By BRIAN JENNINGS
Last spring, the Lady Knights qualified 18 athletes to the Class LL meet in 13 different events and advanced six athletes to the state open, and the 4x800m relay team scored a top 10 finish at the state open.
After sending a relay team to the state open in last year’s outdoor season and this past indoor season, Southington head coach Dan Dachelet said that the program’s standards are starting to shift a little bit as the Knights gain more success.
“You put that many kids in the state meet, and the next year you want to put five or 10 more,” said Dachelet. “The proverbial bar is going to continue to be raised every single year. That’s my job too, to make sure that happens.”
It won’t be easy. The Knights graduated seven athletes from last year’s varsity team, four of which competed at the state meet, but the Knights return 14 athletes with postseason experience.
Seniors Erin Angelillo, Lauren Perkowski, Jess Howe, and Grace Cardozo have been chosen to lead the girls track and field team as the team captains for the upcoming season.
Angelillo finished 13th in the 1600m and played a pivotal role in two relays. This spring, she may look to dabble in the 3200m race. Perkowski finished 19th in the 3200m run at the state meet and will look to keep pace atop the distance rankings. Howe reached the postseason in the 4x100m relay, and looks to lead the sprinters and jumpers this spring. Cardozo completes the captain core as a one of the most versatile athletes on the team. She should be an impact athlete in the hurdles and all three jumping events.
Dachelet said that they have decided to go with four captains because of the size of the team.
“I wanted to be able to actually give them more than just an honorary title,” said Dachelet. “I wanted to give them responsibilities because they are running different parts of the show…They are vocal and the other kids respect them. They are people I can trust if I need to get something done.”
In addition, Southington returns a number of seasoned veterans with seniors Emily Maciejewski (sprints), Jami Pliego (mid-distance/relays), Gabi Napoli (distance/ relays), and Kelsea Allen (sprinter/high jumper), along with juniors Rylee Van Epps (hurdles), Marisa Matthews (mid-distance/distance), and Catherine Myers (distance).
Underclassmen that will be looking to make an impact in the varsity lineup include sophomores Isabella Scalise (distance), Allie Brown (mid-distance/distance), Laini Pizzitola (distance), Megan Biscoglio (pole vault), Abby Connolly (mid-distance), Olivia Fournier (mid-distance), Sarah Minkiewicz (mid-distance), Taylor Hubert (mid-distance/distance/relays), Tayler Riddick (jumps), and Amanda Howe (throws). Freshmen Julia Michnowicz (distance), Kate Kemnitz (mid-distance/distance), and Natalie Verderame (sprinter/mid-distance) could make an immediate contribution.
Napoli, Pliego, Allen, Myers, Van Epps, A. Howe, Fournier, Hubert, Riddick, Brown, Connolly all competed at last year’s state meet, and Dachelet said that a main goal is to qualify as many as possible for the postseason.
“We’re a young, growing team still,” said the coach. “We’re not going to be graduating a lot of seniors. We’ve got a lot of underclassmen that are starting to develop skills.”
Dachelet said that most of the development comes from technical events, which requires some persistence over time before you start to see the results, in terms of performances improving. Maximizing practice time and trying to get as much accomplished as possible are the biggest things the program has learned from last year.
“Last year as a coaching staff, some of us were fairly new at this with a couple years at the high school level,” said Dachelet. “There’s definitely a learning curve to figure out how to structure and organize a practice so that kids can move from A to B. When you have 200-plus kids, it’s a challenge to keep everyone actively engaged during practice.”
Another new change in tasks for running this year’s team came in the form of holding tryouts. Dachelet said that he wanted to trim the squad to 80 athletes to allow coaches to better focus on the training.
“When you have too many kids, you’re not effective,” he said. “It’s somewhat dangerous.”
Dachelet said that those returning athletes that qualified for the state meet last year have a new goal to finish with higher marks in the standings this season. Some are even tasked with reaching the top 10.
Dachelet said that sending a 4x800m relay to the state open and nationals really opened quite a few kids’ eyes to what the possibilities are.
“Instead of thinking that the state meet is the end-all-be-all, now there are other things that are driving them,” the coach said. “For the kids on varsity, they are looking to really make it to that next level. The girls definitely have been talking amongst themselves on the goals they want to set. And one of them is going to nationals.”
Dachelet said that the Knights will be strong from the mid-distance to distance events. But that’s not to say that the technical events in the field aren’t coming along either. Getting more girls to come out for the field events and perform at the state level is something that Dachelet and his staff has been working on since his tenure started. Staying healthy will also serve as key to a successful season.
Dachelet is entering his second season with the program.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.