Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sports

Guilford Girls’ Volleyball Was a Picture of Perfection

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Senior captain Emma Appleman collected a variety of accolades for her performance as an outside hitter with the Guilford girls’ volleyball squad this fall. Appleman helped Guilford go 14-0 and win the SCC Division C title. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Senior captain Emma Appleman collected a variety of accolades for her performance as an outside hitter with the Guilford girls’ volleyball squad this fall. Appleman helped Guilford go 14-0 and win the SCC Division C title. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

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Senior captain Juliet Young notched 158 digs on her way to garnering All-SCC Division C accolades on behalf of Guilford during the 2020 season. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Senior captain Juliet Young notched 158 digs on her way to garnering All-SCC Division C accolades on behalf of Guilford during the 2020 season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

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Senior Megan McNamara and the Guilford girls’ volleyball team posted a record of 14-0 this year and only lost two sets between all 14 of those matches. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Senior Megan McNamara and the Guilford girls’ volleyball team posted a record of 14-0 this year and only lost two sets between all 14 of those matches. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

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Carson Halbower was one of seven seniors who led Guilford to a perfect record of 14-0 during the fall campaign. File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier

Carson Halbower was one of seven seniors who led Guilford to a perfect record of 14-0 during the fall campaign. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

The definition of perfection is to be as good as it is possible to be. In 2020, the Guilford girls’ volleyball team put together a perfect season that saw the squad post an undefeated record, win a Southern Connecticut Conference championship, and lose just two sets along the way.

Guilford finished with an overall mark of 14-0 for the fall campaign. After going 12-0 during the regular season, Head Coach Laura Anastasio’s squad took the title in the SCC Division C Tournament after earning a 3-0 win versus Branford in the semifinal round and a 3-0 victory against East Haven in the final. This is the second year in a row that Guilford won an SCC playoff title.

“My overall impression of the season was a positive one. I think our athletes, and others around the area, did a really good job of making smart choices and staying safe, so we could have a season,” Coach Anastasio said. “As for us at Guilford, we knew we were a very skilled team and could be successful again, and we did just that. We played as well as we would have liked. Some of the girls on the team said this was a really fun year, just being able to enjoy playing volleyball and getting to play with their teammates.”

Guilford showed that it was going to be a dominant squad right from the start of the season, winning its first seven matches by way of 3-0 sweeps. During that stretch, senior captain outside hitter Emma Appleman tallied 92 kills for Guilford, averaging 13 kills per match. Appleman, a two-year captain, finished the season with 217 kills and recorded 1,140 kills for her career. She was named the Most Outstanding Player of the SCC Tournament and the SCC Player of the Year—both for the second year in a row—and was also selected to the New Haven Register’s All-Area Team to go with her spot on the SCC’s Division C Team. Appleman is now a three-time All-SCC athlete.

Fellow senior captain Juliet Young played the libero position for Guilford, leading the team with 158 digs and 43 aces. Young was voted to All-SCC Division C Team, marking her third-straight All-Conference honor, and also made the Register’s All-Area Team. On top of that, Appleman and Young were both selected to the All-State Team for their performances throughout the season.

“Emma and Juliet are rare and exceptional volleyball players, athletes, and teammates. I have been honored to coach them over the past four years, and our program, high school, and community have been lucky to watch them play these past four years,” said Anastasio. “This group of seniors holds a special place in our program’s history.”

Another senior who showcased her talents this year was setter Olivia Ciocca, who solidified a spot on the All-SCC Division C Team. Ciocca led Guilford in assists with 282 on the season. Fellow senior Emily Brouder, a middle hitter, also made the Division C Team, yielding her second-straight All-Conference nod. Zoe McClure, Megan McNamara, and Carson Halbower were the other seniors on Guilford’s roster this fall.

In a season that featured a plethora of positive memories, Coach Anastasio said that it was difficult to select one that stood out among the bunch, but added that the entire year was an all-around enjoyable experience.

“It is hard to choose one moment as a favorite. We went undefeated, won our divisional championship, and had all 17 girls improve and get varsity experience. I think all of the girls and the coaches enjoyed all of that,” said Anastasio, who was named the SCC Division C Coach of the Year. “But I think the best part was during our last practice, because we were not able to have a banquet at the end of the year. A lot of our girls, including our seniors, said this year was so much fun. They really enjoyed getting to play a sport they love and getting to play with their teammates and friends.”

One of the biggest adjustments for Connecticut’s volleyball squads was getting used to the new COVID-19 safety protocols. It was challenging for Guilford’s athletes to play while wearing masks and do so with no fans in attendance. In the end, though, there was nothing that was going to get in the way of Guilford’s pursuit of greatness.

“The safety precautions with COVID were hard to adjust to at first. The masks were difficult, but our girls did an awesome job with them. We really never even talked about them. We knew we had to wear them, and that was the end of the conversation,” said Anastasio. “I think not having fans was the hardest adjustment. The games were very quiet, and it was hard to create your own energy and enthusiasm. I know our parents would have loved to be in the gym watching our team. We live streamed all of our games on Facebook live, so they could still watch.”

While there was no State Tournament this year, the SCC hosted three divisional tournaments so that its teams could experience some form of a postseason. As the No. 1 seed in the Division C Tournament, Guilford had a first-round bye and then defeated No. 5 seed Branford by a 3-0 (25-7, 25-12, 25-18) score in the semifinals to advance to the championship match. Then in the final, Guilford claimed a 3-0 (25-22, 25-10, 25-15) over No. 2 seed East Haven to take the title.

“Of course, winning championships are memorable and fun, but high school sports are all about enjoying playing the sport and being with your teammates,” Anastasio said. “I am really glad that this group of girls got to truly experience that.”

During the regular season, Guilford earned a pair of 3-0 victories versus Daniel Hand, West Haven, East Haven, and Branford to go with a 3-0 win against Whitney Tech, a 3-0 win over Hamden, and 3-1 victories versus Hamden and Amity.

In addition to the seven seniors, Guilford’s roster also included juniors Talia Turcio, Daisy Pope, and Katie Vail; sophomores Halle Krause, Emily Lin, Gabby Paris, Riley Mullett, and Corrine Puchalski; and freshmen Emma Getrost and Emmi Piironen. Krause started for the team this season.

Even though Guilford is graduating the majority of its core group of players, Coach Anastasio believes that the graduating seniors have set a standard for excellence and that her returning athletes will be determined to continue that culture in 2021.

“We have been blessed with several irreplaceable volleyball players over the past couple of years. This group of seniors, especially Emma and Juliet, have left their mark on the program and have set the bar high creating a culture of hard work and competition. I think we will continue to have that culture,” said Anastasio. “The underclassmen have learned a lot from these seniors and from the past couple of seasons. The expectation is to play to our highest potential. We have a lot of girls and a lot of open positions. It will be exciting to put some new puzzle pieces together and see what will work.”




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