Historic run a thing of the past for Hawks

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Woodland senior Rachel Starkey receives a serve during practice Tuesday in Beacon Falls. The Hawks made history last year by making the Class M state volleyball final. –KYLE BRENNAN
Woodland senior Rachel Starkey receives a serve during practice Tuesday in Beacon Falls. The Hawks made history last year by making the Class M state volleyball final. –KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — An historic trip to the Class M state volleyball final must have added something to Woodland’s expectations for this fall — or maybe…

“Nothing,” Woodland coach Jim Amato said. “They understand how hard we worked to get where we got last year, and they understand how hard they have to work to get to that position. The goal for 12 years has been to get a state championship, period. We got close, but we didn’t get it.”

The Hawks made their deepest-ever run into the state tournament last year before losing to Ledyard in the championship match. It was the school’s first appearance in a state final of any kind since 2005.

The team loses four starters from that squad, including star hitter Tayler Boncal and gritty libero Nicole Fowler, but All-State hitter Brianna Pacileo is back to lead a team that holds the same high expectations as always.

Pacileo, a senior who was by far and away the team’s leader in hitting percentage (.241) and kill percentage (39.2 percent) last season, doesn’t shy away from taking a swing from almost any spot. Her aggressiveness at the net is among the qualities Amato likes most.

“Brianna’s expectation of herself is always to do whatever she can, whenever she can,” Amato said. “As a coaching staff, we appreciate that dedication in wanting to excel.”

The player most responsible for getting balls to Pacileo is back, too. Senior setter Samantha Lee, who averaged more than seven assists per set last season, continues a great tradition of Woodland setters and should give Pacileo plenty of opportunities.

Woodland senior Brianna Pacileo jumps to hit the ball during practice Tuesday in Beacon Falls. –KYLE BRENNAN
Woodland senior Brianna Pacileo jumps to hit the ball during practice Tuesday in Beacon Falls. –KYLE BRENNAN

Middle hitter Abbey Rosato saw significant time during her sophomore year, too, and she could take some of the opportunities left by Boncal’s departure. Hannah Deegan should also be involved in the hitting game, and Jill Gorman, Rachel Starkey and others will also see court time.

“We’ve got players who have been ready to step into those roles for a solid year, and they’re going to get some opportunities to play,” Amato said. “Some of these girls have played in big games and some of them have been around the team long enough to know what we’re capable of. It will be all about how each piece fits into the whole.”

Amato said many of this year’s players have been together for several years, so they clicked as a unit early in the preseason.

“These girls have played with each other for four years,” Amato said. “I’ve seen them come together quicker as a team in the preseason. They’ve jelled because they know each other.”

The defending Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division co-champions open up this season Sept. 10 at Ansonia. Their second week will provide two tough tests, when the Hawks visit Wolcott on Sept. 17 and host defending league champion Seymour on Sept. 20.