By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — Leadership is never more important than during a crisis.
That’s why Woodland’s Nathaniel Smith has taken his role as a boys soccer captain and upperclassman on the boys basketball team so seriously during his pandemic-altered senior year.
Smith, who’s been a multiple-year starter on the pitch and the court, knew over the summer that it would be up to him to help set the right tone for his teams amid the developing COVID-19 protocols.
“In a season like this, mentality is something that’s extremely important for the team as a whole,” Smith said. “With protocols to follow during practices, warmups [and games], it’s really easy to lose focus on what we’re trying to accomplish. I took it upon myself to keep the guys focused and as locked in as possible. Aside from mentality, I try to keep spirits up during games and give certain guys the confidence and reassurance they need to really flourish.”
That worked for his soccer team, which went 10-0-1 in Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division play and was the favorite to win the division title before the NVL canceled its postseason due to the late fall spike of COVID-19 cases.
Smith said one important part of the team’s success was the constant readjustment of goals and expectations.
“Before the season started, our goal was to do the most we could to give our team a chance at the NVL title once again,” Smith said. “As the year progressed and we realized there wouldn’t be any playoffs, our new goal was to go undefeated through however many games we would get to play. I think with the circumstances at hand, we could not have had a better outcome. We had all sorts of players of all classes and positions stepping up to the plate and delivering in situations where they were needed most. Although it wasn’t the ideal senior season, we had a goal in mind and got it done.”
Woodland boys soccer coach Kenan Collins especially appreciated Smith’s value for the many freshmen and sophomores who made impacts on the field.
“He’s an excellent guy to have on the field because of his presence and leadership, and he makes guys around him better,” Collins said during the season.
For his play and leadership on the pitch, Smith earned All-State and All-Copper Division honors. Preston Alessio joined him with both awards, while co-captain Sean Hussey also earned all-division recognition.
Smith was hoping to turn his focus immediately from soccer to basketball, but the CIAC postponed the start of winter sports practice to no earlier than Jan. 19, 2021. The Hawks went 8-12 a year ago and qualified for the state tournament thanks to a lineup filled mostly with players returning this winter — Smith, Jason Palmieri, Nate Bodnar, Robert Moriarty, Conrad Filippone, Joey Giuliani, Brady Anderson and others.
All of this gives Smith a sense of optimism for the upcoming season — if it happens.
“I’m really hoping for a senior season this year,” Smith said. “Our team started putting things together toward the second half of last year’s season, so we only got a small taste of what we can do.
“Personally, I’ve spent some time on the AAU scene over the summer and continue to work on my craft leading up to the season. With other guys staying in shape and getting work done in the gym, I’m excited to make some noise this year.”
Smith still isn’t sure what his future will hold. He continues to look at college opportunities, a process which has been complicated due to the pandemic.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with different programs but the inability to tour and visit schools in person has led to a lot of researching of different schools and trying to find what’s best for me from home,” Smith said. “I’d prefer to see schools in person so I can judge the environment, but times like this just don’t allow for that.”