By BRIAN JENNINGS
Last year, the Blue Knight boys lacrosse program proved their mettle in tournament situations. The bigger the game, the bigger the performance. It was a breakout season, and Coach Ron Chase hopes that it’s just the beginning.
Southington was coming off of a 10-6 (3-3) regular season when they began their postseason rallies. As the fourth seed in the conference tournament, they raced into the semifinals, getting knocked out by second-seeded Glastonbury, 9-8, in the tournament semifinals.
The momentum carried into the state brackets where the No. 13 Knights escaped the qualifying round with a 9-4 win over No. 20 Conard. The Knights advanced into the main field where their season would be cut short with a 12-8 loss to fourth ranked New Milford.
Now, the Knights look to do it again.
Southington enters the 2015 season after losing six seniors and a few underclassmen to other sports. Most seniors were four-year starters that scored over 100 goals for the Knights.
Kevin Cop was a four-year starting attackman, who led the Knights with 55 goals (three per game), 48 assists (2.5 per game), and 103 points (5.4 per game) out of 19 games last season. He also scooped up 38 ground balls (2.0 per game).
Jared DeFeo was a four-year starting midfielder right behind with 54 goals (three per game), 13 assists (.7 per game), and 67 points (3.5 per game) out of 19 games. He also had 44 ground balls (2.3 per game) fielding.
Brian Mahon spent 606 minutes in the net for the Knights as a two-year starting goalie. Last season, Mahon had 235 saves (.673 percent) out of 349 shots on goal, 114 goals against (9.030 average), 10 wins, and one shut out.
Southington coach Ron Chase will be welcoming back four seniors, 10 juniors, six sophomores, and one freshman, making it the second youngest team that he has coached since his first year in the program.
“Our keys are to grow this year,” said Chase. “It’s basically a lot of new faces out there. In terms of team chemistry, this is one of the tightest teams I’ve ever had. When guys are making mistakes and high-fiving each other saying, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll get it next time,’ that’s great. I haven’t seen that in a long time. Other than that, we changed up our offense a little bit so we have to learn new offense, and we’ll go from there.”
Chase said that goalkeeping and face-offs will be the strengths for the Knights this season. However, having a team with mostly new faces and inexperience might come as a weakness for the Knights.
Although his team is young, Chase is still excited to work with his kids and said he thinks that teams will underestimate them.
“The kids work hard day in and day out,” the coach said. “They give 110 percent and are behind their teammates during the good times and bad. They get better everyday and keep a positive attitude. They expect a lot from each other. They demand excellence form themselves and their teammates.”
Senior Dan Saucier will look to take over the goalie position for the Knights. Saucier played 151 minutes last season with 54 saves (.650 percent) out of 83 shots on goal and 29 goals against (9.219 average).
Other key returning players include senior Steve Hamel, juniors Matt Natelli, Chris Gamber, Liam Delahunty, Mike Majchrzak, and sophomore Nick Zukauskas. Gamber was the team’s third highest scorer with 39 goals (two per game). Hamel led the Knights with 131 ground balls (8.2 per game).
“Steven Hamel, who’s our four-year starting defenseman and starting face-off guy, has face-off percentages that are through the roof,” said Chase. Steven’s one of the best defensemen and face-off guys in the state.”
With scheduled games against teams from the Southern Connecticut Conference, Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, and Southwest Conference, Chase said he wants his Knights to play some of the best talent in the state.
“It’s a tough schedule right down the middle,” the Knights coach said. “I’m going to schedule a hard schedule each year. I’m not going to schedule patsy games where I know we can win and blow teams out. You don’t get better that way. You don’t get better as a program that way. It’s no fun for the kids.”
The Knights have never made a Class L state title appearance and are hoping for more success in the postseason, never making it past the quarterfinal of the tournament.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.