Hawks put best foot forward

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Alex Farr (25) and Oxford’s Jaden Shupp (4) go after the ball during a game Nov. 5 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Merely reaching the end of the regular season was a victory in the eyes of Woodland boys soccer coach Kenan Collins.

“I had this feeling before the season that was hard to shake,” Collins said. “You remember how they kept pushing off the starting date (of the season). (It felt like) they were going to shut it down.”

The Hawks got in almost an entire slate, going 10-0-1 through the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division. Their only blemish was a 1-1 tie against Seymour on Oct. 3, a draw that Woodland avenged with a 3-2 victory Oct. 20.

Still, being confined to a division that only includes teams from the lower Valley — which meant skipping tests against the league’s perennially best teams, such as Naugatuck and Watertown — stripped this season of some of its luster.

“It’s weird,” Collins admitted. “When you play the same teams multiple times, you almost don’t get a different look that teams outside our division could bring. Teams in the past we’re used to playing, it’s odd not being able to test our ability against them. Credit to the boys for putting on their best performance and just being happy that we were able to have a season.”

After graduating a slew of key players from a team that challenged for a league title in each of the last two seasons, Collins said he was pleased with the way younger players stepped into key roles and the leadership displayed by upperclassmen.

Freshman Preston Alessio netted a hat trick Nov. 5 in a 4-1 win against Oxford to give him a team-leading 11 goals in his rookie season.

“The kid is having an amazing season,” Collins said. “It’s obvious to whatever set of fans can be at these games, but it needs to be pointed out what a great season he’s had. He’s got a lot of confidence from playing as a freshman and playing against kids much bigger than him. It’s been very impressive.”

Sophomore Alex Farr is second on the scoring list with eight goals.

“It took him a while to get started, but once he hit his stride, we saw a lot of that potential he showed last year,” Collins said.

The coach also praised the leadership displayed by senior co-captain Nathaniel Smith.

“Nathaniel Smith plays almost 80 minutes every game,” Collins said. “I seldom take him off because he never gets tired, and he’s an excellent guy to have on the field because of his presence and leadership, and he makes guys around him better.”

Junior co-captain Sean Hussey has also been an asset due to his versatility and endurance.

“There aren’t many players I’ve encountered who don’t stop running,” Collins said. “He’ll never sub himself off, so I can pretty much put him anywhere on the field and expect him to do a job for me.”

One of the silver linings of this season, according to Collins, was the chance for so many underclassmen to rack up varsity experience.

“It’s nice to have four freshmen out there playing in a competitive game,” Collins said. “That bodes well for the future.”

The Hawks were the top seed in the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division tournament before the Naugatuck Valley League canceled the postseason on Monday due to mounting concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Collins, who was also effusive in his praise of Woodland’s administration and athletic director Chris Decker for their commitment to the season, is thankful that his players had the opportunity to get in some type of season.

“Especially being a teacher, just knowing these kids have an outlet to get out of the classroom and get away from the stress,” said Collins, a history teacher at Woodland.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the Nov. 12 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on the Naugatuck Valley League canceling the postseason.