BY KEN MORSE
When Woodland boys basketball coach Dean Accetura assembled his Hawks for the first time in 2001, he was more concerned with building a program than he was building a rivalry with Naugatuck.
“We were more focused on getting this program off the ground,” said Accetura, who led the Hawks to a state tournament appearance in 2005. “I think back then our natural rivalry was Seymour. A lot of Beacon Falls kids went to Seymour and a lot of the Prospect kids went to Masuk or Wolcott.
“Over the years the rivalry with neighboring Naugatuck evolved. However, Seymour still remains a heated rival as we play our Thanksgiving (football) game against them.”
The former coach’s son, Dean Jr., just completed his second year on the varsity unit. Last year as a sophomore Dean tossed in 20 points over eight games. This year, as a junior with a more expanded role, he broke the double-digit mark 11 times and twice scored over 20 points. Accetura led the team in scoring twice and had 189 points for the year.
Naugatuck coach Kevin Wesche held the upper hand over Woodland in the early years of the rivalry with 1,000-point scorer Anthony Mariano (Class of 2009) leading the way. Mariano went on to score 1,000 at Keene State as well.
Tom Hunt took over Woodland in 2008 and came in with a strong resume. As an assistant at Sacred Heart for 10 years, he helped guide the team to four state championship appearances. He went over to Wilby to serve as an assistant for two seasons and helped the Wildcats get to the state championship game (2006).
The likes of Tom Little and Shane Kingsley helped to get Woodland to its second state tournament appearance in 2010. The Hawks made the state tourney seven times over Hunt’s 12-year tenure. A 2-18 first year always kept him cautiously optimistic.
“It took us a while to get going but once we did we ran off a string of three state tourneys in a row,” said Hunt. “Mike Kinglsey was my assistant and his son Tanner (Class of 2014) was just an all-around athlete and scored the all-time Woodland mark of 1,312 points.”
Hunt continued: “We always had great battles with Naugatuck, but one I will always remember is we defeated Naugatuck in 2011, the first year Mike Wilson took over as head coach. We went through a tough spell, winning three or four games a year three years in a row. But battling the Greyhounds and being a Naugatuck guy, those rivalry games were always so much fun to be a part of.”
That 2011 Woodland team reached the second round of the states, as did the 2013 team led by Yahmad Roundtree, the first All-NVL player for the Hawks, Rahmi Roundtree and Tanner Kingsley. Zach Bedryczuk (Class of 2018) is second all-time in scoring with 1,218 points.
Former Naugy star player Mike Wilson took over the reigns from his former high school coach Wesche in 2010-2011. A 3-17 start in the first year did little to take away that passion and four years later Naugy was playing for a state championship (2015).
“We had some hard-nosed players and we just stuck to the game plan,” said Wilson. “I never looked across the court and saw a rivalry. Every team is a rival in my book. But I get it these kids play other sports against one another and they want to beat Woodland and we have had some fun games against them over the years.”
Brandon Kuczenski (Class of 2013) reached 1,000 points, and he was followed by Jarron Chapman, who was All-NVL and All-State. Chapman and Dayvon Russell led Naugy to the state championship game against Bunnell (2015).
Jean Lukau reached 1,000 points in his career, then Naugy really took off with Avery Hinnant and Ese Onakpoma leading the way. Each broke the 1,000-point mark and they claimed several all-league and all-state accolades between them. There were two NVL championships and a 55-6 record to be proud of.
Woodland struggled this season under first-year coach Ryan Sullivan, who took over for John Mariano, who was coach for three years before Sullivan. Naugy hovered around the .500 mark, but that didn’t stop the teams from playing a knock-them-down-drag-them-out type of affair with Naugy prevailing, 77-71. Time will tell what next year brings, but one thing you can count on is it will be a down to the wire event.