BEACON FALLS — Woodland boys basketball head coach Tom Hunt hit the nail right on the head when he said, “What knocks you down will only make you stronger.”
The Hawks found out firsthand what the word adversity means when a week before the first game they lost their starting center, 6-foot-5 junior Eric Beutel, for the season.
“That situation challenged me,” said Hunt, who has coached the Hawks for eight seasons. “It made me a better coach. I had to devise an entire new game plan and approach that the kids could buy into in less than a week’s time.”
The injury bug struck throughout the season as well.
“It seemed like every week we were trying to work through another injury,” Hunt said. “But we tried to take the positive out of a negative and in the process we got some of the younger guys experience.”
Senior captains Austyn Brown and Sam Merriman and senior Kyle Soisson took it on their shoulders to lead the team. Brown averaged 21.7 points per game, third in the NVL, with Merriman the second top gun for the Hawks averaging double digits as well.
Along the way came the development of juniors Tyler Collodel, Jon Scirpo and Guy Massimo.
Woodland finished the season (3-17) after falling to Naugatuck, 84-58, Tuesday night. Brown had a game-high 27 points as Soisson and Merriman added 11 and 10 points respectively.
Woodland wasn’t necessarily getting lumped up out on the court despite the record. The Hawks went through a five-game stretch where they lost each game by five points or less. The Hawks also developed a penchant for putting up big points in the second half, which made them a dangerous opponent down the stretch of games.
“I couldn’t have asked anymore of our seniors,” Hunt said. “They showed great leadership and they led by example giving the full 32 minutes that we preach around here. That is just Hawks basketball and we take pride in that kind of commitment.”
Soisson took on an expanded role in the final two weeks of the season due to injuries and scored 17 points per game.
“Kyle told me at the start of the season that he would work as hard as he can,” Hunt said. “I wasn’t able to get him the minutes he deserved early on as I was trying to work other players into the mix.
“But he is truly the feel good story of the season. He seized the opportunity when it was presented and has been nothing short of sensational down the stretch for us. He had 17 against Watertown, 16 and 21 in two games with Wolcott and 14 against Torrington. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what he’s delivered.”
Sophomore Rich Rousseau showed what he can bring to the table early on with his rebounding and scoring ability. Rousseau scored 86 points on the season. Freshman Jake LaPerriere made a big impact in the paint and has proved to be a reliable player.
Alex Rindos and Adem Rifati have also seen time on the varsity floor as the season winds down and more players are nursing injuries.
“These younger players are seeing that when given the opportunity they have the shot of doing the same thing which keeps them motivated,” Hunt said.
The Hawks will lose a bulk of their scoring next season, but a healthy Beutel and the return of a couple of seasoned veterans should have Woodland ready to take flight.