Knights show great intentions; Five student-athletes sign letters of intent during early signing period

By John Goralski

Sports Writer

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.

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