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Senior captain Elle Petra and the Guilford girls’ basketball team put together a solid second half on their way to making the playoffs with first-year Head Coach Bernie Brennan. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Sam Leiby and the Indians qualified for states this year and then earned a convincing victory versus Naugatuck in a first-round showdown. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior Moira Kellaher is one of several athletes who will return to the Guilford girls’ basketball squad when the Indians will look to build upon this year’s momentum next season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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This winter, the Guilford girls’ basketball team reinforced the notion that how you finish is certainly more important how you start. The Indians got out to a tough start by losing eight of their first 10 games, but bounced back with authority by winning six of their last 10 to qualify for both the SCC Tournament and the Class L State Tournament in their first year with Head Coach Bernie Brennan.
“We’re a really young team, and I think that showed at the beginning of the year,” said Brennan. “We all had some learning to do this season and needed to get acclimated to each other, but once we did, we really clicked, and I think that showed the most at the State Tournament.”
Guilford entered the Class L State Tournament as the No. 23 seed and traveled to Naugatuck to face the 10th-seeded Greyhounds in the first round of the bracket. The Indians notched a 44-21 victory over Naugatuck before taking a loss against No. 7 seed Wethersfield to finish with an overall record of 9-14.
“We were the No. 23 seed going into the tournament, so I think that goes to show that we were a really impressive team,” Brennan said of the win versus Naugatuck. “When it came down to it toward the end of the season, no one wanted to play us, because we are really scrappy and got after the ball defensively.”
Brennan felt that the turning point in Guilford’s season came after a 56-40 road loss to Law on Jan. 13. The Indians won seven games following that defeat, including a 41-21 home victory against that same Law squad on Feb. 5.
“I think we really started executing defensively after that first loss to Law,” Coach Brennan said. “Once we started playing all of our conference opponents for a second time, those teams noticed that we were getting a lot more comfortable with each other, and it made it more difficult for the other teams.”
The Indians were led by senior captains Elle Petra and Sam Leiby, who were only two seniors on the team. Petra, a forward, averaged 9.1 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on her way to earning All-SCC Second Team honors and an invitation to the CIAC All-Star Game. A guard, Leiby was second on the squad by averaging 7.5 points per contest.
“Those two were such a huge part of our team this year, and we’re going to miss them a lot next year,” Brennan said. “Elle had a natural ability to get rebounds, because she’s got good height, and both girls were really good at scoring. There were some games where we didn’t score many points, so it’s going to be important to find that production elsewhere next season.”
Guilford primarily ran a seven-player rotation throughout the year, and most of those athletes were members of the underclass. Junior guard Moira Kellaher, sophomore guards Faith O’Donnell and Miabella Diaz, sophomore center Lauren Cunneen, and freshman Kat Baseggio were the other key pieces of the Indians’ core this year.
Coach Brennan was proud of his players for shaking off their slow start to finish with a flourish and reach the postseason.
“I think that says a lot about these girls. A lot of teams put in our situation might have folded given a 2-8 start, but we fought and fought until we eventually qualified for states,” said Brennan. “It was a great feeling to see it come full circle for us, and I think we’ve got a lot of potential heading into next year.”
Brennan said that Guilford has a lot of talent waiting in the wings. The Indians’ JV team went 16-4 this year, while the freshman squad posted a record of 7-0. Standouts from those teams included junior Kayleigh Pritchard, sophomores Allie Petonito and Bella Weekes, and freshmen Ava Lepro and Sara Iglesias.
“For those teams to have been as good as they were means we’re heading in the right direction as a program,” Coach Brennan said. “I could see our rotation being a lot deeper next year given all the talent we have coming up. We’ll have to see what happens.”
After coaching the team at Adams Middle School to a combined record of 25-1 in the two previous seasons, Brennan was already familiar with several players on the Indians entering this year. Brennan sees this season as a big stepping stone for Guilford and looks forward to working with his athletes in future campaigns.
“I know what a lot of these girls are capable of, and I know we’ve got a solid foundation,” said Brennan. “Having coached a lot of them in middle school was beneficial for both me and them, because we have that relationship and comfortability with each other. We each know what to expect from each other.”
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