By John Goralski
For two weeks, Matt Bennett has tried to battle through a winter illness. His practices were limited. His strength was depleted, and the shot put seemed to weigh 300 pounds. But on Saturday, Jan. 25, Bennett tried to push it all behind him at the CCC Championship meet as he began to spin in the circle like an uncoiling spring.
“Not that he would ever use his sickness as an excuse, but I think he is just starting to feel like his normal self,” said Blue Knight indoor track coach Annie Groom. “He’s such an amazing kid and a good competitor. He works so hard. He didn’t even have his best throw, but he was a great sport about it.”
Bennett didn’t set a personal best. In fact, his throw (47’11.5”) was almost two feet shorter than his qualifying distance. For most athletes, that would spell disaster in a postseason meet. For the No. 7 thrower in New England, it was still good enough for second place and a spot on the all-conference roster.
Even on a bad day, Bennett is one of the best. Even with his second place finish, Bennett is the top seeded athlete in the shot put for the upcoming Class LL championships.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Groom said. “I think he’s really looking forward to states and New Englands.”
Bennett was the only Knight to automatically qualify for all-conference honors, but that wasn’t the only goal at the conference championship meet. Three more girls joined the list of Southington athletes to qualify for the upcoming state meet.
The Knights had more athletes competing at the conference meet than they have in recent years. They’ve advanced more into the state competition than they have in almost a decade. Groom thinks that it’s a sign of things to come.
“We had coaches coming up to me telling me that they’ve noticed more and more Southington runners, and I’m really happy about that,” said the coach. “We had a lot more state qualifiers, and we were able to get some points in the conference from the boys. We had a few disappointments and a few great surprises. I think we did really well.”
Sean Garrison was the only other Knight to earn a medal at the meet with his eighth place finish in the 3200m (10:32.82), but Southington sent 14 boys in eight different events and eight girls in four different events.
Many took advantage of their final chance to qualify for the upcoming state meet. Gabi Napoli (5:44.9) trimmed almost 11 seconds off her previous best to qualify for the Class LL championships. Catherine Myers (12:35.66) and Lauren Perkowski (12:39.22) each made up a five second deficit in the final laps to qualify in the 3200m despite a tough week of canceled practices and classroom demands.
“This was a crazy week for training. We had Monday off. Tuesday was an early dismissal with no practice, and then we had midterms,” said Groom. “There were a lot of kids that didn’t check in with me, but the ones that did are the ones that are going to states.”
A number of state qualifiers used the meet as a final chance to work out strategy for the upcoming Class LL meet. Erin Angelillo set personal bests in the 1600m (5:33.12) and the 3200m (12:19.79), and was still able to lead off the 4x400m relay (4:33.1) with one of the team’s fastest legs. David Massabni (38’3.25”) was able to beat his previous best in the shot put by more than three inches.
When a last minute illness forced a runner to drop out of the 4x400m relay, Noah Violette stepped in to run the second fastest leg.
“We only had two guys warmed up, and Noah doesn’t normally run the 400m,” said Groom. “We needed him, and he stepped right up. He showed so much spirit, and I was so proud of him.”
Now, the Knights will have two weeks to prepare for the state competition. On Saturday, Feb. 8, the Knights will return to the New Haven Athletic Center for the Class LL championships.
Bennett (shot put), Massabni (shot put), Liam Scafariello (300m and 55m), and Dan Parzych (300m) will represent the boys team, along with the 4x200m, 4x400m, and 4x800m relays. Angelillo (3200m, 1600m), Napoli (1600m), Myers (3200m), Perkowski (3200m), and Jess Howe (55m) will represent the girls, along with the 4x400m relay.
“I’m looking for personal bests and some points,” said Groom. “We have two weeks without a meet. We have no midterms, and I’m hoping for some good weather. I have some pretty intense workouts coming up. They’ll be tired, but we’ll taper. They’ll do fine.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.