BEACON FALLS — Here’s a bit of trivia to rattle the brains of the Woodland faithful: Which non-spring team has won at least eight games in each of the last seven seasons and qualified for every state tournament since 2004?
Certainly it’s not the football team, as the gridders have missed out on states three times. Girls’ soccer is close, but that group only won six games in 2008. The answer, maybe a little surprisingly, is the girls’ basketball team. It joins baseball and softball as the only teams to share that winning distinction.
But that streak could come an end in the near future, and the reason has nothing to do with the talent of the team, which should enjoy another solid season next winter. Rather, another issue is tucked into that possibility—will there even be a girls’ basketball team in a few years?
Likely, the answer is yes. This season, however, the Woodland girls’ basketball program experienced an all-time low, with regard to participation; by the end of the season, the Hawks had to carry the 11 players who were left in the program to almost every game. It wasn’t uncommon for varsity players, excluding captains, to play both the junior-varsity and varsity games in a single night, just so the JV squad could field a team.
In some ways, though, the dwindling number benefitted those who remained on the squad.
“I think that having few girls brought us closer together as a team, and it gave us more one-on-one time with [head coach Gail Cheney],” said senior Katie Alfiere, one of only two members of the class of 2010—along with Jen Fredericks—to play four years on the team. “It hurt us a lot with people quitting in the middle of the season. But having fewer girls didn’t start drama in the team. We’re supposed to be family. We had a few who did a lot for each other.”
Alfiere’s basketball skill—self-admittedly nothing special—saw a monumental improvement this season, as she averaged a career-high 11 points per game, en route to earning all-suburban and second-team all-NVL honors.
“Personally, it made me better without that many girls because I was able to do certain things with Coach to develop skills that I obviously lack in basketball,” Alfiere said, poking fun at herself.
Junior Heather Framski, one of nine players from this year’s team eligible to return next season, agreed with Alfiere that the team’s small size didn’t hurt it much, but also provided a potential reason why fewer girls are turning to basketball in the winter.
“You really have to love the game if you’re going to play a whole high school season,” Framski said. “You can’t play if you really don’t want to be there. We all played a lot of minutes this year, and it might have been nice to rest sometimes, but we all played well together. I don’t think it affected us all that much.”
Cheney said throughout the season that she has never had such a hard-working team, and she still holds highly her girls’ effort over the 3 ½ month season.
“The girls we ended up with gave their all every time,” Cheney said. “Whether you have 25 kids in the program or 11 kids, it’s all about their heart. I’ve never had as hard-working of a team than the one I had this year. I would have liked to rotate the girls more, but the girls we did have played as hard as they could all the time, and I was really proud of them for that.”
The problem of fewer girls making it to the varsity level can be blamed, in part, on the paltry number of freshmen matriculating into the program over the last two years. This season, there were not enough to put together a freshman team at all. That, Alfiere pointed out, hurts everyone in the program.
“It’s hard to build a program when you don’t have a freshman squad,” Alfiere said. “It’s not as good for varsity because the juniors and seniors who got to play freshman basketball got to learn before. Now, the younger kids have to play against the varsity kids in practice and can’t learn as slowly.”
Alfiere’s freshman team had 10 girls on its roster, but only she and Fredericks graduated from the program. Woodland athletic director Brian Fell sees this as the biggest problem facing the team.
“When we have eight to nine kids as freshmen and only two graduate from the team, it’s something to get a little worried about,” Fell said. “I think it’s because they see the handwriting on the wall that they’re not going to have as much playing time.”
Fell thinks numbers come in cycles, though, and the last couple of years have simply been a low point in the cycle.
“I think part of the reason for that is when there is a bigger team, some kids see that they’re going to be 10th on the depth chart and decide they want to do something else,” Fell said. “On the other hand, when there is a smaller team, some kids decide they’re going to try it out because they’re going to get more playing time. It cycles like that.”
Still, both he and Cheney think the future is bright and look forward to the incoming classes in the next few years.
“We’re hopeful about the girls,” Fell said. “We do think we’ll have a decent group of freshmen this year and another one the year after. Hopefully, with two good groups coming up, numbers will get better.”