SOUTHINGTON — Excuse Mike Forgione for being at a loss Monday night following his Southington girls basketball team’s latest loss.
The head coach is experiencing something he hasn’t had to endure in his 15 years of coaching.
Southington didn’t just lose Monday night. The Blue Knights were overmatched by a .500 team in falling to 2-6.
Southington’s 46-18 loss to Hall was certainly a low point in a season of lowlights, as the Blue Knights committed a season-high 25 turnovers and made just six field goals.
“I’ve never been through something like this before,” said Forgione, who as a head basketball coach has averaged 15 wins a year. “I was always the guy who told other coaches, ‘Hang in there.’ Now I’m getting texts from coaches.
“What’s frustrating for the girls is they’ve been coming to games for the past 10 years, since they were 4-, 5- and 6-years old, and they’ve seen (Southington) go on some good runs,” Forgione added.
“(But) I knew it was going to be a little bit of a rebuilding year. I keep reminding them that all I can ask is they do the best they can. If they are giving me everything they have, every day, that’s all you can ask for as a coach. And I think the effort is there.”
As he admits, Forgione knew his ninth season at Southington would be different, if not a challenge. The Blue Knights said goodbye to All-State first teamer and 2018 Record-Journal Player of the Year Janette Wadolowski.
Now at Tufts University, Wadolowski averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds last year as a senior. A four-year starter, she left Southington as the school’s No. 2 all-time leading scorer with 1,229 points.
Southington also just happened to have 2017 Record-Journal Player of the Year Maggie Meehan running point for four years. Meehan is now in her sophomore year at Williams College.
With both Wadolowski and Meehan, the Blue Knights reached the 2017 CCC Tournament final and advanced to the Class LL state quarterfinals that season. Wadolowski led Southington (16-7) back to the state tournament last year.
“Losing Janette was like losing three (players), so it’s like I lost all five, she was that good,” joked Forgione. “We’ve been spoiled here a little bit. When you have players like (Wadolowski and Meehan) the past four, five, six years coming through the program, they can steady the ship, keep us in line.
“Not having that (this year) is taking a toll on us. But, like I said, the effort is there,” Forgione added.
The injury bug also hit Southington before the first game of the season. Sophomore Allie Carr, who started as a freshman and is regarded as the team’s best defender, tore her meniscus during a scrimmage. Carr underwent surgery on her knee Tuesday and won’t play this season.
Also gone is last year’s point guard, Madison Hulten, who decided not to play basketball.
While Forgione knew Wadolowski wouldn’t be back, losing Carr and Hulten was certainly unexpected.
With Carr lost for the season, junior Bri Harris and 6-foot sophomore center Kelley Marshall are the two returning starters. Carr (7.2 ppg) was Southington’s second-leading scorer behind Wadolowski a season ago. In her absence, Marshall now leads the Blue Knights in scoring at just under 10 points per game.
“We knew (losing Carr) would be a loss, but we have to keep fighting,” Marshall said. “We are going to just keep going, try to knock off some teams and give everyone a good fight.
“Although we are young, we really feel like we can handle playing with these teams.”
“To their credit, all the girls have been very positive,” Forgione said. “The girls’ attitudes have been good about trying new things, and we are trying different things.
“We are going to mix and match a little bit, because we don’t want to just keep trying to do the same thing if it’s not working,” Forgione added. “Whether it works or not, we are going to go down fighting.”
Southington’s lone senior, 5-8 guard Kristen Longley, starts alongside freshman point guard Julia Korp. Megan Mikosz, a 5-10 junior, gives the Blue Knights another big presence in the starting lineup. Sophomore guard Livvy Pizzitola also returns with varsity experience.
“I knew that (Janette) was a big part of the team and we weren’t going to be able to replace her,” Longley said. “But as a team, we had to mesh together and be something like Janette.
“We knew we were in a little bit of trouble (losing Carr), but we had to pick each other up.”
Southington’s overall lack of varsity experience is starting to show. Southington won its season opener against Conard, but has now lost six of its past seven games. The only other win came at Wolcott.
In Monday night’s loss to Hall, the Blue Knights didn’t make a shot in the first and fourth quarters. Still, they’ve shown they can compete, losing by three points to Glastonbury and Farmington and putting up over 60 points in both of their wins.
“We talk about playing with that passion,” Forgione said. “It’s getting after loose balls, bumping cutters, going after rebounds, diving after balls, being aggressive going to the basket offensively: It’s all those things.
“The effort is there, but we just have to bring more intensity. I think if we can start finishing some shots and get some momentum going, we can be more successful.”
Adding to the challenge of winning, this year’s Southington squad is paying for previous success. Southington’s CCC crossover schedule is based on the Blue Knights reaching the CCC Tournament final two seasons ago and making the Class LL final eight in 2017.
A year ago, Southington was able to manage the tougher schedule with Wadolowski leading the way. This year has been a different story.
“One thing I told the kids is we aren’t going to get a night off,” Forgione said. “There won’t be a game where we can gain a little confidence. We have to do it on the fly.
“We are going to get everyone’s best shot. Nobody is feeling sorry for us, that’s for sure.”
While the Blue Knights figure to take their lumps this season, the core of this group will at least return. And while experience alone won’t translate into success, Forgione is confident this group of young Blue Knights will work to turn losses into wins.
“The experience they get this season will pay off, but only if they put in the work during the offseason,” Forgione said. “And I think they will.
“We are going to just keep fighting through the season and do the best we can, but I really think this offseason will be telling for these girls,” Forgione added. “If they really want it, they’ll come back ready to go.”