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05/31/2022 12:00 AM

Guilford Girls’ Lacrosse Achieves the SCC Three-Peat

The Guilford girls’ lacrosse team captured its third-straight SCC title by earning a 12-6 win over Cheshire in the SCC Tournament final at West Haven High School on May 26. Photo courtesy of Wendy Epke

Coming off of a season where her club won SCC and state titles, Head Coach Wendy Epke knew that there would be sky-high expectations for the Guilford girls’ lacrosse team in 2022. In this year’s SCC Tournament, the Grizzlies lived up to the hype and then some by defeating Cheshire to three-peat as conference champions.

Guilford claimed its third-straight SCC crown with a 12-6 victory versus Cheshire in the final of the SCC Tournament at West Haven High School on May 26. Entering the bracket as back-to-back champs, Coach Epke wanted the Grizzlies to forget about any pressure and simply focus on playing their game.

“In the end, it is still just a game. When you’ve won the last few years, there’s a ton of pressure and expectations to keep winning, but I don’t want them to feel like winning is the only thing,” Epke said. “We just wanted to try hard, play our best, and hope the result goes our way.”

Top-seeded Guilford held a 5-2 lead over No. 2 seed Cheshire at halftime of their SCC championship matchup. While the Rams battled back, Guilford went on a run to take an 11-6 advantage with less than five minutes remaining in the game. The Grizzlies tacked on one last goal and came away with a 12-6 win to secure the SCC three-peat. Guilford has an overall record of 17-1 and is on a 17-game win streak heading into the Class M State Tournament.

“There was definitely a feeling of relief,” said Coach Epke. “They worked hard and, in the end, they got the result that they wanted.”

Senior captain Maddie Epke scored 2 goals and had 5 assists for the Grizzlies in the victory. Senior captain Taylor Farace, junior MJ Santa Barbara, and sophomore Payton Root each scored 3 goals for Guilford. Junior Ella Clarke added a goal in the win. Senior captain goalkeeper Sydney Widlitz made 12 saves in net.

Widlitz went on to be named the SCC Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She was also selected to the All-SCC First Team alongside Epke, Farace, Root, Santa Barbara, senior captain Lorelei King, and junior Kat Baseggio. Widlitz has been the Grizzlies’ goalie since her freshman year. Coach Epke said that the senior has always been a force in net and came up big once again in the team’s win over Cheshire.

“She has been our goalie for four years now. Until last year, she was the only goalie in our program. She has just been a solid player for us in the net these past four years,” Epke said of Widlitz. “She was solid and held us together again in our championship win.”

Prior to facing Cheshire in the title bout, Guilford hosted No. 4 seed Hand for an SCC semifinal game and defeated the Tigers by a 17-5 score on May 24. Epke had 4 goals and 6 assists, while Root netted 5 goals to go with 1 assist in the win. Santa Barbara scored 4 goals and had 1 assist for Guilford. Farace, King, Clarke, and junior Scout Climie added 1 goal apiece. Baseggio forced 3 turnovers for the Grizzlies, who saw Widlitz stop 7 shots in goal.

Coach Epke said that the Grizzlies have been breaking the game down into different parts throughout the season. Rather than looking at the entire game, the team practices for different scenarios and situations that may occur in any given contest. In the matchup against Hand, Epke felt that her athletes did an outstanding job in every aspect of the game from start to finish.

“I felt like that day all our parts were clicking,” said Epke “We had great defensive slides, we did great offensively, we made good choices with our shot selection, we did great on our draws and clears. It was a really solid performance from us.”

Guilford outscored its two opponents by a combined total of 29-11 in the SCC Tournament. When it comes to the team’s offensive arsenal, Coach Epke said that versatility has been the key to Guilford’s success. Rather than having just one standout attacker, the Grizzlies feature numerous players who can put the ball in the net. Epke believes that type of versatility, combined with everyone’s trust in their teammates, is what helps her squad stand apart.

“We just have so many strong sticks. It really bodes well for the team, and it’s why we have so much success. If one person is being face guarded and not having success, we have been able to go to the next available person,” Coach Epke said. “It has never been about just one person. It’s about the whole unit. That’s what makes it hard to stop our team.”

When Guilford’s athletes showed up on the first day of practice, they were eager and ready to compete. They felt confident and were committed to helping the team have another storied season. Now, after capturing their third-straight SCC title, the Grizzlies have their sights set on defending their state championship. Coach Epke said that her players are going to keep taking it game by game and continue playing Guilford’s brand of lacrosse.

“We have a lot of returning players from the year before. They had a lot of confidence going into it. We didn’t have to rely on a bunch of new players. They just work hard, and they’re committed to the team,” said Epke. “We just need to stay focused and take it one game at a time. Sometimes you need a little luck. But we just want to think about what we’re good at as a team and to rely on those things.”

Guilford has the No. 1 seed in the Class M State Tournament and is hosting No. 17 Bethel for a first-round game on Tuesday, May 31 at 7 p.m. If the Grizzlies win, they will host the winner of No. 8 East Lyme and No. 9 Waterford in the quarterfinals on Friday, June 3. The semis are on Tuesday, June 7, and the state final takes place at Sacred Heart University on Saturday, June 11.

The Guilford girls’ lacrosse team’s roster features senior captains Taylor Farace, Lorelei King, Olivia McDonald, Maddie Epke, and Sydney Widlitz; senior Sophie Ghantous; juniors Ella Clarke, Scout Climie, Kailyn Scott, Emerson Forselius, MJ Santa Barbara, Kat Baseggio, Kayla Nophsker, Brianna Seixas, and Delaney Victor; sophomores Isabella Blanco, Payton Root, Addison Widlitz, Tania Evans, Paige Balletto, and Maya Stoddard; and freshmen Tea Gambardella, Cambelle Jacobson, and Cassandra Ward.

Head Coach’s Wendy Epke’s coaching staff includes assistant coaches Emmy Dulak, Katy Jankura, and Lou Monaco.