By John Goralski
On Friday, Oct. 25, Lady Knight volleyball coach Rich Heitz stood, stunned, at the bench while his team swarmed the center of the court in celebration.
The single number etched across the gym wall for senior night festivities drove home the point that Southington is still a young and up-and-coming team, but the final score signaled something else.
Heitz called his team to the far wall to congratulate them for a truly special night.
“I loved watching these teams play tonight,” said the coach. “I called all three teams over—freshman, junior varsity, and varsity—and told them that this was just a truly gutty performance. We’ve struggled at times with them believing in themselves, but we fought through it. We had a lot of matches where we’d get up 18-18 or 20-20 but start to doubt ourselves. Tonight, we didn’t do that.”
Few would have predicted the upset because Coventry is the uncontested measuring stick for girls volleyball in the state of Connecticut. The Lady Patriots have reached the Class S final game in every season since 2003 with nine state titles and one runner up season. Since 2005, the Patriots have only lost five times.
Southington has earned two of those upsets. The first Lady Knight victory came when Lady Knight captain Allison McCormick was in eighth grade, so this was the perfect celebration for Southington’s only senior on her final regular season home game.
“This was very special for me,” said the defensive specialist, who went 10-for 12 serving with two kills and 20 digs. “We had a little bit of trouble at the beginning of the season with our cohesiveness, but I really think we brought it tonight. This is what we really needed.”
At the start, it didn’t look to be Southington’s night. Coventry rattled off seven of the first eight points in the game, and that forced Heitz to call his first of two timeouts in the game. He huddled the team and pointed at the scoreboard.
“We looked like we had already lost,” said Heitz. “I told them that it was four years ago in this very gym that I called a timeout when we were behind 7-1 in the first set, and we came back to win. I think that picked them up a little bit. We came back to play even with them the rest of the set.”
Despite the shift in momentum, Coventry cruised to a nine point victory in game one, but Southington took a quick, 9-6 lead in game two. That was the spark that the Knights needed. The mental errors stopped. The serves became crisper, and Southington dictated the pace as they scrambled for three straight wins, 25-19, 27-25, and 26-24.
“They made a lot of errors on their side,” said Heitz. “We did too, but when it became tighter at the end, we just made fewer errors than they did.”
In each of the last two games, Southington held off a late Coventry run to get the win.
Southington served 86 percent from the line (80-for-93). Caroline Barry had 12 kills, a block, and nine digs. Maryssa Romano collected 11 kills and 13 digs. Morgan McCarthy scattered 34 assists and 10 digs, and Southington received big contributions from 11 different players.
“I thought that, at every time when we needed somebody to make a big play, somebody did,” said Heitz. “Whenever we needed it, somebody rose to the occasion.”
“Cohesiveness is a big factor,” said McCormick. “Yesterday, Coach Heitz gave us a packet to read. It was about mental toughness, and that was a big factor tonight. We just clicked. Somebody brought up the packet, and that reminded us. It’s all we needed. I’m really proud of my team.”
With the victory, Southington improved to 13-6 overall and are tied for 13th in the Class LL rankings. Last year, the Lady Knights came just one game from the Class LL finals as a 12th seed. Heitz hopes that the Coventry win can spark another postseason rally.
“We can’t let it go to our heads. We still have to come out and play, but now they can truly believe that we can compete with anyone,” said the coach. “If we work hard, we can get our lucky breaks. The main thing is that I want them to know that we can do it. I think tonight accomplished a lot towards that.”
On Monday, Oct. 21, the Knights began their final week with a 3-1 win over Newington. Romano (18 kills) and Barry (11 kills) led the attack at the net. Barry (7 aces) and Samantha Loehneiss (5 aces) paced the servers. McCarthy finished with 36 assists. McCormick (18 digs), Romano (15 digs), and McCarthy (10 digs) anchored the defense.
Southington won the first two games, 25-16 and 25-18, before dropping game three, 27-25. The Knights responded with a 28-26 win to clinch the series.
New Britain shutout
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, Southington cruised to their fifth shutout of the season with a 3-0 win at New Britain.
Sylwia Lewkowicz (7 kills) and Barry (6 kills) led the Knights at the net. McCarthy distributed 15 assists. Kateri Downes and McCormick scored nine kills apiece, and Southington won in straight sets, 25-6, 25-15, and 25-16.
With the win, Southington improved to 10-4 in conference play to finish third in the CCC West behind Farmington (14-0) and Simsbury (12-2).