BY KYLE BRENNAN
BEACON FALLS — Thinking back on her freshman basketball season makes Woodland’s Gabby Mastropietro thankful that she’s a senior.
“At the beginning of freshman year, you were nervous to step onto the court because you’re playing with all these girls who were older than you and had way more experience. You were nervous,” Mastropietro said. “But now when we step onto the court during our senior year, we are the leaders and we have control on the court. It’s so much more relaxing and not nerve-racking. I can just, like shoot.”
Yep, Mastropietro insists she was shy with her shot three seasons ago — a claim fellow senior Riley Kane found hard to believe.
“No, you weren’t,” Kane said incredulously.
“A little bit!” Mastropietro retorted. “I was playing against all these older girls and they were coming at me.”
Mastropietro, Kane, and Andra Bojka are rare four-year starters for the Hawks, who also count Madison Andrews and Jezzamie Garcia among their senior class. The group has been through a lot, from being thrust into the starting limelight as rookies to playing through a pandemic and now passing on their basketball program to a new coaching staff.
Kane, who also started at pitcher as a freshman on the softball team, notices plenty of differences now compared to her first time wearing black and gold on the hardwood.
“You just get more comfortable as time goes on,” Kane said. “We jell more as a team. The more time you play with someone, the easier it is to communicate and pick up on each other. We know how to work with each other.”
Under new coach Jenn Deeley, who replaced longtime coach Jess Moffo during the offseason, Woodland has remained competitive in the Naugatuck Valley League. The Hawks got off to a 9-4 start, including a recent four-game winning streak in which each victory came by at least 22 points.
Kane said that she and her fellow seniors appreciated the way that Deeley and her staff embraced the returning players.
“They’ve learned us as players and people,” Kane said. “We’ve shown them our personalities and how we work with each other. We got to show them a little bit of what we’ve been doing for the last three years.”
This season also provided new opportunities for some players. With the graduation of starting forward Ava DeLucia and the departure of starting forward Kylie Bulinski, more minutes were up for grabs. Andrews, who didn’t see much varsity time earlier in her career, has capitalized.
“I’ve been a little nervous to step onto the court because I haven’t played as much as they have, but this year, I’m starting to get minutes and I feel more comfortable now,” Andrews said.
Mastropietro and Kane agree that their team feels closely knit, which will continue to provide benefits on the floor.
“We’ve really come together as a team. We’re working very well together,” Mastropietro said. “It’s not a one-man show. We use everybody on the team and what each of us do best.”
“We’re putting ourselves in positions to succeed, as our coach always says,” echoed Kane, who averaged 12 points in wins over Kennedy on Jan. 25 and Harding on Jan. 26.
The Hawks reached the NVL semifinals last season and hope to contend again this year. Led by the senior class, as well as sophomores Casey Mulligan (16.5 ppg against Kennedy and Harding) and Ireland Starziski, Woodland also has its sights set on its divisional rivals.
“Our goal is to make it further in the NVL tournament than we have,” Kane said. “We’re still fighting with Seymour (for the NVL Copper Division title), and that could be our first time ever with a banner on the wall.”
BY KYLE BRENNAN