Season preview: volleyball

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Naugatuck’s Alyssa Roberts (37) hits the ball over the net during a match against WCA in October 2019 at Waterbury Career Academy. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Naugatuck

2019 results: 21-3; won the NVL championship and reached Class L second round.

Graduated: Brielle Behuniak (All-NVL, All-State), Hailey Russell (All-Iron), Jordyn Hunt (All-Iron), Yahna Ancheta (All-Iron).

Seniors: Lindsey Walsh (captain), Cara Bergin, Alyssa Roberts (captain).

Season opener: Oct. 1 vs. Wolcott.

The Greyhounds graduated most of the starting lineup from a squad that beat Seymour to win Naugatuck’s first NVL tournament championship ever and first league title since 1998.

Naugy, though, has a well-balanced team of experienced returning players led by a trio of seniors — Lindsey Walsh (captain), Cara Bergin and Alyssa Roberts (captain) — as well as All-NVL and All-State junior captain Kaylee Jackson and fellow juniors Nadia Cestari, Kendall Allen, Samantha Mullin and Felicia Salvati.

The volleyball season almost didn’t happened as it was one of two sports — the other 11-on-11 football — deemed high risk for transmitting COVID-19. The season will go on, though players have to wear masks on the court.

“We are excited to be playing, even if it is with masks on,” Naugatuck head coach Kevin Wesche said. “We started doing that back in July just in case that was a mandate from the state we would already be prepared for that.”

With only a 12-game schedule this season, Wesche said the team is going to take it one game at a time.

“We are still not in that competitive volleyball mode yet, even after all the conditioning,” he said. “But the girls are getting excited for the season. We are hoping that everything works out and we can play the entire season without anything happening that would stop the season.”

Woodland’s May Dawes (40) lunges to hit the ball during a match against St. Paul in October 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Woodland

2019 results: 16-5; reached NVL semifinals and Class M second round.

Graduated: Isabella Fabrizi, Mary Pelkey, Katie Sirowich.

Seniors: Elayna Beutel, May Dawes, Joanna Emin, Sydney Harrison, Allyson Koliani, Megan Luxeder.

Season opener: Oct. 2 at Oxford.

Team defense was the name of the game last year for the Hawks, who put up a surprisingly successful 2019 campaign with almost an entirely new starting lineup.

This year’s Hawks — who will have to wear masks throughout every match, the only fall athletes required to keep the protective face coverings on during active competition — bring back experience all over the court.

Elayna Beutel earned a spot on the Class M All-State Second Team and the All-NVL squad for her strong efforts in the middle of the net, and May Dawes emerged as an All-Copper Division libero while anchoring Woodland’s defense.

That defense carried the Hawks through much of the season, keeping points alive and waiting for opponents to make errors. While the defense is still expected to be strong with Dawes, Joanna Emin, Brooke Johnson, Allyson Koliani, and others, the attack should be more productive this fall.

Beutel, Sydney Harrison, Megan Luxeder and Alexandra Lisowski are among those who could lead the attack at net. Kylie Bulinski, who was half of a two-setter combination with Mary Pelkey last year, has experience facilitating the offense.

Head coach James Amato could not be reached for comment.