By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Knights have been consistent in the past two seasons, having three losses in both years as well as fourth-place finishes in the CCC West. In 2013, the girls battled into the quarterfinals. In 2014, their advance was stopped one round earlier.
Last spring, the girls rallied to an 11-3 regular season record. They clawed their way to fourth place in the elite CCC West (4-3). The No. 9 Knights defeated Bristol Central, 6-1, in the qualifying round of the Class L Tournament, but eventually fell No. 8 South Windsor in the next round, 5-2.
That wasn’t the end. The Knights advanced their best singles player, senior co-captain Alex Barmore, and doubles team of Susan Murphy and senior Rianna Susco into the state open tournament.
One thing is certain. Expectations are high for the Lady Knights. This spring will be no different.
Murphy was the only graduate lost from last year’s lineup, so the Knights are welcoming back six seniors, five juniors, and two sophomores for one of their most veteran lineups in years. If there’s anyone who knows the talent of this team, it’s head coach Robin Thompson.
“Now we have so many upperclassmen, and they’re getting better and better every year,” said Thompson. “It’s been a building process the past couple of years. This year is an opportunity for us to make a mark. Last year was successful, and we’re hoping for at least the same result this year.”
It’s easy to enter the season with such high expectations. Barmore returns as the No. 1 singles player, bringing a lot of talent and postseason experience to the table. Susco will lead the doubles pairings after last year’s postseason run.
Southington returns their full lineup of singles with co-captains Barmore and Cassidy Race, along with last year’s No. 2, Angela Balaoing, and No. 4, Catie Wormer. Even in doubles play, Southington returns almost their whole lineup with Liz Costello, Julie Faulk, Olivia Ende, Sam Lohneiss, Kayla Kavanagh, and Natalia Gimenez.
In addition, up-and-coming sophomores Abby Roy and Kristen Mathew are young, auspicious hitters that could find themselves moving up within the ranks as the season progresses.
“We have a good core group of girls,” the coach said. “We have some girls that might not immediately play in matches, but are probably hungry and are looking to vie for some spots as well. We’re going to have a lot of strong internal competition that’s going to keep us focused. You only get better by playing better people.”
Singles play is usually a strength for the Knights and there are some younger players that already have singles experience, playing in a higher role than they’re accustomed to. With plentiful talent across the board, making good matchups and combinations for the doubles teams won’t be a problem for Thompson as the season rolls on.
Leadership will serve as another strength of Thompson and her Knights.
“I’m blessed that we have really good leadership from seniors,” said Thompson. “They’ve been with me since my day one, four years since I’ve been here. It’s that and a lot of good, quality players that every year have spent some time in the offseason trying to get themselves better and be more competitive, pushing their fellow teammates.”
Thompson said the only question she as the season opener looms is if she can get them match-ready with the weather failing to cooperate. While other schools move inside at neighborhood clubs, Knights’ assistant coach, Mary, was outside shoveling the courts, helping to get the team outside as early as possible.
Although the CCC West posses some of the best competition around, Thompson said she feels confident about the upcoming season and thinks that this year could be a big year for the Knights.
“Alex said that she wants to put a banner in the gym,” the coach said. “She and I are very much alike. We’re very competitive. I want that, not just for her, but our entire senior class and program. If ever there was a year in the recent past, this is the year.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.