BEACON FALLS — A youth movement is well underway for the Woodland girls basketball program, and Hawks coach Jess Moffo hopes last year’s lessons pay off this winter.
Last year’s team, which finished 9-13 with the leadership of now-graduated captains Haley Andrews and Eliza Smith, gave the opportunity for at least a half-dozen underclassmen to earn varsity experience.
“It was crucial. The nerves should be out,” Moffo said. “They’ve been playing since their freshman year, and last year as sophomores they were battling against seniors. The NVL is competitive. They learned a lot last year which will help them this year, and this year will help them next year.”
Andrews and Smith took last year’s freshmen and sophomores under their wing as they gritted out enough wins to qualify for a third-straight state tournament appearance.
“They did a great job last year of showing hard work, dedication and leadership in practice and on the court,” Moffo said. “They controlled the game very well. They strapped us on their backs and rode us into battle. Katie Sirowich, Jill Barbarito and Paige Resnick learned a lot from them last year, so as upperclassmen they’ll transform their roles this year.”
Those three, along with lone senior Hana Bojka, and a group of talented sophomores and freshmen, will have to fill the production Smith and Andrews contributed. Smith averaged about 17 points per game last year, while Andrews was a confident point guard.
“It’s a rebuilding year,” Moffo acknowledged. “They’re accepting that and doing a great job in practice. They know what they need to do. I think they’ll be fine.”
Barbarito, a co-captain with Bojka, thinks the tight-knit nature of the Hawks’ roster will help them take positive strides this winter.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the team chemistry,” Barbarito said. “We’re all about family here, so I think the bond can get us far.”
“We’re focusing on hard work and teamwork,” Bojka added.
Along with the returning upperclassmen, Moffo pointed to sophomore post players Ava DeLucia and Elayna Beutel as keys to this year’s team. The eighth-year head coach is also excited about an incoming rookie class that boasts a dozen freshmen.
“The freshman group is very talented,” Moffo said. “Their basketball IQ at the freshman level is probably the best I’ve had as head coach. They have potential to do some very good things this year. Some of them are probably going to see some (varsity playing) time.”
Moffo noted that the team’s goal is to make a return to the Naugatuck Valley League tournament and extend its state tournament streak to four. The most important component to success, she said, will be the team’s signature of outworking opponents.
“When you’re playing the Woodland Hawks, we’re going to give you 110 percent,” Moffo said. “We might not be the most talented, we might not have the most skill every time, but we’re going to give 110 percent and outwork you. Hopefully we can be in some games and hopefully our experience from last year can help us win some games.”
Woodland will open the season Dec. 10 at Wolcott before jumping into a tough stretch against three of the league’s frontrunners: St. Paul (Dec. 13), Watertown (Dec. 18) and Holy Cross (Dec. 21).