By KEVIN ROBERTS
When the Southington girls soccer team reached Class LL’s second round last season, it was in uncharted territory.
The Lady Knights took the long ride down I-84 to face the Ridgefield Tigers. Southington needed some time to get going against a bigger, stronger, faster home side and fell behind early. The Lady Knights battled back to tie the match, but wound up losing 2-1 to the eventual state champion Tigers.
“I think that we learned a lot from that game,” Southington coach Mike Linehan said before a preseason practice. “That was the first time in a long time for us being in a big game like that. Clearly Ridgefield was more experienced, and when you get into the tournament, experience does play a role. I had a group where that was the first time they were in that type of environment.”
Ridgefield was where Southington wants to be, and when playing an opponent of that caliber, the Lady Knights need to be on their game from the opening kickoff.
“We learned again that it’s speed of play,” said the coach. “Not every team that we play in our league, in our division, plays at a level with a speed of play that’s comparable to a Ridgefield.”
To get Southington ready for that level of competition, Linehan put together preseason scrimmages against the likes of Cheshire, Enfield, Suffield and Mercy.
“That’s the level of competition we need in order to get us ready,” Linehan said.
The 2018 version of Southington girls soccer is down six starters from last season, and it will also be without sophomore standout Shannon Litchfield for the first two matches. Litchfield broke her wrist in a collision with the Cheshire keeper during their Aug. 28 scrimmage. She will be in a soft cast and hopes to be back for the Maloney matchup on Sept. 13.
“She is a big part of our offense, and we will look to others on the team to step up in her absence,” Linehan said.
What Southington does have is an abundance of young talent. That young group will need leadership, and the Lady Knights have that in senior Alijah Vega (all-conference, all-state), senior Natalie Verderame (all-conference) and junior Emma Panarella (all-conference). There’s also senior Olivia Sherwood in goal. Sherwood had 11 shutouts for Southington in 2017.
Key junior players Katherine Crouse and Jordan Beaudoin, along with key sophomores Abigail Sowa and Allison Carr. The top incoming freshman is Maya Wroblewski.
“The incoming group will be young but extremely talented,” Linehan said. “Leadership from the returning players and team chemistry will be some of the keys to our success.”
The CCC West Region will be difficult as always. Glastonbury and Simsbury, both in the Patriot Division, figure to be near the top of the heap.
The Lady Knights open with Colonial Division foes Conard and Hall. Southington will play Conard in West Hartford on Friday. The Lady Knights host Hall in the home opener next Tuesday at 3:45 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.