By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knights held a preseason meeting before tryouts in the high school’s cafeteria. Discussed at the meeting were the philosophies of Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos, which were hard work, discipline, and family.
Gianacopolos gave an opportunity for any of his upperclassmen to speak up on behalf of any topics that might have been missed. Senior middle blocker Jonathan Clark stood up.
“He said, ‘For the newer guys, we are a family,’” said Gianacopolos. “‘Volleyball is unlike any sport that I’ve ever played before. It’s a tight-knit group.”
The next day, Gianacopolos received an email from a freshman’s parent. The intent of the email was a question about scheduling, but before she got into her question, she said, “I just want to let you know how amazed my son was at how I am after hearing your players talk about your program,” explained Gianacopolos. “And that they’re looking forward to it.”
Gianacopolos said that parent had never heard a high school athlete talk about his team the way Clark did at the meeting, let alone a coach trying to talk about his program.
“Knowing that the family thing is carrying on and moving forward, you’re going to put more effort and commitment into something that your family’s involved with than you would just going out and playing the sport.”
The Knights lost five of 16 players to graduation after last season, of whom all made key contributions to the varsity lineup, and there’s very little doubt that they will have trouble reloading for the upcoming season. The 2017 season was just another example of that, as the Knights have had three or fewer losses in four of the past five regular seasons. In fact, Gianacopolos has only had one losing season in the 15 years he’s been at the helm.
Gianacopolos said that it’s not really the coaching staff, but it’s the coaching staff guiding the players to believe and buy into the team’s philosophy.
“They make all that happen as well,” said Gianacopolos. “If I weren’t passionate about it and didn’t believe that they should be also, then we wouldn’t be doing so well.”
The Knights finished the 2017 regular season at 17-2 overall, winning the CCC South Division with a perfect 8-0 record (14-1 in CCC). In the postseason, the top-seeded Knights fell, 3-2, to No. 2 East Hartford in the CCC title match and were eventually defeated again, 3-0, by the No. 4 Hornets in the quarterfinals of the Class L Tournament as the fifth seed.
Those five players the Knights lost to graduation after last season include a pair of all-state players, a setter and an outside hitter, and an all-conference middle blocker. Those three players led the team in serving aces, blocks, digs, and assists last year.
Seniors returning to this year’s team include Connor Brush (RSH), Daniel Hunter (OH), Tyler Peruta (MB), William Pfanzelt (S), Jonathan Pierson (OH), and Niko Sophroniou (L). Clark and Sophroniou were named as team captains for the upcoming season.
Gianacopolos said that the amount of volleyball growth Clark had this past offseason was twice as much as what he had expected Clark to come back with. Gianacopolos said that Clark was Gianacopolos’ first go-to decision for captain because he embraces, lives, and appreciates the boys volleyball family.
When a player walked into practice late and a ball was left behind after practice, Clark lined the team up with Sophroniou to run suicides.
“No one or nothing is left behind, and we need to make sure we’re here together and ready to go,” said Gianacopolos. “I didn’t ask him to do that. That’s a sign of maturity.”
Juniors returning include Zachary Morgan (S), Rocco Possidento (MB), and Timothy Walsh (OH). As the only all-conference player returning, Walsh led the team with 257 kills last season and finished second with 303 serves received.
Strong, offensive power and confidence is what Gianacopolos said Walsh has to offer to this year’s team. It’s not hard to notice that Walsh hits at the college level after sitting in on just one practice session.
If Walsh continues to grow and mature as a volleyball player, Gianacopolos said that he will be more of an impact.
“Because he swings so hard at the ball and is so athletic, that’s what’s going to make him so impacting,” said Gianacopolos. “It’s not going to be what he says or how he motivates. That’s not his strength. It’s what he does.”
Junior newcomers include Robert Cantillon (MB), Scott Crooks (MB), Adam Hunter (OH), Brett Hunter (RSH), John Lloyd Idian (OH), and Justin Miranda (DS).
Gianacopolos said that blocking will serve as the team’s strength for the upcoming season. He said that they’re a big team, but they have to be big and athletic, not big and bulky.
“The middles, outsides, and right sides are going to present a very good block for us to defend around,” said Gianacopolos. “If we can present a good block against good hitting teams, that will slow their offense down and allow our offense to pick up a little bit.”
Gianacopolos said that if the team’s weak point of the team currently is the mindset of the players knowing that they only have to make things perfect. They don’t have to make things perfect.
Gianacopolos said that the team will struggle with being the quarterback, so to speak.
“It’s in the sense of transitioning back from our block, being ready, and educating our setters on which set to go with,” said Gianacopolos. “We can put up a ball, but offensive strategies are going to be something that we’re going to have to continue to learn.”
Following a realignment of the CCC, Southington is now in the West Division along with Conard, Farmington, Hall, Maloney, Newington, and Simsbury. The East Division consists of Bloomfield, Bulkeley, East Hartford, Enfield, Glastonbury, South Windsor, and Wethersfield.
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