By BRIAN JENNINGS
A loss to the Staples Wreckers (4-0) last Saturday and the absence of two key starters didn’t slow down the Blue Knights (5-1) volleyball team. If anything, it only made them stronger.
The Knights started their recovery on their home court with a 3-0 win over a much-improved East Hartford Hornets (3-2) on Monday night, April 13. As opposed to Saturday’s match, Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos said his Knights came into this Monday night rested from a team dinner the day before.
“We just hung out in the backyard and had some pasta,” said Gianacopolos. “I told the boys that I didn’t want any volleyball. They played foosball and hung out. We have some of the funniest team dinners in any sport. In other sports, they all sit at long tables. Our guys sit in a circle and everyone’s at the same circle. I pride myself on that. The upperclassmen take the responsibility of the younger classmen, and vice versa.”
The Hornets were led by the talented and heavy-hitting Gilberto Figueroa. Figueroa brought prior experience to the team from playing on Puerto Rico’s National Junior Olympic Volleyball Team. The one thing Gianacopolos brought to the match was familiarity with Figueroa’s style of play, having had the opportunity to coach Figueroa during the offseason.
The Hornet hitter may have led his team in kills (14), digs (5), and serving receptions (25), but the Knights were able to keep him in check to score a 3-0 victory.
“As a team, East Hartford is very hard on themselves and their players get on each other, which is their worst fault,” the coach said. “As soon as that happens, the team will break down. It’s something that I’ve coached from day one and refused to have that be a part of my program. We were calm and collective. My guys here played with Gilberto in the offseason, and they knew what to expect.”
Mark Horanzy led the Knights with 12 kills on 22 attempts (54.5 percent) and a hitting percentage of .364. As a team, the Knights hit a percentage of .333.
Mike Aberizk scored three aces on eight serves. Adam Brush roamed the middle for 10 total blocks (3.3 per set), four solo and six assisted, which is impressive, yet rare in high school volleyball. Horanzy and Brian Durocher led the defense with seven digs apiece (2.3 per set). Adam Viviano distributed 16 assists (5.3 per set) on 34 attempts, and Tom Tom Del Buono kept the Knights in system with 16 serving receptions (5.3 per set).
“We started blocking well today,” the coach said. “Our hands were up in the air still. They weren’t moving around trying to find the ball. We controlled the ball very well today.”
The Knights continued onto their winning ways with a 3-0 win on the road against the Berkshire League’s Lewis Mills Spartans (2-4) on Thursday night.
“We served really well,” said Gianacopolos. “We were smooth. We talked about being suave, being smooth with your emotions, movement to the ball, and being relaxed. Don’t try to incorporate too many extra moves for one skill. You make that skill difficult. We had tempo that hadn’t seen before.”
Brush powered the Knights at the net with 14 kills on 20 attempts (70.0 percent). Brush and Ian Powell both collected with three solo blocks (1.0 per set). Horanzy and Del Buono battled for nine digs apiece (3.0 per set), and Durocher marshaled the attack with 14 assists (4.7 per set) on 25 attempts.
“We were able to run a more complex offense because we controlled the ball very well,” the Knights coach said. “It was enjoyable to watch these guys play, but it wasn’t an easy match. They have a great new coach where the program is really going to take off. We saw them in the preseason jamboree here, so we kind of knew what to expect, but they’re a much better team than they were in the beginning of the season.”
The Knights returned to their home court on Friday night to wrap up the week with their third-straight win against the South Windsor Bobcats (3-2), 3-1. Although they came away with the victory, there still were some parts of the Knights’ game that Gianacopolos said could have been better.
“We didn’t communicate as well as I would have liked us to, which held us back a little bit” said Gianacopolos. “The ball that you would see hit the floor when two people are near it happened quite a few times. If you and your partner who’s next to you don’t communicate, you’re not going to be successful taking up that ball. I have a lot of quiet guys and that’s not helpful in a team sport.”
Horanzy led the Knights with 15 kills on 38 attempts and a hitting percentage of .289. He and Durocher finished with three aces apiece. Viviano distributed 26 assists. Del Buono scored 15 digs. Brush led with five total blocks, three solo and two assisted.
South Windsor’s Ben Callahan had 10 kills (38.5 percent) on 26 attempts and a hitting percentage of .308.
“Adam Viviano stood out at our Lewis Mills match and he continued to prove himself today,” the Southington coach said. “He’s showing that he’s probably one of our top leaders on the court vocally. Without him in the last two matches, we would’ve had no communication.”
The Knights look to continue their success with tough, road tests against the Cheshire Rams (2-1) and the Newington Indians (5-0). This will be the first time the Knights play a match against Cheshire in eight years.