Grizzlies Striving for More Success with Gullette
Senior Cal Stephens and the Guilford boys’ soccer team are 2-1 to start the fall season. Stephens already has three goals on the year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Junior goalkeeper Justin Hess is leading the Guilford boys’ soccer squad as a captain alongside senior Juan Salas-Romer in the 2021 campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
Senior Jerry Li enters this season as a key member of the Grizzlies’ defensive corps. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier)
The Guilford boys’ soccer team has been largely successful since Curtis Gullette took over as head coach two seasons ago. This year, the Grizzlies are off to another strong start after winning two of their first three games of the campaign.
Guilford won an SCC title in Gullette’s first year as head coach and then came one win away from claiming another conference crown during a COVID-shortened season in 2020. Thus far this fall, the Grizzlies are sporting a record of 2-1, having earned a pair of 3-1 victories against Stratford and North Haven to go with a 1-0 loss to Fairfield Prep.
“Like every year, the SCC schedule is a tough one. We expect to be competitive every game and put ourselves in a great position to challenge for our regular season division title and SCC Tournament title,” Coach Gullette said. “We also expect to put ourselves in contention to compete for the Class L State Tournament.”
In the Grizzlies’ first game of the season, they defeated Stratford by the final score of 3-1 at Bittner Park on Sept. 11. Senior forward Cal Stephens led Guilford by netting two goals, while junior forward Will Rice scored one goal in the win. Junior captain goalie Justin Hess made 10 saves in net for Coach Gullette’s club.
“It was exciting to see this group compete in our first regular season game,” Gullette said. “The boys brought great energy and were able to pull out a 3-1 win.”
Three days later, Guilford took a 1-0 road loss to Fairfield Prep at Fairfield University. Coach Gullette said that the Grizzlies had a difficult time generating offense during the early stages of the game. Hess made 14 saves for Guilford.
“We had a sluggish start. We let up the goal in the first half. We were much better after halftime. We had a few scoring opportunities, but nothing that materialized into a goal,” said Gullette. “We knew it was going to be a tough, close game, and it was. We are all looking forward to seeing Prep again later in the season.”
Guilford bounced back from its loss to Prep by earning a 3-1 win at North Haven on Sept. 18. Stephens scored the opening goal of the game on a free kick in the first half. Sophomore Andres Gutierrez and junior Tyler Yerkes provided the Grizzlies with their other two scores on the night. Hess made two saves to help Guilford improve to 2-1 on the year.
“This group has really bought into the strategy and tactics this season. They are curious about what they can improve upon to impact the team in a positive way,” Coach Gullette said. “They enjoy the structure of our formation and the creativity it allows for offensively. Though a work in progress, these boys are up to the challenges they have faced, and will face, this year.”
In addition to the junior Hess, senior midfielder Juan Salas-Romer is also serving as a captain for Guilford in the 2021 season. Coach Gullette knows that the Grizzlies are in excellent shape with Salas-Romer and Hess leading the way.
“Juan has been a great leader of this team. He is someone who is never satisfied, always wanting himself and the team to improve. The boys have a great respect for Juan,” said Gullette. “Justin is our junior captain. Justin is a vocal leader and, as a goalie, he has a unique view of the field that allows him to see things his teammates are unable to. He uses this to command from his teammates where they should be and what they should do.”
Coach Gullette is expecting many of Guilford’s upperclassmen to make a significant impact on the team this season. This includes Stephens, along with senior defenders Theo Freeman, Jake Pinckney, and Jerry Li. Guilford’s senior class also features Michael Van Keuren and Ali Sabea.
The Grizzlies’ junior class additionally includes Sami AbuGhazaleh, Luke Ste. Marie, Sean McSweet, Sean Filley, and Joshua Chen. The sophomores on the squad are Anthony Malatesta, Magnus Fencil, Jason Li, Ian Campaigne, Ryan Michna, Ryan Melillo, Owen Medvecky, Andrew Jarrin, and Aidan Soper.
“Plenty of the juniors will see quality minutes this year,” Gullette said. “There are also some other players we are excited to see, as well, including a few underclassmen who are eager to contribute.”
After no state tournaments were held last year, Coach Gullette feels thrilled to have a full season scheduled that includes states in 2021. Gullette wants the Grizzlies to play their style of soccer and put everything together as the season unfolds.
“Last year was obviously a tough season with all the restrictions. The coaching staff is excited to get back to a more normal season and instill some of our strategies with the team,” said Gullette. “We are really stressing to our team the importance of mental focus, high intensity practices, communication with teammates, and putting in 100-percent effort. These are lived and spoken about daily with the team and, over time, we hope to see it pay off.”