‘Excellence is a legacy’ for historic Woodland softball team

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The 2022 Woodland softball team’s five seniors — from left, Rory Nolan, Riley Kane, Kylie Bulinski, Isabella Kraemer and Cassidy Doiron — led the Hawks to the program’s first state title, third Naugatuck Valley League title, and a 27-0 season. (Contributed photo)

By KYLE BRENNAN
CITIZEN’S NEWS

In the days leading up to the Class M softball state championship game, Woodland assistant coach Pete Calandro sent an email to the five seniors and one junior he’d coached for half of their lives.

“I asked them how they wanted to be remembered,” Calandro wrote in that email to Kylie Bulinski, Riley Kane, Cassidy Doiron, Isabella Kraemer, Rory Nolan and Samantha Sosnovich. “Do you want to be remembered as a team that won the NVL? They’ll forget you in a week. If you’re a state champion, they’ll remember you forever.”

The Hawks left no doubt about their legacy, sealing a 27-0 season with the program’s first state championship and just the fourth state title in school history.

Kane hopes that part of the team’s legacy will be as a standard-setter for the next generation.

“I think our team’s legacy will be very well known because we are the first softball team in Woodland history to win a state championship and one of the few teams at Woodland to win states,” Kane said. “Being the first means a lot because now we are setting a goal for other girls and showing them that it can be done and that you just have to keep and pushing and working towards that end goal.”

The Woodland softball team celebrates its first state championship. (Rep-Am archives)

That work ethic is something that stands out to longtime head coach Loren Luddy, who remains impressed by the way her Hawks rebounded from a heartbreaking defeat in the 2021 Class M semifinals.

“When you set a goal for yourself, you set a high goal for yourself, and you work really, really hard — and even if you get let down a couple of times — if you stay driven, you can still reach your goal,” Luddy said. “They could have fallen apart after last year, but they buckled down and still made it happen. Their reaction to those setbacks is a legacy. Their excellence is a legacy.”

Their offensive clout won’t soon be forgotten, either.

“Hitting the ball hard is definitely a legacy,” Luddy added. “Coach Pete and I have some long-lasting scars.”

Those hits didn’t just come from the Hawks’ three All-State players, either. Doiron, Kraemer and freshman Ella VanAlstyne all earned All-NVL Copper Division honors, and Nolan came up with clutch play in the postseason.

“If they were on any other team, they would have been All-NVL,” Luddy said. “In three years, [Doiron and Kraemer] had 100 hits, which is amazing. Bella didn’t get a ton of action in the regular season, but in tournament time, she’s making catches and holding runners. That’s both Bella in center and Cassidy at first. In the tournament, Rory Nolan had a hit in almost every tournament game. She came through.”

Woodland’s Isabella Kraemer (16) high-fives Cassidy Doiron during the NVL softball tournament final in May. (Rep-Am archives)

As thrilled as the players were to win a state championship for themselves, they were also happy to finally get one for Luddy, who’s coached at Woodland since the start of the program after spending several years coaching at Naugatuck.

“It’s all because of her,” Bulinski said. “She’s been a great coach for four years to get us where we are and get this ring. Thank God for her.”

“The work that she’s put into this program is huge,” Calandro said. “She does as much off the field as she does on the field. She’s always there. I was so happy for her, and so happy for her to do it with these girls.”

With school starting back up soon, the focus also will soon shift to next year’s bunch. Sosnovich will be the unquestionable leader of the group, and she’ll carry that championship confidence into her senior year.

“I believe that the legacy of this year’s team will be hard to outdo, but we have goals set to have just as great of a season,” said Sosnovich, who will return with three other starters and a talented group of underclassmen. “Obviously, we are losing some great players, but I believe if we keep last year’s mindset, the same goals are very well attainable. We just need to have the same team chemistry and we should have a great year.”

No matter what happens next spring, there will be no touching the legacy of excellence this bunch of Hawks leaves behind.

“When you walk into high school, and you plan to be on a sports team, your goal is to get as far as you can,” Bulinski said. “Our goal from the beginning, walking in as freshmen, was to win a state championship. We were going to leave here winning a state championship. I said it to everyone, everyone believed it, and we made it happen.”

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.