SOUTHBURY — The exit was swift and painful, but it didn’t take long after the Woodland volleyball team’s loss in the Class M state semifinals for coach Jim Amato to reflect on the many positives his Hawks experienced this fall.
“At that point, only 16 teams out of 164 remain,” Amato said, referring to the four semifinalists in each of four divisions. “You can feel bad with how far you’ve gotten, but only four teams end their season with a win. That night, we were close to being one of them. There was a lot of success that happened during the season.”
Woodland’s success ended Nov. 13 with a 3-0 loss to top-seeded Seymour at Pomperaug High. The Wildcats (23-1), who had beaten the Hawks (18-7) twice during the regular season, dominated with game scores of 25-16, 25-16 and 25-13. They advanced to the state final Nov. 17 against Weston.
“Coach (Cathy) Federowicz had her team fired up and ready to go,” Amato said. “They were on fire. All the credit in the world goes to them.”
Steph Krebbs led Woodland’s attack with nine kills, six digs and two blocks. Alyssa Lukeski had four kills, two aces and 12 digs, while Lexie Chabot tallied six kills and Fatima Khalid added 20 assists.
Woodland, as the No. 12 seed, reached its fourth state semifinal in school history by sweeping Kaynor Tech, rallying past old foe Waterford in a five-game second-round match and sweeping Montville in the quarterfinals. The run came just a year after a pedestrian 11-11 campaign and on the back end of a 2-2 start to this season.
“If you look at how we started the season to how we finished the season, I don’t know if there would be anybody who picked us to be in the semifinals,” Amato said. “It’s a testament to how much work they put in. We played four different rotations with this team. We’ve had girls changing positions, working in different roles. Everybody was necessary to making this season happen, and that’s what I’m proud of as a coach. There was always a teammate involved to set up more success.”
Krebbs, Lukeski, Chabot and Khalid were expected to be the most productive players on the team as seniors, but Amato pointed to the contributions of other players late in the regular season and in the postseason. Seniors including Layne Cronin, Xiu Xiu Sammis-McCoy, Liz Triana, and Sydnie Overby came up in big spots for the Hawks. Sophomores May Dawes and Elayna Beutel also contributed to the run.
“When it came time, we got a serious driving force from our bench players,” Amato said. “Whenever we put somebody in cold off the bench to do something specific, they came up with some amazing plays. There were times when we changed rotations or moved personnel around and we won, and that’s what our season was. I’m so proud of them.”
Amato also praised the legacy left by the aforementioned seniors, a class which also includes Rachel Poulos and Alanna Drmic.
“We’ve had great teams who have left behind legacies, and this team really bought into that,” Amato said. “What’s great about this senior class is that we couldn’t have done it without any of them. If any one of them would have been missing, we would have lost at least another match. Everybody was necessary at some point. Usually you can run with six or seven players to get the job done all the time, but we needed everybody to contribute at some point.”