By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knights (2-0) kicked off the 2016 season with back-to-back wins and a monumental mark in the program’s history.
Southington hosted Newington (1-2) on Tuesday, April 5 and went the full five sets to earn a 3-2 victory (25-19, 23-25, 25-15, 24-26, 15-8).
The Knights went up 1-0 in the match by taking the first game, 25-19, but trailed mostly throughout the second game. The Knights found themselves down by as much as nine midway through the game, but managed to cut the deficit to two points. However, the Indians ended any possibility of a comeback, winning the game, 25-23.
Both teams were deadlocked at 12-12 in the third game, before the Knights broke open the score with a 6-0 run, which helped them secure the game, 25-15. And in the fourth set, both teams were again tied, this time at 24-24, but the Indians stayed alive by winning the last two points, 26-24.
A seesaw battle in the deciding fifth set brought both teams full circle, but three spurts of 3-0 runs helped raise the Knights to the top of the mountain, claiming the match with a 15-8 clincher.
Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos said that he saw his Knights as a much livelier team in the fifth set.
“There was more communication,” the coach said. “There was creativeness in the offense. And the players just seemed to be on board and ready to play. Their backs were against the wall. You have to be ready to play. It was a good test today.”
Coming into the fifth set though, Gianacopolos said that he needed to change up the game plan.
“It was hard for me because I questioned the lineup,” the coach said. “I kept it with games one through four, but we just needed a little something. We didn’t know what it was.”
Gianacopolos moved middle blocker Jack Dietz to the right side and put his son, Louis Gianacopolos Jr., at setter.
“That was actually one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make in my 14 years,” said Gianacopolos. “To make those decisions is difficult. He’s got the same last name as I do. That’s his problem, but it’s not his fault.”
Dietz and Gianacopolos Jr. anchored the offensive attack up front with 11 kills each. Dietz finished with a hitting percentage of 0.714 on 14 attempts. Outside hitter Mike Aberizk trailed with 10 kills.
Gianacopolos Jr. also went 22-for-24 serving with three aces, and controlled the defensive area of the court with 11 digs. Aberizk also served up three aces, going 15-for-20 behind the line, and contributed 10 digs as well. Libero Tim Cocozza went 20-for-21 serving with a pair of aces.
Dietz dominated the net defensively with seven blocks (5 assisted, 2 solo). Middle blocker Devin Prive cleaned up for Dietz with six blocks (4 solo, 2 assisted).
Setter Jordan Meier dished out a team high of 35 assists. Outside hitter Brian Durocher received 25 serves successfully.
“In the beginning of the game, we came out strong,” said Gianacopolos. “In game one, we controlled the ball well. Maybe it was home-court advantage, and being warm and ready to go. Out of the 10 minutes we had to warm up on our own, I noticed that the team stepped off the court about a minute and a half to two minutes earlier. They told me that they were ready to play.”
The last time the Knights defeated Newington was back on Wednesday, May 8, 2013 in a 3-0 win (30-28, 27-25, 25-18) at home.
The win over Newington marked the 200th win of the program, and was certainly of great significance and value to Gianacopolos. But as he explains, the win couldn’t have come without the various players he’s coached throughout the years.
“I sent out an email to the alumni congratulating them on their 200th program win,” the coach said. “A lot of our alumni family and our present family replied back, congratulating me as well. I’m the coach that works hard in practice, getting these guys ready. But when it comes down to it, these guys are the ones who were there and played for that. So I don’t take that 200th win personally. It’s a team and group effort, but I was very proud of what we’ve done.”
Gianacopolos went on to say that reaching 200 wins says something about the program, knowing that the team went 1-15 in his first year.
Knights fly past Falcons
A couple days later on Thursday, Southington hosted Fermi (0-2) in their second straight home game, where the Knights swept the Falcons in straight games, 3-0.
The Knights commanded the first game and only allowed three points, 25-3, going on runs of 11-0 and 9-0.
The Falcons battled back in the second game though, taking an early 4-0 lead. But the Knights rallied back to take the game, 25-15, jumping out to a 21-8 lead after going on a 13-0 stretch.
The third game featured numerous tie scores, eventually knotting up at 20-20. But the Knights closed out the match by going on a 5-1 run, 25-21.
Durocher spiked nine kills on 13 attempts with a hitting percentage of .538, and received 14 serves successfully. Dietz was not far behind with seven kills.
Prive went 17-for-17 serving with five aces, and led the team up front with two blocks (assisted). Aberizk went 12-for-14 behind the line with three aces, and defended eight digs. Cocozza also served up three aces, going 8-for-9.
Gianacopolos Jr. passed a team high of 19 assists, and dug five balls.
“Trusting and knowing what we do at the net makes defense easier,” the coach said. “I have defensive captains, who are in charge of the blockers. If they continue to talk, that’s when defense is easier for them, and they get better.”
Against Newington, the Knights passed the ball with a percentage of 2.0. But against Fermi, the Knights
“Our offense is much better today and one of the things that I wanted to look at is our pass rating,” said Gianacopolos. “Today, we controlled the ball to a 2.32, which means that we’re closer to perfect. I don’t strive for perfection, but that is a good pass rating. So I think controlling the ball today was key.”
Gianacopolos said that a key area of the court that the team is still working on is finding what rotation is the best rotation.
“We’re still moving players in and out,” the coach said. “Tonight, we were able to move a lot in and out. I’m still not 100 percent sold on what our rotation’s going to be, but I’m getting lots of feedback from all of our players.”
The Knights are looking to keep their two-game win streak rolling when they host Staples (1-1) on Monday, April 11, Enfield (1-1) on Wednesday, April 13, and East Hartford (2-0) on Friday, April 15. The Knights are scheduled to cap off their six-game home stretch to start the season when they host Farmington (1-2) the following week on Friday, April 22.
The Knights are currently third out of 20 schools in the CIAC’s Class L rankings. Hall has yet to play its first match.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings @southingtonobserver.com.