By KEVIN ROBERTS
On paper, Southington girls volleyball doesn’t look like the team that went 21-4 in 2017.
They don’t look like the squad that reached the finals of the CCC tournament and semifinals of the Class LL state tournament. Losing eight seniors, including five starters, to graduation will do that. Nolyn Allen, Hannah Zelina and Steph Zera were all-conference selections who graduated.
But, of course, volleyball isn’t played “on paper.”
“I’m excited about this group of kids,” Southington coach Rich Heitz said before a preseason practice. “It’s for the most part a new group of kids and I’m looking forward to seeing them compete on the court.”
Heitz also had this to say: “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
That’s right, this mostly different group of Lady Knights has a few things going for them. One of those is something you can’t teach, and that is height. Southington has a pair of six-footers in junior Katherine Gundersen and sophomore Veronika Gorski, and there’s also senior Keishla Rosario at 5-foot-11, sophomore Kayli Garcia at 5-10 and junior Brooke Cooney at 5-9.
“You’re talking Class LL, and height is the great equalizer at times,” Heitz said.
The Lady Knights can also control a match with their serving ability.
“We’re returning three of our top servers from last year, so our serving game is really strong,” said the coach.
Seniors Jenna Martin and Haley Larrabee provide stability at the service line, as does Cooney. Southington also brings back some good defensive pieces. Heitz is looking for senior Lynsey Danko to slide into the Libero position vacated by Allen, who graduated.
“I think defense and serving are going to be very strong,” Heitz said.
Heitz also believes this team will be good at passing. That doesn’t sound like a team that’s going to be down. Heitz says it’s not a case of reloading, but rather the culture of the program, which stretches from the freshmen team to the junior varsity to the varsity.
“It’s who’s next, it’s who’s turn to step up,” Heitz said.
Getting everyone to play together as a unit will be a big key. Cooney and Larrabee were starters for Heitz last season, and both Martin and senior Lynsey Danko saw playing time as well. Outside of that, younger or more inexperienced players will need to move up into new positions.
“We got to get them to mesh together. A lot of them haven’t played together, so that’s going to be a process in itself,” Heitz said.
During this preseason, Southington spent more time in its own gym melding together instead of out at scrimmages. The one scrimmage the Lady Knights attended was the annual Darien Volleyball Play Day, which took place on Sept. 1.
Southington opened the season on Thursday at home against a tough Masuk team. Heitz knows the Panthers well, considering he graduated from South-West Conference rival Pomperaug in Southbury.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.