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06/14/2022 12:00 AM

Guilford Girls’ Lacrosse Defends Class M Crown

The Guilford girls’ lacrosse team captured its second-straight state title with a 12-8 victory over St. Joseph in the Class M final at Sacred Heart University on June 11. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

With her team leading by a goal at halftime of the Class M state title game, senior captain goalie Sydney Widlitz and her teammates on the Guilford girls’ lacrosse squad stayed positive in the locker room and knew they could win if the put their hearts and minds into it. The Grizzlies came out of the break firing and dominated play in the second half to take home their second-straight state championship.

Top-seeded Guilford faced No. 15 seed St. Joseph in the Class M State Tournament final at Sacred Heart University on June 11. The Grizzlies notched a 12-8 victory against the Cadets to defend their state crown and finish the year with an overall record of 21-1 while riding a 21-game win streak. Guilford also won its third-straight SCC title this season.

Heading into the state final, Widlitz and the Grizzlies felt both nervous and excited as they looked to capture back-to-back state titles. They knew how much pressure was on them to win. By the same token, Widlitz said that everyone on Guilford’s roster was determined to once again come home with the gold.

“A lot of us were nervous. We felt the pressure on our shoulders. We won last year, and we felt like we had to win this year, too,” Widlitz said. “All of us were super excited to play our hearts out on that field. For six of us, it was our last time playing a high school game.”

Sophomore Payton Root put Guilford on the board early scoring 2 goals in the first 3 minutes of the state final. St. Joseph battled back to tie the game 3-3. After some back-and-forth action, the Grizzlies entered the locker room with a 6-5 advantage at halftime.

Head Coach Wendy Epke told her players to continue focusing on what had made the team successful all season as Guilford got ready for the second half. Epke wanted her squad to stay composed and not force any shots.

Guilford stormed out of halftime by scoring the first 5 goals to increase its lead to 11-5. Senior captain Maddie Epke and junior MJ Santa Barbara both scored a pair of goals during that surge.

Coach Epke said that the Grizzlies have excelled on fast-break opportunities throughout the season. The opening minutes of the second half showed how potent Guilford’s offense can be.

“We just pushed the ball. We do well in fast-break types of situations. We can score quick and fast,” said Epke. “We wanted to start the second half moving the ball quickly and finding the open shooter. They did that really well.”

St. Joseph answered Guilford’s run by scoring three-straight goals to close the lead to 11-8 with 5:09 remaining in the game. However, the Grizzlies prevented St. Joseph from getting any closer and went on to win the contest by a 12-8 score. Guilford allowed just 3 goals during the second half. Widlitz said that it took an exceptional team effort to shut down the Cadets.

“I cannot praise the defense enough. I’m so honored to play on such a fantastic team,” Widlitz said. “Defense is something I’m always working on. I just felt really proud of our defense during that second half. To be able to perfect our defense like that is the greatest feeling in the world.”

When the clock struck zero, Guilford walked off the field with another Class M championship in its grasp. Last year, the Grizzlies won the state title for the first time in school history. Now, as the defending champs, the pressure was on them to defend. Coach Epke said that this year’s team embraced the pressure and displayed that their years of hard work and dedication to the sport had truly paid off.

“Last year, we were hoping to win. This year, everyone was expecting us to win. There were a lot of different emotions,” said Epke. “This year, there was a lot of relief when the final whistle blew. We did it, it’s over, we won. It feels like we accomplished a lot. A lot of these girls have been playing for so long and have dedicated themselves to the sport. To be able to walk away two-time state champs means a lot.”

Root scored 5 goals for Guilford versus St. Joseph. Maddie Epke had 3 goals with 4 assists in the win. Santa Barbara netted 3 goals, and senior captain Taylor Farace scored 1 goal. Widlitz made 12 saves in net for the Grizzlies.

Guilford had advanced to the state final by earning a 16-9 win over No. 5 Masuk in a semifinal game at Cheshire High School on June 7. Epke and Farace both had 4 goals with 3 assists in the victory. Root scored 2 goals to go with 2 assists, and Santa Barbara scored 3 goals.

Junior Scout Climie had 2 assists for Guilford. Senior captain Lorelei King, junior Ella Clarke, and junior Kat Baseggio added 1 goal apiece. Widlitz made 6 saves in goal, while sophomore Maya Stoddard had 2 saves on the day.

Coach Epke said that versatility was the key for Guilford in this year’s state title run. The Grizzlies featured numerous playmakers on offense, making it hard for opposing teams to stop them. Epke feels that having so many players step up and lead the team is what made Guilford stand out this season.

“We have a lot of strong players. We’re not a one-dimensional team. It’s very difficult for other teams to stop us,” Epke said. “Even if you try and stop one or two, we have more to give. You can try, but it will be difficult. We have so many weapons.”

Widlitz has been Guilford’s starting varsity goalie since her freshman season, and she’s been playing with many of the same teammates since her time at the youth level. Widlitz said everyone in the program has been supportive and worked hard to help each other grow over the years. After helping Guilford win its second-straight state title, Widlitz feels proud that the 2022 edition of the Grizzlies used their strong camaraderie to continue the team’s tradition of success.

“Everyone is so kind and supportive of each other. The four years I’ve been on this team, I’ve been with girls who have supported me and welcomed me, even when I was a freshman,” said Widlitz. “Those girls were role models to me and the other seniors. We’ve been able to bring that kindness and support with us throughout our four years at Guilford High School.”

The athletes on the Guilford girls’ lacrosse team are 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, Campbelle Jacobson, and Cassandra Ward.

Senior captain Maddie Epke had 3 goals and 4 assists to help the Grizzlies defeat St. Joseph in the Class M state championship game and finish the season on a 21-game winning streak. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Senior captain goalie Sydney Widlitz and the Guilford girls’ lacrosse squad achieved another dream season in 2022. Pictured on the left is fellow senior captain Taylor Farace. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier