Guilford Girls’ Soccer Makes States With Second-Half Surge
The Guilford girls’ soccer program has a proud tradition of success, but early on this season, the Grizzlies found themselves in unfamiliar territory. After losing six of its nine games, Guilford’s postseason hopes were up in the air. However, the Grizzlies’ consistent play and a strong group of senior leaders ensured that this year’s team would not be defined by its early season losses.
The Grizzlies have caught fire in recent weeks, winning five matches in a row and propelling them to a record of 8-6-1 on the season. Last week, the Grizzlies earned victories over Foran, Career-Hillhouse, and Sheehan to solidify their place in the Class L State Tournament.
Guilford started off last week by posting a 4-0 home win over Foran on Oct. 17. Sophomore Kiera Reynolds netted 2 goals for the Grizzlies, while sophomore Claire Tuttle and sophomore Yurika Ishibe both scored 1 goal. Ishibe also had 2 assists in the victory. Senior Ava Pascarella and junior Maddie Gasparini each added 1 assist.
Two days later, Guilford traveled to New Haven to face Career-Hillhouse and won the game by a 7-0 score. Freshman Paige Ponzio and fellow freshman Sophia Deloughery both scored 2 goals in the win. Senior captains Kat Baseggio and Arianna Tomassi each had 1 goal, as did Sena Uhimwen, a freshman. Uhimwen also had 2 assists for the Grizzlies, who received 1 assist apiece from senior Emerson Forselius and freshman Maya Kos-Graham.
Guilford closed out last week by claiming a 3-2 victory against Sheehan in a home game on Oct. 21. Reynolds scored 2 goals to lift the Grizzlies to the win. Gasparani scored the other goal for Guilford in the contest. Pascarella, Ishibe, and sophomore Riley Hickey all had 1 assist to help the Grizzlies finish off a perfect week.
Defense has proved a key factor during Guilford’s winning streak. The Grizzlies’ defense is led by senior captain and 2021 All-SCC and All-State defender Baseggio, along with fellow senior captain Tomassi. Head Coach Regina Sullivan credits her team’s strong senior leadership with encouraging Guilford’s defense to play as a cohesive unit.
“They’re leaders on the field. They always keep their composure. Last year, we graduated three out of the four starting defenders, so that was new. I’d say they have absolutely improved, and I’m very proud of them,” Sullivan said. “They’re working together as a unit instead of individual defensive players. That has been a consistent improvement.”
Goalkeeper Ava Lepro is also serving as a senior captain for Guilford. An All-SCC honoree in 2021, Lepro has continued her strong play into this season. Coach Sullivan feels that it’s been beneficial to have a talented player and strong leader like Lepro in a captain’s role. Lepro has been sidelined with an injury, but remains a key cog for the Grizzlies, and sophomores Abigail Burkle and Addison Israel have been performing well in net her in absence.
“I see goalkeepers as being leaders out on the field, whether they are named captain or not, but I think I am lucky that Ava is naturally a leader, as well as a talented goalkeeper,” said Sullivan. “She’s had a lot of training and is very comfortable organizing the defense and being vocal on the field.”
The middle of the Grizzlies’ field is being patrolled by senior Ava Pascarella and her sister Sophie Pascarella, a sophomore. Coach Sullivan enjoys pairing them up on either side of the field and appreciates Ava’s relentless style of play.
“She’s been a consistent workhorse at outside left mid,” Sullivan said. “The best part for me is we have two Pascarellas, the older sister and the younger sister, and we just put them on the outside mids.”
Injuries played a big factor in Guilford’s slow start to the season. Early in the year, the Grizzlies lost their leading goal-scorer, sophomore Tea Gambardella, to an injury that may keep her out for the remainder of the 2022 campaign. This placed Gambardella on the sidelines alongside senior Kailynn Scott, who suffered a preseason injury.
As the roster got thinner, Coach Sullivan and her staff needed to adjust strategy and expectations on the field, yet they never needed to worry about team morale. Of course, Scott was disappointed to miss her senior season, but Sullivan said that she’s been providing a strong voice for the Grizzlies from the sidelines.
“She’s been with us for every game. She’s been a support for the girls on the team,” said Sullivan. “These kids have grown up playing together, and she wasn’t just going to walk away. She’s been with us every step of the way.”
Aside from injuries, one of the biggest obstacles that Guilford’s coaching staff faced coming into this season was replacing a graduating senior class that included three of the team’s four defensive starters. Coach Sullivan feels that seniors Forselius and Olivia Weekes have stepped up impressively by providing consistency and poise throughout the ups and downs of a long season.
“Emerson and Liv, they had some big shoes to fill, and they’ve done a great job. They’ve shown a lot of maturity,” Sullivan said. “I think their work ethic has been impressive.”
Coach Sullivan and her staff will find themselves in a similar situation next season and are going to need to revamp the defense again after three of this year’s defensive starters graduate. However, Sullivan feels confident that her returning group of players will be up for the challenge.
“I can confidently say we’ve got a great group of girls. We mix up the positions, and we give them opportunities there,” said Sullivan. “We’ve got a lot of younger players that are eager and excited to have the opportunity to step into those starting roles.”
Coach Sullivan’s confidence in the next group of leaders stems from witnessing her current class of seniors mentor Guilford’s underclass athletes.
“The captains have done a really nice job of setting the tone for the younger grades,” Sullivan said. “I also think they have been tremendous role models for them.”
Senior captain Baseggio is a prime example of exactly the type of leader that Sullivan feels proud to have on this year’s team.
“Kat was always willing to help other kids. She would demonstrate something or explain a skill. She was always willing to break something down,” said Sullivan. “I was impressed by that part of her leadership.”
Fellow senior captain Tomassi has also played a huge in role in developing Guilford’s strong team chemistry. Tomassi does his through leading by example with her calm presence on the field, while making sure every member of the team feels included.
“She always had her composure. She never got rattled,” Sullivan said. “She’s the most open and inclusive player on the team, and you never had to worry about a kid feeling left out or not invited. Ari always made sure everybody was involved.”
As the Grizzlies prepare for postseason play, Coach Sullivan believes that their perseverance speaks volumes about the team’s character this year. While succeeding in states is always a goal for Coach Sullivan, the 2022 season is already a success in her eyes.
“I think already they’ve met one of my goals for them. They got over that losing streak and did qualify for postseason,” said Sullivan. “It showed they have mental toughness and grit, and they didn’t pack it in. They’re fighters.”