Strong Pitching And Hitting Will Keep Knights In ContentionTracks Looks To Build Upon Success From Indoor Season
Having a dominant pitcher and a formidable offense is almost always a formula for success in softball. It is this formula that Ellington hopes to following as the 2012 season begins.
The Knights went 16-4 last season before falling to Granby in the second round of the state tournament, and the goal is to improve upon that and make a run in both the NCCC and the state tournament. Ace pitcher Rachel Tshonas will be one of the major keys for Ellington despite an early season injury.
“Rachel is a dominant force,” said head coach Tom Gordon. “We’re looking for her to give us a great performance every time out. We might not have her for a little while because she suffered an elbow bruise versus East Lyme. We’re hoping it’s nothing serious. I’m confident in our pitching. Even when she’s not out there, we have a good pitchers behind her.”
Ellington returns nine varsity players, and with the significant experience comes a talented and disciplined offense. The team’s underclassmen do an outstanding job of complementing their skilled veteran teammates in the order.
Gordon considers catcher Mackenzie Whiting one of the anchors on both sides of the ball. The play of talented freshman Emily Brown and senior infielder Ali Larew, who has the potential to be an All-Conference player alongside Tshonas, will also be very important to the Knights success.
Ellington is 2-1 after three games. The Knights defeated a good Canton team 6-0 and Bolton 18-1 before falling to East Lyme 15-10 on April 7. Gordon was impressed by his squad’s defense and especially their offense in the first week but said that Ellington unraveled against East Lyme after Tshonas was injured.
“I expect we could go further than last year,” Gordon stated. “We have a chance to be a good team.”
Ellington was 12-8 in the regular season last year and lost in the first round of the Class M state tournament to Montville. The Knights should be an improved team in 2012 and according to head coach Keith Taukas, they should be one of the top contenders in the NCCC.
Ellington’s chances at a league title will depend upon pitching consistency. Jake Gagne is an experienced front man, but the many of the pitchers behind him are largely inexperienced. The team is hoping that Matt Kramer, who regularly plays the outfield, will be another dependable starter.
Ellington should have a strong offense. Mike Cleary batted .370 in 2011, and the lineup features other accomplished hitters like Nick Binkowski and Kramer. Ellington outscored their first two opponents – Canton and Bolton 31-1.
“The upper level teams in our conference like Enfield and Avon are tough, but I think that on any given day we’re capable of beating them,” said Taukas. “If we find some consistency with our pitching then we should compete for the league title. I’m not going to give any specific predictions, but I can see this team doing well in the state tournament.”
Ellington went .500 last year before advancing to the second round of the Class S tournament. The Knights hope to build on last year’s campaign but with jut seven returning varsity players, lack of experience could be a factor early in the season.
It’s still too early to tell how well we’ll perform,” said head coach Dave Giordano. “Our kids are talented but they’re young in terms of varsity experience. In practice we’re working on trying to master offensive and defensive moves while understanding where your teammates are on the field at all times. The biggest thing for us will be improving in playing together as a team day-to-day.”
Zach Palmer and Josh Wenintraub will take on leadership roles for Ellington. Palmer is a talented scorer while Wenintraub is a strong and quick defenseman. Giordano stated that goalie Kevin Bostiga has improved considerably and will be a key to their team.
The Knights lost 4-2 to Granby Memorial on April 4th to open the season before defeating Housatonic Valley 14-4 three days later. Giordano was pleased with both results.
“In the first game we made a lot of little mistakes, but we played a good Granby team very tough,” he stated. “I was pleasantly surprised with the Housatonic game. I think we can compete with anyone in the NCCC,” said Giordano. “How well we do going forward is going to be determined by how well we play together as a team.”
The Knights graduated their top scorer and strongest passer from a team that was 5-9. The one weapon Ellington has is midfielders with outstanding athleticism. Kelly Conley, Josie Gerber and Rachel Ziter each possess exceptional speed and the ability to score from anywhere on the field. This trio will need to score consistently to make up for Ellington’s overall lack of offensive depth.
The team is using a new defensive system in 2012 and according to head coach Tom Bosworth, is still a work in progress. Ellington dropped its season opener to Granby 13-8.
“I didn’t think we worked together or communicated well on defense in the first half of that game,” said coach Tom Bosworth. “In the second half I felt our communication was a lot better and that Alysse Jones really stepped up in goal.”
Bosworth feels that games against conference powers Avon and Suffield later this month will give him a better handle on exactly how strong of a team Ellington might be.
Ellington performed strongly in the NCCC last season before placing ninth in the Division III state championships. The Knights possess a well-rounded group of golfers in 2012 and are looking to compete for a conference crown in a down year for the NCCC.
“I am confident we can contend in and possibly win the conference and then qualify for states,” said head coach Mike Stiles. “With an excellent golfer in Mike Thibodeau and then a group of players who can all shoot par or better, we’ll be competitive in every match.”
Thibodeau is the Knights star. While inconsistent, the senior is frequently capable of great performances and according to Stiles, has the potential to be both an All-Conference and All-State golfer. Behind Thibodeau, Jeff Bird and Greg Ussery are both much improved from 2011.
With both a great golfer and depth, it is easy to believe the Knights will be stronger in 2012.
“I wouldn’t say we’re a favorite in the NCC, but we have a decent shot at the title with it not being as strong as recent years,” Stiles stated. “States has a very weird format. We could have a high finish or do poorly. All we can do there is golf our best.”
The Knights won the NCCC title in indoor and return a team that is extremely skilled in the sprint and distance events.
Alex Oliwa is an elite sprinter for Ellington. He was the conference indoor 55 meter champion in and holds his program’s second fastest 200 meter dash time ever. Oliwa placed fourth in the 200 meter dash and ninth in the 100 dash at the 2011 Class M championships. In the distance events, Alex Smith finished sixth in the 3200 meters at the 2011 states and was the conference 1000 champion this winter, and Neal Hulstein was the NCCC champion in the 1600.
“I feel like we can have at least one person in the top three of every flat track race at the NCCC meet,” stated Aaron Flamino. “I’m confident we can win the conference meet, but all our top runners will have to perform very well to overcome the inconsistency we will have in the other events.”
Newcomers and non-scoring returners make up a large portion of the girls squad this year.
Much of the emphasis this season will be given to developing the consistency and ability of the team’s new athletes. While this process may take a while, the Knights have the potential to be a much better team by the end of the season.
“We have to educate the new runners about the sport,” stated Flamino. “They need to learn things like what you need to do as a runner if you’re boxed in. I’m confident I’m not sure how our newcomers are going to perform, but I’m confident they’ll be better going into the tournaments.”
Ellington top performers are spread out across the board. Patience Turkson was the conference indoor shot-put champion. Alissa Rodgers finished fifth in the 300 hurdles last season at states, while Sara Moore was the NCCC indoor long jump champion. Finally, Kayla Sgarlata qualified for both the 1600 and 3200 at the 2011 state championship.
Ellington is experiencing somewhat of a rebuilding year. The Knights lost their top two singles players and their number one doubles group from the 2011 team. Head Coach Rich Willis will be in a mix and match mode this season, as he tries to figure out in which positions inexperienced players will be most successful.
Junior Sanchan Panchal is an All-Conference player who had a decent performance in his state tournament match last season. Andrew Parker is a three year player who also qualified for the state tournament in 2011 and will play in the middle of the order. Finally, Nick Salwa will be essential in the doubles as Ellington searches for a strong doubles pairing.
“I hope that as we find consistency we’ll be able to play well enough to qualify for the state tournament,” said Willis. I have no idea how well we could do in the tournament, but that is always our goal.”
The strength of the girl’s tennis team - which Willis also serves as head coach - will be its overall depth.
The Knights number one is junior Hannah Riley. Riley was an All-Conference player in 2011, and Willis does not hold back in his praise of her.
“Hannah is a good player and has a huge amount of potential,” said Willis. “She has already had a little bit of success in states and she has the potential to go way beyond where she’s qualified up to this point. It’s just a matter of her combining her athletic and mental ability.”
Ellington has a decent amount of talent in both singles and doubles beyond Riley. Janna Grinaski should provide good play for the Knights in the middle of the lineup. In doubles, captain Courtney McGowan Karli King and Allison Steinmetz are all solid and have experience while freshman Kathryn Sisco looked good in her first career match vs Bolton.
“I was pleasantly surprised with our performance (against Bolton),” stated Willis. “Our freshmen, especially Sisco, played very well.”