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06/07/2022 12:00 AM

Guilford Girls’ Tennis Wins First State Championship

The Guilford girls’ tennis team claimed its first state title in program history by earning a 6-1 win over Newington in the Class L final at Wesleyan University on June 4. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

For the first time in school history, the Guilford girls’ tennis team has won the state championship. Head Coach Chris Marra said that this year’s Grizzlies were always focused on improving and that their belief in one another helped the team make history.

Guilford claimed its first state title by earning a 6-1 victory versus Newington in the Class L final on June 4. The Grizzlies, who had defeated Brookfield (7-0), Bethel (6-1), and Avon (4-3) in the first three rounds of states, finished the 2022 season with an overall record of 21-6.

The 5th-seeded Grizzlies went up against No. 3 seed Newington in the championship match of the Class L State Tournament at Wesleyan University. Coach Marra said that his team felt confident heading into the contest. After competing in some tough matchups prior to the final, Marra told his players that it would take just one more strong showing to come home with the state crown.

“We felt comfortable with where we were going,” Marra said. “They had already played a couple of tough matches. They just had one more match to get it done.”

Guilford won all four of the singles matches on its way to defeating Newington with the state title on the line. Junior captain Riley Mullett notched a 6-0, 6-0 victory in the No. 1 singles match; sophomore captain Kallie Kagan earned a 6-3, 6-1 win at No. 2 singles; freshman Caroline Hergan posted a 6-0, 6-0 shutout at No. 3 singles; and sophomore Molly Peterson prevailed by a 6-0, 6-1 score at No. 4 singles for the Grizzlies.

Guilford also won two of the three doubles matches in the state final. The Grizzlies’ No. 1 team of junior Izzy Bowman and freshman Sophie Gochman netted a 6-1, 7-5 win. The No. 3 team of junior Kate DeAngelo and sophomore captain Gabby Kellner recorded a 5-7, 6-4, 10-3 victory. Guilford’s No. 2 doubles team of sophomores Alexi Gipson and Kendall Mulligan lost its contest 2-6, 6-1, 10-5, but that was the only match Newington was able to win as Guilford came away with the 6-1 victory and its first state championship.

Coach Marra and his players had talked about recent history and how Guilford had previously made deep runs in the State Tournament. This year, the Grizzlies had visions of taking home the title. Guilford’s athletes understood that the mission would be difficult, but Marra said that everyone in the program rose to the occasion and did everything they could to make this Grizzlies’ run the most memorable one.

“We had been to the finals twice in the past 10 years. We talked about how it would be great to win this time. I knew going into the season we had a pretty good chance to do it, but you never really know,” said Marra. “Everybody on the team stepped up in the last two weeks and played great tennis. Everybody just really stepped up and helped out. It was really great.”

On the bus ride home, Coach Marra complemented his athletes for how much they’d grown over the course of the season. The Grizzlies have a young roster, but were determined to prove that they’re a strong squad. Guilford grinded through a tough conference schedule, making it to the SCC final, and then endured four rigorous matches in states to grab the gold. When his team encountered any struggles along the way, Marra saw the Grizzlies battle through and come back to the court stronger the next time.

“The team just kept getting better and learning more and more. That was the most important thing, win or lose, as long as we keep getting better and keep learning more,” Coach Marra said. “I was impressed with how much growth they had over the year. Playing a lot of tough matches over the season and getting a lot of tough wins was certainly a huge part in that adjustment.”

Guilford started its run in the Class L State Tournament by earning a 7-0 home win against No. 12 seed Brookfield in a first-round match on May 31. Kagan (6-2, 6-1), Hergan (6-1, 6-1), Peterson (6-0, 6-0), and freshman Peyton Lynch (7-5, 6-0) were all victorious in the singles matches.

On the doubles courts, the Grizzlies’ tandems of Bowman and Gochman (6-2, 6-2), Gipson and Mulligan (6-1, 6-0), and Kellner and DeAngelo (6-0, 6-3) also came out on the winning side.

The next day, the Grizzlies were on the road to face No. 4 seed Bethel in the quarterfinals and won the match by a 6-1 score. Kagan (6-0, 6-0), Hergan (6-1, 6-2), and Peterson (6-0, 6-0) claimed victories at the No. 2 through 4 singles positions, respectively. Guilford swept the doubles slate behind triumphs from Bowman and Gochman (6-4, 4-6, 12-10), Gipson and Mulligan (6-0, 6-3), and Kellner and DeAngelo (6-7, 7-6, 10-8).

Guilford’s last test on its way to the final was a semifinal road match against top-seeded Avon on June 3. Hergan earned a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 win in the No. 3 singles match, while Peterson notched a 6-0, 6-0 victory at No. 4 singles for the Grizzlies. Kellner and DeAngelo won their No. 3 doubles match by the score of 6-0, 6-3. In the deciding matchup, Guilford’s No. 2 doubles duo of Gipson and Mulligan posted a 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 win to solidify the 4-3 victory.

Coach Marra said that Avon was one of the Grizzlies’ most challenging matches of the season. With the score tied 3-3, it all came down to No. 2 doubles. With everyone watching at the end of an exhausting day, Gipson and Mulligan came up clutch with the three-set triumph to send Guilford into the final.

“Avon was a battle in every way, shape, and form. The crowd was tough, the conditions were tough. It was a long day,” said Marra. “The four matches we won were all pretty tough. All three doubles teams battled it out. Alexi and Kendall lost the first set, came back, and clinched it for us.”

Coach Marra said that leadership proved crucial throughout Guilford’s run to the state title. That leadership starts with the Grizzlies’ captains, who are Mullett, Kellner, and Kagan. Mullett, a junior, is the oldest of the trio, while the other two are sophomores. Marra said that all three captains made an immense impact to help Guilford put together its storybook season.

“All three of them have different roles on the team, but they’re all so pivotal in making sure the girls are psyched up in matches, making sure we’re in the right headspace, and making sure we’re doing what’s best for the team,” Marra said. “They do a great job of leading on and off the court. Without them, I don’t know if we do what we did.”

For a while, Marra felt that the Guilford girls’ tennis program was “living in the shadows” of SCC heavyweights like Amity and Hand. However, the Grizzlies have now demonstrated that they are a top squad in both the conference and the state. It took a special team to achieve that feat, and Marra said that this year’s team had special written all over it from the first day of the season.

“They’re a great group of kids. They have great personalities, and they’re there for each other. We really have a group of fighters. They worked hard and had a great attitude,” said Marra. “We could lose matches and I can still look at them, and say they’re a great team. Winning is the icing on the cake and the result of that support that they have for each other and the passion they have for the sport.”

The members of the Guilford girls’ tennis team are seniors Isabel Matthews and Jadeyn Violette; junior captain Riley Mullett; juniors Grace Biagiotti, Izzy Bowman, and Kate DeAngelo; sophomore captains Kallie Kagan and Gabby Kellner; sophomores Taylor Barberio, Irene Esplugues, Alexie Gibson, Kendall Mulligan, and Molly Peterson; and freshmen Clara Arpie, Luciana Brechlin, Julia Castonguay, Olivia Cowperthwait, Sophie Gochman, Amelia Hardy, Caroline Hergan, Thitida Kham, Peyton Lynch, Jenna Marra, and Veronica Zuniga.