The Guilford girls soccer team served notice in its first game when it crushed Hand 5-0.
The team never let up from there, going on to claim its sixth Southern Connecticut Conference tournament championship. Two weeks later, the Indians are looking to add another championship.
The No. 6 seeded Indians will play for the Class L state title on Saturday when it faces No. 13 East Lyme at 5:30 p.m. at Dillon Stadium in Hartford.
“I showed them a picture of the newly-refurbished Dillon Stadium,” said co-interim coach Rick Geremia. “We finished the SCCs on a really high note. We haven’t been as consistent as we would like in this state tournament. We’ve looked really good at times and struggled at times, but the girls have always kept a positive attitude.”
The Indians (17-2-4) have posted 15 shutouts this season. The Gambardella sisters, Madison and Taylor, headline a defense that has made life difficult for opponents to not only score, but to even create opportunities to do so.
“We got off to a great start beating our rivals Hand and Cheshire,” Madison, a senior, said. “We continued to play well through the first several games of the season.”
Then the Indians suffered a pair of road losses to Mercy and Law in October and also had issues scoring.
“At some point in the middle of the season, we lost some confidence and struggled in a few games,” Gambardella said. “But once the SCC tournament started, we began to push harder and play well again.”
Gambardella felt the win over Mercy in the SCC semifinals, on the road, not only helped propel the Indians to the SCC tournament title, but also to some quality wins in the Class L tournament. Two of those have come in penalty kicks against Law (second round) and Suffield (semifinals).Guilford also went to overtime to beat Pomperaug in the quarterfinals.
And to think the Indians have been able to stay focused on the task at hand despite its longtime head coach, Scott McMahon, resigning two days after the SCC tournament. Geremia and Fred Franzoni were named interim co-coaches.
“For (the players), where their average age is 16 years old, they are handling it remarkably well,” said Geremia, a former boys and girls head coach at North Branford now in his fourth season as an assistant at Guilford. “They are able to have fun and it’s still a game. We’ve told them, ‘As long as you can go out, compete and do your best, then we are pleased.’”
Guilford’s opponent on Saturday has also been impressive on the defensive end of the field. The Vikings, out of the ECC, have not allowed a goal in four tournament games. That’s including wins over SCC teams Mercy and Sheehan, respectively, in the last two rounds.
Both of those teams outshot East Lyme, but the defense was able to hold up and win in PKs (against Mercy) and regulation (1-0 against Sheehan). It’s been an impressive season overall for a program that failed to make the postseason last year.
“I always know my girls will back me up,” East Lyme goalkeeper Avery Owen said. “I do feel confident with them in front of me. We know how losing felt and didn’t want to feel that again.”
History says its Guilford on Saturday, going for its ninth state championship in 11 tries while East Lyme is still looking for its first — and making its first appearance in a final since 1998.
But the Indians know better than to overlook the Vikings.
“We understand that last game (against East Lyme) could have gone either way,” said Geremia, who went 2-2 in four consecutive finals with the North Branford boys (2001-04). “The girls have a familiarity with them, and that’s a positive. But it’s also a positive for them because they have seen us.”