By John Goralski
Rich Heitz heard little bits of conversation during the junior varsity volleyball match on Friday, Sept. 14, but it didn’t sink in because he was preparing for Southington’s home opener. The coach said that he had a vague feeling that something important was happening, but he was too focused on preparing for the game to pay any attention to the murmurs around the court.
It wasn’t until midway through the varsity match that Heitz noticed a dark blue ribbon flowing from the hair of one of his players, and the significance of those early conversations descended upon him like an avalanche.
While he was thinking about the varsity match, the Knights were thinking about their coach and his family. In the days leading up to the season, Heitz lost his father-in-law to a long battle with cancer. Now the Knights were showing their support for one of their biggest fans.
The ribbons were decorated on one end with the cancer ribbon symbol and on the other end with the letters ‘FP’ for the late Frank Parise.
“You know, you coach for long enough and something like this really focuses in on what coaching is really all about,” said Heitz. “Sure, you have your bumps in the road from time to time, but this tells me how special the kids are. These kids are family. This program is a family, and this shows how much they mean to me.”
As it turned out, the game didn’t pose much of a challenge. It was their second lop-sided sweep of the early season. What was most memorable for their coach were those little blue ribbons and the fact that his team decided to dedicate this season to Parise’s memory.
“The girls didn’t even make an issue about it. They didn’t come up to me and tell me about it,” said Heitz. “Corinne [Horanzy] was standing on the sidelines in front of the bench, and I could see it in her hair. I have a very nice bunch of girls, and the fact they would do this—without speaking of it—makes it very special.”
Parise rarely missed a game, even over the last three years as he battled through the illness and its treatment. Heitz said his family was touched that so many past and present players appeared at the wake and the funeral. When he learned that they were going to dedicate the season to Parise, the coach said that his family was very thankful.
For their part, the girls have made it look easy.
In the season opener at Newington, Horanzy and sophomore hitter Caroline Barry combined for nine kills apiece, while Southington servers picked apart the Indians with 18 aces over the best-of-five series. Danielle Kaminsky paced the attack with 23 assists, while Allison McCormick and Horanzy anchored the defense with eight digs apiece.
Southington swept through the series, 25-15, 25-16, and 25-9.
“Newington played scrappy, and they blocked us a few times which we weren’t used to,” said Heitz. “But we were able to pull away in each of the sets.”
On Friday, the girls showed up with the blue ribbons and raised their level of play to match with a trio of lopsided games. Kaminsky dealt out 23 assists. Horanzy attacked the net with 11 kills and six blocks, while McCormick managed 17 digs and five of Southington’s 16 aces.
The Knights rallied to a 3-0 home victory, 25-9, 25-10, and 25-11.
“They didn’t lose their focus at all during the match, and I was very proud that we came out and played our game,” said Heitz. “We played up the whole match, and that’s sometimes tough when you know that you’re better than your competition. Sometimes, you play down to your opponent’s level, but we didn’t do that.”
Heitz will know pretty soon whether his Lady Knights are ready to make another run at a state championship. Southington will face Woodstock Academy and Farmington this week with a game against Coventry the following week. If their early success, their show of unity, and their chemistry are any indications, the Lady Knights are ready to make a run.
“I think that this was a perfect example of how much those little things mean,” said the coach. “We talk in practices, and we say that there are no little things. Whether it’s serving at 80 percent to 90 percent or coming together as a team, those little things mean a lot.”
Parise would have been proud.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.