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Article Published April 4, 2021

Grizzlies Left it All on the Court This Winter

By By Dean Bibens

The Guilford boys’ basketball team saw its share of ups and downs during the 2021 season, but one constant quality for the Grizzlies was their ability to battle in every game. Head Coach Jeff DeMaio said that his squad prided itself on effort and dedication regardless of the result of any contest.

Guilford finished its season with a record of 5-8, ultimately taking a 53-46 defeat against Branford in the SCC Division II quarterfinals. The CIAC put safety guidelines in place throughout the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Grizzlies didn’t let those restrictions hamper their performance.

“The season was different, but our approach was the same. Our energy was the same. Our desire to compete and win was the same,” said DeMaio. “We understood the protocols and we abided by the protocols, but we did not let the protocols interfere with the passions of this program.”

After starting the season at 2-1, Guilford went through a rough patch that saw the team lose five of its next six matchups, taking single-digit defeats in four of those losses. The Grizzlies handled their struggles in stride and then bounced back by winning their next two games with double-digit victories versus Wilbur Cross (59-44), avenging a previous defeat to the Governors, and Hamden (61-45).

“The strongest part of the team was the cohesiveness and the willingness to play the game unselfishly at all times,” Coach DeMaio said. “My favorite moment of the season was actually a favorite week of the season when we defeated two-time defending SCC champion Wilbur Cross on a Tuesday, and we beat a talented Hamden team on Friday of that same week.”

Guilford had several players make strong contributions throughout the campaign. Senior captain guard Jake Ciocca earned All-SCC East Division honors after averaging 12.2 points per game and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range. Ciocca led Guilford alongside fellow senior captain guard Jack Stanton, senior center Jackson Tandler, senior guards Evan Ghoreyeb and Tristan Anderson, and senior forward Aidan Buchanan. Tandler and junior guard Theo Freeman both averaged five rebounds per game on the year.

Sophomore guard Justin Hess led the Grizzlies in scoring by averaging 14.5 points per contest. Hess also shot 80 percent from the free throw line on his way to making the All-SCC East Division Team. Sophomore guard Luke Ste. Marie and sophomore forward Kevin Goldberg also made key contributions for Coach DeMaio’s team.

“We got contributions from many different players,” said DeMaio. “We got major contributions from three sophomores and, anytime that happens, that is a really nice thing. Those players were Justin Hess, Luke Ste. Marie, and Kevin Goldberg.”

Hess and Ciocca both put forth big performances in Guilford’s late-season wins over Wilbur Cross and Hamden. Hess scored 20 points, and Ciocca had 14 points in the Wilbur Cross game. A few days later, Hess poured in 21 points, while Ciocca scored 16 points to spur the Grizzlies to victory against Hamden.

Guilford’s roster for the 2021 season also included junior forward Cal Stephens; junior center Brady Lynch; sophomore guards Ryan Alviti, Brenden Skoglund, and Isaac Ott Hill; and sophomore forwards Riley Swan and Tyler Yerkes.

As he looks ahead to next year, Coach DeMaio is hoping that his returning athletes gained an understanding of how to close out games through their experience this winter. DeMaio wants to see some of those narrow defeats turn into thrilling victories come 2022.

“We must understand the importance of protecting the ball, making layups, and making foul shots when games are tight. There must be a razor-like focus for 32 minutes to win games in this league,” DeMaio said. “We lost some close games this year, which we hope to win next year. The season was a success on many levels. A couple bounces of the ball, a couple better decisions, and we may have won a couple more games. But we move forward and look forward to next season.”