By KEN MORSE
What do you do when you have reached the summit of the mountain you have been climbing? If you are anything like Woodland head softball coach Loren Luddy, you set out to look for another mountain to climb.
Luddy saw a couple of milestone fall by the wayside this past season with career win No. 300 and the first state championship in softball for Woodland.
It’s been a long road to the top for Luddy, one of Woodland’s last remaining original staff members.
“The first year I coached softball at Woodland we were a JV program,” said Luddy. “Then we lost a year due to COVID, so it’s been 20 years. I did coach soccer and softball at Naugatuck prior to coming here. I have been very lucky as a coach. There have been great kids who have come through this program. There is not a ton of coaches that last 20 years and I’ve been very fortunate to have the athletic directors I’ve had.”
She has knocked on the door of a state championship before in her 20 years at the helm of the Hawks. Woodland reached the Class S semifinals in 2003 and the final in 2004. In 2021, her undefeated Hawks were bounced out by North Branford in the Class M semifinals after completing an NVL championship season at 25-1. The program’s first NVL softball title came in 2010.
The Hawks went out and did it again winning another NVL championship this past season and finishing undefeated. There was just no stopping the Woodland girls as they outscored the opposition, 26-3, over four games to win the first state championship in Woodland history and stringing together a two year record of 50-1.
“We have had some really good teams at Woodland with some really fantastic players, but they just didn’t have that team goal drive that this team had,” commented Luddy. “This year’s softball team decided four years ago that this is what they wanted. Individual goals cast aside, they wanted a state championship and they were not going to let anything get in the way of that.”
The only other time Woodland was pounding on the door to a state title was back in 2004 behind the pitching of Tara Shingola when they were defeated by Hale Ray, 4-0, a year after they marched all the way to the state semifinals for the first time.
The year of 2004 also holds a special significance for coach Luddy as she guided the girls soccer team to the very first NVL championship for the entire sports program at Woodland.
Shortly after that the football team went on to win the league title and a state championship and in the spring the baseball team won the NVL tournament. But Luddy, one of the first coaches hired at Woodland, made her mark.
“That was so much fun with that soccer team,” said Luddy, who coached soccer at Woodland for five years. “We had a strong team with current head coach Cait Witham on that team along with Meghan Graveline, Courtney Pokora, Gina DellaRose and Christina Palmerie. We went 14-3-3 that year. And the first game we ever played in 2001 we lost, 12-2. They said, ‘Don’t worry we will win the NVL by the time we are out of here,’ and they did.”
The coach stepped down from coaching soccer after the birth of her son Alex, but she remained in the dugout for the softball program. Over the years, there have been several stellar teams that have donned the gold and black of the Hawks, but when this group came along as freshmen, the coach knew she had something special going on with this group.
“We did have a couple of close ones but they just buckled down,” Luddy said. “As a coach having 300 wins is fun, I have to be honest. These girls who got 100 hits was an amazing feat after losing a year of competition. But when it comes right down to it. Nothing is better than winning a state championship.”
Luddy and her returning players are already thinking about an encore performance.
“What do we do next year? We go out and compete for another state championship,” Luddy said. “These girls that are coming back were already talking about it on the way home from the championship game. Why? Because there is nothing better than winning a state championship.”
This is one piece of a five-part series looking back at the Woodland softball team’s 2022 Class M state championship. Stories include the team members’ opinions on the squad’s legacy; the team’s connection to the 2015 Valley Fusion 10U national championship team; head coach Loren Luddy’s two-decade career at Woodland; the grandfather-granddaughter bond between assistant coach Pete Calandro and pitcher Riley Kane; and Kyle Brennan’s column on Kylie Bulinski establishing herself as the best female athlete in school history.