By BRIAN JENNINGS
The girl’s field hockey team finished the 2014 season with an early exit out of the qualifying round of the Class L State Tournament, after being defeated 2-0 at home by No.19-seed Newtown, entering the tournament as a No.14-seed. This came after the Lady Knights captured the CCC East division title with a 10-6 regular season record and a perfect 7-0 divisional record.
“Last year was a great year for us,” said Southington coach Erin Luddy. “My seniors from last year were my starters for two years. They were building to that and had that goal in mind of winning the East and having that home game for the first round. They were a very motivated group, and I think that motivation is what carried over to this year.”
Coming into the 2015 season, the Knights are losing four of their five all-conference players from last season, including Allie Abacherli, Jessica Lee, Natalie Liquindoli, and Lauren Zazzaro. Other key losses include Caitlin Young and Michaela Falk, who were apart of the starting midfield line with Zazzaro and Lee.
“I lost my entire midfield and those are the people that run your game,” said Luddy. “So, that’s the building we’re coming off of. I have talented juniors stepping up in those positions. We have some experience from last year, not as starters, but within.”
Abacherli led the team in scoring last season and was the first Southington field hockey player to make the first team of the all-state Connecticut team during Luddy’s tenure as head coach. Lee led the team in assists.
“Just because those seniors have graduated, doesn’t mean that the mindset has changed on the team,” said Luddy. “That’s the difference from years past. They know what they can do, and they will continue to work to that level. That’s the goal again, to win the conference and have a home game in the tournament. Right now, this year might be a win in the tournament. It’s taking each step and building off of it from last year.”
Juniors Kelsey Snodgrass, Brooke Camden, and Kaylee Graef were named as the team captains for the 2015 season.
“Kelsey is a strong worker, who leads by example,” said Luddy. “Kaylee also leads by example with her play on the field. Brooke loves the game, and her dedication to the sport goes above the others.”
Junior Izzy DiBattista was the fifth all-conference player for the Knights last year, and will be a heavy hitter for the Knights on the front line this season.
The strength of the Knights for the upcoming season is their forward line that is highlighted with returning varsity starters, DiBattista, Snodgrass, Graef, and junior Jen Briscoe.
Junior Hallie Altwies was a key substitute for the Knights last year, but missed most of the season with an injury. Altwies looks to be right back in it this season and brings a lot to the starting lineup. Senior Angie Zollo had some outstanding games as another key substitute for the Knights last year and will be stepping up as one of the leaders of the team this season.
“I have a lot young kids, hungry and wanting this position,” said Luddy. “So, it’s hard to say who’s going to step up. They’re fighting each other for the spots right now.”
Luddy said that the hardest position on the field to fill right now is goalie after losing Liquindoli. Neither junior Amanda Delorme nor sophomore Maddie Belfonti have varsity experience, but are battling for the starting goalie position.
“I’ve been lucky for the past couple of years to have had outstanding backups as juniors to the seniors, and this is the first time that I don’t have that,” said Luddy. “It’s going to be a fight for them, but it will be interesting for us as well.”
Other players that will be fighting for starting positions on the team include seniors Victoria Gentile, Cassie Gaudio; juniors Michaela Carrera, Sydney Brault, Bianca D’Amore, Marissa Matarazzo, Ariel Perry, and Alexa Zborowski; and sophomores Sydney Rice, Brittney Sao, Molly Dobratz, and.
As far as other positions go, Luddy said that they are still working out the kinks and won’t start seeing where her players go until they have played in their first scrimmage against Farmington on Friday.
The Knights may be young, but the one thing that stands out about this group of girls is their confidence.
“In the past when the stronger players have left, there always seems to be a letdown like, ‘Oh, our leaders have left and we’re not going to be as strong,’” said Luddy. “That’s not there this year. This year is like, we were strong last year, but we’re going to be stronger this year. They’re self-motivation is much stronger than what it has been in the past.”
If there are any weaknesses, Luddy said that they will just have to see how her players react to high-pressure zones in big games against teams like Glastonbury and Simsbury.
Like last year, Luddy said that the Knights have the idea of either winning or, at least, batting for the conference.
“To be as strong as 10-6 last year, if not better, would be our goal,” said Luddy. “We’re not aiming for .500. We know we’re going to get into the tournament. It’s how high of a seed to we want in the tournament. That’s what it comes down to this year.”
After the major realignment of the Central Connecticut Conference was announced in October of last year, the field hockey divisions were reconstructed to the North and South Regions. Southington is in the North Region, along with East Catholic, E.O. Smith, Fermi, Maloney, South Windsor, Wethersfield, and Windsor. The South Region is made up of Avon, Conard, Farmington, Glastonbury, Hall, Newington, Northwest Catholic, and Simsbury.
Basically, the North Region contains all eight of the same teams the old East Division contained last year. Glastonbury was the only new team added to the South Region, which was the old West Division, making both divisions even with eight teams in each.
The Knights’ regular season schedule features matchups against four of the top 10 teams from last year’s Class L state tournament, including a week two visit to No.1-seed Glastonbury (2014 co-champions with Darien). The Knights also have a home game scheduled against the No.6-seed Avon, who made it to the semifinals of the Class M State Tournament.