By John Goralski
Coach Sal Penta pauses when a visitor asks about his expectations this fall. A puzzled expression washes across his face as he stares out at his team warming up for a preseason practice. Last year, Penta’s high expectations seemed to tumble toward the season finale when an experienced senior class fell just short of a postseason berth.
Gone is one of the program’s most prolific scorers. Gone are the midfielders and some talented defenders. They’ve been replaced by a talented batch of unknowns. Penta has high expectations every fall, but memories of last year have made him hesitant to cast big predictions.
“This is a season where my expectations are unknown because this team is unknown,” he said. “There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle. We talk about getting back to the tournament each year, and that’s going to continue to be our main goal. After we get there, we’ll talk about our expectations. I’m as excited to find out as anybody else.”
Team chemistry will be a top concern as 16 or 17 varsity players compete for every position on the field. No spot is secure as opening day looms. No roster position will be safe as Penta looks for the right combination. He won’t be afraid to bring up junior varsity players to fill out his roster. He won’t hesitate to shuffle in bench players or switch schemes in mid-stride.
There is never any rest in Southington’s challenging schedule, and there is never any margin for error as the Lady Knights take aim at a postseason berth.
“We’re going to be exciting to see, and you’ll be able to see the evolution of a team from game one to game 15 and 16,” said the coach. “That’s a good thing. This is a team where you’ll be able to see girls growing up before your eyes, and that has all of us coaches really excited.”
The biggest question for opening day is about scoring. Erica Kosienski has already scored a game-winner at Boston University. Nicole Wershoven is already leading the offense at Castleton College. Last fall, the pair combined for 24 of the team’s 35 goals. Who will lead the charge this fall?
“Our leading scorers coming back are Erika Landino and Sarah Palko, but I think they both had one goal apiece. We have to find girls that can put the ball in the goal,” said Penta. “Can we score? That’s my biggest question.”
Palko and Landino will be joined by sophomore Jessica Goralski as the team’s main scorers as Haley Kolesnik continues her rehab from an early injury. Penta is looking for everyone to contribute if Southington is going to be successful.
“They all have speed. They are all fast, and they can all get physical,” said the coach. “You’re going to see them get hustle goals. Sometimes it won’t be as technical, but they’ll work hard. Even in the scrimmages that we’ve had so far, they’ve really tested the defenses.”
To support the attack, Penta has loaded his midfield. Senior midfielder Emily Kemnitz will anchor a lineup that includes sophomores Erin Angelillo and Kristina Linehan.
“Emily Kemnitz is the one that we’re going to look to at midfield to control the ball, but that’s her forte,” said Penta. “She’s really able to turn on the ball and be technical, so we’re really going to lean on her. Then, I really like Erin and Kristina’s ability to possess. You really have to put the most skilled players on that part of the field, and I think we have this year.”
Penta also has a lot of questions on defense. Last season, Southington surrendered six points or more in three different contests with only three shutouts to their credit. On the other hand, he said that this year’s defense could be the team’s strength.
Senior Silvana Tellerico and junior Emily Lippincott are both returning starters. Freshman Caroline Kemnitz and sophomore Emily Maciejewski have both proven effective in the preseason, and the four of them should anchor Southington’s defense.
“They are gelling well, but what I really like is that they’re possessing the ball in the back,” said Penta. “They aren’t just kicking the ball as long as they can. They’re building it from the back, and that’s going to be important.”
For the last line of defense, Penta will once again rely on a tandem of solid goalies. Junior Margaret Melitt returns to the net where she will compete with freshman Janelle Mangassarian.
“We might end up sharing them in goal, or we might have one working a little bit more than the other,” said Penta. “That’s the thing that’s usually lost with goalies—competition. The field players are always competing every day, and we want to keep setting up that situation with our goalies. We want our goal keepers to be as challenged as everyone else.”
With so much competition at every position, chemistry will be a very important challenge as the Knights get toward a common goal, so Penta has named captains at every position on the field. Emily Kemnitz was named before the off-season. Silvana Tellerico and Erika Landino earned their captain positions with their leadership, and that’s a good sign for their coach.
“We did one captain for the off-season and the coaches really looked at how they did,” said the coach. “Sylvana and Erika stepped up, and that’s important. I wanted these girls to know that this isn’t something that’s lasting. You have to keep earning it.”
The Lady Knights will be tested early and often. They’ll measure themselves against Conard and Platt in the first week before plunging headfirst into a schedule that would overwhelm the most experienced varsity teams. The second week will showcase NW Catholic, Farmington, and Hall, but it doesn’t get any easier.
“We need good competition. The girls have to get used to it, but that’s what makes a program better and a player better,” said Penta. “We are going to have to be an athletic team this year. We probably aren’t going to be scoring as many goals as we did in the past. What we want to do is use our athleticism to our advantage. We want to use our speed up front and play fast.”
The Lady Knights are ready.
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By John Goralski