BEACON FALLS — There’s more to winning volleyball matches than kills, digs and hitting percentage. And for the Woodland Hawks, it starts with senior leadership and team spirit.
Being a good teammate. Creating a positive atmosphere. Leading by example. These are the tenets that head coach Jim Amato and his staff have instilled in their team, and the players have bought in. The team connects on the court, around the school, and in the offseason.
“Off the court the team has just as much excitement and chemistry as on the court,” said Lindsey Gabianelli, who had 17 digs in Woodland’s 3-1 win over Kennedy Sept. 30. “Through the years we have developed a strong friendship and really know how to come together as a family. People may not know that our practices this year have been themed, which inspires team spirit and friendly competition to see who goes all out.”
The Hawks defeated Crosby, 3-0, on Tuesday night and improved to 9-1 overall. Coming off a 21-3 season last year, the expectations remain high and the seniors provide a calming influence to their younger teammates.
“Another major thing about our team that I love is the big sister/little sister program,” said Maddie Hupprich, who had 24 assists and 10 aces on Tuesday night. “Everyone upperclassman gets paired with an underclassman and we decorate each other locker on game day. This really helps bring the team closer together and create team morale.”
The team not only makes positive exchanges in the hallways of Woodland and on the volleyball court, but also on day trips designed as team-building activities.
“We know we can rely on each other and the jokes we share outside of the game help us remain optimistic during tough matches,” said Katie Minutillo, who had four kills and three assists on Tuesday. “We also participate in activities outside of the sport, like going for hikes or playing at the beach.”
The older players make it a point to be approachable and reach out to their younger teammates. The goal is to ease the tension of the varsity level and pressure to succeed.
“During practice, I’ll make a point of going up to the freshmen and sophomores to talk to them about stuff other than volleyball,” Hupprich said. “This lets them know that they can come to me with anything that they need, even if it’s not just volleyball. I think some of the freshmen were nervous to talk to me at first because I’m their senior captain. I just let them know that I’m nothing to be afraid of, and that they can talk to me about anything and everything.”
Gabianelli added, “I try and bring enthusiasm and team work together. I like to let my teammates know that no matter what happens, whether it’s a shank or missed serve, we are in this together.”
In the last four years, the Woodland girls volleyball program has an 86-14 record with a state title and four straight trips to the state semifinals. The Hawks are proof that this run of success doesn’t just happen with talent and athletic ability.
“The coaching staff makes it clear during practice and games that all team members contribute to our success in the game,” Minutillo said. “We all work hard in practice to help each other improve.”
The hard work appears to be paying off.
Woodland will visit Watertown on Friday night before a showdown at home Oct. 13 versus Seymour.