By BRIAN JENNINGS
Her close friends and family know her as “Bean” and “DD,” but to most people, she is simply known as a winner.
Lady Knight softball coach Davina Hernandez may carry a particular swag when it comes to running her program and she might wear her lucky, red turf shoes to every game for good luck, but one thing is for certain: she loves the game of softball and it shows.
Hernandez was recently selected as the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance Doc McInerney High School Coaches of the Year. Sheehan baseball coach Matt Altieri was also chosen as a recipient of the award. Altieri led Sheehan to the Class M title in June, where they beat second-seeded Montville, 5-0, in the final.
Altieri, the coach of the year recipient in a male sport, and Hernandez, the coach of the year recipient in a female sport, are to be honored at the 75th Gold Key Dinner on Sunday, April 24 at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville.
When asked how she felt about receiving this award, Hernandez said that she was quite surprised.
“When you think of this award, typically, I would expect someone that has been in the game a long time,” She said. “I’m really honored, but is it something that you expect in your first two years of coaching? No.”
Hernandez won two awards prior to this award, receiving the Connecticut High School Coaches Association (CHSCA) Class LL Coach of the Year award after winning her first state title in her first year as head coach of the Lady Knights in 2014 and the New Haven Register Coach of the Year award in 2015.
“It was pretty cool to have won one award that was selected by coaches and one that was selected by media,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez first dug her red cleats into the Southington soil of the Lady Knights’ softball field as one of the assistant coaches, but took over the team in 2014 after former coach John Bores retired. In just her first year as the team’s head coach, Hernandez led the No.1 Lady Knights to their second-straight Class LL title after defeating No.7 Amity, 1-0, after 15 innings of play.
The Knights finished the year with an undefeated 24-0 record, and her second year wasn’t much different.
Last June, Hernandez helped lead Southington back to the summit, arriving at the Class LL championship game after a second-straight undefeated regular season. The No.1 Knights completed a 5-4 comeback victory over No.2 Cheshire with a walk-off sacrifice fly in the ninth, after being down 4-0 through four innings, en rout to their third-straight title.
The win placed capped a 24-0 season and stretched the program’s win streak to 70 games, eight short of tying Seymour’s state record. Southington also finished seventh in the country on MaxPreps.com’s “Xcellent 25 Writers’ Poll.”
After back-to-back, 24-0 seasons, Hernandez is now 48-0 with two Class LL titles in just two years as head coach of the program. That’s pretty much as good as it gets for any two-year coach, but Hernandez admits that she did not expect to have so much success so quickly.
“People keep asking me what I’m going to do when I lose,” she said. “As a coach, you expect to lose every season. It’s pretty rare that you don’t.”
Hernandez said that her team hasn’t really held the pressure of winning over their heads.
“I truly challenge my girls to just do the best that they can,” the coach said. “When we lose, it’s not going to be the end of the world. We’re going to move on and continue with our season. It’s going to happen. It’s part of the game, coaching, and being an athlete.”
And as far as the records, wins, and losses go, Hernandez said that she tries not to think too much about it.
“I really just focus on the fact that we lost a lot of players last year,” said Hernandez. “So I’m really just excited to get out there this year and see what’s going to happen with our new group of girls.”
Hernandez said that anyone who has been to their games and watched them practice knows that the Knights are not just good because Southington softball is good.
“We’re good because girls and our coaches continue to set that bar high,” she said. “It’s definitely not something that’s guaranteed every year. I really just want our program to be very competitive and our culture to remain the same, regardless of whether we win a state championship or not.”
Hernandez said that it hasn’t been easy for the Knights, as there were a lot of games that they shouldn’t have won over the last three years, but her players proved otherwise.
“That really says a lot about the girls that I’ve been coaching and the perseverance they’ve had to push through those games when we’re down,” said Hernandez.
After a standout career at Bristol Central, Hernandez played four seasons at UMass for the Minutewomen softball team. As a sophomore, she was chosen to play on the Puerto Rican National Team.
Hernandez said that her playing career has played a vital role on coaching, but having a lot of great coaches over the years has really helped shape the coach she is today.
“A big part of taking your experience as a player and carrying it over to coaching is taking what you’ve learned from your coaches,” she said. “It’s a very popular game with a lot of different techniques and styles that are being taught, but I’ve had success with hitting techniques and defensive strategies that I was taught.”
Hernandez said that she has really enjoyed carrying a lot of the culture she learned internationally and at UMass over to her team.
“There has been a lot of change at Southington in the last few years,” said Hernandez. “There have been some changes with our hitting style and some of the things we do defensively. We’ve smashed a ton of records with base running and sort of changed our dynamic as a team.”
But through all of her accolades on and off the field, Hernandez said that none of this would have been possible without the help of the people around her.
“I’m not anyone without the girls that have been out there for the past two to three years,” the coach said. “It’s definitely a reflection of the type of players that I’ve had and the coaching staff that has been around me, starting with John Bores my first year.”
Hernandez said that she thinks you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.
“An award like this is hard to accept it as your own by yourself because there’s so many things that have to happen, in order for me to have the success that I’ve had as a coach,” said Hernandez.
Former welterweight boxing champion Marlon Starling, New England/Hartford Whalers owner and founder Howard Baldwin, 1960 U.S. Hockey Olympic gold medalist Bob McVey, Trinity College squash coach Paul Assaiante, and longtime Greenwich High School boys swimming coach Terry Lowe will receive Gold Keys at the dinner as well.
The Gold Key Dinner is scheduled to begin at 4 pm, and tickets can be purchased by contacting CSWA President Matthew Conyers of the Hartford Courant. Conyers can be contacted at 860-874-4166 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact vice president Tim Jensen of Patch Media Corp. at email@example.com.
Tickets can also be obtained by mailing a check to the Connecticut Sports Writers’ Alliance, P.O. Box 70, Unionville, CT, 06085.