Naugy, Woodland look to carry success into NVLs  

Naugatuck’s Kaylee Jackson (12) spikes the ball past Seymour’s Emma Rousseau (8) Oct. 30 at Naugatuck High School. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Naugatuck and Woodland have enjoyed surprisingly successful volleyball seasons so far, but they know that defending state champion Seymour likely awaits in the Naugatuck Valley League tournament.

The coaches know it, and they know what they’ll have to do to win an NVL title.

“Seymour’s going to come along,” Naugatuck coach Kevin Wesche said. “I just try to get my team to focus on one serve at a time, one receive at a time.”

The Greyhounds are the No. 2 seed behind the Wildcats, who defeated the Greyhounds 3-2 in the final game of the regular season. Naugatuck will host No. 7 Wolcott Saturday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals.

Woodland is the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 Holy Cross at 11 a.m. Saturday.

The Greyhounds will take their strong defense into the league tournament.

“Our defense, our ability to bring up balls that come on our side, has been a strength,” Wesche said. “Our offense is coming along, but the defense is still leading the way.”

Wesche decided to give the ‘Hounds a little rest after a two-match stretch last week in which they needed five games to outlast Pomperaug before falling to St. Paul.

“We played two tough matches — one didn’t go the way we wanted it to go — so we gave them a day off to regroup and reenergize,” Wesche said. “We had a nice solid practice to help us rebound. Sometimes you need to walk away to refocus and start fresh.”

Wesche expects the tournament to be a five-team race.

“Woodland, Kennedy and St. Paul have been putting up good numbers,” Wesche noted. “They have depth and athleticism. Obviously, Seymour (is the favorite), and Naugatuck has been doing fairly well. Five teams have been battling.”

Woodland’s Katie Sirowich hits the ball over the net during a match against Oxford Oct. 21 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

One town south, Woodland has strung together a surprising year with an almost entirely new lineup from its 2018 state semifinalist squad. The Hawks’ only losses in the regular season came to Seymour (twice) and Naugatuck.

“The teams that have consistently been at the top should be around at the end,” Woodland coach Jim Amato said. “It’s going to be really interesting to see how St. Paul fits into that. Their record is a misnomer (due to early-season forfeits).”

Like the Greyhounds, Woodland’s success has come in large part thanks to its strong defense. Amato knows his Hawks will have to outlast opponents and find consistent sources of offense if they want to win the league title.

“We need to play continued defense like we’ve had,” Amato said. “We can move the ball to the setters, and the setters have made great choices, but we have to disrupt Seymour’s or Naugatuck’s or Kennedy’s system so we can be successful against them.”

He hopes that his coaching staff’s scouting will help close the gap.

“Being able to play teams more than once during the season really helps you prepare for the postseason push,” Amato noted.

The NVL semifinals will be Nov. 4 and the finals Nov. 6.