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Article Published October 5, 2020

Hand Boys’ Soccer Blanks Guilford in 2020 Opener

By By Dean Bibens

A quiet eeriness loomed large at Strong Field when the Hand boys' soccer squad hosted Guilford for the first game of the 2020 fall season on Oct. 2.

Nearly seven months since the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, the two teams took the field to begin a campaign that seemed like it would never happen—and did so with no fans in attendance. Even with the season delayed, Hand and Guilford picked up right where they left off from last year by playing a hard-fought game that saw the Tigers notch a 2-0 victory versus their Southern Connecticut Conference rival.

Having no fans in the stands didn't faze Hand senior captain and returning All-American striker Scott Testori, who scored both goals in the contest. Testori netted the first goal off a cross from fellow senior Jason Wallack in the 24th minute of the game and then provided insurance with a strike from 25 yards away in the 69th minute. Hand outshot Guilford by a 13-4 margin and controlled possession for most of the night with senior goalkeeper Eli Davies getting the shutout in net.

"We came in knowing that we can beat any team in the state when we play our game. The first half, we weren't playing our best game, but we saw that we were dominating them, which is a great sign for things to come," said Testori, who was the SCC Player of the Year last season. "On those goals, first one was a nice simple finish off of Jay's pass; couldn't miss. That second one, just struck it about 25 yards out and it went right into the top corner, sweet as a nut. I love that."

Testori is coming off of a season that saw him score a school-record total of 24 goals to go with 16 assists. His two goals against Guilford put him at 60 for his career, also a Hand record. While he knows that there is still room for improvement, Testori, who leads Hand with fellow senior captain Chris Porte, has high expectations for the Tigers after helping them win their fourth-straight Class L state title last fall.

"One of the big [changes] that we made was we put Chris Porte, who was playing right back last year, up at winger. So, it's me, Jay, and Porte up front. I think those are two of the best wingers in the state," Testori said. "Plus, we've been playing with each other for a while. We know each other very well. Same with Jack Wildermann. We are all on the same club team, so we all connect very, very well."

Hand's game-plan going into the contest was to try to make some inroads against Guilford's young defense, which graduated three starting backs and its goalkeeper from last year. Senior captain center back Aidan Buchanan is the lone returning starter on defense for Guilford this season. Buchanan leads the team alongside fellow senior captain Anthony Ippolito, a forward/midfielder who was named the Most Outstanding Player of last year's SCC Tournament that was won by Guilford. Sophomore Justin Hess played net for Guilford in the game against Hand.

Guilford Head Coach Curtis Gullette said that it was strange to face Hand on a field that was surrounded by empty bleachers. Gullette missed the enthusiasm that spectators generate when they're in attendance.

"This is definitely the most eerie game we've ever been a part of, with our scrimmage the other day being a close second. But under the lights, with no fans in the stands, it's strange, and it's hard to build that momentum," said Gullette. "You rely on your fans more than you realize, especially in a rivalry game like this, and we missed that tonight."

The rivalry between Hand and Guilford was only intensified after they played each other four times during the 2019 season. In the regular season, the two sides battled to a 2-2 tie and then a 0-0 draw. Then in the postseason, Guilford won the SCC title with 1-0 victory versus Hand in the conference final, after which the Tigers defeated Guilford by a 2-1 score in a game that came down to penalty kicks in the state semis.

Hand Head Coach Greg Cumpstone was thrilled to see his team start a new season with a victory over a familiar foe. Cumpstone felt that the Tigers showed some signs of rust, although that was to be expected following an abbreviated preseason.

"We were rusty. We weren't very fluid, but it was nice for these guys. It was the first competitive game for any of them in six months, so it was really nice to be on the field," Cumpstone said. "One of the things we talked about at halftime was it seemed like when we went up 1-0, we had the mindset of, 'Let's hold the lead and defend the lead.' The message we gave to the kids was, 'No, let's go out and attack.' That mentality of not settling when you get the first goal is important."

Coach Cumpstone went on to credit Testori for the effort that yielded both of Hand's goals. Cumpstone praised the senior striker for giving it everything he had for all 80 minutes of the game.

"He was fantastic. As usual, he worked hard for the team, and that's the first and most important thing," Cumpstone said of Testori. "He capped it off with a poacher's goal in the first half, an instinctive goal, then a brilliant finish with the second goal at a key moment where the game could have gone either way. To have the confidence and the technique to score from that distance is incredible."

Despite the loss, Coach Gullette expects Guilford to build off of its opener by learning from both its mistakes and the things that it did well against Hand. Guilford is facing the Tigers again, this time at home, at 3:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 9.

"We trust our backs to communicate. Quite honestly, besides a couple of really nice chances they had and the one mistake that led to the goal in the first half, we did a pretty job of marking [Hand's forwards]," Gullette said. "We've got them two more times this year, so we will make our adjustments and go from there."