Guilford Girls’ Tennis Made History on the Court This Year
When the high school girls’ tennis season began in March, nobody on the Guilford girls’ tennis team pictured themselves playing on a state championship squad this year. However, as the Grizzlies began to picked up one win after another, they proved that were going to be one of the top teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference. Ultimately, Guilford demonstrated that it was one of the best teams in the Connecticut by capturing its first state championship in program history during the 2022 campaign.
Guilford won the Class L State Tournament to cap off a season that saw Head Coach Chris Marra’s team finish with an overall record of 21-6. After the 5th-seeded Grizzlies defeated No. 12 seed Brookfield (7-0) and No. 4 Bethel (6-1), in the first two rounds of states, they claimed a 4-3 victory over top-seeded Avon in the semifinals to advance to the championship match. Coach Marra said that Guilford’s clutch performance versus Avon was indicative of the type of team that the Grizzlies were this season.
“I’ve had great teams in the past who I knew could do a lot, and I think this team had the ability to win in more positions when things were tight. If you knew you had a tight match going into that last match, a lot of players on this team were able to step up and do great things and win matches,” Marra said. “I think that’s the difference between this team winning states and in season’s past, coming up a little short of it. We had that depth. We had people who could step up when they needed to.”
Every member of Guilford’s lineup stepped up during the team’s grand finale of the season—a showdown against No. 3 seed Newington in the Class L final. The Grizzlies dominated the contest and came away with a 6-1 victory to secure the state title. Guilford was bolstered by wins from all four of its singles players, receiving victories from junior captain Riley Mullett, sophomore captain Kallie Kagan, freshman Caroline Hergan, and sophomore Molly Peterson. On the doubles court, the Grizzlies’ No. 1 team of junior Izzy Bowman and freshman Sophie Gochman won their matchup, as did the No. 3 tandem of junior Kate DeAngelo and sophomore captain Gabby Kellner.
“I think they did amazing. Only a handful of them had varsity experience going into the season. The fact that we had so many players come in, that’s just a huge accomplishment for these kids,” said Coach Marra. “The fact that they accomplished even beyond just having a good season and getting some wins was amazing.”
Prior to competing in states, Guilford posted a regular-season record of 16-4 and then made it to the final of the SCC Tournament this spring. The Grizzlies posted victories over Sacred Heart Academy (6-1) and North Haven (5-2) before taking a 7-0 loss against a powerhouse Amity squad in the title bout. Coach Marra said that playing several close matches against formidable foes throughout the season gave Guilford’s players a huge boost of confidence entering the playoffs.
“The other thing that really helped us was a lot of these tougher matches. These tough matches where we went 4-3 and pulled the matches out just really showed that we had some depth and that we could win in a bunch of different spots, which I think certainly gave us the confidence going into the postseason that I think we needed,” said Marra. “Things lined up for us really well where the tough matches in the regular season certainly bolstered our confidence and did a lot for us.”
Coach Marra felt that the Grizzlies gained some major momentum when they defeated Hand in the second meeting between the teams this season. After taking a 4-3 loss to Hand on April 5, Guilford flipped the script and earned a 4-3 victory over the Tigers May 9. Guilford’s No. 3 doubles team of Keller and sophomore Alexie Gipson won a three-set contest by the score of 7-6, 6-7, 7-3 to secure the win for the Grizzlies.
“That win against Hand was a big confidence boost for the team,” Marra said. “That was something that we hadn’t done in years. That was certainly exciting right there.”
Guilford’s captains for the 2022 season were Mullett, a junior; along with Kagan and Kellner, who were both sophomores. While it took a great effort from every member of the Grizzlies’ roster in order to win the state title, Coach Marra said that the team’s achievements never would have been possible without Mullett’s leadership and her overall efforts while playing the No. 1 singles position. Mullett earned All-SCC First Team honors for her performance this year.
“Riley did a great job as our captain and our No. 1 player. She set a great example for the girls and really led by example in terms of her work ethic and her drive on the court,” said Marra. “Riley really worked hard, never made excuses, and showed up every day. I think she’s one of the only players, if not the only player, who played in every single match.”
Coach Marra saw how well the Grizzlies could handle the pressure of challenging matches throughout the season. Marra figured out the best way to steer his crew toward success, while emphasizing the importance of improving every time his players set foot on the court. Most importantly, Marra taught all of his athletes that hard work pays off in the end.
“I think the theme that they bought into is that every day they could go out and do better than the day before,” Marra said. “Every day, they had to prove they could play better and work harder. If we didn’t have that drive, I don’t think we would have won states.”
With its first state title locked up, the Guilford girls’ tennis team wants to continue navigating a successful path next year. With most of the lineup returning, Coach Marra is anticipating another season filled with achievements. Marra’s expectations remain high, and he believes that the Grizzlies’ work ethic will determine how far they can go in 2023.
“One of the things I tell them now and one of the things I told them at the end of the season is that you now have to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. We have to go back out there and do everything all over again,” said Marra. “I think a lot of them want better results in their own position. Everybody on the team from bottom to top is just working hard to continue to get better and not rest on their laurels.”
The Guilford’s girls’ tennis team’s roster for the 2022 season included 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.