By John Goralski
By the time that Matt Bennett entered the shot put circle for the championship heat of his event, the rest of his team was huddled at the edge of the throwing surface. Everyone else had finished their day’s competition at the Class LL championship meet. Every one else had fallen short of the state open.
Bennett was Blue Knights’ only hope, and the Southington senior wasn’t about to disappoint.
On Saturday, Feb. 8, Bennett cleared 52 feet, 4.5 inches in the shot put finals. It was good enough to shatter his previous school record, and it was good enough to secure him a Class LL title.
“This is incredible. It’s something that he could have only imagined last year,” said Blue Knight track coach Annie Groom. “It really shows what you can do when you plan and work hard. He perserveres through everything. I think people take it for granted because he’s always doing so well, but I know how great a feat this was.”
Eight Southington girls and a dozen Blue Knight boys competed over 10 different events at division championships. Bennett was the only one to capture a medal, but that’s not the only measure of success.
“The sprinters had a really good showing this year. We had a lot of them make it to the state meet,” said Groom. “I thought we did really well. I hoped that there would be a few races where we would have run a little faster, but we still had some good surprises. That’s the way it usually works out.”
Erin Angelillo was the only other Southington athlete to finish in the top 10 at the elite event. Her 11th place finish in the 1600m (5:32.04) came within seven seconds of a state open qualifying time. The sophomore’s 10th place finish in the 3200m (12:13.5) fell just outside the cutoff.
“I wasn’t disappointed about the lack of scoring because my expectations were pretty realistic,” said Groom. “If anybody else was going to score, it would have probably been Erin, but even she was a longshot. Class LL has such a great level of talent and numbers. I was just happy that we had so many people go to the meet.”
Bennett’s state title in the shot put is the first for Southington since Cherraine Davis claimed the same event for the girls in 2011 and 2012. Chris Kelly was the last boy to claim a state title with his victory in the 55m in 2009.
Bennett’s best broke his previous top mark by almost two and a half feet.
“You had to see it to believe it,” said Groom. “I could tell by his stance, the way he moved through it, and the throw. You could see it in the air and in the look on his face. Everything just came together, and it was incredible.”
With his win, Bennett will advance to the combined state open championship this Saturday at Hillhouse High School in New Haven. Competition is scheduled to start at noon.
“He’ll be down there by himself, but we’ll see if we can get some teammates there to cheer him on,” said Groom. “You never want to say it too loudly, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. If everything goes well, he will be right in there at the end.”