SOUTHINGTON – Southington boys volleyball have been put through the wringer, schedule-wise, throughout the last month of its regular season.
Southington has played nine matches in 15 days, including a run of four matches in four consecutive days.
The schedule hadn’t appeared to have impacted the Blue Knights until their loss to Newington in its regular-season finale on Wednesday. Southington had only lost once before in its first game of the season versus Conard.
“Athletes need a mental break,” Blue Knights coach Lou Gianacopolos said. “Even if it’s practice, you need that release because you don’t want to carry it in. This is emotional game [Wednesday], now they have to go into a tournament game [Thursday], so only a few people can actually let that go. You’ve got to have a short memory and let it go.”
Southington got out to a fast start against the Nor’easters, winning the first set, 25-22, but then failed to adjust to a new look from Newington during the second set, and proceeded to fall in the following three sets to take the defeat.
“Our passing wasn’t where it needed to be to give our setters options with the ball to distribute it,” Gianacopolos said. “When the ball is off the net, the setter can only go to two locations and so Newington can pin the double blockers on the two outside hitters. When we have perfect passing in the middle, we can run middle, outside, right side and it’s a little tougher to defend. We weren’t able to pass well enough to be effective in all hitting positions.”
The Blue Knights’ lack of precision could be attributed to their hefty workload late in the season. The Nor’easters also appeared to have shocked Southington’s mental fortitude after switching strategies during that second frame as its morale suffered in comparison to Newington.
“Communication was low, it was really low for us,” Gianacopolos said. “When the boys are not communicating with each other, the family itself doesn’t perform as well. This team is different than any of the other teams that I’ve had since 2003. This team does not have a great volleyball player, what makes them great is they’re all playing together when they’re all playing together. That’s what makes them 16-2.”
Winners of 16 straight leading up to its loss on Wednesday, including a 3-1 win over the same Nor’easters on Monday, the Blue Knights faced some adversity heading into postseason play, which kicks off Thursday with the Central Connecticut Conference tournament.
Without its starting right side Anthony Picone as well during the contest, Southington will have to sort out its struggles quickly if it wants to finish out the season on a strong note.
“That was another piece of the puzzle missing from the family and we were trying to make up for that with different people,” Gianacopolos said. “All season long we’ve had Anthony hitting on the right side and when we had to have Mitchell [Messina], who’s a shorter setter, set from the front row, trying to stop their big outside’s, it’s tough.”
Both Southington and Newington will look to grab conference titles this weekend before the CIAC state tournament gets underway next week.
Ryan Ames can be reached at 860-801-5094 or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.