By BRIAN JENNINGS
The wait is over. The Lady Knight soccer team qualified for the Class LL tournament for the first time in Southington coach Mike Linehan’s three-year tenure with a pair of victories over the past week. The last time Southington made the tournament was 2013 when they just got in as a No. 28 seed.
“I am very proud of the girls,” said the coach. “The season is really coming together, but the girls recognized that they want more than just making the tournament. I love their attitude.”
Now, the Knights shift gears. Making the state tournament is one thing, but having success throughout the tournament is another thing for Linehan and his girls. The last time Southington made it past the first round of the tournament was 2008.
With five games remaining in the regular season, Linehan said that the team’s focus now shifts to earning the highest seed possible with the hope of hosting at least one home game in the state tournament. The last time Southington played a home game in the tournament was 2007 when the Knights were a No. 3 seed. The Knights advanced all the way to the quarterfinals.
“We’re in a good place right now, and with five more games left, I told the girls that we’re not going to lose again this year,” said Linehan. “We have higher expectations for ourselves and an understanding of what’s required to win. It’s fun.”
Southington earned their berth in the state tournament by blanking Bulkeley-Weaver, 5-0, at home on Tuesday, Oct. 11.
Taylor Hubert scored a pair of goals in the first half. Emma Panarella, Nikki Carter, and Kelly Doyle hit the back of the net each with a goal in the second half. Panarella, Katherine Crouse, Caroline Kemnitz, and Natalie Verderame contributed with an assist apiece.
Southington took 29 shots on goal and four corner kicks, holding Bulkeley-Weaver without a shot on goal or a corner kick.
Three days later, the Knights extended their winning streak to six games with a dramatic last minute victory in Farmington. The Indians defeated the Knights twice last year, coming back from a 1-0 deficit at halftime to secure a 2-1 victory, as well as a 1-0 win in overtime. This time, Southington came out on top.
“This game was no different,” said Linehan. “I thought that Farmington had the better of the first half with more possession. I even had in my mind that we might go in overtime again. But we settled down in the second half and outworked them, which made the difference.”
Late in the second half, Melissa Drexler broke the scoreless tie, feeding Panarella with the ball between Farmington’s 25 and 30-yard line. Linehan said that Panarella has been working on her shot in practice, and it paid off. She booted the ball over defender’s heads to score the gamewinner with 1:41 left in the contest.
“When she took the shot, I actually thought it was going to go over the top, but it came down just enough to sneak under the bar and into the back of the net,” the coach said. “It was at an angle where the flight of the ball was in my direct line to the goal, so I saw the whole thing. I’ll never forget that goal for a very long time.”
Farmington had their chances. With 40 seconds remaining, an Indian player dropped a shot over the back of the Southington defense, creating a scrum in front of the net. Nikki Carter kicked the ball out of bounds, and the final 10 seconds ticked off the clock.
“That was great and so special for that group,” said Linehan. “My hope is that this will be their driver for the remainder of the season into the postseason.”
Southington took seven shots on goal and three corner kicks. Janelle Mangassarian saved six of Farmington’s 10 shots on goal.
Southington is currently 8-3 overall and 4-3 in the CCC Central Blue. The Knights have recorded shutouts in all eight of their wins this year. Now, they’ll look to improve their seeding with out-of-conference games this week against Hartford Public (0-10-1) and Maloney (4-7-1).