BEACON FALLS — When Woodland girls basketball senior co-captains Haley Andrews and Eliza Smith entered practice early this preseason, they realized they had some work to do with the influx of young players on the roster.
“Some of them didn’t even know how to do a proper layup,” Andrews said.
So aside from the instruction of Woodland coaches Jess Moffo and Joe Kmetz, the Hawks’ captains took it upon themselves to lend a little extra help to the underclassmen.
“We kind of act like extra coaches, especially during the first few weeks,” Smith said. “Haley and I would always be walking them through drills. We’d do basic form shooting, and I’d stop to show them because they didn’t know how to shoot. It was building from the ground up.”
Moffo expected quality leadership from the duo, whom she also coached as an assistant in soccer, but she admits that she didn’t foresee their efforts in helping the offensive progression of the young Hawks.
“I knew leadership-wise we wouldn’t have a problem,” Moffo said. “The kids look up to them. But what they’ve done for the program this year, words can’t explain. People thought with us losing Jenna (Pannone), Maddie (Hupprich) and Morina (Bojka) — that’s 85 percent of our offense (from last year) — we wouldn’t score 25 points a game. We’re averaging 42 points a game right now.”
Woodland raced out to a 3-1 start to the season with Andrews and Smith among the team’s leading scorers. A three-game losing streak that followed dropped the Hawks below .500, but it was one of those losses that proved more to the captains than any of the victories.
“Watertown was a really good game for us,” Andrews said of Woodland’s 49-47 loss to the Indians on Jan. 3. “We came together. That brought a lot of confidence to us. We went into that game not thinking we’d get crushed, but it was going to be really tough for us. Only losing by two makes us look like a better team. People are like, ‘Oh, you’re young this year.’ But we’re not that bad.”
“When we were younger and in middle school, we were so bad. We never won,” Smith added. “I don’t want to make it sound like winning doesn’t matter, because it does matter to me, but as long as it’s a good game — that game was awesome and you can see how far we’ve come.”
Andrews calls Smith “one of our best leaders” and “just a good person,” while Smith praises Andrews’ athletic ability and the fact that “she makes me smile every day — she makes it better on the harder days.”
Andrews and Smith have each taken their turns leading the team in scoring — Smith netted a team-high 15 points in that loss to Watertown and another team-high 13 in Tuesday’s 53-34 loss to Sacred Heart, while Andrews scored 17 in a nonconference win over Kaynor Tech — but their work with the underclassmen has benefited everyone. Junior Hana Bojka and sophomore Jill Barbarito have each topped the Hawks’ scoring charts once this season.
That was evident on Wednesday as the Hawks improved to 4-4 on the season with a 58-35 win over Wilby. Bojka posted a triple-double with 14 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, while Andrews led the team with a game-high 21 points.
Moffo attributes much of that parity to her captains.
“Their work ethic, their dedication, their overall willingness to compete and try to make the team the best it can be — they’re great kids with great character,” Moffo said. “They’re going to be successful in life. They’re the epitome of student-athletes. I wish I could have them for another four years.”
Woodland will host Torrington on Friday before hitting the road next Wednesday to play Oxford.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version printed in the Jan. 12 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on games played through Jan. 10.