SOUTHINGTON - After Michael Zapatka came up lame following a collision with Southington goaltender Garrett Brown, the sophomore midfielder for the Newington boys lacrosse team shook off the pain and stayed in the game. He didn’t want to come out when the Indians were battling to erase 12 years of losing to the Blue Knights.
Plus, the team needed him.
But one quarter later, Zapatka was involved in another collision in the attacking zone, and after being examined by the training staff, took his pads off for the day while Newington tried to find other outlets of offense in an eventual losing effort.
“We didn’t have a lot of depth,” Indians head coach Zach Zarookian said after the 13-9 defeat. “We lost Mike to a concussion and that really hurt us. I don’t think that was the difference in the game, but having one less [midfielder] hurt a lot.”
It’s unclear if Zapatka will miss games due to the injury, but the Indians’ need to fill an already big void in the roster is apparent. After reaching the qualifying round of the Class L state tournament last year with a 10-7 record, Newington has been tasked to fill the shoes of Connor Brennan, a recently graduated senior who left the program with the most career points in team history.
Joining Brennan on the graduation walk last year were Rob Petronio and Matt Barron, a pair of Indians who moved on to play at the collegiate level, leaving Zarookian with the task of replacing a bit of production this season. Still, looking through his roster, Zarookian likes what he sees from his returning core.
“Connor was a great player,” Zarookian said. “He’s probably the best player we’ve had over the past two years. We miss him a lot, but we have a lot of good players here. We have three senior attacks and a lot of good sophomores. They have good chemistry.”
It’s hard to replace a talent like Brennan, but Newington has done its best to do so over its first four games. The Indians hold a 2-2 record and have recorded double-digit goals in three of their first four games, coming up just short of making it 4-for-4 in Monday’s nine goal effort. What Newington may have lost in experience and talent, they have gained a sense of youthful hunger that has kept the team wanting another state tournament berth this season.
“We’ve been working hard and incorporating a lot of our younger players,” senior Dan Pestrichello said after scoring four goals in the loss to the Blue Knights. “They bring a lot of intensity to the offense. I think that will be great later in the season once they mature.”
On the defensive end, Petronio was a cornerstone for the Indians, helping anchor a group of two seniors, but the now sophomore-heavy defensive group has come along nicely so far for Zarookian, who believes the young core is already playing ahead of its experience level.
“Having two seniors on defense was big for us,” Zarookian said. “We miss those guys, but we have a lot of confidence in who we have. We have a young defense, and they’re getting better every day. They’re doing a good job. They have improved a lot over the first three weeks.”
The improvement has come via baptism by fire, thrusting the underclassmen into game action, which has forced them to adapt and improve. So far, that plan seems to be working. The Indians are still searching to snap its 0-11 streak against Southington since 2007, but the 13-9 loss was the second-closest scoring margin in that span. Strides are being made, and more importantly, lessons are being learned, which the team believes will pay dividends as the schedule and the weather heat up.
“That’s how you learn, by jumping right into it,” Pestrichello said. “There will be some mistakes expected early in the season, but it’s about how you come back from those mistakes. Later in the season, they will hopefully pay off.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org