By BRIAN JENNINGS
They’re young. They’re promising. They’re starters on the Lady Knight basketball team. They’re the three freshmen, and they go to war for each other.
Madison Hulten (forward), Brianna Harris (guard), and Katie D’Agostino (guard/forward) would have been happy with spots on the varsity bench, but when they received their jerseys to play on the varsity squad, the last thing they expected was to each start this season. Fate had other ideas.
Natalie Wadolowski wasn’t the tallest girl on the court for Southington last year, but she was definitely a force to be reckoned with in the paint. Natalie anchored the team defensively by leading the Knights in rebounds, steals, and blocks. She was also the team’s third-leading scorer. But since then, the team lost Natalie to graduation. In comes Hulten.
“There’s a lot of pressure being put on you when you start in your first game,” said Hulten. “I was so nervous, and I know that Katie was nervous because she was starting that game too. There is a lot of pressure going from an eighth-grade travel team to varsity high school basketball, instead of a freshmen team.”
Sarah Minkiewicz was also a freshman last year, but she started 25 games and averaged over 26 minutes as the team’s starting point guard. However, coming into this season, Minkiewicz switch sports and quit the basketball team to run for the indoor track and field team. In comes D’Agostino.
“It’s more exciting and fast-paced,” said D’Agostino. “It’s definitely a difference from JV or middle school last year. But it’s fun.”
Janette Wadolowski was the team’s all-round talent last year who could play anywhere on the court, as well as score from anywhere on the court. As a sophomore, she paced the Knights in points and free throws.
Returning as a junior this season, a lot was expected out of Janette. However, in the second game of the season, she went down in the first half with a hand injury. In comes Harris.
“As a freshman, you’d be nervous,” said Harris. “But once you get your first-game jitters out, it’s fun and exciting to play with the upperclassmen.”
Janette went on to miss the next nine games, but the Knights went 3-6 during that span. It’s not great, but the team could have easily folded and went 0-9.
“It was very stressful the very first game we didn’t have her because we didn’t have one of our starting varsity players,” said Hulten. “But now that I think about it, I feel like the way we played was good, even though she was a main key in how we play and improve.”
The three freshmen played a large role in helping the Knights stay in playoff contention, as Southington now sits at 6-7 overall. Without Janette, the Knights upset an undefeated Glastonbury team, 43-34, at home and even knocked off a Wethersfield team, 51-47, on the road that won their division last year.
“We’re going up against seniors and juniors that are going off to college next year,” said D’Agostino. “They have a seat playing somewhere. I think we did pretty well though, considering our situation of losing Janette and playing against these really hard teams. We held our own.”
Some thought that Janette wouldn’t return to the hardwood until sometime in February. Some even thought that she wouldn’t return at all this season. But she did return, and it was sooner than the Southington community expected.
In a home game against Tolland on Wednesday, Jan. 25, Janette suited up for the first time since suffering her injury. She scored nine points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help lead the Knights to a three-point victory, 51-48.
“I was just thinking that we had to get Janette back and make the tournament so she could play in the tournament,” said Harris.
Starting freshmen is nothing new to Southington coach Mike Forgione. Janette and senior guard Maggie Meehan both played as freshmen. Wether freshman or senior, expectations remain the same. Play hard. Hulten likes that about her coach.
“He helps us through all of our warm-ups and drills,” she said. “He helps us understand it completely, so that we’re ready for the game.”
Forgione can be known to yell from time to time, but D’Agostino said that it’s all for the right reasons.
“He doesn’t just look at us as freshmen and take it easy on us,” said D’Agostino. “He might scream at us more because he knows that we have potential. We know he’s trying to help us out.”
Meehan and junior guard/forward Hartlee Meier have been leading the team offensively this season, averaging 22 and 11.9 points per game. However, the freshmen said that they are comfortable with their unselfish roles on the team.
“We’re supposed to commit to the offensive points, of course, but this is Maggie’s last year,” said Harris. “We should give her the season that she deserves and give her some points.”
Meehan leads the Knights in points, free throws, assists, and steals.
“We obviously contribute to those points sometimes too,” said Hulten. “But we should win these games for her and make her last season memorable.”
Although Meehan leads the team in almost every statistical category, Hulten has been anchoring the defense. In 13 games thus far, she has a total of 92 rebounds and averages 7.1 rebounds per game as the tallest girl on the court for the Knights this season.
“I feel like I’m doing pretty well with offensive and defensive rebounds,” said Hulten. “I’m getting better at making my post layups and with shooting.”
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