SOUTHINGTON - From state champions to nationally ranked individual talents, the signing table at Southington High School was packed with talent on Wednesday afternoon.
Five Blue Knights celebrated National Signing Day by committing to the next step of their collegiate careers, as Trinity Cardillo, Matt Penna, Sydney Garrison, Katherine Crouse and Katie Gundersen all inked their NLI’s in front of family, teammates and coaches.
“It’s a great thing that these people are rewarded for the hard work and dedication they put into their sport and their schooling,” said Howie Hewitt, currently serving as the school’s interim athletic director. “Because if they weren’t good students they probably wouldn’t be able to do what they want to do athletically.”
Cardillo signed to compete at Northeastern University as one of the school’s most dominant throwers in its history. As a junior, Cardillo was the Class LL champion in the discus and indoor shot put, and was the runner-up in the shot put at last year’s State Open. In the hammer throw, Cardillo was the state champion and ranked 22nd in the nation, showcasing an all-around dominance that is seldom seen from one athlete.
“She’s been a phenomenal asset to our team,” Southington track head coach Dan Dachelet said. “I know when she joins Northeastern their throwing program is instantly going to get better.”
For Cardillo, her historic results at the high school level helped her recognize a dream that really took hold once she arrived at Southington.
“These three years, the main goal was to go Division-I and see how far I can get,” Cardillo said. “But this has given me a greater collegiate opportunity that I never thought was possible. But my sophomore year, I saw that this could be a serious thing and I loved it so much, so I just rode with it.”
Penna has enjoyed his own historic performances with the school’s boys cross country team, finishing first on the team in every event this season, including a finish of 16:41 in Manchester, which is the third-fastest time by a Blue Knight on that course at Wickham Park. As a result, Penna will be running at Iona College next year.
“It’s really exciting,” Penna said. “This was one of my biggest goals coming into high school, and to actually achieve that is really exciting.”
Back on the track, Garrison has signed to compete at the University of Hartford after her own record-setting high school career. The school’s record holder in the high jump for both indoor and outdoor track, Garrison is a four-time all-conference selection and was a conference champ in the high jump this spring, while also qualifying for the New Balance National Championships that same season.
“She’s probably one of the best personalities we have on our indoor and outdoor track teams,” Dachelet said. “Aside from being a great jumper, she’s also a great person and always brings a smile to our faces.”
Garrison will head to Hartford with a smile on her own face, knowing she will remain close to home while still competing at the highest level.
“I’m so happy to go to a school where I feel really at home at,” Garrison said. “I’m very close with my family, so it’s nice to know they’re only a 30-minute drive away.”
Crouse will also be staying close to home, as the standout defenseman for the girls soccer team will be heading to CCSU, competing at the Division-I level after leading this year’s Blue Knights to one of their best regular seasons in program history.
“She settled in as one of our top defenders and helped us earn the top-ranked seed in the Class LL tournament for the first time ever,” girls soccer head coach Michael Linehan said. “I’m so proud of her.”
The team success that Crouse has experienced in Southington will fit right in with the Blue Devils, who are currently getting set to compete in the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
“I’m really excited to be close to home, and to enjoy such a great team is an honor,” Crouse said. “Winning the NEC back-to-back is huge for them. I’m really excited to join such a great team.”
Gundersen won’t be playing close to home, heading south to play softball at Florida Southern, but she’ll have a sense of home to help ease her into the college experience in her brother Matt, who will be entering his senior year at Florida Southern after playing on the school’s lacrosse team for his first two years.
“Being so far away from home, I’ll have that sense of Connecticut with me, so that’s really exciting,” Gundersen said.
Gundersen will head for warmer climates next fall after helping the Blue Knights to a state championship last season, doing whatever was needed of her and logging time in the outfield and both corner infield positions for head coach Davina Hernandez, who has known Gundersen since her middle school days.
“I immediately knew she was special,” Hernandez said. “Throughout her career, she has had an impact on our program. She had a humongous impact on our state championship last year.”
Before their high school careers close, there is still plenty of unfinished business for all five athletes. Grundersen and the softball team hope to repeat as state champs this spring, while Crouse and the girls soccer team will play for a state quarterfinals spot on Thursday against Amity. Regardless of those outcomes, and the spring season for the boys and girls track teams, the five athletes who were recognized on Wednesday already have the accolades to fill an entire high school career.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org