MADISON — The seniors on the Hand boys soccer team have rarely felt the sting of losing throughout their stellar careers. It’s been all about championships for the Tigers.
But the 2020 season was going to be different: not only no state championship to try and defend after four straight titles, but just being able to complete this season. The COVID-19 virus claimed parts of many team’s seasons throughout this abbreviated campaign.
Even the Tigers had a couple of games canceled. But the overall mission remained intact: win every game they played.
Hand completed its mission Thursday night, defeating Guilford 3-1 to not only win the SCC B Division title at the Surf Club, but also finished undefeated at 11-0.
“I made it my mission, with the help of the boys obviously, to not lose any games. That’s what we did,” Hand senior forward Scott Testori said. “We didn’t know we were getting a season. When we found out we got one, our goal was to win everything we possibly could, every game, everything. Every trophy we could go for, we wanted to win that. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a state tournament, that’s a bummer. But we got this. We wanted to win everything, this was everything.”
Offensively, the Tigers were impossible to stop. Testori, Jason Wallack and Chris Porte up top put constant pressure on opposing defenses all season long.
“Their three guys up top are class,” Guilford coach Curtis Gullette said. “If Testori is 1, Wallack is 1-A. You have to game plan for all of them.”
Said Hand coach Greg Cumpstone: “For me, beyond the wins, it was just a pleasure to work with such a gifted group. That’s what it’s all about. You want to see people grow before your eyes.”
Guilford faced that Hand three times. The first two games of the season were 2-0 and 6-1 defeats. On Thursday, Hand got off 29 shots and took 11 corner kicks.
But this was a different — and better — Guilford team. Gullette has used many different starting lineups. This group was able to withstand the pressure and even went to halftime tied at 1.
“We had a kid start tonight who wasn’t on the roster a week ago,” Gullette said. “We had some kids step up a lot of sophomores on the field tonight. …. We thought, ‘Make this a one-goal game, maybe force overtime, anything could happen, a wet field, a Surf Club win, we were almost there.’”
Even after Testori scored on a sliding goal off a perfect cross from Porte early in the second half, Guilford still only trailed by one most of the half. And that was in large part to one outstanding save by goalkeeper Justin Hess.
Testori had never missed a penalty kick during his high school career. He made one in the first half after Wallack was taken down in the box. But Hess got a hand on it as he dove to his right. He got a second opportunity and stopped it.
That save prevented Testori from getting his eighth hat trick in his final nine games.
Guilford scored its lone goal with 3:20 left in the half. Anthony Ippolito took the ball all the way down the right side and eventually crossed it into the box. Niall O’Brien controlled and fired past Hand goalkeeper Eli Davies.
Those two players, along with defensive stalwart Aidan Buchanan, not only helped bring along a young team, they have beena part of an SCC championship and two trips to the Class L state semifinals.
“They’re irreplaceable. Buchanan started every game,” Gullette said.
Guilford faced Hand in all three of those postseason games.
In Thursday’s postseason game, Guilford did not have a shot for most of the second half, meaning it was only a matter of time before Hand got one more. Wallack cashed it in with 3:31 left.
“With this year, considering the uncertainty, I don’t think there is any other way we would want to go out. Guilford in our final game at the Surf Club was the best game we were going to get this year, so it was awesome to come out and win this,” Wallack said.
The celebration of another championship began a few minutes later. With all of the winning Testroi has had, he still hasn’t forgotten his last loss: last year’s SCC tournament final to Guilford.
“We weren’t letting another SCC title slip from us,” Testori said. “I said in the locker room, ‘We’re not losing to this team again. Not again.’”
Cumpstone noted the senior group had won seven out of a possible 11 championships in their careers.
“That is a run that probably won’t be matched for a long time,” Cumpstone said.
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