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For the second time in two weeks, the Guilford and Branford girls’ soccer squads faced each other with a championship trophy at stake. For the second time in two weeks, it was anybody’s game down the stretch with the Indians holding a one-goal lead until the final minute. And for the second time in two weeks, Guilford scored an insurance goal late to seal a win against the Hornets, this time a 2-0 victory that resulted in a Class L state title for the Indians.
Guilford and Branford did battle in the Class L State Tournament final at West Haven on the sunny afternoon of Nov. 16, a rematch of the teams’ contest in the SCC championship game two weeks prior. In that contest, Scott McMahon’s Indians trailed 1-0 before bursting loose with three unanswered goals in the final 17 minutes en route to victory.
In the rematch, following a scoreless first half, Guilford senior midfielder Julia McMahon netted the game’s first goal five minutes into the second when she headed in a rebound off the crossbar following a direct kick from junior Julia Carr.
The Indians maintained their 1-0 lead for the duration of the game and then added an insurance goal with 27 seconds left as McMahon put home a rebound off a shot by freshman Andrea Basilicato. The clock soon ticked down to zeroes, clinching Guilford’s eighth state crown, its first since 2003, and its first outright state title since 1992.
“This is an amazing team and an incredible group of girls. Everything they did this season led them here,” said Coach McMahon, whose 4th-seeded team finished 21-2. “We have a good team and we played our game today...When you have a team that can dictate what they want to do defensively and offensively, this is what happens.”
Julia McMahon is Coach McMahon’s daughter and, although she had scored just one goal all season prior to the state final, she certainly found the right time to double that total while doubling the fun for Guilford, which now has a state championship to go alongside its SCC plaque.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better season from a better group of girls,” McMahon said. “I had one goal all season. This is a special way to end it. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
One aspect of the Indians’ strategy that McMahon and her father stressed was containing Branford’s top scorer in UConn-bound Tanya Altrui, who entered the game with 24 goals. Altrui constantly drew double- and triple-teams in this game and was unable to get clean looks at the net. When the Hornets did put a shot on Guilford’s keeper Emily Stephens, the junior was true to the task by turning aside all eight of them, many of which were one-bounce offerings from afar.
“I feel so proud of how hard our team has worked every game. I feel immense pride,” said Stephens, whose team had edged RHAM 1-0 in the semis. “I knew we could do it and I’m glad that I helped. Tensions were high and so I just had to stay focused and stay calm, which I did.”
On other side of the field, Branford’s senior goalie Becca Vitale also played a great game by making seven saves, including a few beauties when the Indians were looking for their second goal. The No. 3 seed Hornets were playing in their first state final and finished with a record of 19-3-1.
Neither Stephens nor Vitale allowed anything by them in the opening frame as the game went to halftime with no score. Vitale came out of the net to deny Basilicato on a breakaway about 12 minutes into the game and then stopped a free kick from Carr shortly thereafter. The Hornets earned the contest’s first corner kick with 21:10 to go before halftime, but their header on goal hit the crossbar and Guilford cleared the ball. Five minutes later, Carr took a shot that rang off the post, keeping the game in a scoreless tie.
Vitale saved a free kick by Carr early in the second half, although Guilford put the game’s first score on the board just a few minutes after that. Branford was whistled for a yellow card that gave Carr a direct kick. The midfielder took a shot that went over Vitale’s head and off the crossbar and McMahon was there to head home the rebound for a 1-0 lead exactly five minutes into the half.
“It was hectic. Everyone was flying around the field,” McMahon said. “The goal opened up and I just put my head down and did anything I could to get the goal.”
It remained 1-0 Guilford until the game’s waning stages and Vitale had a few remarkable stops to keep her Hornets within striking distance. With 26 minutes remaining, Vitale stopped Andrea Basilicato from point-blank range when she had a 2-on-0 with her sister and senior and forward Nikki Basilicato. With 11 minutes to play, Vitale went up high to deny Carr on a shot that seemed destined for the back of the net. Meanwhile, much like in the SCC final, the Indians’ defense prevented many solid scoring chances for Branford in the second half, yet the Hornets did have the ball in Guilford’s zone more so than in the initial encounter. Defender Emma Smith—who captains Guilford with fellow senior and midfielder Gabi Sejourne—headed out free kick by Branford’s Abby Millroy with eight minutes left, Stephens corralled a ball and kicked it out of Guilford’s end with 1:45 to go, and then Carr cleared the zone on a header by Emma Pottenger with a minute remaining. The Indians now had possession on the Branford side and McMahon sealed the crown for Guilford when she converted a rebound of a shot by Andrea Basilicato with 27 seconds to play.
It wasn’t long before the Indians were celebrating the eighth state championship in program history and first with its current collection of athletes. When the game was over, Guilford’s athletes emphasized how the fact that they bonded like a family this fall played a pivotal part in the Indians earning the coveted title of state champion.
“Like in any family, there were times when we’d get mad at each other, but when it comes time to get on the field, we stick together and support each other in order to win,” said Carr. “This win is for our fans, our teachers, our parents—everyone who helped us get here.”
Along with those already mentioned, the Indians state champion roster also features seniors Claire Weil (goalie), Maya Morduch-Toubman (defender), Rachel Winer (forward), Tori Loukakes (defender), Lindsey Updyke (defender), Shauna McLaughlin (defender), Kyera Bryant (forward), Grace Wagner (forward), Lauren Renz (defender), and Stephanie Maiorino (midfielder) as well as juniors Lauren Lepeak (goalie), Maddie Weil (midfielder), Allie Stephens (midfielder), Paige Dostie (midfielder), Caroline Miller (midfielder), Olivia Watrous (midfielder), Zoe Demitrack (defender), and Marieke Page (defender); along with sophomores Grace Clancy (forward), Erin Lamberton (defender), and Bronagh Lonergan (defender); plus freshman Kayley McLaughlin (midfielder). Seniors Bridget Hackett and Elizabeth Rubbo are the Indians’ managers and their assistant coaches are Fred Franzoni and Cliff Yerkes.