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11/24/2019 11:00 PM

Guilford Field Hockey Completes Perfect Season with Second-Straight State Title

The Guilford field hockey team defended its state title and completed an undefeated season by notching a 3-2 win against Hand in the championship game of the Class M State Tournament at Wethersfield High School on Nov. 23. Head Coach Kitty Palmer’s squad finished its 2019 campaign with a record of 23-0. To see more photos from the state final, visit Photo by Susan Lambert/The Courier

The Guilford field hockey team put an exclamation point on a perfect season by earning a 3-2 victory versus Hand in the championship game of the Class M State Tournament at Wethersfield High School on Nov. 23. The top-seeded Indians scored the first three goals of the contest and held off a spirited rally by the Tigers to claim their second-straight state title, while finishing the year with a record of 23-0. Guilford, which also won the SCC Tournament for the second-straight campaign, has now won its last 31 games in a row dating back to last season.

Junior Hannah Tillier, sophomore Maddie Epke, and senior Amy Bucci each scored a goal within the first 21 minutes of the game to give the Indians a 3-0 lead over 7th-seeded Hand in the state championship. The Tigers got on board when junior Grace Hartmann scored a goal to make it 3-1 at halftime.

Hand cut the deficit to 3-2 on a goal by senior Amy Woods with just 43 seconds left in the game, but Guilford’s defense held strong to solidify the Indians’ second outright state crown and their fourth overall. Guilford wound up outscoring its opponents by a 126-14 margin this year.

“This one is the sweetest,” said Kitty Palmer, who finished her 38th season as Guilford’s head coach. “It was stressful both for me and the team, because we didn’t lose a game. The pressure was building every time we took the field. It’s a wonderful feeling, doing this again not only for me, but more importantly, for every kid on this team.”

The state final marked the third time that Guilford and Hand played each other this year. The Indians earned a 4-2 win versus Hand during the regular season and then defeated the Tigers by a 2-1 score in the SCC semifinals.

Guilford had reached the Class M championship game by posting a 6-1 victory against Branford in the semifinal round. Hand, which finished its year with an overall record of 14-8, claimed a 1-0 overtime win versus Bethel in its state semifinal game.

Tillier gave Guilford a 1-0 advantage when she scored off an assist from Epke 7:20 into the game. About eight minutes later, Epke was awarded a penalty stroke when Hand was called for an infraction in the circle. Epke lined up and drove her shot home to increase the lead to 2-0 with 15:05 to play in the first half. With 10:28 remaining in the half, Bucci tipped in a pass from Epke to give Guilford a 3-0 lead.

“Before every game, we’ve talked it over in the locker room about getting that first goal early and keeping the pressure on,” Epke said. “Our theory is we need to run hard right from the start, to have good passing, to constantly be looking up, to get off shots, and to always look to be tipping balls.”

Although they were outshot by an 8-4 margin during the opening half, the Tigers started to get their offense in gear and broke through when Hartmann scored from senior Maeve Connors with 4:46 to go until halftime.

Hand continued to create more chances during the second half. Fifteen minutes in, Connors appeared to have scored a goal, but it was waved off, because the shot was too high.

The Tigers weren’t done, though. With 43 seconds remaining, Woods scored on an assist by junior Shealyn Docker to get Hand within a goal at 3-2. While the Tigers had some momentum, they didn’t have much time, and Guilford was able to keep Hand out of the net the rest of the way to walk off the field with its second-consecutive state championship.

“They were pushing in the second half. They still had lots of energy,” senior defender Cat Larrow said of Hand. “We saw it, and we needed to match it as best we could.”

Both teams had 14 shots on goal in the game. Sophomore Julia McDonald made seven saves for Guilford. Sophomore Megan Hart had 10 saves for Hand.

Coach Palmer was relieved that Guilford staved off a late charge from a formidable Tigers’ team that always gives her club a tough time.

“They managed to score a goal against us in the last five minutes of all three games,” said Palmer “They’ve been our toughest foe all season long.”

Larrow said she feels thrilled to have helped the Indians capture state championships in each of the past two campaigns.

“It means the world to me,” Larrow said. “We had all set our minds on this early. We wanted to go undefeated and win another state title and do it for Coach Palmer and the other coaches, because they’ve all done so much for us.”

Guilford advanced to the Class M state final with a 6-1 win versus No. 5 seed Branford in a semifinal game at Cheshire High School on Nov. 19. The Indians were up 5-0 at halftime and scored the first six goals of the game on their way to beating Branford. Senior captain Ella Stanley scored three goals to go with an assist in the victory. Tillier, Bucci, and Epke also scored goals for the Indians. Epke had two assists, while Larrow added an assist. McDonald made five saves in net.

From the Sidelines

The Guilford field hockey team's roster features senior captains Ella Stanley and Jaime Neleber, seniors Sarah Minuit, Sadie Smith, Mia Suchy, Lily Mackey, Nicole Auger, Ava Bucci, Lexi Hitchcock, Cat Larrow, Bridget Tower, Caitlyn Cunneen, and Megan Fernandes; juniors Madden Cunningham, Ella Kagan, Kathryn Amatruda, Janna Ellman, Hannah Tillier, Kelly Calistro, and Eve Young; and sophomores Maddie Epke, Daniella Vickerman, Olivia McDonald, Jadeyn Violette, Allie Petonito, and Julia McDonald.

Guilford posted a record of 16-0 during the regular season. The Indians claimed victories against Stonington (5-0), Lyman Hall (10-0), Hamden (2-0), Lauralton Hall (6-1), Branford (8-0), Hand (4-2), Glastonbury (4-2), North Haven (9-0), Sheehan (5-0), Amity (6-1), Mercy (6-0), Enfield (8-0), Sacred Heart Academy (6-1), Cheshire (6-1), Shelton (9-0), and Haddam-Killingworth (forfeit) on their way to going undefeated for regular-season play.

Following the regular season. the Indians defended their conference title by winning the SCC Tournament for the second year in a row. Top-seeded Guilford recorded wins against No. 8 Hamden (7-1) in the quarterfinals, No. 4 Hand (2-1) in the semifinals, and No. 2 Amity (1-0) in the final to claim the SCC championship.

In the Class M State Tournament, No. 1 seed Guilford earned a 9-1 win over Avon in the first round, a 4-0 victory against No. 8 South Windsor in the quarterfinals, and a 6-1 win versus No. 5 Branford in the semis to make the final, where the Indians notched a 3-2 victory over No. 7 Hand to defend their state title and finish the season with an overall mark of 23-0.

This marks Guilford's fourth state title and the 11th time that the Indians have played in a state final. Guilford won the Class M state title in 2018 with a 3-1 win versus Sacred Heart Academy, shared the Class L title with Simsbury following a 1-1 tie in 1997, and was declared co-champions with Cheshire in 1991 following a 1-1 tie in the final. Guilford lost to New Canaan (3-1) in the 2016 Class M final, Wilton (3-0) in the 2012 Class M final, Pomperaug (1-0) in the 2003 Class L final, Cheshire (2-1 in OT) in the 2001 Class L final, Greenwich (2-1) in the 1994 Class L final, Farmington (1-0) in the 1979 Class M final, and Granby (2-1) in the 1973 state final.

Senior Ava Bucci scored what held up as the game-winning goal when the Indians defeated Hand by a 3-2 final in the Class M state title game. Photo by Susan Lambert/The Courier
Junior Hannah Tillier netted a goal to help Guilford squad edge out rival Hand and win its second-consecutive Class M state championship. Photo by Susan Lambert/The Courier
The athletes on the Guilford field hockey squad celebrate after posting a 3-2 victory over Hand in the Class M State Tournament final. The Indians claimed SCC and state titles on their way to going 23-0 this fall. Photo by Susan Lambert/The Courier