By BRIAN JENNINGS
Filling in the gaps for the Lady Knight basketball team’s starting lineup is the dilemma that Southington coach Mike Forgione will be faced with this season.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said the coach, who’s entering his 14th season as a head coach and seventh with the Knights. “I’ve probably never had a challenge like this one before. This is one of my biggest challenges to get these kids ready to play.”
Forgione has some talented players returning to the team, but he also had some important holes left by graduation. Southington will start the season with some questions that will need to be answered.
“We’re going to be inexperience, but the three players we got back are players,” said Forgione. “We’re going to have one of the better backcourts, I think. It’s just that we have to find kids with no varsity experience to fill the other roles. And with our schedule, I would say that it’s the hardest in the CCC.”
This isn’t the first time that Forgione has dealt with filling in the gaps. Because the Knights haven’t had a ton of depth in recent years, this conundrum seems to be a reoccurring theme, and it’s something that Forgione said will be the key to Southington’s success.
“I’m putting the freshmen and sophomores that are going to have to fill those gaps in an unfair position,” the coach said. “They really shouldn’t be thrown into what I’m having them do, based on our schedule. But I have to be patient. They are a talented group. They are committed and dedicated, and they want to learn and get better. Even though I’m putting them in this unfair position, I think they will respond.”
Southington finished the 2015-16 regular season at 17-3 overall and shared the CCC Central Blue title between Conard and Glastonbury with a 6-2 divisional record. It was the first time since 1997 that the Knights had won the divisional title.
Southington entered the postseason as the No. 3 seed in the CCC tournament. Following a pair of double digit home wins over No. 14 Middletown and No. 6 Weaver, the Knights advanced to the semifinals for the second-straight year, until their conference run came to an end in a 66-62 overtime loss to No. 2 EO Smith at Glastonbury High School.
The Panthers went on to claim their first ever CCC title by defeating top-seeded South Windsor, 81-68, in the final.
Southington qualified for the Class LL tournament for the 16th-consecutive year and advanced to the second round as the No. 7 seed with a 62-51 victory over No. 26 Norwalk at home in the first round. The Knights ended their season after falling to No. 10 Greenwich at home, 56-52. Greenwich later met up with No. 4 Stamford in the Class LL title game, where they fell short to the Black Knights, 50-45.
“Battling all the way to the end with Greenwich and only losing by five was a great year for the kids,” said Forgione. “I think we were real exciting, and the community really got behind us.”
Southington lost three seniors to graduation, including starting forward, Natalie Wadolowski. As a three-time all-league player and four-year starter, Wadolowski led the team last year in rebounds (254, 10.2 per game), steals (83, 3.3 per game), and blocks (30, 1.2 per game).
“We had a core group of seven last year, and we’re only down to three now,” the coach said. “Three of the seven were seniors. Natalie was a great presence in that post position, and is someone that is going to be huge to replace.”
The Knights will also be without junior starting point guard, Sarah Minkiewicz. Minkiewicz was the team’s fourth-leading scorer and started in 25 games, averaging over 26 and a half minutes last year.
“She decided not to play this year,” said Forgione. “She’s someone that was a big part of what we did last year. She was a presence, not only at the point guard, but at the wing as well. She was probably one of our best defensive players. It was a huge loss to our program.”
Senior guard, Maggie Meehan, was chosen to the lead the Knights this season as the team’s lone captain and senior. Meehan had the hot hand from beyond the arc last year, leading the team in three pointers (34-for-118). Meehan also averaged the most minutes on the court for the Knights as the team’s second-leading scorer (308 points).
Other key returning players include juniors Janette Wadolowski (guard), Hartlee Meier (forward); and sophomores Diane Williams (forward) and Kristen Longley (guard). As a two-time all-league player, Wadolowski was an all-around scorer for the Knights last year, leading the team in free throws (82-for-112)—shooting 73.2 percent from the charity stripe—two-point field goals (170-for-338), total field goals (178-for-369), and total points (446, 17.8 per game).
Other players that will look to compete for starting positions on the varsity team include sophomore Hailey Morelli (guard); and freshmen Madison Hulten (freshman), Katie D’Agostino (guard/forward), Megan Mikosz (forward), Brianna Harris (guard), Mackenzie Coppola (guard), Taylor Starr (guard/forward), and Callie Gendron (forward).
Forgione has never had that true, lengthy center in the paint during his tenure at Southington, but that has never an issue. Similar to last year, the backcourt will be the strength of the Knights again.
“I would put that backcourt against anyone in the area,” the coach said. “Our one senior and two juniors are college-level players. We may only have three, but I have three good ones.”
The style of play on the court will not be any different either, which is built on pure speed.
“We’re going to play our style,” said Forgione. “We’re going to push the ball up the floor. We’re going to be exciting and aggressive. We’re going to attack the basket and play full-court defense, dictating the pace of the game. Let’s take it to them, rather than have the other team dictate it to us.”
Looking at the regular season schedule, the Knights will be playing a new crossover schedule, which features games against divisional winners, Rocky Hill, Tolland, South Windsor, and Wethersfield. Cheshire and Suffield are the two non-conference games on their schedule.
Will they be ready to run? They always are.
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