BEACON FALLS — Few teams in any Naugatuck Valley League sport have been as consistent as Woodland volleyball over the last half-decade. Part of that consistency has been the ability for the program to replace playmakers year in and year out.
It looks like it’s that time again.
Yet again, the Hawks have lost a large part of their varsity rotation to graduation and will send a few returners back with a group of inexperienced players in an attempt to win their third league title in five years.
In fact, Woodland has played in the NVL tournament championship game in five of the last six years. But losing Jess Patrizi, the first all-state player in program history, as well as all-league pick Heather Framski and a number of others, the task may be more difficult this year than ever.
Head coach Jim Amato, entering his sixth year at the helm, realizes there are holes left by the graduating seniors and is going about the job of grooming new players.
“Jess Patrizi was one of a kind for Woodland so far, but Heather Framski was no slouch and there were other players before them that helped put Woodland on the map,” Amato said. “To replace them, you have to build a more team-centric approach. There has to be more team contribution to go as far as we did last year. That’s exciting for the players on the team to know because the sky’s the limit.”
In order to get back to the NVL tournament championship and match their No. 4 seed in the Class M tournament, the Hawks will rely on senior captains Adriana Ambari and Emily Wirsing, who along with junior Tayler Boncal are the only returners with significant varsity experience.
“I expect them to communicate what it’s like to play at the varsity level,” Amato said. “Emily is going to be working as a setter. She’s watched Jess for quite some time and knows what to do but to switch out of the libero position, there’s a learning curve. Adriana has added more offensive depth to her game and can do a lot of things in the air. Tayler Boncal has added a little more heat to her overall game.”
Ambari, in particular, grew as an imposing figure at net last year, going toe-to-toe with the league’s best hitters and blockers as a junior.
“I feel that in the last year I’ve grown up a lot as a volleyball player,” Ambari said. “Our team has played together this summer and not only have we improved physically but also mentally. We are working extremely hard this year and pushing ourselves to not only live up to the past performances, but to exceed expectations.”
New players like senior middle blocker Sam Edwon, senior all-purpose player Sehar Khalid, junior defensive specialist Nicole Fowler, and sophomore outside hitter Brianna Pacileo will be among what Amato expects to be a seven-player rotation this season.
Despite the program’s success over the last few years, Amato says it all has to begin again this season.
“The first thing to do is forget how many times we’ve done it before and to set the goal for themselves,” Amato said. “They can’t rest on their laurels. They have to work hard enough to earn it for themselves.”
The Hawks start the season Tuesday with a trip to Watertown at 7 p.m. before a crucial early-season matchup on Friday in Seymour at 6 p.m. Woodland’s home opener is Sept. 20 vs. Wolcott.