By John Goralski
It’s almost becoming common place to find family members and friends herded into a small conference room tucked away in the back corner of the high school while photographers are ushered into the room by coaches in suits.
The NCAA opened its early signing period on Wednesday, Nov. 13, and it sparked an avalanche of Southington High School signings. Southington Athletic Director Eric Swallow said that the growing number of Knights in the collegiate ranks is the true mark of a successful high school program.
“I think it says a lot in terms of the quality of student-athlete that we’re able to develop,” said Swallow. “We had division one athletes out of lacrosse. We had a division one baseball player. We had a division one softball player and a division two lacrosse player. I think this shows what we’re really trying to do here. We’re not just about developing the athlete. We want to develop the student, too.”
The National Letter of Intent program is managed by the NCAA. It was started in 1964 with seven conferences and eight independent institutions, but the voluntary program has grown to include 635 Division I and Division II programs. It protects the student from recruiting calls and contacts. It ensures a financial obligation from college programs and gives parents piece of mind.
At Southington High School, it’s become a rite of passage and a testament to the local high school program.
“You get individual success when teams have success. I believe that,” said Swallow. “Some of the schools are highly competitive to get into, so this speaks volumes about what we’re trying to do.”
Joe Rivera, Baseball
By the time Joe Rivera got home after last spring’s championship game, baseball coaches were already leaving a flurry of voice mails begging for a chance at the Southington pitcher. Quinnipiac University showed interest. He spoke to coaches from St. John’s University (NY), Northeastern University (MA), Fairfield University (CT), Sacred Heart (CT), the University of Rhode Island, and Boston College (MA).
The Huskies won the bidding war. On Wednesday, Nov. 13, Rivera signed his autograph on a baseball contract from the University of Connecticut. Blue Knight coach Charlie Lembo said it came as no surprise.
“It’s just the beginning, and all the hard work is in front of him, but I know that he’ll put in the work,” said Lembo. “He’s going into a special program, and they’re getting a special kid.”
Rivera has one more season on the mound, but he’s already played 39 varsity contests for the Knights. In 2012, he batted .195 as an outfielder with three doubles and five RBI. In his junior season, he batted .278 in 36 at bats with four doubles and six RBI, but it’s on the mound that Rivera made his biggest contribution.
In his junior season, Rivera spearheaded a return to the Class LL championship game, going 7-2 on the mound with a 1.38 ERA. Rivera led the team in strikeouts (68) with only 21 walks and 32 hits. As a junior, he finished second on the team in appearances (10) and innings pitched (60.67) as the Knights stormed to a 20-4 record.
“The first thing that jumps out at you is his velocity. I know that he’s touched 91 or 92, and I think that the sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to start filling out and getting stronger. He’s been working hard in the weight room, and those are the things that are going to prepare him to move on to the next level,” said Lembo. “They’re going to look at him as a pitcher, but don’t forget that he’s a phenomenal outfielder. He’s one of the best high school outfielders in the state.”
Rivera said that he chose UConn as much for their rising program as for their educational opportunities. He expects to study kinesiology, and UConn has one of the top programs in the country.
“It’s a great campus, and it’s a great environment,” said Rivera. “I know that Coach [Jim} Penders has been building up the team for a couple of years, and they’ve had a lot of success going to the tournament for four out of the last five years. That’s what really sold me. That and the fact that Penders was so big on academics because that’s really important in college.”
Kevin Cop and
Mike Lange, Lacrosse
Kevin Cop smiled at his teammate as Mike Lange signed his contract for Sacred Heart University on Thursday, Nov. 14. Moments before, Lange studied Cop’s signature on his papers from Quinnipiac University as if he was cheating on a test. The two teammates joked about squaring off in youth tournaments and the chance to carry on their rivalry as conference rivals next spring.
Blue Knight lacrosse coach Ron Chase steadied himself against the wall and smiled at his two varsity players like a proud parent. With two Division I athletes in the early signing period, the Blue Knight lacrosse team is the early winner.
“We’ve had four of our guys over the last few years, and that shows the direction that the program is going,” said Chase. “It shows that we’re starting to get some of those athletic kids from baseball into lacrosse. It shows that the kids are buying into the program that we’ve put together. It also shows the work that my assistant coaches have done to help these kids get where they are. I’m proud of them.”
It wasn’t a big surprise that Cop and Lange were sought after by Division I schools because both have been varsity players since their freshmen seasons.
Cop burst onto the scene with 26 goals his first season and rallied for 23 as a sophomore when Southington was struggling after graduating one of their top classes. Lasts year, he averaged three goals and one and half assists per game as he led the team in goals (52), assists (28), and points (80). The third year varsity player also ranked fourth in ground balls (43) as the clear leader for the Knights.
“He was unstoppable. He was one of the best attackmen in the state,” said Chase. “He was a leader on the field, and a workhorse in practice. When the chips were down, he was always picking the guys up. With some people, you can say that this is a really big surprise. Not with Kevin. It was apparent in the youth league that he was going to be doing this.”
Sacred Heart and the University of Hartford were among a list of four or five schools that showed interest in the Southignton scorer, but Cop chose Quinnipiac for their business school and a coaching staff that has helped him during off-season workouts on club teams.
“I liked the school and the student life there,” he said. “I just liked their program the best.”
Chase said that Lange is no surprise, either. The defenseman has only scored once during his three year varsity career, but his athleticism and teamwork has anchored the Knights. Lange chose Sacred Heart despite a change in the coaching staff, but Chase said that it won’t pose any problems for his defensive star.
“When he came in as a freshman, nobody knew anything about him. He had only been playing lacrosse for a few years, but he was just so athletic I couldn’t not have him on the varsity team,” said the coach. “He was on our man-down unit, and that’s a pretty big thing for a freshman. That unit is pretty elite. You’re a man down. You’re playing against at least one or two more players on the other team. From there on, he’s been one of the smartest lacrosse players that I’ve ever had.”
Lange chose Sacred Heart for their campus, the proximity to his family, and the school’s programs for marketing and sales.
“As soon as I stood on campus, I fell in love with the school,” he said. “When the whole coaching thing went on, I began to second guess myself, but I went onto campus again and I fell in love again. I love the academics and where it is. It’s close, and my parents can come and watch me play.”
Sydney Ferrante, softball
In the 2013 Class LL softball championship game, Sydney Ferrante made three tough infield stops as Southington clawed their way to a 1-0 victory, and that’s one reason why Northern Kentucky University fell in love with Southington’s storied shortstop.
For three seasons, she’s anchored the Knights defensively. For three years, she’s led them at the plate. On Friday, Nov. 15, Ferrante signed her letter of intent to play for the Norse next season.
“Sydney’s extremely athletic, and she’s worked extremely hard. She deserves everything that she gets,” said former Lady Knight coach John Bores. “What they really liked about her is her versatility. She can play wherever they need her in the infield. She can play anywhere in the outfield. That gives them a lot of options in the way they use her.”
Since 2011, Ferrante has been powering the Knights. She batted .369 as a freshman, .453 as a sophomore, and .467 in her junior season. Over 70 games as a Lady Knight, Ferrante has collected 109 hits, 38 extra base hits, 86 runs, and 112 RBI. As a junior, she tied the program record for RBI (46). Last season, she broke it with 49.
The University of Massachusetts and Fordham University showed interest, but Ferrante decided to head south and Northern Kentucky scored the victory. Ferrante will embrace a course of study in exercise sciences.
“I loved their campus,” she said. “They’re five miles from Cincinnati. Being near the city but not in the city with all the distractions was really important for me. I loved their location, their campus, and the programs there are incredible.”
Bores said that he enjoys watching his student go on to play in college as much as winning state titles.
“Any time you see a kid be successful and win a D-I scholarship, it’s special,” he said. “It’s like winning a state championship to me. I’m like a proud parent,” said Bores. “She’s one of the best hitters that I’ve ever coached.”
Carolynn Keal, Lacrosse
On Wednesday, Nov. 20, Carolynn Keal capped the early signing period with a Division II commitment with Southern Connecticut State University. For three seasons, Keal has paced the Lady Knights. Twice, she was selcected to the all-conference roster, and she needs less than 30 goals as a senior to break Southington’s all-time scoring record.
In three varsity seasons, Keal has scored 110 times.
“Carolynn has been so dedicated to the program here over the past few years, and I know that she’ll bring her enthusiasm, dedication, and love for lacrosse to Southern,” said Lady Knight coach Jill Pomposi. “She’s got great character, drive, and dedication. She really loves the sport, and she’s been a great all-around girl for us. She’s friendly. She’s helpful to her teammates, and she’s a great role model.”
Southern rose to the top of a list of four or five schools, including Mercer University (GA), Drew University (NJ), and the University of Findlay (OH). Keal chose Southern for their educational opportunities.
“It was a perfect fit for me with the size of the school and the chance to play lacrosse,” she said. “I want to study education, and it’s a really good school with a good program for that. It just made sense to be close to home and the financial part of it.”