By KEVIN ROBERTS
The Southington girls soccer team was finally able to exhale when the horn sounded the end of their 2-0 victory over NW Catholic in the regular season finale on Oct. 29. This year’s girls team is in uncharted waters.
The Lady Knights were jubilant, they hung out with friends and family, took pictures, and ate pizza following a 2-0 senior night win over the Lions. Southington finished the regular season at 15-1 and earned a No. 3 seed and first round bye in the Class LL state tournament.
“I told them, I never let you celebrate all year, but maybe this is the time to let your hair down and celebrate and recognize the accomplishment that you’ve created,” coach Mike Linehan said.
To put the success of the 2018 regular season into perspective, the 15-1 record tied for the second-best by a Lady Knight soccer team. The 2007 team also went 15-1 in the regular season. The best regular season record of all-time was accomplished by the 2002 state co-championship team, which went 15-0-1.
Linehan said that Southington’s goal at the beginning of the season was to secure home field advantage in the upcoming Class LL state tournament. Mission accomplished. With the final victory, Southington earned a second round home game and possible home quarterfinal, but was a 15-1 regular season on the list as well?
“Honestly, no,” senior goalkeeper Olivia Sherwood said. “I knew that we were going to do better than last year, but 15-1 is definitely good. And the loss versus Glastonbury was unfortunate, [1-0 on a] PK goal.”
The 15-1 record is proof of the hard work of the senior class, which consists of Sherwood, captain Alijah Vega, captain Natalie Verderame, captain Gabriella Mondo, Logan Fischer, Gabriella Fiona and team manager Isabella Porkoski.
Linehan and assistant coach Walt Swanson said they are thankful for what the senior class has done. The group has a record of 41-8-5, and that includes a 5-9-2 mark as freshmen.
Linehan said that it’s no fluke. Southington’s record didn’t come by accident. The Lady Knight defense allowed six goals in 16 regular season games and combined with Sherwood for 11 shutouts, two better than the record of nine in 2017.
“I couldn’t do it without our defense,” Sherwood said. “They’ve had my back all year.”
Of course, it’s not just the defense that will make Southington a tough out in the state tournament.
“Our formations, you don’t know what to expect,” Sherwood said. “We’re very adaptable.”
Offensively, Shannon Litchfield, Verderame and Alli Carr put pressure on a defense and the goalkeeper. In the middle, Emma Panarella, Abby Sowa and Morgan Hubert help control the ball and distribute it. Defensively, Vega teams up with Jordan Beaudoin and Katherine Crouse to form a formidable wall in front of Sherwood. If an opponent can get through those defenders, they still have to get the ball past Sherwood.
Linehan also has the luxury of making lineups interchangeable with players like Fischer, Mondo, Fiona, Marisa Imme, Brianna Linehan and Talie Richardson.
How did the Lady Knights keep such a relentless motor going through 16 regular season games?
“I think it’s just our mindset for the whole season,” Sherwood said. “We want to win, we want to beat Ridgefield, we want to be the top team, and that’s what keeps making us strive.”
Ridgefield was the team that ended Southington’s run in last year’s Class LL state tournament. The Lady Knights had a couple days off and got a chance to enjoy Halloween. After that, it was back to work with scrimmages and practices before the first state tournament game.
Southington will face No. 19 Simsbury after a 1-0 upset of No. 14 Hall in the first round of the Class LL tournament. The Knights will host the Trojans on Wednesday at 2 p.m. on the home turf. It will be the first matchup between the schools this fall.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com