Hawks fitting pieces together

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BEACON FALLS — With an almost entirely new lineup trying to replicate the success of last year’s state semifinalist squad, the Woodland volleyball team got off to a 4-0 start to the season — but coach Jim Amato says his Hawks still have a long way to go.

“We’ve got work to do,” Amato said after a sluggish, 3-0 win over Ansonia last Thursday. “We’re still a team on a mission and our goals haven’t changed, but maybe the strategy to obtain them is going to have to change.”

Woodland also earned 3-0 sweeps over Oxford and Sacred Heart during the first week of the season, and a 3-1 win over Kennedy last Friday, but the Hawks are still searching for consistent sources of offense. They graduated almost all of their key hitters from last year’s team, so the attack is a work in progress.

“Our offense is one of the areas of focus for the next few weeks,” Amato said. “I think we’ll have things straightened out by midseason.”

Junior Elayna Beutel has become a strong option as a middle hitter, while senior Katie Sirowich and sophomore Kylie Bulinski also figure in among the options at net.

Amato pointed to his team’s flexibility as a major strength early in the year. He said he’s been able to switch players’ positions on the floor and dig into the bench to find options that work best at a given time. With a few more weeks, Amato noted, the rotation should start to jell.

“I’m liking how personnel can step up and fill different roles,” Amato said. “We’ve moved girls into different places to build this year, and how they’re responding is part of the rebuild. Once we find how everything fits together the right way, it’s going to be an exciting team to watch.”

The feeling-out process and the steep learning curve for new players is why opportunities like the Sept. 14 Block Party Tournament jamboree at the Connecticut Sports Center was valuable. Just one day after the regular season began, Woodland was among 20 teams from around the state that played in an unofficial tournament to help prepare for the rest of the season.

The roster of teams in attendance was a who’s-who of state volleyball powers and perennial state title contenders, including Seymour, St. Joseph, Darien, East Haven, Amity, Trumbull and others.

“You get a different quality of play and you get to use it as a shakedown,” Amato said. “I was able to put a lot of different girls in a lot of different places to see how they respond. You get to practice and compete at the same time.”

The Hawks’ regular-season competition will escalate. Woodland will host Watertown on Tuesday and Crosby Friday and visit defending Class M state champion Seymour on Oct. 1. They’ll also host St. Paul on Oct. 3 and visit Naugatuck on Oct. 4.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the Sept. 26 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information from the Sept. 20 Kennedy match.