BEACON FALLS — Last winter might not have been the most successful season in Woodland boys basketball history, but longtime coach Tom Hunt thinks that experience will lead to more victories this year.
“We have a lot of guys coming back with some experience from last year,” said Hunt, who enters his 12th season after an 8-13 mark in 2017-18. “The core three guys coming back have a lot of varsity experience. I have 11 juniors that are all ready to step into the rotation.”
Those three top returners will be senior co-captains: two-time All-NVL Iron Division pick Zach Bedryczuk, along with Mickey Meier and Justin Marks. Marks will be sidelined for the start of the season after suffering an injury during football season.
Marks’ absence will open opportunities for a host of juniors and a few underclassmen. Juniors Mike Szturma, Trey Mastropietro, Tyler Bulinski and Steve Persico, as well as sophomore Dan Smith and three freshmen are among those on Hunt’s radar in the preseason.
“We talked about how important it is for these guys to leave everything on the court at the beginning of the season so we can figure out the pecking order,” Hunt said. “I think the kids have really embraced that work ethic because we have some kids getting after it in the preseason.”
Bedryczuk will likely be the focus of opponents’ defensive game plans with his ability to handle the ball and shoot the 3-pointer, but Hunt said the coaching staff is busy implementing a new style of play that will require deeper contributions from his bench.
“People are going to have to defend five guys this year,” Hunt said. “They’re not going to be able to concentrate on Zach. We’re going to move the ball around, and everybody who’s on the floor is going to be a threat. We’re going to look to go deeper into the bench this year with an eight- or nine-(man) rotation. That would be really good for a lot of guys so we can stay fresh.”
Aside from Bedryczuk, Hunt thinks Meier, a forward who was listed at 6-foot-2 last season, is poised for a breakout this winter.
“I hope Mickey Meier gets the respect he deserves,” Hunt said. “I think he’s an all-conference player.”
Hunt is also excited for Woodland’s new schedule after the Hawks switched from the suburban-based Iron Division to the Valley-based Copper Division. There, Woodland will face Valley rivals Seymour, Ansonia, Oxford and Derby twice each.
“I think (realignment) suits us better than it has in the past,” Hunt said. “I’m excited to start some rivalries with some teams in the lower Valley. Ansonia and Seymour have some core players returning and Derby was an upstart last year, so it’s going to be exciting to play these guys twice a year.”
The Hawks won’t jump into that divisional schedule until after Christmas. Instead, they’ll get started with a tough four-game stretch that begins Friday at Crosby and includes games against Watertown (home opener Dec. 18), St. Paul and Holy Cross.
Hunt set Woodland’s first goal for the season, like usual, as tallying enough victories to qualify for the state tournament. Joining the Copper also might give the Hawks something else to shoot for later in the year.
“The goal is to get to eight (wins),” Hunt said. “Once we get to eight, we can see where we stand in the division and we’ll do our best to win the division.”