By BRIAN JENNINGS
Critics might look at last spring as a rough season for the Lady Knights. They might point to a last-place finish at the conference championship meet or an absence from the state open championships.
Yet, the Lady Knights still managed to qualify 14 athletes for the state meet, which is only one less than they did in 2013. Plus, the Lady Knights were loaded with underclassmen. Last year’s team only lost two athletes to graduation. Most of their young talent returned, along with an influx of new, talented faces.
One of those new faces just happens to be their head coach, Dan Dachelet.
“I think if you have to go with it, you have to go with the fact that we lost eight of eight in the conference, so there’s only one way to go,” said the first-year coach, “and that way is up.”
If the name Dachelet sounds familiar, that’s because Dachelet is coming off of a winter season as the girls and boys indoor track coach, and a fall season as the cross country coach. He may be a rookie in the spring, but Dachelet is already accustomed to some of the athletes after the past two varsity seasons.
He knows he has a host of incoming talent. Seniors Raquel Romano, Megan Albert, Lexi Rothstein, Sarah Palko, and Natalie Liquindoli will be leading the pack as the team captains, and the foursome provides leadership in almost every event.
Romano will help out in all of the relays, as well as the 200m, 400m, and 800m. She is ranked eighth as a returnee in the 400m. Albert is a distance runner and will be featured in the 1600m and 3200m. Rothstein helped lead the Lady Knight gymnasts to another Class L title, and her athleticism should help in the sprints, where Rothstein is the top returnee in the 100m and sixth in the 200m. Palko will be competing in the triple and long jump, and she will add her soccer speed to the sprints (mainly the 100m).
Throughout the lineup, the Knights return talented athletes, including a strong group of distance runners.
Junior Erin Angelillo led the distance runners last spring as the only state meet qualifier, and she’s looking to build on last season’s ninth place finish in the 3200m at the state meet.
Angelillo led Southington during the indoor season, medaling at the state meet with a sixth-place finish in the 1000m, and she’s ranked second in the CCC West preseason in the 3200m. She is also ranked second as a returnee in the 1600m.
She’ll be joined by a good distance crew. Junior Gabi Napoli sat out for the whole indoor season after suffering an injury in the fall, but she’s right in step with Angelillo, ranked third as a returnee in the 1600m.
Napoli suffered a severe injury at the finish line of the Class LL Cross Country Conference Championship Meet in the fall, but a very hard work ethic led to a healthy recovery and she is entering the outdoor season in very good shape.
Junior Lauren Perkowski is another contender in the 3200m. and junior Catherine Myers is running right behind after a solid indoor season.
As far as the 4x800m relay goes, the Lady Knights are deep and full of half milers, bolstered by the return of junior runner Jami Pliego as the No. 4 returnee in the 800m. Seniors Amanda Hamel and Katherine Mellitt look to carry their strong indoor seasons over to the outdoor season. Both competed in the 4x800m relay and helped the Lady Knights to a ninth-place finish at the indoor state meet.
On the short track, the Knights will look to Rothstein, Palko, Romano, and others. Sophomore Rylee Van Epps will be leaping over hurdles in the 100m. Freshman Tayler Riddick will be key to the future of the program as an upcoming-and-coming sprinter and jumper.
Junior Jess Howe is hopping into sixth spot as a returnee of the long jump.
In the throws, Southington will be just as deep. Liquindoli will be the muscle for Southington, throwing javelin, discus, and shot put. Freshman Amanda Howe delivered at the indoor state meet with a 15th-place finish in the shot put, and she looks to be even better throwing the discus with the proper amount of torque and a stronger 360-degree turn.
Senior Natalie Liquindoli will be backing Howe in throws, ranked third as a returnee in javelin.
Dachelet said that he is still in the process of learning everyone’s potential.
“Half of our kids are brand new, coming out of various sports and whatnot,” the coach said. “Even though they might be new to the sport, there are quite a few true athletes out there. We’re going to be teaching them some new events. So the key is going to be this initial period where we’re getting them introduced to track and field.”
Dachelet’s staff is built to teach. The coaching staff went from four coaches in the previous season to eight coaches this spring, and the program has made a strong effort to look for talented athletes who weren’t on the team in previous years.
Some may look at new faces and inexperience as weaknesses of the Lady Knights, Dachelet said that they are ready to fill that depth with their incoming talent.
The Lady Knights’ roster is increasing in size, going from 40 to 85. Surely, the added depth will help with team dynamic.
With a bigger roster, the Lady Knights are working on events where depth was often missing before, unable to field a full team in pole vault, high jump, and throws. Dachelet said that he hopes the learning curve of increased numbers in these events will help down the road to build a balanced program.
With a bigger team roster and added help from the coaching staff, the Lady Knights have potential to make significant improvement in their ranking within the conference.
“It was great to see the number of interested girls come out to the program, said Dachelet. “We doubled the number of girls since last year. We have some great returnees that have a chance to score significantly higher than we did last year. I’m excited to see what we can do from an ability to score at the conference meet and from an ability to grow the program.”