By KEVIN ROBERTS
Most high school teams practiced or took Columbus Day of. Southington girls volleyball wasn’t among those teams.
On Monday, Oct. 8, the Lady Knights tested their mettle against some of the best competition in the northeast at the annual Girls VolleyHall Classic Elite High School Tournament on the American International College campus in Springfield, Mass.
For coach Rich Heitz, the tournament was about more than the stellar competition. It’s about building team chemistry.
“You think of the high school season, yeah we practice together, we show up for a match, play our match, get on the bus and go home,” said the coach. “Here, they’re socially interacting for the day, they get to know each other better. It’s about making memories, and this is part of it.”
If Southington’s players weren’t in a match, practicing or hanging out with each other, they were officiating matches. Some players, like senior Lynsey Danko, served as a scorer. Others, like seniors Olivia Carpenter and Haley Larrabee, officiated as line judges. Sophomore Veronika Gorski even served as the second referee, which assists the first referee—the one who is positioned on the referee stand—to officiate the match.
Heitz said that these different perspectives helps build his team’s volleyball IQ.
“The officials came up to me during the day and told me what a wonderful job our girls did officiating,” Heitz said. “They were engaged, paying attention, making sure they got it right. You don’t get that all the time.”
Danko appreciated hanging out with her teammates during a day that began early in the morning.
“Oh gosh, we had to be there for the bus at 6:15,” Danko said, but she added that the toughest part of the day was waiting between contests. “Your legs get a little stiff,” she said with a laugh.
Play began at 8 a.m. with 23 teams in six pools. Five pools had four teams and one pool had three teams. Southington went 3-3 overall in pool play. There was pool play in the morning and the afternoon, with what happened in the morning determining who a team would play in the afternoon.
The Lady Knights played Springfield Central, Central Catholic High School of Lawrence, and Frontier Regional School of South Deerfield in the morning. All three of those teams were from Massachusetts.
Southington went up against Hollis Brookline High School of Hollis, N.H.; plus Hopkinton High School and Westborough High School from Massachusetts in the afternoon.
“It’s really nice to see different things. It helps us work on what we’re not used to seeing, and it helps us during our normal games, too,” Danko said.
Hollis Brookline defeated Southington 2-0, and it felt like the Cavaliers attacked the Lady Knights in continuous waves of speed, height and power.
“They definitely swing at a faster pace than we’re used to, so that added to it a lot, and they have good ball control as well,” Danko said.
Heitz said Hollis Brookline, the eventual Gold Bracket runner-up, was the best team Southington faced all day. Heitz also noticed something in that match and the Hopkinton contest that he wants to see improve.
“You got to be aggressive. I started to talk to them a couple of times in timeouts, ‘guys, you can’t be just pushing the ball over like you do normally, you have to do it with a purpose,’” Heitz said.
In pool play, matches were two games each and started with the score tied at 4-4. There were no tiebreakers in pool play, and games could only go to 27. After pool play, the 18 remaining teams were split into gold, silver and bronze brackets. Matches in bracket play were one game apiece.
Southington wound up in the Silver Bracket, along with the other two Connecticut teams in the tournament. Those two teams just happened to be from the CCC, and both were very familiar to the Lady Knights. The two teams were Bristol Eastern and Farmington, which Southington has defeated this season. Eastern was the bracket’s top seed, followed by Farmington in second. Southington was fourth with Westborough High School of Massachusetts in third. Fifth and sixth were Scarsdale High School of Massachusetts and Mount Saint Charles Academy of Woonsocket, R.I.
The Lady Knights began Silver Bracket play with a win over Scarsdale, then faced off against the Lancers of Bristol Eastern. Southington won that match and met up with Westborough, which had knocked out Farmington in the other Silver Bracket semifinal. Westborough was able to squeeze out a win and win the Silver Bracket.
“They had a challenge from Scarsdale, they had a tough Eastern match, they were right here at the end of this one [against Westborough] and it could have gone either way,” Heitz said.
When the day was done, Southington’s players mingled together, ate pizza, and waited for the bus to take them home.
“It’s a long day. A lot of us play travel, so those tournaments are long, but those are usually spread out over three days,” Danko said, “so this is a really long day, but you just to push through.”
OCT. 11—The Lady Knights defeated Simsbury 3-0 at home on Thursday and improved to 12-0 in regular season play. The set scores were all 25-17, which led to some funny looks exchanged between the players and their coaches. Assistant coaches Kasia Kalinowski and Danielle Kaminsky filled in for Rich Heitz, who had a death in his family.
“There were points when we went on a run, they we got in a slump, then we excelled at the end,” Kalinowski said.
The intensity did wane at times, but that could be a hangover from the tournament just a few days before.
“It was a long day, and I think it’s probably still lingering,” Kalinowski said. “They only had one day off, but I think the way they played today shows that they have a drive to keep going.”
Kaminsky pointed out the solid serving of Jenna Martin, who recorded all four of her aces in the second set, including three in a row at one point. There was also Katie Gundersen, who served seven times in the third set without an error. Southington tallied 13 aces on the night. When the Trojans adjusted to the short serves, the Lady Knights countered with forays deeper into the defense.
Martin had 11 digs to go with her four aces. Brooke Cooney tallied seven kills, eight digs and three aces while Kayli Garcia added six kills and two blocks. Lynsey Danko had 10 digs and two aces while Haley Larrabee chipped in five kills and two aces. Olivia Carpenter had 29 assists for the Lady Knights.
Up next: Southington will play three times instead of twice. The Avon match originally scheduled for Oct. 12 was moved to Tuesday. The Lady Knights hosted Rocky Hill on Monday, then traveled to Avon on Tuesday. Southington plays at home against Hall on Friday at 6 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.