Just moments after losing 1-0 to Glastonbury in the Class LL finals, senior soccer player, Emma Panarella, was playing in Southington’s Powder Puff.
It was Panarella’s last high school soccer game of her career, and she said she couldn’t think of a better place to be than back on the field after the loss. Panarella and the rest of the senior class may never forget that game last Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain.
“We played well, but I know my team’s capabilities, and they were seen when we beat Glastonbury, 3-0, mid-season,” Panarella said. “Enough said. We worked hard, and we deserved to be there. It was unfortunate we were unable to come away with the results we wanted but I am very proud. We have been working toward this since my freshman year and we all knew we had the talent and chemistry to make it to the state championship.”
But for fans and returning players, it may prove to be the turning point in Southington’s program.
Coach Mike Linehan often repeated the phrase “We’ll be back” during his postgame press conference Saturday. While the Blue Knights didn’t go home with a state ring, perhaps this season brought them to the next level in Connecticut girls soccer.
Since being crowned co-champions in 2002, this season was just the second time Southington made it past the quarterfinals. Since 2008, it was their first time making it past the second round.
Since 2016, the Blue Knights have a combined 55-13-5 record. After not being a top-five seed in the Class LL tournament since 2007, this season was their second straight in the top-five, and they were the No.1 team for the first time in the LL era.
“In the preseason, the thing on our minds was win the state championship,” Linehan said after the loss on Saturday. “I think early on, not too many of them believed that, and as the season went on, they started to believe. Then we started to beat some good teams. We even beat Glastonbury earlier this season. Our nemesis was getting by the first round of the tournament, and when we won that second round game, it was actually becoming a reality to them.”
Linehan said that despite the loss, there are many reasons to call the season a success and it guiding the program in the right direction.
“We had a great run,” Linehan said. “Not only is this the first time we got beat, but it was the first time we were ever behind all season. With the record we had this season, I am very proud of them. This was a big moment, and it was just what we needed.”
The team will be eager to get back out there in 2020, with many key players from this season returning. They return their top-five scorers this season, including Shannon Litchfield, Alli Carr, Abby Sowa, Jess Carr, and Maya Wroblewski. Wroblewski and Jess Carr were also the team leaders in assists.
The Knights will also return their goalkeeper in Saturday’s loss, Emily Eigo.
Panarella said while it is unfortunate she won’t be back next season, she knows the team is just getting started.
“I was honored to be captain of these girls this year and there is no reason they should not be at the championship again next year,” Panarella said. “I wish them the best of luck.”
Linehan said the team can take the loss as a positive heading into the offseaon.
“Obviously, the players were disappointed,” Linehand said of the loss. “But I love the way they responded because that just means we will be back and better for next year. They learned a lot from this game. This loss is healthy. It is good for them. Some find adversity as a step backward but I see it as a step forward. Sometimes a loss like that is exactly what a program needs to take a step forward. Now we know we belong and we know we have something to fight for.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at SDreher@SouthingtonObserver.com.