BEACON FALLS — No team in Connecticut high school boys basketball played a tougher opening week of games than Woodland.
The Hawks started the season with losses to Sacred Heart and Crosby last week. The Bulldogs are ranked third in the state, and the Hearts will likely end up in the rankings sometime this season after obtaining highly-touted transfer Mustapha Heron.
Stacked on top of the schedule was the fact that Woodland started the season with three major players having only one day of practice under their belts after football season ran long.
“I think we played two teams that could wind up in the top 10 of the state, and we did it on a short practice schedule,” Woodland coach Tom Hunt said.
Woodland dropped a 75-44 decision to Sacred Heart Dec. 18 and suffered a 97-42 defeat to Crosby last Friday. Those two teams are expected to be the class of the Naugatuck Valley League this winter.
Tanner Kingsley led the Hawks in scoring during both games. He poured in 21 points against the Hearts and added 20 against the Bulldogs to bring him within 100 points of becoming the first Woodland schoolboy to reach the 1,000-point plateau for his career.
Kingsley, Jack Pinho and Taylor Tucciarone were among the players who only had a chance to practice for one day before the season opener versus Sacred Heart. They played for the Class S state football championship Dec. 13, leaving almost no time to get their hardwood legs.
“We go up and down at a pretty good pace, and football is methodical,” Hunt said. “These guys are in a different mode, and they come in when we’re asking them to do full-court drills. One of the things we’ve done since I got here is building up the guys’ stamina, and without the two weeks to get ready you can see the guys are laboring a little.”
Having Kingsley and Pinho, both returning seniors, back at practice has added plenty to the team, according to Hunt.
“The players from the years before have set the tone for the players in the following year,” Hunt said. “Now that we have Tanner and Jack back, these are guys who know the Woodland way and really push the guys around them in practice. Getting them back really cranked it up a few notches.”
Kingsley and Pinho are starters, and Tucciarone sees quality minutes off the bench. Kingsley is the only player on the squad with starting experience entering this season. The Hawks lost four starters from last year’s team and against Sacred Heart had to start an inexperienced unit, including wingman Ken Koch, center Eric Beutel and guard Austyn Brown.
Beutel scored seven points against Sacred Heart, while Koch added five and Brown scored four. Beutal (illness) and Koch (injury) both missed the Crosby game, leaving the Hawks even more shorthanded. That didn’t stop the team from competing until the final buzzer, which impressed Hunt and assistant coaches Mike and Shane Kingsley.
“We went into the half down 44, and there’s not much you can say,” Hunt said. “But we demanded that they played 32 minutes, and after the game we talked about the effort given in the second half. That’s something our program hangs it hat on.”
The Hawks (0-3) dropped another tough game Monday night falling to Wolcott on the road, 57-52. Kingsley scored 22 points for Woodland while Beutel added 15.
Woodland will play next in the annual Candy Cane Classic tournament at Oxford. The tournament begins Thursday night at 5 p.m. and continues Friday.
“We’re going to be a whole lot better come the end of the season than we are right now,” Hunt said. “We’re still trying to find ourselves. You’ve got some guys coming into roles with varsity pressure, and they’ll get used to it.”