By BRIAN JENNINGS
Before winning their first Class L state title in 2010, the Southington Blue Knights boys volleyball team played the role of being a bride’s maid, never a bride. The spring of 2007 would feature the first championship appearance for the program, followed by consecutive appearances in 2008 and 2009. However, the Knights would not be able to capture the title in any of the three tries.
After finishing last year’s regular season with a 16-2 (4-2) record and another second-place spot in the CCC South for the second straight year, the Knights were hoping to start a trend of being the bride.
During last season’s brackets, Southington came close once again. The Knights lost to Newington in the semifinals of the conference tournament, but battled their way back to the Class L championship match as a No. 3 seed. On their way to the championship match, the Knights were able to beat second-seeded Staples without one of their best players in the lineup, 3-0, which is something that Staples had never experienced in their program’s history in the postseason.
However, fate intervened and the Knights lost, 3-0, to top-seeded Ridgefield in the finals, receiving the program’s fourth loss in the championship match. Will this spring end that trend? Coming into this season, the Knights are only losing three seniors…
Dan Connolly was an outside hitter and team captain for the Knights, leading the team with 143 kills (2.6 per set) and 303 attack attempts. He also led the team with 91 digs (1.7 per set, 4.8 per match) and 219 successful returned serves (4.1 per set, 11.5 per match)
Dave Shaughnessy was an outside hitter, libero, and also a team captain. He was third in attacking, second in aces, third in digging, third in assists, and second in returned serves. Pete Masters was a setter leading the team with 390 assists, 90.9 serve percentage, and a hit percentage of .451.
All three had a combination of over 150 sets played.
Although they were young last season, the Knights will have some experience coming back for them this season with the return of eight seniors, six juniors, and one sophomore. Seniors Adam Brush, Tom Del Buono, and Mark Horanzy were named as the team captains.
Del Buono led the team with 228 total serves and 139 points. Senior Dan Normandin will be looking to be the right side hitter for the Knights. His game can be described as having a great jump serve, attacking the ball from the front and back rows almost effortlessly. Normandin led the Knights with 38 serving aces (.7 per set) Senior Adam Viviano is coming in as one of the setters alongside with junior Jordan Meier.
Last year, Gianacopolos only had two players playing middle blockers, but this year he has five players to fill the position. Seniors Brush, Nate Keen, and Jack Dietz and juniors Kevin Byrnes and Devin Prive will all be contenting to be a force in the center of the net.
Brush led the Knights with 32 blocks (.9 per set, 2.7 per match), 19 block assists (51 total), and had a kill percentage of 56.1. Keen led the team with a serving percentage of 25.0.
Seniors Horanzy and Ian Powell and junior Mike Aberizk will control the sides as outside hitters.
The fast, junior Parker Mulholland will be a critical aspect to the Knights’ defense. Senior Curtis Topper and junior Tim Cocozza will back Mulholland on defense as well.
Brian Durocher is the only sophomore on the varsity team this year. He made the varsity team last season, becoming the first freshman to ever make the varsity team in the program’s history. He played club AAU volleyball before starting high school.
Looking forward, Southington coach Gianacopolos claimed that he is trying to change his team’s strength, building more upon a stronger serving and passing team.
“The offense will come with time,” said Gianacopolos. “If you serve aggressive and you can pass up a ball, the offense will come.”
Other teams had recently been taking note at how much better the Knights’ defense has gotten over the years, turning into another strength of the team.
Gianacopolos said if his team feels that they have weaknesses and his players aren’t trying to work on them as individuals in practice, that becomes their weakness.
“Right now, our players are buying into coming into each practice, knowing what their weakness is as an individual, and working on it through practice to make it a stronger skill,” the coach said. “When we don’t do that, players just go through the motion of practice and aren’t learning.”
All in all, Gianacopolos said that he has very, well-behaved athletes on his team, knowing when it’s time to have fun and when it’s time for hard work. There will be little time for rest. Gianacopolos said that one of his goals for the upcoming season was to make the toughest schedule he could possibly make for his Knights.
“I’d rather have my losses during the season,” said the coach. “That’s a learning and building atmosphere, but I had to challenge this team. They were young last year and got to enjoy the playoff atmosphere. Let’s see what they’re going to be like when they’re a little older.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.