A pair of Southington athletes earned recognition this past week, with one being celebrated for their present contributions, and another for a bright future ahead.
Southington’s Katie Gundersen and Brady Lafferty are this week’s Athletes of the Week for putting the Blue Knights in the local spotlight.
Softball season is still months away, but one of the top area talents on the diamond in Gundersen was in the news this week. The senior was one of five Southington athletes to celebrate National Signing Day by officially committing to compete at the next level.
Gundersen, who helped the Blue Knights win the Class LL state championship last spring, will be playing at Division-II Florida Southern in the spring of 2021, where the current roster is stacked with talent from Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and Tennessee, but none nearly as far north as Southington, Connecticut.
“I’m 99 percent sure I’ll be the first player from Connecticut to go down there, so that’s really exciting,” Gundersen said. “I’m really excited.”
For those who have watched Gundersen through her playing career, to be such an outlier for a team in Florida that can play softball all year round makes the accomplishment of playing at the collegiate level even greater.
“I’m so unbelievably proud of her,” Southington head coach Davina Hernandez said. “It’s very challenging to get recruited in Connecticut and play down south in Florida. There is a lot of competition down there and it’s very rare that they look up here. You look at that roster and there probably aren’t any kids from up this way. It’s a huge accomplishment.”
Gundersen opened eyes last year when she batted .417 with 11 RBI through 15 games, just one year removed from an injury that only further showed Hernandez what kind of player she had in Gundersen.
“Not many people know…but Katie suffered a horrific hamstring injury last season, playing in the cold in a scrimmage game,” Hernandez explained. “It was the loudest pop I have ever heard on an athletic field. I think we all were heartbroken for her. But just seeing Katie during that time and being a phenomenal teammate, showing up every day and planning physical therapy around practices and games even though she couldn’t play, was just amazing.”
Gundersen’s path to collegiate softball isn’t surprising at all in the eyes of Hernandez, who knew what kind of talent Gundersen was since she first watched her play over five years ago.
“Katie and I go back to middle school where I met her as a seventh grader,” Hernandez said. “I immediately knew she was special.”
Gundersen will have a chance to put together another special season this spring, when the Blue Knights will look to repeat as state champs, before she heads south for the next step in her decorated softball career.
The Southington football team needed a win on Friday night against rival New Britain to clinch a spot in the Class LL state tournament and have a chance at a state title like the softball team secured last spring, and the Blue Knights’ quarterback made sure it would be a weekend of celebrating.
Lafferty left no doubt against the Hurricanes, throwing for 252 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half, in a 42-0 rout at home to put Southington at 8-1 heading into the final week of the regular season. Southington’s finale will be on the road against a tough Cheshire team, but win or lose, Lafferty helped make sure the Blue Knights will be playing beyond that game.
“We’re really clicking,” said Lafferty, who completed 20 of his 30 passes in the win over New Britain. “We’re coming together as a team and it’s really showing on the field.”
Lafferty’s efficient leadership of the offense has helped Southington score at least four touchdowns in seven of its nine games so far this season. As a team, the Blue Knights are averaging 36.3 points per game, and Lafferty has been a big part of that success, completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,643 yards and 22 touchdowns, compared to just eight interceptions. Lafferty is averaging 13.8 yards per completion on the season, helping boost his quarterback rating to 108.0.
Lafferty’s performance on Friday was hardly an anomaly. The week before, on the road against Manchester, he went 21-35 with 262 yards through the air, including a completion of 46 yards to get the Blue Knights the win. In a blowout win against Simsbury prior to the Manchester win, he threw for another 262 yards with a quarterback rating of 131.5 in a 35-7 win.
Southington will be back in the state tournament this year, after losing in the quarterfinals to Fairfield Prep in 2018. With Lafferty playing the way he is of late, the Blue Knights could see a better result this time around.
“In the beginning of the season, I think we was nervous to lose his spot,” receiver Carter Uhlman said. “He wasn’t loose and was tense. Once, he started to feel relax more, he’s let the ball fly. Before he was holding on to the ball and taking sacks and now, he’s throwing off his back foot with guys in his face and dropping ball in place.”