By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Southington boys lacrosse team finished last season with a 4-12 record (0-4 in division), placing last in the CCC West. The Knights did not qualify for the conference tournament and missed the Class L state tournament for the first time since 2012.
Over his nine year career with the Knights, Coach Ron Chase’s teams have only missed three tournaments. But last year, it wasn’t for a lack of effort. In the days leading up to opening day, Southington’s starting offense was dropping like flies. In the days leading up to the season opener, the Knights lost five of their top offensive prospects.
Sure, they didn’t qualify for the tournament, but Chase did not fret. The Knights were plugging holes in their lineup all season, and it was hard to hold back the water.
“The guys on our team never gave up,” the coach said. “We were in almost every single game. There’s only a couple games that we lost pretty handily. We had some overtime games and were only a couple games away from making the playoffs. So, were we successful in keeping the team together with good spirts, the kids playing hard, and the kids competing everyday? Absolutely.”
Now, excitement is building again. Most of those projected starters from last year’s team have returned this spring. Hopefully, Southington’s scoring woes are behind them.
“It’s going to be nice to have those guys back,” said Chase. “They’re impact players for us. You can see it just with the past four days the impact that those guys have on the field.”
Last year’s record seemed to rally his team during the off-season, and Chase said that last year’s losing experience has been a catalyst in the off-season.
“The seniors this year are determined to make up for last year,” said Chase. “They’ve been playing and working out year-round. They’ve got a lot of experience now. You can tell out there that they put in a lot of work in during the offseason and are ready to go.”
Chase said that his expectations for this season are the same as every year: keep winning, one game at a time.
“That’s something that we put into effect a number of years ago,” he said. “I don’t care about nine games from now or the playoffs. We’re looking at winning the next game and getting better the next day. We want to improve so that we can win the next game.”
In order to get back to the tournament, Chase said that they have to stay together, have good team chemistry, and score a lot more goals this season.
“We struggled putting the ball in the net last year,” said Chase. “Our defense played very well, but our focus this year is executing our offense and putting the ball in the back of the net. We have a lot of guys that can score goals this year.”
For the first time in his tenure, Chase said that his offence might be better than his defense. Usually, it’s the other way around. Last year’s struggles led to a much more experienced bench. The Knights will enter the season with 30 varsity players and three full lines of midfielders.
“We never have that,” the coach said. “We have two full lines of attack. So we have a lot of depth and are competing everyday at practice. They’re pushing each other this year, which is nice. We just have to execute better than we did last year. We had opportunities to score last year, and we didn’t.”
This year, the question will be the defense. As experienced as the Knights are up front, the defense is the big question as the season unfolds.
“The skill is there, but there’s not a lot of experience,” said the coach. “We’re very athletic and fast. Right now, our offense is definitely our strongpoint. In years past, our defense has always been the strongpoint.”
One area that the Knights are really going to focus on this year is their man-up rotation.
“We struggle with that and I don’t know why,” the coach said. “We’re working on it, and we’ve got different personnel this year. We’re just not getting the looks that we need to get.”
The Knights graduated four seniors, including all-conference defenseman Steve Hamel and all-conference goalie Dan Saucier, but the Knights are returning 11 seniors, 10 juniors, and two sophomores with varsity experience.
The attack pack will incorporate senior Chris Gamber; juniors Cobey Kulas, Colton Brown, and Ryan Mailhot; and freshman Jake Walczak.
The midfield will include seniors Jacob Testa, Aron Zamfino, Chris Pestillo, Jonathan Moller, Michael Majchrzak, and Tyler Roecker; and juniors Nick Zukauskas, Justin Nogueira, Matt Gundersen, and Scott Mockler.
Mockler will be stepping into a new role this year of fulfilling faceoff duties. Last year’s first line midfield featured Testa, Majchrzak, and Zukauskas.
“Those three guys played together all year last year,” said Chase. “They have formed a really good bond. They know each other well. That offense just seems to run so much more smoothly when they’re in there.”
Defensemen will comprise of seniors Bryce Lynch, Dylan Kulas, and Matt Natelli; and juniors Brandon Slade and Taylor Beckham.
Testa and Gamber anchored the offense with 19 goals and five assists each. Gamber scored 39 goals his sophomore year, but fought off an injury all last year. Zukauskas was right behind the pair with 17 goals and 13 assists. Walczak scored nine goals, and Majchrzak had six goals and six assists.
Slade was second on the team in fielding with 43 ground balls. Majchrzak scooped up 38 and Testa with 37. Gundersen and Lynch both had 27 ground balls.
Senior Brandon Porter will look to fill the void at goalie, spending 88 minutes in the net. Porter allowed 17 goals, but saved 24 of 41 shots on goal.
Seniors Jarod Florian and Aiden Chubet played on the team in past seasons, but did not play lacrosse last year. Florian is coming off of a hockey season with the Hall-Southington Warrior-Knights, where he scored a team high of 20 goals and dished out 9 assists. Florian and Chubet will look to contribute to the team as attackers.
Other newcomers looking to make an impact on the varsity lineup include freshmen Evan Johanns (midfielder), Eli Steindl (defenseman), and Matthew Thompson (midfielder).
Not only is this one of the biggest senior classes he’s ever had, but Chase said it’s by far his top two senior classes he’s ever had.
“We’ve got a number of younger guys on the roster that really shined in the tryouts,” the coach said. “They’re [seniors] really taking them under the wing. And they’ve got great team chemistry. They’ve been on teams that have won. So they know what it takes to win those games and want to get back there. They have a drive that I’ve never seen before in players.”
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