With the Naugatuck Valley League volleyball tournament a day away, Woodland coach Jim Amato finally feels as though he knows the identity of his Hawks.
“We have a better sense of self now,” said Amato, whose team reeled off 10 straight wins after a tight midseason loss to Seymour. “We’re playing with confidence. They’ve not only found an identity, but they’ve found the motivation. They’ve got goals set and they know they can reach them.”
Woodland drop two matches — 3-0 to Seymour and 3-2 to East Haven — this week to end the regular season 14-5. The most trouble the Hawks had during that 10-match winning streak was a 3-2 victory over Naugatuck on Oct. 18.
The back-and-forth affair with the Greyhounds saw the Hawks pull away for a 15-9 win in the fifth and final set. During the match, Amato had to switch up his lineup to account for injuries and illnesses — including the absence of leading attacker Steph Krebbs.
“I wasn’t even paying attention in set three (because of a medical incident),” Amato recalled. “I called a timeout and told (the team), ‘You’d better get angry and finish this,’ and they did. I put the same group out there in the fourth, and we got smashed. (Before the fifth), I grabbed the lineup-change sheet — I took the outside (hitter) and put her in the middle, put a JV player on the outside, took a defensive specialist and put her in the service rotation. And it all worked.”
Lexie Chabot paced Woodland’s attack with 20 kills and two blocks against Naugy. Alyssa Lukeski added 11 kills and nine digs, while Krebbs tallied nine kills and two blocks in limited action. Fatima Khalid facilitated the offense with 47 assists, Elayna Beutel chipped in with six kills, and Rachel Poulos had 17 digs.
For Naugatuck, Hailey Russell and Brielle Behuniak led the offense with nine and eight kills, respectively. Hailey Deitelbaum contributed four kills and two blocks.
Amato feels as though the major factor during the Hawks’ hot streak was their back-row defense.
“Our defensive play has really held down the fort in the back row,” Amato said. “Our passing has gotten a lot sharper, which gives us opportunities to execute offensive plays.”
Woodland and Naugatuck are two of the top five contenders for the NVL championship. The tournament begins Saturday. No. 5 Naugatuck heads to No. 4 St. Paul for a quarterfinal match, while No. 3 Woodland will host No. 6 Ansonia.
Defending champion Seymour is the tourney’s top seed and enters the postseason undefeated. Kennedy and St. Paul are also expected to be in contention.
After a 6-0 start to the season, Naugatuck cooled off some and went 5-5 over its next 10 games. The Greyhounds won three of their final four matches, beating Wolcott, Torrington and Crosby, to finish the regular season 14-6. The loss in the final stretch came to Seymour.
Naugatuck swept Crosby, 3-0, on Thursday in the regular-season finale.
Behuniak had nine kills, nine assists and eight points, and Russell added eight kills, nine assists to go along with eight points. Deitelbaum had 14 points, and Sara Wisniewski had 11 points.
The key in the postseason is consistency, Amato said.
“We have to stay consistent,” Amato said. “That’s basically all we have to do. When we’re running on that hot streak, we’re hard to beat.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version that is published in the Oct. 25 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on games played after press time.