Killing them not so softly

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Woodland’s Pacileo is a vaunted outside hitter

Woodland’s Brianna Pacileo (15) is one of the state’s most vaunted outside hitters and became the school’s career leader in several attack categories, including kills (589), this season. –FILE PHOTO
Woodland’s Brianna Pacileo (15) is one of the state’s most vaunted outside hitters and became the school’s career leader in several attack categories, including kills (589), this season. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — Brianna Pacileo may only stand 5-foot-7, but as Woodland volleyball coach Jim Amato would say, at the net she looks 7-foot-5.

That’s because her incredible athleticism — and sheer power — has turned her into one of Connecticut’s most vaunted outside hitters.

“There’s a reason I don’t go on defense during certain drills in practice,” Amato said of his tendency to stay away from Pacileo’s practice kills. “That’s called preservation of life.”

Pacileo knows it, too.

“I’m pretty intimidating,” Pacileo said. “Looking at the other side of the court, I can tell that they fear what I have to offer. I don’t go to extremes to impress them, but they already know what I’ve done.”

It’s hard not to know about one of the best volleyball careers in recent times of the Naugatuck Valley League. Pacileo became the second All-State player in Woodland history last year, when she helped lead the Hawks to their first state championship appearance.

This season, she became the school’s career leader in most attack categories, including kills (589), hitting percentage (.242) and aces (247). Her stats through 16 matches this fall are among the best in the state: 105 aces (first), 233 kills (fifth) and a .339 hitting percentage (11th).

Amato thinks he has an explanation for why Pacileo is so good.

“She’s got quick steps and she elevates extremely well for how tall she is,” Amato said. “She will hit from any position in the floor, whether it’s 20 feet back or 6 inches off. She’ll set herself and rotate her shoulders. The best hitters are the most creative, and Bree is the most creative.”

With no prior volleyball experience entering high school, Pacileo said her career almost never happened.

“The cross country coach was really pushing me into cross country, and he wrote me a list of like 10 reasons to run,” said Pacileo, who also plays softball and basketball. “I talked to Nicole Fowler (a former Woodland standout) and she told me to try out.”

Pacileo made a quick rise through the program, becoming one of few sophomores to earn a starting spot in Amato’s tenure.

“We realized that Bree was going to be able to contribute as a sophomore,” Amato said. “We didn’t have other hitting options coming along as quickly as she was. She just kept working harder to get where she wanted to be.”

Pacileo is in a pretty special position, looking at a college volleyball career after one more crack at the postseason. And although everybody else seems to know how good she is, she’s a little bit late to the party.

“I’m still realizing that right now actually,” Pacileo said. “Last year making All-State and my sophomore year making All-Brass were definitely eye-opening experiences.”

She might also notice based on the defense that usually flocks in her direction. A double block on the other side of the net has never discouraged the fearless hitter from swinging away.

“It’s probably the best feeling,” Pacileo said of beating a defense designed to stop her. “Teams put up a double block on me all the time, and you hear them yelling to shut me down. It makes me want to hit the ball harder.”

On the flip side, the attention opponents pay her opens up the floor for the rest of her teammates. Samantha Lee, who is among the state’s leaders in assists, has plenty of other options with Pacileo commanding the defense.

“You can’t just defend Brianna because we have other hitters,” Amato said. “Just when you think you can set your block on that strong side, we can hit from the middle or slide to the weak side. She opens up opportunities all over the floor.”

Woodland defeated Kennedy 3-0 on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NVL tournament. Pacileo said she and her team are determined to get revenge for falling short in the league and state tournaments last season.

“Last year we had a great year but we didn’t come out on top,” Pacileo said. “We want to win the NVL tournament, push through to the state finals and bring back the gold that we haven’t been able to bring home.”