Hawks sweeping opponents off the court

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Woodland’s Hannah Deegan (7) goes for the kill Sept. 20 against Seymour in Beacon Falls. The Hawks swept the Wildcats, 3-0. –LUKE MARSHALL
Woodland’s Hannah Deegan (7) goes for the kill Sept. 20 against Seymour in Beacon Falls. The Hawks swept the Wildcats, 3-0. –LUKE MARSHALL

 BEACON FALLS — Since a season-opening scare two and a half weeks ago, the Woodland volleyball team has been unstoppable.

The Hawks escaped with a 3-2 win over Ansonia on the first night of the season Sept. 10. In their last four matches, though, Woodland (5-0) has swept each opponent with little trouble.

“We’ve been coalescing as a team,” Woodland coach Jim Amato said. “We’ve been playing really well defensively. We’re making sure we read the ball quickly, we pass the ball well and we move around.”

The highlight victory came last Friday in a 3-0 (25-10, 25-18, 25-18) win over Seymour, the defending Naugatuck Valley League champion and perennial challenger to the Hawks in the NVL Brass Division.

“That was the first night we were beginning to see what we can accomplish as a team when we work together,” Amato said. “We had some great defensive plays by (Ashley) Michie and (Rachel) Starkey. Sammy Lee was keeping everyone involved and Brianna (Pacileo) was hitting the ball big time.”

Woodland had a strong attack at net with Pacileo (15 kills, five aces, 10 digs, two blocks) and Abbey Rosato (12 kills, six blocks) leading the way.

“The reason we’re winning is not just because we have Bree and other teams don’t — we’re winning as a team,” Amato said. “Everybody hits, everybody kills. It’s equitable play. There are different people rising to the task every night. That’s really what’s motivating this team.”

Amato was especially impressed with the play of Rosato and Anna Khalid at net.

“We got a lot of support through the middle with Abbey Rosato and Anna Khalid not letting anything through,” Amato said. “That helped us generate our offense.”

Another thing that helped? A back-row defense that Amato said has shown extraordinary progress since looking confused in their first effort against the Chargers.

Woodland’s Brianna Pacileo (15) returns a volley Sept. 20 against Seymour in Beacon Falls. The Hawks swept the Wildcats, 3-0. –LUKE MARSHALL
Woodland’s Brianna Pacileo (15) returns a volley Sept. 20 against Seymour in Beacon Falls. The Hawks swept the Wildcats, 3-0. –LUKE MARSHALL

“I’m not ready to call it smothering defense, but it’s definitely improving from the first game of season,” Amato said.

The improvement all over the court — especially on defense, which didn’t allow a Seymour play to register double-digit kills — is a product of match play for this season’s new starters. With five matches under their belts already, Amato said he likes the team that is developing.

“Getting used to the acceleration of the ball and getting more court awareness at that speed is making it more of an up-tempo team,” Amato said. “What I’m liking about them right now is that they can play in tight spaces. They can read the ball quickly and we’re not getting a lot of the mistakes we had at the beginning of the season.”

The Hawks stayed unbeaten Tuesday with another 3-0 (25-10, 25-16, 25-11) win over St. Paul. Pacileo paced Woodland with 10 kills, eight aces and three digs.

Woodland concludes this week with a pair of games, the first is 6 p.m. Thursday at home against Torrington and Friday at 5:30 p.m. at Kennedy. The Hawks will host Crosby on Tuesday.

“Our first goal is to get to eight wins so we can qualify for states,” said Amato, whose team can do it against the Bulldogs. “After that point we’ll set our sights on the next goal.”

The highlight victory came last Friday in a 3-0 (25-10, 25-18, 25-18) win over Seymour, the defending Naugatuck Valley League champion and perennial challenger to the Hawks in the NVL Brass Division.