BEACON FALLS — The Woodland girls soccer team comes into this season looking to finish games strong.
Woodland went 9-5-4 last year and dealt Naugatuck Valley League champion Watertown its only loss of the regular season, but fell to the Indians in the semifinals of the NVL tournament. That was followed by a one-and-done appearance in the Class M state tournament for the second time in three years.
“We seem to run out of gas late in games and that really showed up in the state tournament game,” Woodland head coach Cait Witham said. “Our focus this season will be on being in better shape for the long haul.”
Woodland graduated nine seniors last year, but has a solid crew of five seniors this season. Olivia Kotsaftis on defense, Jillian O’Neil, Molly Hussey and Madison Lisowski at midfield along with Jillian Barbarito, who is out with an injury, represent the leadership of the Hawks.
“We did lose our starting goal keeper and a couple of our offensive players,” Witham said. “We are relying on the seniors to give us that leadership presence. But we will also need some of our younger players to continue to develop into key players.”
Sophomore Isabela Mejias will take over in goal with a newly-constructed defense out in front led by Kotsaftis, junior Erica Poehailos, sophomore Jenna Mierek and freshman Kaitlyn Leonard.
“We have always looked to our defense to set the tone,” Witham said. “That is going to be the test at how fast they can come together. We do have a few offensive players, but what we lack is depth with varsity experience.”
Witham is looking to develop freshmen April Bell, Delia Kotsaftis and Paige Letourneau at midfield.
Woodland did develop a few younger offensive players last season. Juniors Aries Bell and Ava DeLucia have the ability to put the ball into the back of the net. Holly Plasky and Magdalena Lewicki will have the opportunity to make their presence felt on offense, as well.
The big picture, though, is finishing games.
“We have made a big emphasis on fitness this preseason,” Witham said. “Hopefully that will allow us to finish games. We lost three games all by one goal last year because we simply ran out of gas at the end.
“If we are going to compete and to reach the postseason we are going to need to be able to finish games. Mentally we need to be better prepared to work through the end of games.”
The Hawks starts the season Thursday at home at 3:30 p.m. versus Sacred Heart-Kaynor. Woodland will visit Brookfield on Saturday.