By BRIAN JENNINGS
Injuries badgered the Lady Knights basketball team during the 2014-15 season, forcing underclassmen to step up and fill starting roles. However, Southington still managed to produce success through arduous times by qualifying for both the CCC Tournament and Class LL State Tournament after completing the regular season with a 14-6 record, finishing fourth in the CCC West (8-6) and ninth in the CCC (12-6).
The Knights walked into the conference tournament as a No.-9 seed and fell short, 58-54, at No.8-seed Weaver in the first round. In the state tournament, Southington would follow up a first-round exit with another, falling to No.17-seed Glastonbury, 52-47, at home as a No.16-seed. However, the six losses the Knights sustained during the regular season only came from three teams: NW Catholic (lost to Capital Prep in Class L final), Farmington (lost to Capital Prep in Class L semifinals), and Simsbury (advanced to second round of Class LL’s).
The plus side is that the Knights are only losing two senior captains, Kaitlin Paterson and Nicole Fischer. But, the downside is that one was a critical part to Southington’s success last season, while the other wouldn’t get a chance to see the court until the end of the season.
Paterson not only had her best year on the hardwood during her senior season, leading the team in almost every statistical category, but she was chosen for the all-conference team for the first time in her high school basketball career. And to top it off, she ended her athletic career at Southington by being chosen as the Observer’s Female Athlete of the Year for 2014-15. Paterson did it all in every department and will be hard to replace.
Offensively, she held the highest free throw percentage (71.4), sinking 25 out of 35 from the foul line, and led the team in three-pointers (66), total points (297), and assists (47). On the other side of the ball, she led the team in steals (76) and blocks (25).
“Kaitlin’s going to be really big shoes to fill,” said Southington coach Mike Forgione. “She was our outside threat and has a ‘gamer’ mentality. She can thrive in difficult, pressure spots. Kaitlin was that person that we relied on to lead us in those battles that we had last year in those big games. We’re not only going to miss her offensive input, but also her leadership.”
The Knights may be losing two solid players, but they are bringing a whole lot of experience back at a young age.
Sarah Minkiewicz (sophomore) was called upon to step up and take the role of starting point guard as a freshman last season when junior Maggie Meehan (junior) went down with an injury in the 10th game of the season, which forced her to miss half of the season.
Hartlee Meier (sophomore) also had to step into the fire during her freshman year, replacing Fischer when she went down with her injury. Both Minkiewicz and Meier started all 22 games for the Knights last season. Both Meehan and Meier continued have worked hard during the offseason to improve their games, playing for the AAU team the Connecticut Attack.
Forgione named the only three seniors on his team as the captains for 2015-16 season: Natalie Wadolowski, Kayla Kavanagh, and Diana Verderame.
Wadolowski returns as a four-year varsity starter and a two-time all-conference selection. Last season, she averaged a double-double of 14 points (295 total points) and 10.5 rebounds (220 total rebounds) a game. She also led the team from the charity stripe with 79 free throws (71.2 percent) and from the field with 108 made baskets (43 percent).
She has a lot of experience as a varsity starter, playing in a lot of big games throughout her four years with the Knights, including the CCC Tournament championship against Glastonbury her freshman year.
“She is someone that we’re going to rely heavily on,” the coach said. “She has great instinct and a knack of finding the open spot on the floor. She could really knock down that eight to 10-foot jumper. If she takes the ball to the rim, she’s solid from the foul line. When you put those two things together, she brings a pretty good scoring punch to us. Defensively, she does a nice job boxing out and is aggressive on the rim.”
Kavanagh also brings a lot of experience to the table, having played in all 22 games and averaging over 22 minutes a game last season. Kavanagh replaced Janette Wadolowski (sophomore), after she missed all of last season with an injury she had sustained during that Fall.
“She was one that we really missed last year,” said Forgione. “Janette is someone that can play anywhere on the floor. If you need her as a forward, she can step in. If you need her to run the point, she can step in. She can attack the rim. That’s something that she can do explosively. She is also a threat from the outside. She has an inside and outside game that we’re going to really rely on this year. I’m really excited to get her back healthy and in the lineup.”
Kavanagh will be splitting time between the guard and forward positions.
“[Kavanagh] was someone that really stepped in and played really hard for us,” the Knights coach said. “She’s kind of one of those unsung hero type of kids that does all the little things that you need to do to be successful. She’s not going to be really flashy or stand out, but she’s going to do the little things that really helps the team win.”
Verderame will be the other forward in the paint helping Natalie Wadolowski down on the post.”
Verderame gives the team a rare skill that not many of her teammates posses.
“She’s [Verderame] one that we’re going to look to give us minutes in the post,” said Forgione. “As a senior, she has the maturity and knowledge to really help us. She’s been doing a great job in practice and the preseason working on her game and also helping others get better. She’s going to really contribute some solid minutes for us this year that we are going to need throughout the season.”
Mackenzie Beaupre (sophomore) is the eighth player and another guard, who could come off the bench and give the Knights some minutes.
Speed is a word that Forgione uses to characterize this year’s team, as they may lack size, but are able to transition up and down the floor from offense to defense.
“We’re going to play an up-tempo style,” he said. “We like to run. We’re not going to be one of those teams that walks the ball up the court. Our posts are smaller and a little bit more athletic.”
The realignment of the Central Connecticut Conference created a Blue and White division for three regions in girls basketball: North, Central, and South. The three Blue Divisions each contain five schools, while the White Divisions hold six schools. Southington was placed in the Blue Division of the Central Region, along with Conard, Glastonbury, Hall, and Simsbury. Avon, Bulkeley, Farmington, NW Catholic, Weaver, and Windsor make up the White Division.
Out of the 20 games on Southington’s 2015-16 schedule, the Knights are set to play each team in the Blue Division twice (eight games), each team in the White Division once (six games), four non-regional teams (Rockville, Wethersfield, Manchester, and Bloomfield), and two coach’s picks (New Britain and Suffield).
Southington will face tough competition again this season, as Weaver is returning senior guard Shaquana (Shaq) Edwards, who was the state scoring leader, averaging 31.7 points per game (760 total points). She finished 11th in the nation in points per game. Avon is returning a six-foot-three center, Abby Laszewski, who has committed to play Division I basketball for the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin.
“We played a really competitive schedule, and this year, it’s going to be even tougher with the conference realignment,” the Southington coach said. “I honestly believe that out of our 11, we have 10 of the best 15 teams in the 33 conference. Everyone’s going to be beaten up and battling everyone every night. You have to bring your best every night. The girls are very smart and understand the task ahead of them.”
Forgione said that he really respects his girls for taking on this challenge and the mental and physical toughness it’s going to take to be successful.
“We’re going to have to take it one game at a time, stay the course, and stay mentally and physically tough,” said Forgione. “If you come out and see us, I think you’re going to see an exciting brand of basketball and great kids, who are working very hard.”