kagan and junior forward Allie Petonito are among two of Guilford’s top returning players. Coach Palmer said that she is going to rely on Kagan to lead a defense that enters the season a little short on experience.

“Our defense is going to need some work,” said Palmer. “We lost a lot of good players on that end, and we will be looking for some underclassmen to step up and make some plays for us this season.”

With the CIAC recently releasing its plan to play fall sports, the start of the season has been pushed back from Thursday, Sept. 10 Thursday, Sept. 24. Field hockey teams are slated to play a maximum of 12 regular-season games through the end of October, after which they will compete in some form of a non-elimination postseason tournament. Teams are allowed to participate in conditioning in groups of no more than 15 people until Thursday, Aug. 27, at which point they can begin non-contact skillwork under that game guideline. Teams will be allowed to participate in full practices beginning on Friday, Sept. 11.

Guilford has around 45 players on its roster this year. As her team gears up for the 2020 campaign, Coach Palmer is splitting the club up into three groups of about 15 each for its preseason training, per the CIAC protocols that were established as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I really think Connecticut has done a good job of keeping it contained for the most part, and [Governor Ned Lamont] has put out a good scheme in trying to combat this infection,” Palmer said. “I’m very much looking forward to the season. These girls keep me young, and I’m hoping that it all works out for us.”