GUILFORD — A final victory had just hit the books for the Guilford volleyball team and coach Laura Anastasio huddled with her team and delivered an important message to her seniors.
“Thank you,” Anastasio said. “Thank you for making my job easy and enjoyable, and setting the expectations higher.”
Guilford completed an undefeated season and capped a remarkable four-year run for the seniors with a 3-0 victory over East Haven in the SCC Division C championship game Friday in Guilford.
The visiting Yellowjackets played a tough first set before Guilford fired up the engines and went on to win 25-22, 25-10, 25-15. The gym stands were empty, as COVID protocols kept spectators away, but the victory was still a fitting ending for the seniors, who have helped the program go 79-14 the past four seasons.
“I don’t even know if there are words,” senior co-captain Emma Appleman said of her time with the team. “I’m so grateful to be part of such a successful class, and (to be with) people who just come into the gym and want to work hard every single day. It’s truly unbelievable. I’m thankful for my teammates.”
Guilford (14-0), the top seed in the division, completed the season with 12 shutouts, and lost just two sets this fall, those coming in back-to-back 3-1 wins over Amity and Hamden in late October.
After winning its first SCC championship in 25 years last year, Guilford was cool and efficient throughout this season. For the players, it was an achievement simply to have made it through the schedule, given the pandemic,
“None of us thought we would get this far, honestly,” senior co-captain Juliet Young said. “Something that was super special, regardless of how it was set up or the games, was us just being able to play together. Our chemistry is fantastic and we are so grateful we had the time to spend together. Even though the season was strange, we did it together and we had so much fun.”
East Haven (6-7) had an up-and-down campaign, starting with three wins and losing four straight late in the season, before reaching the Division C final via a five-set win against North Haven in the semifinals Wednesday.
East Haven coach Craig Brown credited his seniors, including co-captains Carly Cordova and Victoria Heaphy, for leading the program in the right direction.
“It’s mostly because of our senior leadership,” Brown said. “They’re great kids, they work hard and all of them were competing in that last match for us. Hopefully, that rubs off on some of the younger kids and we’ll continue to develop and keep competing for titles.”
Guilford’s Appleman and Young added to their prolific stats at Guilford, having already hit milestones earlier this year — Appleman with her 1,000th kill and Young with her 1,000th dig.
In the final, Appleman, who was named the Most Oustanding Player of the tournament, had 22 kills and Young had 18 digs, both game highs. Senior setter Olivia Ciocca had 31 assists, senior Emily Brouder had six kills and a pair of blocks, and sophomore Halle Krause had five kills and six digs.
For East Haven, Cordova had seven kills, five digs and three aces, Heaphy had six digs and senior Megan Gaudioso had 10 digs.
Guilford was pushed by East Haven in the first set, as the Yellowjackets kept it close to the end before falling 25-22.
“East Haven is a very talented team; they came ready to fight and they were definitely hungry,” Appleman said. “I feel like we were very relaxed in that first game, but with East Haven playing so well, we needed to fight harder in the next couple of sets.”
With Krause serving, Guilford came out firing in the second set and won 11 straight points, eventually winning 25-10 to take a two-set lead.
“Holly had this incredible fire serve, an incredible rocket serve, and she just kept going at it,” Young said. “She was very confident, very consistent, and that gave us the energy to have a really strong second set.”
The third set was closer, but Guilford pulled away for a 25-15 win to take the tile.
After the medals had been awarded and the championship photos taken, Appleman had her own message for the younger girls in the program.
“Keep loving the sport and keep working hard,” Appleman said. “That’s really what made us successful. We show up in the gym and we love to play with each other. I just hope they continue to have fun and play because they want to.”
“(The senior class) shows the younger girls what is expected of a varsity team, what is expected of a successful team, and that if you’re good, you’d still better be the hardest working on the court. A lot of the girls have seen that and learned from them, so even though they’re graduating and leaving, their legacy is going to be around for quite some time.” — Guilford coach Laura Anastasio