By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knight volleyball team continued to roll with a pair of wins this past week, handing the top team in Class M their second loss of the season in their closest match of the season.
They also clinched a playoff berth for the 13th-straight year, but qualifying for the Class L Tournament was not something that was on Southington’s mind, according to Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos.
“With Southington volleyball, it’s not even something we talk about, which is weird,” said Gianacopolos. “In the beginning of our adventure of volleyball when we started in 2003, we wondered if we could make the tournament. We don’t even think about anymore.”
Whether they’re taking the state tournament for granted or are just setting their season goals a little higher, the Knights have only missed the state tournament just two times since Gianacopolos started the program in 2003. But can they get over the hump of advancing past the quarterfinals of the state tournament?
The Knights have ended their postseason runs in the quarterfinals for the past three years now. Gianacopolos is on the record for saying that he believed the potential for this team is limitless, and they’ve shown that thus far with just one loss on the season. It could make for an interesting postseason, however, there’s still work to be done before they get there.
“This is a team that can make a run and go as far as they want,” said Gianacopolos. “However, they’ve got to be able to work hard and to their potential to achieve that.”
He said that the team has certain skills that are waiting on others to perform at their potential, so that the team can move on perform more complex skills. It hasn’t happened as of yet, and it’s not happening as fast as he’d like, but Gianacopolos said that he does see small bits of improvement.
“We have some positions that could be performing just a little better if they were challenging themselves a little bit more and putting a little more pressure on themselves to perform faster and to their potential,” said Gianacopolos. “Once they see that feedback, they will start performing.”
The Knights will be back on the hardwood this week with contests against divisional Conard (4-6), divisional Maloney (2-10), and South Windsor (7-5). Southington is 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the CCC West Division.
A balanced contribution helped the Knights qualify for the state tournament, but the presence of JJ Clark (10 kills, 5 blocks) and Rocco Possidento (8 kills, 5 blocks) at the net was vital. The Knights began the week on Monday, April 30 by rallying back from dropping the first set to outlast divisional Newington in their first five-setter of the season with a 3-2 victory (22-25, 25-21, 25-13, 26-28, 15-9) at home.
Tim Walsh paced the offense with 19 kills. Will Pfanzelt went 12-for-14 serving with three aces. Niko Sophroniou helped anchor the defense with 33 digs, and Zack Morgan distributed 28 assists.
“Because we were home, we did well with it,” said Gianacopolos. “It was exciting, and the fans thought it was a great match. It took us a little longer to learn about Newington, but this team adjusts well.”
Following a three-day rest, Clark’s presence up front trounced the Trojans at the net. The Knights capped off the week on Friday by earning their eighth-straight win and sixth shutout of the season with a 3-0 sweep (25-21, 25-23, 25-17) at divisional Simsbury. The Knights swept the Trojans the first time they played them back in April.
Clark marshaled the offense with 11 kills and helped anchor the defense with five blocks. Sophroniou went 16-for-17 serving with a pair of aces and helped anchor the defense with 13 digs. Walsh contributed with 13 digs as well, and Morgan dished out 19 assists.
“It was the hottest gym I’ve played in a long time,” said Gianacopolos. “I think they had the heat on. It was just one of those warm days, and the guys were just sweating away. It was something, but the guys did well.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.