Woodland girls ‘buying in’

BEACON FALLS — There’s no way to break in a team full of underclassmen and first-year starters quite like the opening four-game stretch the Woodland girls basketball team faced this winter.

There was the road game at pesky Wolcott to open the season. Then there was the home-opener against St. Paul, arguably the league’s best team with some of the state’s best players. Then there was another road game at Watertown, another one of the Naugatuck Valley League’s best. And finally, four days before Christmas, there was a home matchup against perennial NVL powerhouse Holy Cross.

“Our first four games have not been easy,” Woodland coach Jess Moffo said. “I told (the team) the first four games would only help us. If we could get through these with a positive attitude, we’ll be OK.”

Woodland played well in a 39-22 win over Wolcott to open the season Dec. 10, and Moffo said efforts in losses to St. Paul (52-25 on Dec. 13) and Watertown (46-33 on Dec. 18) came with positives.

Against the Falcons, All-State star Janessa Gonzalez proved to be too much for the Hawks — but she didn’t stop the underdogs from a 32-minute effort.

“She’s an All-American type of player, and she just took over the game,” Moffo said. “But we didn’t quit. We played a full four quarters and made them play hard.”

It was a similar story against the Indians, who saw a 16-point lead evaporate to a five-point gap in the fourth quarter before pulling away. Jill Barbarito netted 13 points to lead the Hawks in the loss.

“I told them if they can play with St. Paul and Watertown for four quarters, they can play with anyone,” Moffo said. “The kids are buying in. I want them to loosen up and have fun and play the game.”

Moffo pointed to the strong play of Barbarito, a junior co-captain who has become a leader on the floor, and sophomore center Ava DeLucia.

“Ava DeLucia is really transforming into the player I know she can be,” Moffo said of the 6-footer. “She’s averaging four or five blocks a game and she’s starting to come into her own on offense.”

Freshmen Andra Bojka and Riley Kane have also seen substantial playing time, and Moffo expects more rookies, including Gabby Mastropietro, Kylie Bulinski and Chelsea Donovan, to see significant time as the season progresses.

“It’ll be a learning experience,” Moffo said. “The biggest thing I tell them is that we need hard work and effort. If they give hard work and effort, we can fix anything. We’re extremely young. It’ll hurt us at times, but they know how hard they have to work. Hopefully that work will lead to some wins.”

Woodland fell to 1-3 with a 61-35 loss to the Crusaders, the Hawks’ last game before a holiday break. Mastropietro led the Hawks with 10 points. Andra Bojka tacked on eight.

Woodland will be back in action Jan. 2 when the Hawks host Waterbury Career.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated from the version published in the Dec. 27 edition to include information on games played after press time.