By KEVIN ROBERTS
Lauren Lattanzio was born to player soccer, or at least it seemed that way. She started playing soccer at age three, and it didn’t take long to get pushed ahead to higher age groups…then to face the boys. By the time Lattanzio arrived at Southington High School, she was an experienced, talented player, that wasn’t afraid of anybody.
“My mother [Joan] likes to tell a story that I learned to walk chasing a ball down the hallway,” said Lattanzio, now Lauren Lattanzio-Romanelli. She credits a strong family work ethic and points to her father, Gregory, and her brother, Gregg, as her biggest influences. “My parents and my brother are three of the hardest working people I have ever met in my life,” she said.
So, like the others in her family, Lattanzio threw herself into anything she did, and from an early age it was noticeable on the soccer field. It’s a trait that still defines her.
“This is how I want to be when I commit to stuff in general,” Lattanzio said.
A drive to be great pushed Lattanzio to an incredible career at SHS, including a program-record 83 goals. Above all, she helped the Lady Knights grow into a contender, and after three straight opening-game exits, they eventually claimed a state co-championship in Class LL in 2002.
“She was one of the state’s best players, but she was an even better person,” said Sal Penta, Lattanzio’s former coach at SHS. “Team first. It was never about her, it was about her teammates.”
Lattanzio’s career, and the success Southington girls soccer had while she played for the Lady Knights, lead her to one special destination, and that’s the Southington Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2018.
“It’s a very humbling thing to be selected, given how many great athletes there are who have played sports in Southington,” Lattanzio said. “It’s something I can tell my kids when they’re older and can understand it better. It’s something I’ll be able to share and take with me the rest of my life.”
To say Lattanzio had a nose for the goal is a total understatement. She scored 28 goals as a junior and was named All-CCC South Division and All-State, then followed up with 25-goal campaign as a senior. As a senior, Lattanzio was All-CCC South, the CCC South Player of the Year, All-State and All-New England.
She made it look easy on game day, but it was a culmination of hard work between games. “Lots and lots and lots of hard work and determination and grit on the field, a lot of training off the field,” she said. And it also takes a good team around you. Lattanzio is quick to point out that nobody can score unless teammates can get you the ball.
“The ball’s got to get to you somehow,” Lattanzio said.
Of course, her coach said that, once she was one-on-one against an opponent, it was lights out. “She had the confidence that she could beat any defender one-v-one and score,” Penta said. “She just had the absolute confidence that she would score that goal.”
“Lauren is a natural leader and her competitive nature was contagious,” said Lauren Dziedzic, a former teammate and fellow co-captain—along with Lauren Forgione—on the 2002 championship team. “We could always count on her to lead our offense and she was a huge factor in leading us to the state championship.”
Penta said Lattanzio’s work ethic was also contagious.
“When your most talented player is the first one to practice, the last one to leave, and is working individually on things, it rubs off on other players,” Penta said.
Lattanzio played so hard and also fought a battle with compartment syndrome, a “painful condition where pressure within the muscles builds to dangerous levels,” according to the website OrthoInfo, which is from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. The pressure from the syndrome “can decrease blood flow, which prevents nourishment and oxygen from reaching nerve and muscle cells,” according to OrthoInfo. Even when Lattanzio was picking apart opponents, she was struggling with internal factors.
In Lattanzio’s freshman season (1999), Southington went 8-7-1 and qualified for the Class L state tournament, but lost to No. 9 Conard in the first round. As a sophomore, the Lady Knights went 12-4, earned a first round bye, but lost to No. 7 Masuk in their first contest. Even when the Knights claimed a CCC South Division title and a 14-1-1 regular season record in her junior year, the team was stunned by No. 14 Conard in their first postseason contest.
Three consecutive early exits didn’t sit well with the Southington girls soccer players or their coaches. When the 2002 season came around, every member of the Southington team was all in. It didn’t matter if the girl played premier, in-town league soccer, or just in-season for the Lady Knights, and Lattanzio led the way.
“Everybody loved being there, wanted to work hard for herself, and wanted to be there for each other,” Lattanzio said.
Southington went 17-0-3 in what turned into a dream season. The Lady Knights won a second straight CCC South title and earned the No. 2 seed in Class LL, but it was the postseason where they shined the brightest.
Southington knocked off No. 18 Bunnell of Stratford (1-0, 3-1 on penalty kicks), No. 7 Danbury (1-0) and No. 6 South Windsor (3-2, 3-1 on penalty kicks) to reach the Class LL state final against No. 9 Fairfield. Southington and Fairfield battled for 100 minutes, but neither team could get a goal. The game ended in a scoreless tie and co-champion status for each side, and that didn’t sit well with Lattanzio.
“Sharing the title bothers me,” said told an Observer reporter after the game. “It kind of puts a damper on it. You came all this way to get to a certain point and after all these games, time, effort and energy that you spent and put together as a team and you have to share the title after coming all this way. To share the title with Fairfield is fine, because they are a great team, but it bothers me that we didn’t take it ourselves.”
That competitive spirit didn’t surprise her coach. “That’s pure Lauren,” said Penta. “It’s about winning and being successful. It’s that way of thinking that drove her to be successful as a player.”
That attitude is also no surprise to her former teammate Dziedzic. “Lauren was an extremely passionate player. She always left it all on the field,” she said. “She had tremendous strength and led by example, both on and off the field.”
When asked about the co-championship nearly 16 years after it happened, Lattanzio’s opinion hasn’t changed. She’s happy that the 2002 team can be called champions, but there is still something missing. “I am very proud, very grateful of what we accomplished, but I can’t change who I am as a person,” Lattanzio said.
Lattanzio’s drive to win and be successful led her to the UConn women’s soccer program, a place she had dreamed of playing at. She had the talent to be there, and she knew it.
The Southington star was redshirted as a freshman at UConn in 2003 where she watched the Huskies advance to the Division I Final Four. UConn beat Florida State to reach the national championship game, but the Huskies couldn’t get past the powerful University of North Carolina.
“The whole experience was kind of surreal,” she said, “to say I was a part of a team that went to the Final Four and the national championship game.”
Lattanzio played in 16 games the next season, but it was the only playing time she saw at UConn. The compartment syndrome became too much, and both of Lattanzio’s tibias were nearly broken because of painful stress fractures. The injuries brought an end to Lattanzio’s career.
Lattanzio said the compartment syndrome affects her daily, especially on a day following activity such as sightseeing. She has learned that she has to take it easy when doing activities.
“I think I learned so many life lessons playing the sport,” Lattanzio said.
And then there are the lessons she learned from the people who raised her, her mother and father. Most athletes won’t play sports for a living, so they need an education to fall back on, they would tell her. “You got to make time and give your all to your education as well,” her parents told her.
Lattanzio said she’s fortunate to have a good job as a speech language pathologist, a husband (Michael), and two children (Jackson and Brayden), but it took a while to fully hang up her cleats. She coached for the Connecticut Football Club for 10 years and volunteer coached with Penta for a couple years at Southington High. There was also work with companies in different towns as a trainer. Lattanzio loved working in the developmental age group with kids who were impressionable and eager to learn.
The commitment to the sport is one reason why Lattanzio was selected to the local hall of fame. She was able to lead the scoring, support her teammates when injuries sidelined her, and develop others once her playing days came to an end. It wasn’t just about the spotlight.
Penta said that he noticed this love of the game in high school. The coach remembers when Fairfield was dominating play in the 2002 state title game, and he asked his top scorer to drop back to midfield. She never hesitated.
“She looked at me like yeah, I’ll go, and I’ll do it. That’s what a champion does, that’s what a Hall of Famer does,” Penta said. “You take whatever role you have and be successful in that role.”
So it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Lattanzio as a member of the Class of 2018. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, Lattanzio will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville. Lattanzio was also inducted in 2015 as a member of the 2002 girls soccer state co-championship team.
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com