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Article Published March 20, 2021

Grizzlies Earn First Win by Beating Branford in SCCs

By By Dean Bibens

The Guilford girls’ basketball team went through the regular season without getting a win, but that didn’t stop the Grizzlies from giving it their all when they faced Branford in the SCC Division II Tournament last week.

Guilford picked up its first win of the year by claiming a 40-28 victory versus Branford in the opening round of the tournament. The Grizzlies went on to take a 47-25 loss to West Haven in the quarterfinal round.

The ability to persevere through adversity was a major theme during the Grizzlies’ campaign. At the start of the season, several players opted to not participate due to the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing Head Coach Bernie Brennan to scramble. Guilford held fourth-quarter leads in several regular-season games, but was unable to pull through for a victory.

However, that all changed when the Grizzlies played Branford in SCCs. Coach Brennan felt like all the pieces of the puzzle came together for his team in that game.

“I have to give a lot of credit to the girls who did participate and gave it their best every day in practice and in games,” Brennan said. “Last year, we had three teams—freshman, junior varsity, and varsity—and, because of the limited numbers this year, we had to have one team at the varsity level. Some of the girls would have benefited by playing at the freshman or junior varsity level.”

Sophomore Ava Lepro played an integral role when the 10th-seeded Grizzlies notched their 40-28 victory at No. 7 seed Branford in the first round of the SCC tourney on March 17. Lepro played some stout defense by holding Branford junior Lauren Kendrick to zero points in the contest—a complete role reversal from when Kendrick scored 20 points in the Hornets’ 51-40 regular-season victory over Branford on Feb. 22.

Senior captain Moira Kellaher scored 17 points for the Grizzlies in the win. Junior captain Miabella Diaz had 15 points on the night.

Coach Brennan felt that his team learned a lot and got much better as a result of traversing through a difficult SCC schedule this year. Brennan said that Guilford turned in its peak performance of the season against Branford.

“We had a very difficult schedule, playing several ranked teams like Hand twice, Wilbur Cross twice, Sheehan, Mercy, Hamden, East Haven, and North Haven. The girls really played great versus some good teams midway through the season by taking East Haven to overtime. We also had a tie game versus Hamden with three minutes left, and we were up two versus North Haven in the closing minutes,” said Brennan. “So, they were hungry for a quality win when the SCC Tournament came around. Against Branford in the first round, we really came out hungry and played our best game of the season. We really played great defense in that game.”

Guilford was hoping to carry over its momentum from the Branford victory when it played at 2nd-seeded West Haven in the quarterfinals on March 19, but wound up taking a 47-25 defeat to finish at 1-13 overall for the year. Diaz scored 13 points, and Kellaher had eight points for the Grizzlies.

Prior to competing in SCCs, Guilford took a 69-18 loss at Hand in its regular-season finale on March 15. Kellaher scored seven points, Diaz had five points, and junior Hailey Hutchison scored four points in the game.

Although Guilford saw some struggles in the win-loss column, Coach Brennan was still pleased with the way his team competed on a night-in, night-out basis this season. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in some unanticipated elements that no team could prepare for, but Brennan felt that working through the challenges brought the Grizzlies closer together.

“Practicing and playing with a mask on was the most difficult thing,” Brennan said. “The girls were winded easier...but we managed to make it through the season with no COVID cases or quarantines as a team.”

Guilford’s roster for the 2021 season featured senior captain Moira Kellaher, junior captains Miabella Diaz and Faith O’Donnell, juniors Lauren Cunneen and Bella Weekes, and sophomores Corinne Puchalski, Sara Iglesias, Olivia Weekes, Ava Lepro, Scout Climie, and Hailey Hutchison.

Although the graduation of Kellaher will be a tough loss for the Grizzlies, Coach Brennan feels confident about the core of players that he will have returning the floor in 2022.

“Ava Lepro is a warrior and plays hard every game. Her shooting has been improving all season, and I expect her to be a great player going forward. She goes after every rebound, even though she is smaller than most of the girls she goes against. She always plays with heart,” said Brennan. “Miabella Diaz and Faith O’Donnell are returning for their senior season and were two of our leading scorers this year, even though both of them battled through health issues. Hailey Hutchison is also returning as a junior, and I can only see her getting better and better.”