By John Goralski
Annie Groom drew a line in the sand at the start of last spring. Girls track is going to be a legitimate sport, she promised, and she began to deluge the girls with challenging workouts and stretched their expectations at the start of each meet.
Personal records began to fall. By the end of the season, the team had clawed its way to a pair of wins, but the Lady Knights were just getting started. They swarmed into the conference meet to score a number of personal bests. They sent more numbers to the postseason than they had in years.
Postseason success led to off-season excitement, and the team has almost doubled in size at the start of Groom’s second year. The Lady Knights set the foundation with last year’s success. Now, it’s time to turn the corner.
“The postseason was such a nice surprise, especially when we were rebuilding,” said Groom. “It was a great season, and we had people continue on farther than even I thought they would. We had a few surprises, and we got to try out some new training methods. Now, we have an even better idea about how we can train people and what they can or can’t do.”
The Knights are still young. Co-captain Abby Guthrie is the lone senior, but don’t count them out just yet. Southington returns a host of juniors, and a proven class of sophomores. They made strides in the winter. They drew almost 55 girls at the start of the spring, and that has Groom raising expectations for the regular season, too.
“We’re looking for them to take the next step,” she said. “We just had our time trials, and we’ve already had some really great surprises. We had some incoming freshmen that were able to post some of our fastest times, and that gives me a lot of hope for our relays. We’ve got some great girls coming in from gymnastics, and they’ve come to practice in great shape. Then, we had some soccer girls come in and they are all in great shape.”
With the rising numbers, Groom is broadening the scope of the spring. She’ll focus on the relays to try to give more girls a chance to reach the postseason. She’ll be able to push her top performers in their individual events, and they’ll have enough girls to compete with depth in every event. Last year, the team relied on their distance and mid-distance runners to overcome lapses in other events. Now, the team has a good mix of pole vaulters, throwers, jumpers, and runners.
“I’m really excited about that,” said Groom. “I think it’s going to be a good year. I’m looking for a better record and more points at each meet. Ultimately, I’m looking for more girls in the postseason, and that’s how we’ll measure success.”
The strength is still on the track where Southington has a strong core of distance runners and a growing influx of sprinters. Co-captains Megan Albert and Guthrie will anchor the distance group, along with Erin Angelillo, Gabi Napoli, Lauren Perkowski, Amanda Hamel, Christina Trovato, Catherine Mellitt, and Catherine Myers. In addition, the team will welcome Marisa Mathews, a two-time winner of the Apple Harvest 5K road race.
Co-captain Raquel Romano will lead the mid-distance runners, which will include Kali Pliego, Jami Pliego, Erin Martin, and Mellitt, along with a host of up-and-coming runners.
“They’re used to training together, and I know who to put together for speed workouts,” said Groom. “They are a great competitive group, and I can see some school records being broken.”
Co-captain Lexi Rothstein returns to lead the sprinters, along with Jess Howe and Sarah Palko. At time trials, sophomore Emily Maciejewski set the best time in the 100m, and the entire group will be bolstered by an influx of gymnasts and soccer players.
“I think our biggest strength is going to be on the track,” said Groom. “I really have high expectations for our 4×100, 4×400, and 4×800 relays, and I’m really going to concentrate a little bit more on those relays. People might find themselves in relays even though they’d prefer an individual event because we’re going to really stack it. My goal is to get as many girls as possible into conferences and states. It’s really exciting.”
The gymnasts and sprinters should also help lift the Knights in the jumps. Rothstein, Palko, Howe, Sarah Dolan, Marilyn Sporbert, Vicky Castillo, and Madison Trask should all contribute to the long jump, high jump, and triple jump events.
Dolan and Natalie Rickard will anchor the pole vault. Caitlin Young, Grace Cardozza, and Riley Van Epps will anchor the hurdlers.
The biggest question mark at the start will be the throws, but Kayla Ward reached the conference meet last spring. Natalie Liquindoli and Kayla Bonenfant have shown promise at early practices, and a host of other throwers are still waiting to make their mark.
“I’m still waiting to see how talented our young throwers are, and I still want to see our jumpers,” said Groom. “There’s going to be a little learning curve, and it’s going to be the same with the hurdles. We have some great hurdlers in there, but it’s going to be about getting that technique down. We’ll have a better handle on it after a few meets, but I think we’re going to see some great things because so many of these girls are great athletes.”
If early indications are anything, the bar might be raised even higher after the first couple of competitions. At time trials, the Knights saw a flurry of personal bests broken. Romano’s time in the 300m would have qualified her for states during the indoor season, and a number of others are already flirting with qualifying times.
Southington’s schedule won’t be easy. Simsbury dominated during the indoor season. Conard and Hall have good, balanced squads. Farmington and New Britain have some top athletes, and NW Catholic has a good distance group. Still, Groom expects to compete.
“People should follow us because we have an exciting group of talented athletes,” said the coach. “I’m looking to have our regular season prepare us for the postseason again, but I’m also looking to do a little better. To win half of them would be great, but we’ll see what the other teams bring. I have some surprises, but they might, too.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.