Grizzlies Take First Loss, but Still Going Strong
Senior captain Maddie Epke and the Guilford field hockey squad took a defeat against Darien last week, but also won two games and are sporting an overall mark of 9-1 this season. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
Senior captain Allie Petonito scored a goal for the Grizzlies when they defeated Hamden on Oct. 5. Pictured on the left is junior Ella Clarke, who netted both goals in the team’s win over Sacred Heart Academy two days later. (File photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier)
Head Coach Kitty Palmer and the athletes on the Guilford field hockey team had their sights set on Oct. 9 the moment that the 2021 schedule was released. The Grizzlies saw Darien on their schedule and knew that matchup would present the greatest challenge to them during the regular season.
Guilford wound up taking a 6-0 road loss to Darien in a non-conference game last weekend. The good news is that the Grizzlies defeated Hamden and Sacred Heart Academy in their two prior games on the week and have a record of 9-1 heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
Overall, Coach Palmer feels pleased with how her team is performing on the field this year. Even in the loss to Darien, Palmer saw some bright spots.
“Progress as a team has been building lately. We had a string of [five shutouts] in a row until facing the No. 1 team in the state, Darien,” Coach Palmer said. “We had been very aggressive in our play for the past few weeks, but Darien took the play to us at the beginning of the game, and we had a tough time matching their skill. We played a good second and fourth quarter and held Darien to no goals. We also created chances for ourselves.”
Senior goalkeeper Julia McDonald made 11 saves for Guilford in the contest. Coach Palmer said that going toe-to-toe against such a strong squad like Darien will benefit the Grizzlies throughout the rest of the regular season and come playoff time.
“It was a game that will help us see what we need to work and improve on in order to be a quality team,” said Palmer.
Guilford also played games against Hamden and Sacred Heart Academy last week and came away with shutout victories in both matchups. On Oct. 5, Guilford hosted Hamden and blanked the Green Dragons by a 7-0 score. Senior captain midfielder Maddie Epke scored three goals for the Grizzlies in the victory. Senior captain Allie Petonito, junior Grace Barlage, junior Kim Evans, and sophomore Tania Evans also scored goals for Guilford. McDonald stopped three shots to get the shutout in net.
Two days later, Guilford traveled to Hamden to face Sacred Heart Academy and claimed a 2-0 victory. McDonald made six saves for another clean sheet. Junior forward Ella Clarke netted both of the Grizzlies’ goals in the win.
“We’ve had some outstanding play from our forward Ella Clarke, who is unafraid of any situation and willing to win her tackles from bigger players,” Coach Palmer said. “She takes the spot in front of the goalie where the ball is coming hard most of the time, and she’s second on the team in scoring behind Maddie Epke, who is leading the league in scoring.”
Petonito, a midfielder, is Guilford’s third-leading scorer thus far this season. Coach Palmer praised Petonito’s performance and additionally complimented McDonald for her strong play in the cage.
“With her strong shot on goal and her dodges up field, Allie’s been a key player for us,” said Palmer. “Along with Allie, Julia has led our defense and has improved a lot this season, making some incredible saves in goal.”
One of Coach Palmer’s favorite moments from this season came when Guilford faced crosstown rival Hand at the Surf Club in Madison on Sept. 23. The Grizzlies earned a 3-1 win over the Tigers and then went on to post shutouts in their next five games.
“It’s always a highlight to beat Madison on Madison’s field. For all 60 minutes, I felt the entire team played their best game of the season,” said Palmer. “What we had practiced, they executed very well, especially our corners.”
Last year, Guilford won its third-straight SCC title, but was unable to defend its Class M state title since states were canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Coach Palmer feels thankful that the Grizzlies have been able to play all of their games without any hitches due to COVID this season.
“We have had our share of COVID tests among our 46 players,” Palmer said. “But we’ve been lucky that they’ve all been negative.”
Coach Palmer and company are looking forward to making a run at claiming their fourth-straight SCC crown and third-consecutive state championship in 2021. Palmer believes that the Darien game will help the Grizzlies get battle-tested for that quest.
“I’m hoping that moving forward, we can take this Darien loss, learn from it, execute better, and become a better team. Guilford has the skill to be very competitive in SCCs and in the Class M Tournament,” said Palmer. “I look forward to the next month with this team. We are working hard to attain our goals.”