By BRIAN JENNINGS
On any day, if you wake up, are clean shaved, feel good, and look good, chances are that you’re going to have a great day. Before the conference final, Southington coach Lou Gianacopolos told his team to get haircuts, wash their uniforms, or do whatever it was, so that they felt good about playing the conference final.
“They came in looking and feeling good,” said Gianacopolos. “They were walking tall, and that was the first start. They told me that they’ve never been so prepared in their lives.”
Gianacopolos’ setter had a bloody nose before the match, and he was making adjustments, just in case he couldn’t be on the court. But other than a last-minute bloody nose, Gianacopolos’ guys were calm when they walked on the court to play the conference final.
“When they stay calm, we just play,” said Gianacopolos. “We saw what needed to be done against Newington, and we saw who was effective. It was as simple as get him to where he needs to be and play. When you get up early in the match, kids feel good about themselves, and then the other team starts thinking about what they have to do.”
They clawed and scrapped to get to the conference championship match for the past four years. After taking the first two sets of their semifinal match, they dropped the next two almost didn’t make it. But they pulled through with determination and grit, and the Blue Knight volleyball team are CCC champions.
When asked about how it felt to finally reach the conference pinnacle after a three-year drought, Gianacopolos said that it felt good to be CCC Champs. But as a coach, he said that he felt more for the kids.
“They go out there and commit to everything,” said Gianacopolos. “Just yesterday when we won, it was cool to see the excitement in their eyes. Today, they got to hold a trophy. With our sports and our teams, not everyone gets a trophy every year. So, to watch these guys enjoy that was pretty cool.”
The Knights will enter the second half of the postseason when they host No. 12 Shelton (10-10) in the first round of the Class L Tournament as the fifth seed on Wednesday, May 30. Match time is 6 p.m. No. 6 Darien (16-4) is the defending champion.
“I’m giving them the weekend off, and then we’ll come back to it on Monday night,” said Gianacopolos. “With that time off, hopefully, they’re not going to forget the win, but put it behind them and enjoy the moment, so we can concentrate on what we need to do.”
MAY 24—They dropped the first set, but the Knights managed to bounce back and take the next three without much difficulty to win the CCC title with a 3-1 victory (17-25, 25-18, 25-17, 25-21) over Newington at East Hartford High School. It was the third meeting between both teams this season.
Gianacopolos said that he saw what his team was going to bring and how they were going to react in the first set. The setters were playing pretty well, and he wanted to see who was going to have the hot hand.
“Once I figured out that rotation, I just rotated around until I got Tim (Walsh) in the front row,” said Gianacopolos. “Let him hit the ball aggressively. When you’re up, and you get Tim in that position and he’s hitting well, it made him feel good.”
Tim Walsh marshaled the offense with 15 kills and went 14-for-17 serving with a season high of seven aces. Niko Sophroniou went 15-for-17 behind the service line with three aces and helped anchor the defense with 25 digs. Zack Morgan went 14-for-16 serving with a pair of aces and dished out 26 assists. JJ Clark anchored the other half of the defense with five blocks.
MAY 23—The Knights advanced to the conference final on Wednesday by outlasting Enfield in their third five-setter of the season, 3-2 (25-20, 25-14, 24-26, 24-26, 15-10).
Walsh paced the offense with 24 kills and went 14-for- 17 serving. Clark stood tall at the net with 10 blocks. Sophroniou anchored the other half of the defense with 30 digs, and Morgan distributed 33 assists.
MAY 22—The Knights entered the postseason on Tuesday with a 3-1 victory (25-11, 25-21, 32-34, 25-21) over Farmington at home. The Knights swept the Indians twice during the regular season.
Walsh paced the offense with 18 kills and went 19-for-22 serving with two aces. Morgan missed just one serve behind the line, going 27-for-28 with three aces. He also distributed 39 assists. Adam Hunter went 4-for-9 serving with a pair of aces. Possidento led the defense at the net with three blocks, and Sophroniou led the defense in the backcourt with 23 digs.
Regular Season Wrap-up
Before they went on a three-game winning streak in the conference tournament, Southington’s 14-match winning streak was snapped on Monday after the Knights fell in five sets, 3-2 (25-22, 17-25, 19-25, 25-18, 16-14), at divisional Newington. The Knights were on the other side of a five-setter with the Indians earlier in the regular season.
Walsh paced the offense with 21 kills and went 21-for-25 serving with three aces. Morgan went 20-for-22 behind the service line with a pair of aces and distributed 30 assists. Possidento led the defense at the net with six blocks, and Sophroniou led the defense in the backcourt with 21 digs.
The Knights rounded out the regular season by hosting Lewis Mills on Thursday in a make-up match from the week prior. They played their JV team against the Spartans and fell, 3-0.
Southington finished the regular season at 15-3 overall (7-1 home, 8-2 away), 14-1 in the CCC, and 11-1 in the CCC West Division. The Knights shared the CCC West title with Newington (18-2, 11-1), and Hall (14-5, 8-4) finished as runner-up.
For more in depth coverage, see our weekly print edition. To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.