BEACON FALLS — Although the Woodland boys basketball team only has one win to show for its efforts so far this season, Hawks coach Tom Hunt thinks his squad is moving in the right direction.
Woodland earned its first win two weeks ago in the semifinals of the Candy Cane Classic, which saw the Hawks knock off Ansonia 55-47. They followed up with a 79-51 loss to Amity in the tournament championship and also suffered a 51-45 defeat to Holy Cross on Tuesday in their first game of the calendar year.
Despite the 1-5 record, though, Hunt is pleased with his team’s progress.
“With one quarter of the season down, I think we’re starting to come together more in practice,” Hunt said. “You can see the kids starting to understand more things, and they’re accepting their roles. We’ve had some guys who haven’t played a lot of varsity minutes, and they’re getting a lot more comfortable with what they have to do.”
One of those players is sophomore center Eric Beutel. The 6-foot-5 post player is in his first season of varsity action and posted a pair of 15-point games against Wolcott and Ansonia.
“He’s just started to play expanded varsity minutes and he’s getting comfortable with where he needs to be in the offense,” Hunt said. “He’s finishing around the hoop. The biggest thing with him is that he’s becoming more seasoned. He has tremendous upside.”
Austyn Brown, another player in his first varsity campaign with the Hawks, has also settled into his role. He scored 12 points against Holy Cross in a game Woodland led in the fourth quarter before the Crusaders pulled away at the free throw line.
Woodland’s struggles have been magnified by the fact that it has not been at full strength this season. Beutel missed a game due to an illness, and Kenny Koch returned Tuesday after missing several weeks with an Achilles injury. The Hawks also hope to get Shane Classey back from an ACL injury within the next month.
The bright spot for Woodland, as expected, has been senior guard Tanner Kingsley. Kingsley scored 24 points against Holy Cross to give him exactly 1,000 for his career. He is the first player in the history of Woodland’s boys basketball program to reach that milestone and the fourth overall to hit 1,000.
“He’s a very special player that you only come across a couple of those in your coaching career,” Hunt said. “From day one, he’s been fearless and does anything I ask him to do. That’s shown in the way that he’s played in the four years he’s been with me. As the program continues to be successful, hopefully before I leave we’ll be able to hang a couple more.”
The Hawks will play an important Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division game Thursday at Watertown before finally returning home Saturday night against Naugatuck. Woodland will also host Seymour on Tuesday, making it two consecutive rivalry games for the Hawks.
“Seymour has always been the school rivalry, but the Naugatuck game has really climbed up there,” Hunt said. “With the two towns next to each other and how football sets the tone, we’ve had some pretty good barnburners between ourselves and Naugatuck. It’s something that both teams get up for.”