y John Goralski
Coach Rich Heitz entered this season with more questions than answers. The Lady Knight volleyball graduated all but three varsity players. To lead the rebuilding process, Heitz had only one senior.
How would they come together? How would they perform? Could they reach the postseason? Could they win?
Sure, Heitz was disappointed when a loss in the second round of the Class LL tournament ended the fall campaign, but the coach was still smiling after the defeat. After all, his preseason questions were all answered, and Heitz ranks the team’s journey as one of the most satisfying in his career.
“Obviously, we didn’t play well enough to win tonight, but I really enjoyed the unity of this team this year,” said the coach. “I’ve always wanted the opportunity to coach a team like this in Southington. They were all one. They all got along. They all seemed to support one another no matter what grade. I’ve always wanted to coach a team like this, and I was glad that this was the one.”
The Knights didn’t go quietly when No. 4 Darien rallied to a 2-0 lead in the best of five series. The defending champs out-scored the Knights, 25-19, in game one. They used a 13-4 run in game two to race to a 25-13 win, but Southington avoided the sweep with a 25-22 win in game three before Darien rebounded with a 25-13 win to clinch the series.
The Lady Knight youth led the charge. Sophomore Kelsey Allen came off the bench to earn a team-high eight kills. Sophomore Sylwia Lewkowicz was shuffled from outside hitter to middle and captured seven kills. Sophomore Emily Mankus was recovering from injury until the final week of the season, but she paced the Southington servers with three aces.
“As the match got to the end, I was so proud of the way our underclassmen and sophomores played tonight,” said Heitz. “They weren’t nervous. They went out there and competed. They did a nice job, and I think that bodes well for us in the future.”
That might be the true legacy for captain Allie McCormick. In her final varsity contest, the lone senior anchored the back row with 32 digs. She had only five errors in the back row as she kick-started the offense during Southington’s win in game three.
Every time that the Knights needed a point, McCormick had her hands on the volleyball. Heitz said that was the key to Southington’s success this fall.
“You want every class to leave its mark, but we only had one senior,” he said. “I think her goal was to make sure everyone got along—no matter what grade—and that was what she did. We had three teams with something like 30 kids, and they all got along well. That’s a credit to her. Hopefully, she left the cornerstone that kids can build upon next year.”
The loss came on the heels of a 3-0 win over East Hartford in the opening round. Thirteen different players contributed to the win as Southington swept the Hornets, 25-11, 25-16, 25-14. Once again, it was a chance to showcase Southington’s youth.
“I thought Sam Loehneiss did a great job off the bench in the middle of set two when she served three aces in a row and had a couple of assists,” said Heitz. “I thought Michelle Stublarec had a couple of thunder spikes. We had some kids out there tonight that haven’t played that much because some of our older kids weren’t playing like they normally do. I thought that Angela Balaoing and Emily Mankus played well. A week ago, Angela was strictly a JV player, but she got a lot of time tonight. We had two kids that really haven’t played much and both played well tonight.”
Maryssa Romano led the Knights at the net with seven kills. Kateri Downes had five aces. Morgan McCarthy finished with 14 assists and four aces. McCormick anchored the defense with 13 digs.
With the loss to Darien, Southington finished the season with a 14-7 record.
y John Goralski