Southington boys volleyball’s tremendous run ended one match short of the ultimate goal. The top-seeded Blue Knights lost 3-0 to fourth-seeded Staples of the FCIAC in a Class L semifinal on June 3 at Oxford High School. The set scores were 27-25, 25-22, 25-19.
Southington finished the season with a record of 23-1. Staples played Darien for the state championship. The Knights were one point away from winning the first set, and it happened not once, not twice, but three times. Southington led 24-22, 24-23 and 25-24.
“It was emotional high. The boys, we started off so strong, and everything was moving the way we wanted,” Gianacopolos said about the first set.
Staples snatched the last three points and won the set, 27-25. In the second set, the Knights were hurt to their team-oriented core. Junior Brandon Wolff went up for a block and came down with a thumb injury that required a trip to the hospital.
“He was gone, went to the hospital, and it changed the dynamic of things and how we play. So yeah, it was a little different,” Gianacopolos said. “At that point there, we were already down one game, and it was in the middle of game two. We dropped that set as well, and then we just tried to move people around to see if we could make it work. Game three, it was a good, competitive game, but we didn’t come out on top of that one.”
It was the last Southington match for senior captains Tim Walsh and Zack Morgan, along with classmates Justin Miranda, John Idian, Rocco Possidento, Brett Hunter and Adam Hunter.
“Every one of them, I told them how proud I was to see them grow. I get them in a very important part of their life, from a freshman to a senior,” Gianacopolos said. “I got to see them grow from young, nervous boys coming into high school into young men.”
There was plenty of sadness after the loss, and Gianacopolos appreciated the emotion.
“To see the emotion that comes from them right now, it makes me like a very proud parent, because they care as much as I do,” Gianacopolos said. “We’ll have another opportunity to talk about this in the coming days. But as a group and a team, this was, by far, one of my favorite teams.”
Walsh and Possidento each tallied eight kills against Staples. Walsh served up an ace and recorded 11 digs while Possidento had two solo blocks. Morgan had 25 assists, one ace on 10-for-12 serving, six digs and one block assist. Adam Hunter had seven kills and two aces on 11-for-13 serving while Brett Hunter added three kills and one solo block. Idian had a team-high 13 digs and was 6-for-7 serving, and Justin Miranda had one ace on 8-for-9 serving.
Junior Sam Miranda was 14-for-15 serving and added three digs while classmate Alex Bush had two kills in three attempts off the bench.
The group of seven seniors was merely three—Walsh, Morgan and Possidento—when they started in the program as freshmen.
“It grew in their sophomore year into a bigger family, they got more kids their age to come out. This is a phenomenal, phenomenal senior group,” Gianacopolos said.
Walsh led the team with 363 kills and 72 aces. Adam Hunter had 229 kills while Possidento added 181 kills. Morgan passed out 913 assists while Idian led the way with 247 digs. Possidento was at the top in total blocks with 63 while Brett Hunter added 45.
Gianacopolos said the seniors’ eagerness and willingness to learn stuck out to him.
“They came in every day wanting to learn something, wanting to get better at a skill,” Gianacopolos said. “By this time of the year, they know the skills, it’s just performing them.”
Gianacopolos said the program will be losing a lot with the graduation of the senior class, but the team’s competitiveness won’t change, and neither will the expectations and desire to perform each skill.
“What made this first group so strong this year, was really successful, was the second group that they practiced against,” Gianacopolos said. “The second group practiced so strong against them and wanted to do well against them, to push them further. This group coming back next year will be fun to coach next year, and I’m looking forward to it.”
Another thing that stuck out to Gianacopolos about his returning players was the practice he had with the juniors, sophomores and freshmen while the seniors were at their class day.
“I played, and I was with them, and we never laughed so hard and enjoyed the hour and a half practice,” Gianacopolos said. “Knowing that moment, that one practice, and seeing the younger guys open up and really look up and say I’m really having fun here, those are the moments.”
No one will forget what the 2019 Southington boys volleyball team did. The Knights won 23 matches and captured division and conference tournament championships. They also added to the legacy and the family that Southington boys volleyball strives for.
To contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com