Laughter and smiles filled the turf field as the Lady Knight field hockey team went through their conditioning before practice. It wasn’t a sign of goofing off. Instead, it was simply a team coming together and having fun doing it too.
“They’ve been working out on their own as a group in much bigger numbers than I’ve seen in the past,” said Southington coach Erin Luddy. “They love hanging out with one another. They’re actually looking forward to when they can do their bonding. They’re starting that list already.”
On paper, most of the 2016 varsity roster consists of athletes from both the high school’s softball and girls lacrosse teams that have been playing together since they were underclassmen. But once the ball got rolling on the turf, you could see how well the team meshed by their chemistry.
“They’re excited and ready to play,” the coach said. “They can’t wait for the first game. It’s nice to see that intensity so early in the first two days of the season. They want a winning season and are striving for that.”
The Knights finished the 2015 regular season with an overall record of 5-10-0-1 and went 2-5 in the North Region of the Central Connecticut Conference, finishing fifth out of seven teams. The Knights went 4-4 in their final eight games of the regular season, but missed the Class L tournament by a game. No. 6 Wilton defeated No. 5 Cheshire, 1-0, in the championship game to claim the Class L title.
“I would say that there were probably about five games that were lost within the last 10 minutes or so,” said Luddy. “They were one-goal games, and unfortunately, those goals didn’t go our way. We dug ourselves a hole and didn’t win enough games at the end to get in to the tournament.”
Inconsistency of making the state tournament as a high seed or not making the tournament at all has pestered the Knights in recent years, resulting in an absence from the postseason since 2014. However, winning those close games is what Luddy said she believes will prove to be the difference between making a tournament appearance this season and sitting at home in mid-November.
“I see them as more confident in getting those games, even if we are behind,” the coach said. “They would fight to get us the win. I see those one-goal games definitely swinging our way this year.”
Along with key injuries, a young defense with very little varsity time made it challenging to build off of any success the Knights achieved throughout the year.
“My starters were basically sophomores last year,” said Luddy. “I think that it was definitely a little bit of a rebuilding year, and that played into why we didn’t make the tournament. With that experience behind them now, they’ll be stronger and much more prepared back there this year.”
Although the Knights allowed a total of 51 goals last year, Luddy said that defense will be a definite strength of the team this season with most of the varsity starters returning.
“They all played last year, so they understand,” the coach said. “It’s going to be filling in the forward and midfield gaps. It’s kind of the same as last year. Unfortunately, scoring was difficult for us last year, but we’re hoping to improve that this year.”
On the offensive side of the ball, scoring also came as a difficulty for the Knights and is an area that Luddy said the team is going to keep working on. The team scored a total of just 14 goals and suffered nine shutouts in 16 games last year.
“We played a lot of defense last year, but are looking forward to having more opportunities to score, rather than being scored upon,” said Luddy. “I have to find the ones who want the ball and are actually going to shoot when they’re in front of the cage.”
One of the new CIAC rule changes that will affect upcoming season is the implementation of the Long Hit Procedure, a rule that Luddy said will give the team more playing space and scoring opportunities.
“There are no long hits anymore,” the coach said. “Instead of going to the corner for the long hit after the ball goes off the end line, the free hit will be taken from the 25-yard line. Defensively, you have to be ready for it.”
The Knights graduated six players from last year’s team, including Kaylee Graef, Kelsey Snodgrass (all-conference), and Angelina Zollo. Graef and Snodgrass led the team with three goals each.
Seniors Hallie Altwies (midfielder), Michaela Carrera (defenseman), and Amanda Delorme (goalie) were voted by their teammates and coaching staff to lead the Knights as the team captains for the upcoming season.
“Each has leadership qualities that others noticed,” said Luddy. “We see them as the go-to players on and off the field.”
Other returning seniors include, Jen Briscoe (forward), Bianca D’Amore (forward/midfielder), Isabella DiBattista (forward), Marissa Matarazzo (midfielder), Amanda Morach (defenseman), Ariel Perry (midfielder), and Alexa Zborowski (forward).
Returning juniors include Maddie Belfonti (goalie), Megan Biscoglio (forward/midfielder), Molly Dobratz (defenseman), Brooke Garcia (midfielder), Lauren Graef (forward/midfielder), Nicole Martocchio (forward/midfielder), Jessie Pesce (defenseman), Sydney Rice (forward/midfielder), and Brittney Sao (forward/midfielder). Julia Jackman (midfielder) and Megan Matthews (forward) are the lone returning sophomores.
Rice led the team in assists and Delorme saved 220 shots in the cage for the Knights. Rice and Delorme are the only returning all-conference players.
“Those who are coming back had time to play last year and have the experience at the varsity level,” the coach said. “It’s not a matter of inexperience in the varsity games anymore. This is a strong underclassmen group that some had varsity time, and I’m looking forward to their contributions this year.”
Luddy is entering her eighth year as head coach of the varsity program.
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