Hawks set new benchmark

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BEACON FALLS — The disappointment was real, if short-lived.

The Woodland boys soccer team was hoping to do more this postseason. The Hawks were hoping to capture that elusive Naugatuck Valley League title. They wanted to make a deeper run into the Class M tournament.

But when it all ended for the No. 4-seeded Hawks in a 2-1 loss to No. 12 Ledyard in the Class M quarterfinals Nov. 15, it was tough to be too bummed.

“We came up just short of our idea of a perfect soccer season,” Woodland senior Jason Claiborn said. “We set two goals at the beginning of the season — win the NVL finals and make it further than any other Woodland soccer team ever had in the state tournament.”

Although Naugatuck edged the Hawks for the NVL title — Woodland’s second straight defeat in the league championship match — the Class M tournament run ended up being the deepest in program history.

Woodland (18-4) reached that milestone with a 3-2 comeback victory over Northwestern in the second round Nov. 13, thanks to a game-tying goal by Sean Hussey with 16:22 left in regulation and the game-winner by Alex Farr 4:33 into overtime.

In the quarterfinal, Woodland and Ledyard dueled to a scoreless first half before the Colonels took the lead just three minutes into the second half. It was 2-0 when the Hawks scored their lone goal with 46 ticks remaining.

Despite the loss, Claiborn feels as though his 11-man senior class left a memorable mark.

“This senior class was definitely one of the strongest, if not the strongest, senior classes in the NVL,” Claiborn said. “Playing alongside those guys was an experience I’ll never forget. I can’t just narrow it down to one thing. We had experience playing big games, a strong attack and defense, and were a physical team. I guess you can say the fact that we were so strong in many different areas helped us succeed. And we played our hearts out in every game until the last second.”

There is plenty of talent returning for Woodland, despite the heavy graduation losses to come. Claiborn hopes next year’s squad will pick up where this one left off.

“I feel like we have established a certain standard,” Claiborn said. “Just making the state tournament and NVL tournament isn’t good enough. We wanted to win and continue to beat our previous records each year. I think that will carry on throughout our returning players.”