By BRIAN JENNINGS
Coach Mike Forgione has boasted winning seasons at Southington ever since he arrived, but this season might be the toughest challenge he’s faced. This winter, Forgione welcomes one of the youngest teams he’s ever had in his coaching career.
But don’t count them out. His players seem to love being around each other, and the Knights have a way of rising to the challenge.
The coach said that he can be pretty demanding, trying to push his players to get the most out of their abilities, but this young group of up-and-comers seem to embrace the challenge. Forgione said that they want to learn and get better, and he’s never had a team that supports each other as much as this group does.
“They are in this together. That’s for sure,” said Forgione. “We’re going to have to go through some bumps in the road, but they really enjoy being in the program. You could tell that they love coming to practice and being around each other every day.”
The Lady Knights finished last year’s regular season at 12-8 overall (5-5 home, 7-3 away), going 7-7 in CCC Central Region and 4-4 in CCC Central Blue. In the postseason they fell, 92-82, at No. 2 Middletown in the first round of the CCC tournament as the 15th seed, and they fell, 54-43, at No. 2 Enfield in the quarterfinals of the Class LL tournament as the 23rd seed.
“I think we were the first 23rd seed ever to make the quarterfinals in the Class LL,” said Forgione. “I think we’ve established ourselves, not only in our conference, but now across the state as a program that competes and really leaves everything on the floor every single night.”
The Knights are entering the season without three varsity players from last year’s team. Maggie Meehan was the only player lost to graduation. She is Southington’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,118 points who led the team in every statistical category except rebounds and blocks last season.
But the team will be missing two underclassmen, too. Senior guard Hartlee Meier played in 23 varsity contests for the Knights last season, averaging over 30 and a half minutes a game, and shot a team high of 77 percent from the free throw line. She also garnered second-best team marks in three-pointers, total field goals, assists, points, steals, and blocks. The Knights will be without Meier this season after she transferred to another school.
The team will also be without sophomore forward Katie D’Agostino after she left to join the girls indoor track and field team. As a freshman last season, D’Agostino played in 22 varsity contests last season and averaged over 24 minutes a game.
That will be the challenge at the start.
“The one thing I have to do as their coach is to really learn to be patient and to look at the strides we’re making,” said Forgione. “The first four games may not reflect on the scoreboard, but if we feel good about how we’re playing and the things we’re doing, I think we’ll be okay.”
Forgione said that the toughest stretch of Southington’s regular season schedule will come in the first four games of the season, which features contests against RHAM, Hall, Glastonbury, and Farmington. Forgione said that the key to having a successful season will be determined by how well the team plays during that four-game stretch before Christmas break.
Nine of Southington’s 11 varsity players are underclassmen, and inexperience will certainly come as a weakness to the Knights. But to counteract their youth, they have Janette Wadolowski, who is the only senior returning to this year’s squad.
“Anytime you have Janette, you have a chance,” said Forgione. “We may have a lot of underclassmen playing with her, but I believe that we have the best player on the floor every time we take the floor, and I wouldn’t trade her for anyone in the state.”
Wadolowski missed nine games last winter after suffering an injury in the second game of the season, but she still managed to lead the team with 172 rebounds in 15 games, averaging 11 and a half rebounds a game. She also finished with 239 points, averaging almost 16 points per game, and was second on the team in free throws and two-pointers.
As far as Wadolowski’s work ethic, Forgione said that not much has changed. She hasn’t stopped working to improve her game. However, she will serve as much more than just a statistical leader to her teammates this season.
“When you have a team like we have this year, you couldn’t ask for a better role model for a younger player to emulate than Janette,” said Forgione. “I think her taking on that leadership role has just been a lifesaver for us.”
Wadolowski will move from the wing and the post to bringing the ball up the floor as the team’s starting point guard this season.
“We want to get the best the player on the team the ball in her hands as much as we can,” said Forgione. “She understands that she not only has to help lift and elevate the players around her by her play, but also by being a coach on the floor.”
Junior guard Kristen Longley will be the only other key returning upperclassmen for the Knights. Longley played in 20 varsity contests last season and averaged over nine minutes a game.
Key returning sophomores include Brianna Harris (guard), Madison Hulten (forward), and Megan Mikosz (forward). Harris stepped in for Wadolowski right after she went down with an injury and played in 24 varsity contests last season, averaging over 24 minutes a game. Hulten led the team with 26 blocks and was second on the team with 151 rebounds, averaging almost seven rebounds a game.
Forgione said that he plans on starting two freshman this season, and freshmen Allison Carr (guard), Kelley Marshall (forward), and Livvy Pizzitola (guard) will rotate in and out of the starting varsity lineup. Newcomers sophomore forward Taylor Starr, sophomore forward Marisa Imme, and freshman guard Julia Collins will also look to contribute on the varsity roster.
Wadolowski was named as the lone team captain for the upcoming season. Forgione is entering his eighth year as head coach of the girls varsity basketball program.
After a new realignment of the CCC, Southington is now in the West Colonial Division with Conard, Hall, and NW Catholic. The West Patriot Division includes Avon, Farmington, Glastonbury, and Simsbury.
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