CHESHIRE — While the COVID-19 pandemic provided season-long challenges for the Guilford field hockey team, and despite Cheshire beating Guilford in the regular season, Guilford coaches and athletes entered Wednesday’s SCC Division A final focused and confident against the Rams.
“When we lost to Cheshire in the regular season, we weren’t ready,” Guilford midfielder Maddie Epke said. “We were prepared this time. We had strong practices, we were more confident and we were so focused that there was silence on the bus ride to Cheshire today.”
Epke was certainly focused, scoring two goals and assisting on another to lead No. 2 Guilford to a 5-1 win over No. 1 Cheshire.
The COVID-19 pandemic limited the postseason statewide to regional league titles, with no overall Southern Connecticut Conference tournament and no state playoffs with the CIAC canceling the Class L, M and S tournaments. Guilford, two-time defending CIAC Class M champions, won the last two SCC tournament titles. But for Guilford coach Kitty Palmer, the Division A title means a little more.
“This Division A title means a lot with what has gone on this season,” Palmer said. “One of our captains doesn’t have the virus but she couldn’t be here today because she was exposed to it and is in quarantine. I got so many texts every day about COVID questions and issues that I really wanted to just shut off my phone. During the season we were hopeful, but there was always a question of whether or not we would get to this tournament and finish the season.
“We also had a very young team this season. This title means a lot because of how much harder we had to work for this title. Maddie Epke and Hannah Tillier did well for us as usual, but everyone contributed. Allie Petonito was key for us in the transition game, bringing the ball down the center of the field so many times. Today, our team was very focused. That loss to Cheshire woke us up for the rest of the season.”
Guilford (12-1-0-1) wasted no time getting on the scoreboard first. Izzy Gurnham scored off a scramble in front of Cheshire goalie Hannah Jalowiec 2 minutes, 33 seconds into the first quarter. Taylor Warburton responded for the Rams (11-1), scoring off a penalty corner to tie the game at 1 with 5:45 to go in the first quarter.
Guilford responded with four unanswered goals and a stiffer on-field defense.
Guilford regained the lead when Hannah Tillier, named the SCC A Division tournament most outstanding player, scored off an assist from Epke with 6:14 left in the second quarter. Epke scored off a penalty corner with 56 seconds left in the first half for a 3-1 lead. M.J. Santa Barbara gave Guilford a 4-1 lead with 2:39 to go in the third period. Epke capped the scoring off an exciting breakaway. She grabbed a loose ball about 15 yards in front of the Cheshire goal and went the length of the field to score for the 5-1 final with 9:44 left in the fourth quarter.
“You always want to win, but this year the bonds on the team were so important the way COVID impacted everything,” Cheshire coach Eileen Wildermann said. “There were times you thought you would never get to Nov. 10 and the SCC Division A final. But the SCC, athletic directors of all the schools, everyone worked so hard to keep our kids safe.
“I’m a little emotional now because I am so sad that this is the last game for our seniors. There was no drama on this team and everyone worked hard and bonded together. Guilford is a very good team and we knew they would be tough. But just being out there and playing was important, a chance to forget about the virus for a while.”