By RYAN CHICHESTER
After falling to Simsbury High School in last year’s state championship, the Southington girls rugby club spent an entire offseason dreaming of their revenge. But the mighty Simsbury Trojans only tightened their chokehold on the Blue Knights by sweeping both regular season matches in 2018, and redemption appeared to be slipping from Southington’s grasp.
Turns out, the Blue Knights were saving their redemption for the biggest stage.
Southington conquered their Simsbury demons with a 24-14 victory over the Trojans last Sunday to take home the program’s first-ever state championship in their eighth year of existence.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” senior captain and Molloy College commit Katelyn Demaio said. “Our team has been working so hard, and it got difficult to lose (to Simsbury) every time. So to have that state title as a senior, it’s a great feeling. Having it come against Simsbury only adds to that feeling.”
Demaio’s try in the second half put an exclamation point on the program’s greatest season, clinching the title for herself and the rest of the seniors that had come oh-so-close over the years, yet never lost hope that they would eventually take down their chronic tormentors.
“We didn’t go in thinking we were going to lose,” Demaio explained. “We were evenly matched every game we faced (Simsbury). It was just a matter of us wanting it enough. Everyone stepped up, and we all wanted it. That’s what helped us win.”
The team’s confidence heading into the title game came from a hard-fought road loss to the Trojans in the penultimate regular season game, where the light at the end of the tunnel began to come into focus.
“They won in a really close game, but we realized what we needed to work on when we met them in the championship,” said junior Lynsey Danko, who recorded a try of her own in the title game. “It was a really good game to open our eyes and see what we needed to work on.”
Demaio’s clutch try midway through the second half highlighted the Blue Knights’ newfound poise. With Simsbury driving and Southington desperately trying to kill off a 10-minute penalty as a result of a yellow card, the senior scampered for the try that head coach Nicholas Vargas considered the turning point of the game.
“With a player out, you’re just looking to survive,” Vargas said. “Just not giving up a try at that point is a plus. For us to put a try in with a player in the sin bin, that was pretty definitive.”
Southington’s composure while shorthanded was a reflection of their unshakable poise prior to the match. Searching for redemption against an all-too familiar foe who had gotten the best of them once again in the regular season, the Blue Knights refused to blink.
“It was pretty calm. We knew what we were capable of, that if we did the little things correctly and worked together that we could beat them. The past couple years, they’ve gotten the better of us. But they’ve been close games…so to come back and beat them in the state championship meant a lot. It made it sweeter, you could say.”
Vargas, who has been with the Blue Knights for six of the program’s eight years, sees the historic win as the ultimate reward for a team that has been clawing its way to prominence for nearly a decade.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Vargas said. “The program started from very modest beginnings, so to win a state title feels really good.”
From modest beginnings to monumental victories, the Blue Knights have completed their steady climb to the top.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.