By KEVIN ROBERTS
When it comes to Southington girls volleyball, success is synonymous with being a part of the program.
The Lady Knights have won 17 or more matches in each of the last five seasons, including 21 in 2017 and 2019. In 2017, Southington (21-4) reached the CCC tournament final and Class LL state semifinals. The Knights won a Class LL state championship in 2009 (23-2) and reached the Class LL state final in 2011 (20-2).
Southington went 21-2 last season and reached the Class LL semifinal round for the second straight year. The Knights claimed the second undefeated regular season in program history, with the first coming in 2004 (also 18-0). Southington entered both the CCC and Class LL state tournaments as the top seed.
The Knights beat No. 16 Hall 3-0 in the first round, but was upset by No. 8 Farmington in a CCC tournament quarterfinal. Southington won two straight matches following a bye in the Class LL state bracket to reach the semifinal round. The Knights were upset again, this time by No. 12 Darien, by a score of 3-2.
If Southington wants to continue to have success, it will need to make up for the loss of some very key players. The Knights graduated four starters; Haley Larrabee, Lynsey Danko, Jenna Martin and Olivia Carpenter. Larrabee, Danko and Martin were the core of Southington’s serve-receive game last season.
“Passing is such a big aspect of the game, and to lose three people like that, it’s tough to replicate,” coach Rich Heitz said.
Larrabee, Danko and Martin were also senior captains, so their leadership is gone as well. Carpenter was the starting setter and is another big hole that needs to be filled. Keishla Rosario also graduated from the 2018 team.
“We will look to continue to develop the setting position,” Heitz said.
Returning senior Mackenzie Coppola saw time as a setter in 2018, and she will be there again in 2019. Senior Era Pasha will be looking to anchor the defense in her second season as a varsity player.
Where Southington stands tall, literally, is up front with its height, something that wasn’t in the program in recent years. Senior Katie Gundersen and junior Veronika Gorski are both six feet tall. Junior Kayli Garcia is 5-10 while senior Brooke Cooney and junior Rachel Possidento come in at 5-9. Senior Katie D’Agostino is listed at 5-8. The Knights were working on getting their blocking timing down in the preseason. Blocking figures to be a big strength for Southington this season.
Another strong point for the Knights is their service game.
“We’ve got some really tough servers. I’ve been pleased with their aggressiveness so far,” Heitz said.
Cooney led the team in aces in 2018 (60) and finished among the leaders in kills (185, second), blocks (13, third) and digs (169, fourth). Gundersen brings a tall presence to the outside hitter position while both Gorski and Garcia showed what they bring to the table as sophomores in 2018. Gorksi led the team in hitting percentage at .246 while Garcia tallied 107 kills. Possidento and D’Agostino are much-improved players. Possidento, who was a JV player last season, has stood out to Heitz.
The Knights took on several tough teams at an all-day preseason scrimmage on Sept. 7 in Darien. Along with Southington and Darien, the scrimmage was attended by Bristol Central, Bristol Eastern, East Lyme, Farmington and RHAM, among others. Southington hosts Central in its home opener on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
“Bristol Central is going to be very good this year,” Heitz said. “That will be a tough match for us.”
There will be new starters in the lineup this season, and figuring out where the new pieces fit will be key for Southington. The Knights opened the season on Thursday with a non-conference road match against Masuk in Monroe. The Panthers are from the South-West Conference.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com