Hawks back in semifinals


BEACON FALLS — The Woodland volleyball team gave senior Jenna Boncal quite the birthday gift — a fourth straight trip to the state semifinals.

The top-seeded Hawks swept No. 25 Rockville, 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 31-29), Nov. 13 in the quarterfinals of the Class M tournament.

“I was hoping for [a win], and honestly this is so amazing because now we get to go to semis and we’ve been to semis four years in a row now. And, apparently no NVL (volleyball) team has done that. It’s amazing,” said Boncal, who celebrated her 18th birthday versus Rockville with three kills and three assists.

Woodland (21-2) will play No. 4 Waterford (18-4) in the semifinals Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Guilford High School. The winner will move on to play for a Class M title against No. 7 Ellington (16-6) or No. 6 East Haven (16-6) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Berlin High School.

The Hawks took the first two sets against Rockville (10-13) with relative ease. Led by Samantha White (15 kills, five digs, three aces) on offense, Woodland trailed the Rams, 2-1, early on in game one but didn’t trail again in the first two sets.

In game three, the Rams showed they weren’t going to go down without a fight.

“We had heard Rockville was pretty scrappy and they definitely proved that,” Woodland head coach Jim Amato said. “They make you earn your points.”

Rockville maintained a lead for much of the third set, and held a four-point advantage four times in the game. The Rams had their chances to close out the set with a 24-21 lead, but the Hawks battled back.

“When we get into a tight match is sometimes when we elevate our game, and we’re able to rise to an occasion,” Amato said.

White took the serve with Woodland down 24-22 and the Hawks proceeded to turn the deficit into a 25-24 lead.

The teams traded blows until Woodland’s Cameron Caswell (25 digs, four aces, one kill) took the serve with the Hawks clinging to a 30-29 lead. With the game in the balance, Caswell focused on just getting the serve in.

“Then your offense will work around you and then it’ll all be good in the end, as long as you get the serve in,” Caswell said.

Caswell got the serve in and the Hawks’ offense did the rest to put the prolonged game away.

“I was just relieved that we could finally go to semis,” said Caswell about her emotions once the final point was recorded.

Woodland, which earned a first-round bye, opened the tournament Nov. 11 with a 3-1 (18-25, 25-20, 25-22, 25-20) win over No. 16 Tolland.

Deep tournament runs have become routine for the Hawks. Woodland lost in the semifinals, 3-1, last year to top-seeded and eventual Class M champion Granby Memorial. In 2013, the Hawks won the tournament, and in 2012 they were runner-up.

“Success like this doesn’t just happen in a single year,” Amato said.

Amato said the program was built on the legacy of past players, while the coaches, managers and every current player work hard to carry on that legacy.

That hard work was evident against the Rams. Carla Piccolo dished out 15 assists to go along with 11 digs. McKenna Cronin notched seven kills and three aces, while Maddie Hupprich had 13 assists and six digs.  Ruthie Costanzo and Gina Farina added two kills and two aces, respectively.

As the Hawks prepare for another semifinal appearance, they aren’t taking anything for granted.

“We don’t want to take anything for granted and we just want to prepare, prepare, prepare,” Boncal said.

Nor is the team satisfied at just making four consecutive semifinals.

“The job’s not done, yet. We play everything that’s in front of us; one point, one set, one match at a time,” Amato said.

Volleyball notebook

After the top-seeded Hawks swept No. 25 Rockville Nov. 13 in the quarterfinals of the Class M tournament to advance to their fourth straight semifinals, Woodland head coach Jim Amato couldn’t help but get on a roll when talking about his players.

Carla Piccolo set a great floor, Amato said, and hit some of the smartest options on offense. He described Piccolo as a multi-dimensional player that doesn’t get the credit she deserves.

“If there’s a skill in volleyball, she does it,” he said.

Sam White had one of the best nights of the season, he said.

“If you are going to rise to an occasion this is the time of the season to summit the mount,” he said.

McKenna Cronin was just all over the place,” he said. “Getting to the ball, putting the ball on the court.”

On Cameron Caswell, Amato said, “What more can you say. … That ball landed in six 90 percent of the time and the passes were executed at just as high a percentage every time. I’m not sure how many of their balls hit the ground.”

Ruthie Costanzo stepped confidently into the role of middle hitter versus Rockville, he said, “making the blocks and hit and keeping the momentum going.”

When freshman Stephanie Krebbs blocks a shot, the home crowd typically chants “She’s a freshman,” which is a helpful reminder for Amato.

“I’m glad they do that because sometimes I forget that when she’s out there,” he said.

Maddie (Hupprich) added the energy and distribution when Carla moved to offense and kept the Rockville defense guessing,” he said.

Amato borrowed a line from Shakespeare when speaking about Gina Farina, “She be but tiny but she be but fierce.”

“That’s Gina, that’s what she is,” he said. “You can’t discount her, and what she does on service is not only devastating it’s just intelligent.”

Last but not least, the birthday girl.

“We wanted to serve one up for [Jenna Boncal] on her birthday but she was definitely one of the ones blowing out the candles on her own out there; setting, passing, hitting. She gave herself her own present.”