The Lady Knight field hockey team hasn’t been back to the Class L tournament since 2014. Not being able to get over that hump in close games and the harsh reality of playing in the toughest division in the CCC have weighed in heavily on why Southington missed the postseason by a game the past two seasons.
“It’s those 1-0 and 2-1 games where we just can’t seem to finish,” said Southington coach Erin Luddy. “Defensively, we’ve been strong the last couple of years, but we just can’t seem to get the offense clicking soon enough. That’s what we really have to overcome.”
However, Southington’s luck could change this season, and Luddy said that she has already seen a difference in just one day of practice. The addition of a new preseason clinic in town could be part of the reason why the girls seemed more driven and committed coming into camp. But it also could be from the level of interest, as more and more girls are starting to make field hockey their primary sport.
“Field hockey always seems to be that second sport for a lot of them,” the coach said. “But it’s kind of changing and not just viewed as a sport to stay in shape for the other seasons. It’s something that more and more of them are equaling with what they play in other seasons.”
A large number of underclassmen came out for the team the past two years, eager to make the varsity roster. After around 30 freshmen turned out for last year’s tryouts, that number remained consistent for this year’s tryouts, and the upperclassmen took note.
Not only have large numbers of underclassmen been showing up for tryouts, but girls have also been coming into camp in better shape each year. That’s good because the Knights lost 10 players to graduation in positions all across the field, including their starting goalie.
“No one seems to be tiring,” said Luddy. “They just want to keep playing. A lot more of them did that offseason conditioning in preparation for fall.”
Other than the fact that the Knights are returning mostly defenseman, the team should bond well together. Whether it’s communication on the field during a game or passing to one another during drills in practice, unity of play will serve as a strength for the team this season.
“At this early stage, they just seem more cohesive than they have in the past,” the coach said. “I’m not sure if it’s the other sports or that they’ve had an opportunity to play together already, but they just seem like they’re on.”
A big part of the team’s cohesiveness comes from strong leadership by the senior class. Over the summer, more seniors were involved in offseason training than usual.
“In the past, half of them would lead it,” said Luddy. “In this, they seemed to have all taken turns. They all got to know more of the girls together.”
The Knights struggled with putting the ball in the cage last year, as they were outscored 41 to 16 in goals by their opponents. Offense will certainly be the focal point of improvement, but Luddy said that she hopes the success Southington had with scoring in lacrosse during the spring will cross over to the fall.
“I’m looking for more of that aggressive play in the circle,”the coach said. “Sometimes, we get the notion of being too nice to each other, not thinking about putting the ball in the cage.”
The Knights finished last year’s regular season at 5-11 overall (2-5 home, 3-6 away), placing third in the CCC North Division with a 4-2 record.
Team captains have not yet been named for the upcoming season, but the keys returners include seniors Molly Dobratz (defenseman), Jessica Pesce (defenseman), Sydney Rice (midfielder/forward), and Brittney Sao (midfielder). Dobratz is the only all-conference player returning from last year’s team. Senior Madeline Belfonti will step into the cage as the team’s starting goalie.
After a new realignment of the CCC, Southington is now in the South Division, along with Avon, East Catholic, Glastonbury, Newington, NW Catholic, South Windsor, and Wethersfield. The North Division features Conard, Enfield, EO Smith, Farmington, Hall, Simsbury, and Windsor. The Knights will play Canton twice as the only non-conference opponent on their schedule.
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