Woodland boys set the pace in Copper Division

BEACON FALLS — The Woodland boys basketball team is entering uncharted territory.

Approaching the midway point of the season, the Hawks sit atop the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division thanks to a 56-45 home victory over rival Seymour on Jan. 15.

The win over the Wildcats, coupled with earlier victories over Oxford and Ansonia, helped the Hawks improve to 4-4 overall but more importantly 3-0 in the division. Woodland is set to conclude its first cycle of divisional play Wednesday at Derby.

“Our goal is to put a banner up there and win the division,” Woodland first-year coach John Mariano said. “It was a big week with Ansonia and then winning versus Seymour. I thought we did a lot of good things, but I thought we left a lot of points on the table in both games. Both games turned into dogfights and we were able to gut them out. There are going to be games when shots aren’t going in, so I was really proud that the guys were able to find a way to win.”

In the victory over Seymour, Woodland spread out the scoring load. Nate Bodnar led the way with 12 points, followed by Nathaniel Smith (11 points), Jason Palmieri (10), Trey Mastropietro (seven) and Nick DeLucia (seven).

“The opportunity to beat Seymour is always one we look forward to,” Bodnar said. “The atmosphere on Wednesday (Jan. 15) was something else and really was a factor in the game. The game was extremely intense and chippy for 32 minutes, but we played our game and found the ‘W’ in a chaotic game.”

Eight players scored for the Hawks.

“They’re just so unselfish,” Mariano said. “This group, at the end of the day, just wants to win. They really do a nice job of sharing the basketball. I don’t ever really watch us and think someone is hogging shots. I still think we need some growth in terms of not taking quick shots, but they operate as a unit. The motion offense is predicated on moving and passing and trusting you’ll get the ball back. They’re really in it together.”

The Hawks have also prided themselves on strong defensive efforts. In each of Woodland’s four victories, it held opponents to fewer than 50 points.

“We just want to continue to keep playing with this same edge defensively,” Mariano said. “I have to give credit to the kids. They are playing so hard. I’ve been writing ‘32 minutes’ on our board in the locker room a lot, and they’ve really taken it upon themselves to play with that edge. Not that they weren’t doing that in the beginning of the year, but they’ve found a happy medium of playing hard while keeping their discipline. Our rotations are disciplined, we’re communicating more. We’re developing a balance between grit, energy and IQ.”

Mariano also praised the mix of underclassmen and veterans who have contributed to the Hawks’ success so far.

“It’s been such a fun group to be around,” Mariano said. “Our young kids have stepped up to the plate. Palmieri, Bodnar, (Joey) Giuliani, (Rob) Moriarty, Brady Anderson — it’s been a nice blend of them growing up a little and our seniors being terrific. Nick DeLucia and Trey Mastropietro are great leaders on the court. Sam Trumbley is a phenomenal leader and person, and Mike Szturma (out for the season after elbow surgery) has been at almost every practice and has been awesome supporting the guys. I’ve been very happy with our senior leadership.”

Woodland will host Kennedy Friday before the divisional contest at Derby on Wednesday.

The second round of divisional play begins Jan. 31 with a home rematch against Ansonia.

“Staying undefeated in our division is a big deal for our team,” Bodnar said. “Our team is hot and we are coming for banners.”