From the director’s chair: Winter season wrap-up

As Southington High School heads into the final stretch of the school year, the Observer sat down with athletic director Greg Ferry to review the winter season and discuss some of the major changes made for the upcoming spring season.

Although the Knights didn’t come away with any state titles from their team sports, Ferry said that he considered the winter to be a success for Southington athletics. He said that student-athletes maintained higher than an 84 average in the classroom this past winter season.

Observer: Before we review the winter season, how has the high school’s student leadership group been going?

Ferry: We are working on the “5 to Thrive” mental conditioning program, and it’s a work in progress. I’d like to see our kids continue to work on a release and refocus. I’m just trying to help these kids and give them some tools. I teach a lot of different tools, hoping that they can just take one that they gravitate towards. I would love to get everyone on board…all coaches and student-athletes. A lot of our coaches are very open-minded, and they’re just trying to figure out a good way to integrate it into their programs.

O: Have you convinced more doubters to buy in over the course of the winter season?

F: Yeah. It was funny watching basketball this year, especially our boys team. I watched the kids at the free throw line take that deep breath and try to clear their heads before taking that free throw. Coach (Evan) Tuttle talks with his swimmers about how they transition from the school day to the swimming pool and what their routine is. They have to shower before they get into the pool. They’re showering and washing themselves of the school day, getting ready to be in the present moment for practice. Little stuff like that is what we’re talking about. I’d like to say that we’re in the infant stage of this, and we’re just trying to learn some of the tools and techniques. Hopefully over time, it will really foster growth throughout the department.

O: Did you consider the winter season to be a success for Southington athletics?

F: The cool thing is that if you just want to look at pure wins and losses, and if you compile all the wins of our program, the win percentage was extremely high. Boys basketball won a CCC division. Wrestling won their division and was third in Class LL. Swimming was top eight in Class LL…their best finish in over 20 years. If you look at some of the process goals, they’re being hit. None of us won that state title, but we’re getting there. We’re trying to close the gap between the best teams and where we are.

O: What are your thoughts about the five new divisions that the CIAC implemented for the state tournaments in boys basketball?

F: I love the new concept of the boys tourney. The games were very competitive, by and large. The matchups were unique and different. You had some schools that have not had a lot of long playoff runs in the past that are now coming together. You saw their fan and parent bases really support and rally around these programs.

O: What did you think about the deep run that the boys basketball team made to the quarterfinals of the Division III Tournament?

F: That boys basketball team typified, for me, what I’m looking for. They were team-oriented in what they were trying to pursue and chase. They embodied all the ideals of what we’re looking for. They had great trust in their coach. Coach (John) Cessario did a tremendous job of developing relationships within the program. It was one of the most powerful moments after the game hearing some of our student-athletes telling our coach that he helped them become better young men, and that they couldn’t thank him enough. Right then and there, did we really lose? If that’s the message after a game, then that’s a great message to have. That team just fought and scrapped and just did a tremendous job. I couldn’t be more proud of that boys basketball program and the direction of where they’re going.

O: What are your thoughts on how Hall-Southington fared in their first season in Division II?

F: When we got bumped up, my initial reaction was that we would be fine. We’re a gritty group between the talented young men from Hall and our really good young people from Southington. We’ll figure it out, come together, and play much more rigorously. Our kids competed very well, and Coach (Brian) Cannon put a lot of our boys in spots to be successful. We didn’t have the run that we had a year ago, and I firmly believe that if we stayed in Division III, we would have won that pretty easily. But it is what it is. I look forward to seeing this program continue to grow and develop. I was pleased with the boys’ efforts. They handled things with class and really supported one another.

O: What did you want to say about the controversial head injury that Drew Booth sustained in the game against Conard?

F: I’m very proud of that young man, seeing how he’s dealing with the adversity that was caused from his injury. It was great to see him be able to at least come out for the handshake. I wish him the best of luck in the future. I thoroughly enjoyed watching him play the last couple of years. This setback’s just going to set the stage for a monster comeback for Drew in life.

O: The gymnastics team had a rough regular season, but still managed to advance three gymnasts to the State Open Championship. How did Kim Vaillancourt measure up in her first year as head coach of the program?

F: Kim came into a challenging situation. Our gymnastics program is a storied program. The run of success has been epic. She inherited a team that graduated a lot of gymnasts and was really in a building mode. What I’m really proud of with Kim is that never once did she get down when we had a defeat in the conference. She took each day in stride. If you look at our scores from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, they improved every single meet. To me, that’s a testament to all the hard work that she did in practice and all the hard work that our student-athletes did. We will get back to our winning ways. It’s just going to take some time.

O: Are there any new programs or features for the upcoming spring season?

F: One project I got done, which I’m very excited about it, are the safety nets going up on the turf field. It’s one of those that I identified as a concern when I came in. We have safety nets that will go up for the spring season, really to prevent the stray lacrosse balls from creating injuries. They’re temporary. They’ll go up in the spring and then come down at the end of the season. I really want to give a special thanks to the boys and girls lacrosse booster clubs that donated money towards this project.

O: Was prevention of injuries the initiative behind putting the nets up?

F: It was for injury, spectators, and for other people watching near the track. It’s a highly-trafficking area. Our boys team is throwing the balls at a wicked high speed, and we just really want to prevent any injuries from happening whenever we can. Things do happen, but now at least we’re putting some safety precaution in place.

O: What are you most excited about for the upcoming spring season?

F: I always say that the spring is a two-month season. We start in April and finish in June. There’s a ton of contests. There will always be weather challenges. I’m looking forward to us not getting down about having rainouts and stuff like that. Let’s see how we’re going to react better than the other teams to the weather challenges. I’m also really excited to see our teams compete and see our seniors leave their lasting legacies before they graduate. I’m looking forward to watching all of our senior athletes contribute, compete, be selfless, and get after it.

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