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02/08/2023 08:05 AM

Grizzlies Senior Core Helped Punch Their Postseason Ticket

Justin Hess is a powerful force on and off the court as the lone captain for the Guilford boys’ basketball team this season. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier
Riley Swan has been averaging 13 points per game as a leader on offense for Grizzlies’ boys basketball this season, helping them to clinch a postseason berth. Photo by Wesley Bunnell/The Courier

Sometimes teams have a special group of players who have been playing the sport they love together for a long time. This is the case for the senior core on the Guilford boys’ basketball team. Together, this group of eight boys has helped their team find success this season and secure a postseason berth.

The Grizzlies varsity team is comprised of 18 players, with one captain in senior guard Justin Hess. Head Coach Jeff DeMaio, now in his 14th year with Guilford, sees Hess as the heart and soul of the team, who keeps everyone together and ensures his teammates are playing up to their potential on the court.

“Justin is the consummate leader,” said DeMaio. “He is vocal on the court, and he holds all members of the team accountable in practice and during games. We are very, very blessed to have him.”

Although Justin is the only official captain, the Grizzlies hold a strong core of eight seniors who have grown up playing basketball together. These seniors are Hess, Ryan Alviti (guard), Luke Ste. Marie (guard/forward), Riley Swan (guard/forward), Isaac Ott Hill (guard), Brendan Skoglund (forward), Josh Violette (guard), and Kevin Goldberg (forward/center).

DeMaio said he really values this group of leaders and acknowledged the production that a few of them bring offensively every game. The Grizzlies compete in the Southern Connecticut Conference Housatonic Division, where they face the Fairfield Prep Jesuits, Foran Lions, Sheehan Titans, and Amity Spartans. For overall states play, the Grizzlies compete in Division II. The team currently sits at a 9-4 record and 4-1 in the conference. They are in second place, only trailing the 6-0 Fairfield Prep Jesuits.

“It has been a collective effort. We have three players averaging in double digits in points per game: Justin Hess, Riley Swan, and Luke Ste. Marie,” said DeMaio. “But the biggest number is that we are only averaging giving up about 43 points per game.”

Swan is averaging 13 points per game, Ste. Marie is averaging 10 points per game to go along with four rebounds each night, and senior forward/center Kevin Goldberg is averaging eight points per game and eight boards.

What makes this group of seniors so unique is their experience playing basketball together since they were very young. All eight of them, as well as team managers seniors Ben Grieder and Caden Markovich, grew up in the Guilford Basketball League’s Travel and Rec Basketball programs. DeMaio knows the group is very close.

“They are a wonderful group,” DeMaio said. “Most have played travel ball together in their younger years.”

On Jan. 13, the Grizzlies played against the Titans and won by a final score of 67-38. This game sparked a five-game winning streak, where Guilford defeated the Daniel Hand Tigers (46-40), the Lions

(54-37), the Spartans (57-30), and the Tigers again (45-42). Beating Hand this season was already special enough the first time because it was Guilford’s first win against the rival in several years. They had been 0-6 in as many appearances against the Tigers, so to beat them twice in the same season was a good feeling for DeMaio and the players.

“It was the first time in three years,” said DeMaio. “They had beaten us six times in a row until we got them twice this year. There is nothing like a Hand-Guilford game; the atmosphere is electric.”

DeMaio also recognized that the crowd’s energy helped play a big part in the victories, as well as the collective effort from both the starters and the bench.

“It is great to see the players and the crowd and the parents celebrating a huge win,” DeMaio said. “It was a collective effort — huge contributions from Hess, Swan, Ste. Marie, Skoglund, Goldberg, and a huge effort off the bench too from our other guys. Hand is an outstanding team, great players and well-coached. We were overjoyed to get those wins.”

Seven games are remaining for the Grizzlies for the regular season, and DeMaio knows the remainder of the schedule will come with some challenges, yet his team is aware of and ready to face those challenges.

“Every conference game is a battle but probably one of the biggest remaining tests will be against Prep on Feb. 7 (after press time),” said DeMaio. “It is too early to tell right now about our SCC and State matchups, but both our conference and the D2 state tournament are loaded with very, very strong teams.”

As the Grizzlies prepare to face these competitive teams and focus in on the postseason, DeMaio wants his squad to just focus on one game, and even one moment, at a time.

“We do not ever get ahead of ourselves. We literally take it one possession at a time,” said DeMaio. “We are excited to have qualified for both the league and state tournaments, so we are just excited to see how we stack up against the best teams in the state.”

The Grizzlies’ full roster includes Alviti, Goldberg, Hess, Hill, Skoglund, Ste. Marie, Swan, Violette, Jaco Corso (junior, guard), Jaden Iannaccone (junior, guard), Lucca Rivera (junior, guard), Jameson Benben (sophomore, guard), Liam Cain (sophomore, forward/center), Anthony Cerino (sophomore, guard), Max Freeman (sophomore, guard/forward), Matages Ivy (sophomore, forward), Noah Young (sophomore, guard), and Zachary Young (sophomore, guard).

Three additional coaches assist DeMaio, Cal Bucci as his assistant coach, Dante Parisi as the junior varsity (JV) coach, and Rusty Gordon as a volunteer assistant.

Senior night for the Grizzlies will be on Monday, Feb. 20, against the Abbott Tech Wolverines.