Last field hockey season was a special one for Guilford coach Kitty Palmer and the Indians, coming away with their first outright state title with a 3-1 win over SCC rival Sacred Heart Academy in the CIAC Class M championship game.
Guilford had won a previous title but were co-champs with Cheshire in Class L in 1991.
“Kitty is a special coach, she holds kids to a high standard of excellence in the classroom, field, court and community,” Hand athletic director Craig Semple said.
Why is a Hand athletic director commenting on a field hockey coach from Guilford? Because after winning the field hockey title, Palmer went on to accomplish the impressive feat of winning two state titles in two different sports at two different schools in the same school year. In the spring, Palmer also coaches the Hand girls tennis team and the Tigers won the Class M title with a 6-1 win over SCC rival Lauralton Hall. It was the Tigers’ fourth state title.
“I’m not surprised Kitty won two titles from two different schools (in) the same school year,” Semple said. “They are ‘just kids’ to Kitty, she loves them all, and wherever she coaches the program is going to be solid. From my position, I’m very joyful for her. She works very hard getting the kids to buy in and she validates every kid in her program. What kid wouldn’t want to be in that environment?”
Palmer said she owes last season’s success to all the girls.
“The 2018-2019 school year was certainly a magical season,” Palmer said. “Everything fell right, and with a lot of hard work, the girls really played well during the pressure times. I began to believe in the field hockey team when we tied Hand at Madison in early October.
“After that, we only lost to Cheshire 1-0 near the end of the regular season, so I knew we had a chance to be extremely competitive in the playoffs. The SCC championship victory over unbeaten Cheshire, who had only allowed three goals during the season, made me really believe in our total team effort. We had no superstars, but athletic stars that were playing together with only one goal in mind.”
Palmer was also very proud of the Hand girls tennis team, which only had 13 players on the team
“With only 13 players on the tennis team, I worried about health,” Palmer said. “But our three 2020 seniors (Annie Barrett, Anna Lang and Samantha Riordan), have lost only one match in three years (68-1 match record). They are great leaders, who just refuse to lose. I am so happy to have them one more year.
“It is so hard to win a championship, because one bad day can eliminate you. I was blessed to have terrific kids on both teams, who set aside their egos and believed in what was good for the team.”
One reason Palmer is successful is because she played the sports. She attended Lake Forest College near Chicago and played field hockey, women’s basketball and women’s tennis.
“When I moved to Guilford from Long Island in 1978, I was immediately asked to coach field hockey at Baldwin Middle School in Guilford,” Palmer said. “Three years later the high school job opened up, and I applied. I began teaching tennis at Madison Racquet and Swim Club in the late 1980s. When the Hand girl’s tennis job became available, it made sense to apply, because a lot of the high school players were in our program at the club.”
Palmer is in her 38th season as the Guilford field hockey coach and she has compiled a 409-200-74-11 record (not including Tuesday’s game at Lauralton Hall). She is 340-69 in 19 seasons as the Hand girls tennis coach.
Hand field hockey coach Sue Leckey said the real story about Palmer is her passion for athletics and for empowering others.
“Kitty is a pure competitor, but in her quest to win, she is never willing to sacrifice the value of the journey,” Leckey said. “She values each and every one of her players. She works to put them in situations where they can be successful and where that success and confidence can power the team.
“She puts her whole self into coaching and she expects her players to do the same. She gets her players to respect each other and their goals as a team. She also knows that all of this is possible when you have dedicated athletes that willingly plug into your system and believe in what you are trying to do.”
Leckey also calls Palmer “a fantastic human being.”
“Her girls know that, they know she is fighting for them, so they fight for each other too and they fight for her,” Leckey said. “I think the two different schools show more about the communities’ similarities. We are fortunate to coach, live and play in communities like Madison and Guilford that value our young people and their experiences.
“Kitty is loyal to both communities, she is the role model that has people thinking more about their character than about wins and losses. Her victories come with doing all the little things right. Sometimes all the little things translate into championship seasons, sometimes there are championship coaches that always have a positive impact on their players even when they aren’t winning the championships. Kit is one of those coaches.”
In the first three games this field hockey season the Indians have taken no prisoners, starting 3-0 and outscoring opponents 17-0.
“In tennis, we are returning a great bunch of student-athletes, and I hear Guilford has a good field hockey team this season,” Semple said. “So I can’t say I’d be surprised if she can repeat with titles again in both sports in this school year. But it won’t be easy. My field hockey coach Sue Leckey is also top notch, and good friends with Kitty, so that would be a fun game if they met in the (M) final. I suspect you will have to go through Hand or Guilford in Class M for this season’s field hockey title.”