By BRIAN JENNINGS
Following Southington’s win at South Windsor on Saturday, Feb. 4, Southington coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell visited her former C.A.T.S. gymnastics coach, Manny Bonilla, in the hospital. Bonilla spent the past three years battling a rare genetic cancer in his jaw and eventually passed away during the early hours of Sunday morning, moments after O’Donnell met with him.
At the Valentine’s Invitational, the Knights donned white t-shirts that garnered the phrase, “#mannystrong”, written in front of a black ribbon. Southington’s performance at the event was clearly inspired.
Before Southington competed on bars, their coach Kaitlyn O’Donnell gave the team a pep talk.
“I told them that Manny was such a fighter,” the coach said. “We’re in a tough situation for ourselves, and he would want us to fight through and do our best. I think that really inspired them. It was a cool experience for us and a nice way to remember him.”
It wasn’t their best score of the season, but Southington’s 132.3 at Whiting Lane School in West Hartford on Friday, Feb. 10 edged South Windsor (131.65) by 0.65 to capture the title at the seven-team competition. The Knights dedicated the meet and the win to Bonilla.
“We hit bars for one of the first times this year. That was a big moment for us,” said O’Donnell. “It was kind of weird because they weren’t flashing any scores. We really had no idea where we were the entire night. But I knew that we needed to definitely hit our bar routines, in order to circle a win.”
Glastonbury (130.55) placed third, followed by Conard (129.2), Farmington (126.95), Wethersfield (126.7), and Hall (92.3).
Southington placed first on floor (33.9) and finished as runner-up on vault (33.4) and beam (32.8). South Windsor placed first on beam. Glastonbury placed first on vault and bars.
Rachel Williams (34.2) edged out Glastonbury’s Emily Graef (34.05) by 0.15 to finish first overall in all-around.
“Rachel was very determined,” said O’Donnell. “She hit every event, even though she’s kind of been struggling on bars for the last few meets. That’s something that we’ve been focusing on in practice.”
Williams marshaled the Knights on floor (1st, 9.1) and beam (T1st, 8.8) as well.
“She was on and prepared,” the coach said. “Some kids kind of tire as the season goes on, but she’s one of those kids that continues to build each meet. She’s just building upon what she’s been doing.”
Kat Rothstein finished sixth overall in all-around (33.25) and paced the team on bars (T7th, 8.5).
“She has been looking really good lately,” said O’Donnell. “She’s doing awesome on bars and beam. I think she’s just becoming more consistent and confident in the all-around.”
Kayla Birmingham finished 15th overall in all-around (32). Taryn Meenan finished a couple spots behind in 17th (31.55). Both led the Knights by tying for third on vault (8.5) as well.
Kaitlyn O’Donnell currently has five Valentine’s Invitational titles in her five-year tenure with Southington and has yet to lose a single regular season meet, currently holding a coaching record of 32-0 with the program.
The Knights will look to remain undefeated when they close out the regular season this week with a road trip to Glastonbury on Friday, Feb. 17. Southington is currently 6-0 overall.