Season has sense of urgency for Hawks

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Nate Bodnar (20) goes up for a basket in front of Torrington’s Ben Smith (22) during a game Feb. 23 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — There’s no time for the Woodland boys basketball team to revel in victories or dwell on defeats for too long this winter.

With such a compressed schedule due to COVID-19 modifications, which allow teams to play a dozen games in a month, there’s always a reason to move on quickly.

“We try to stress to the kids that we didn’t even know that this season was going to happen, so we just want to get better every day,” Woodland coach John Mariano said. “Whatever happened yesterday, we’re just trying to move on. That message will be the same every day. There’s such a sense of urgency each day — there’s no time to relax or decompress. Instead of the usual marathon, it’s a sprint this year.”

The Hawks split their first four games, beating Oxford on Feb. 20 and Torrington on Feb. 23 while falling to Derby on Feb. 16 and Seymour on Feb. 24.

“Decent is a good word for it,” Mariano said of the first week and a half. “Obviously, we expect to win every single game and we felt like we’ve had the opportunity to win every game.”

Woodland impressed offensively in its two victories, posting three scorers in double figures in each game. Nathaniel Smith and Joe Giuliani each scored 36 total points in those games, while Rob Moriarty chipped in with a combined 29 points. The Hawks beat Torrington, 70-52, and Oxford, 62-42.

Woodland’s Nathaniel Smith (4) drives to the basket in front of Torrington’s Charlie Mathieu (0) during a game Feb. 23 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“All of our guys have had good moments. Than and Joe have done a great job of carrying the scoring load to start the year, and Robby’s had some good moments,” Mariano said.

In the losses, though, the coach pointed to self-inflicted damage. That was the case in the Hawks’ 56-41 loss to rival Seymour.

“Right now, our Achilles’ heel is that we’re missing too many layups and are making too many turnovers,” Mariano said. “We’re beating ourselves. We need to sharpen up. We try to take a lot of pride in our skill development. We always have 25-30 minutes of skill work at the beginning of practice before schematics stuff. At the end of the day, it comes down to a kid’s mindset: Are they willing to go up strong and go up for the layup?”

Strong finishes and fewer turnovers would help Woodland play the fast-paced style Mariano wants to see this year.

“When we play our game, we have a chance to be very good,” Mariano said. “We’re preaching to get the ball out and play fast this year, and that starts with getting stops and rebounding. If we don’t get stops, it takes away our strengths. Our strengths are playing fast, so we run into trouble when we don’t clean up the backboard. I think our other strength is when we share the ball. The games we’ve won, the assists have been a lot higher than the games we’ve lost.”

Woodland’s Joe Giuliani (5) goes up for a shot during a game against Torrington Feb. 23 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Defensively, Mariano pointed to junior Nate Bodnar’s performances as being inspirational and an epitome of the way the Hawks should play.

“Nate Bodnar is continuing to prove that he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league,” Mariano said. “We always ask him to take on the other team’s best player, and he does it. It’s really motivating to watch him play. Although [other] guys are scoring, he’s playing a good brand of winning basketball.”

The Hawks are set to host Ansonia on Feb. 26 and Derby on March 1 and visit Oxford on March 3, before getting a chance to sweep Torrington in a rematch March 5. Woodland will try to get revenge on Seymour on March 9 before visiting Waterbury Career on March 12 in the Hawks’ only game against a Waterbury school this regular season.