BEACON FALLS — Kenan Collins couldn’t have asked for a much better team to inherit for his first season as Woodland’s boys soccer coach.
Collins, a history teacher at the school who spent three seasons as Tony Moutinho’s assistant, took over the program after Moutinho retired in the offseason. Moutinho had been the only head coach in program history, but he left Collins with a squad that should challenge for a Naugatuck Valley League championship.
“Overall, we have a really strong group,” Collins said. “We expect to be up there again this year. I’m excited.”
The Hawks went 14-3-3 last season with two of their losses coming in the NVL final against Watertown (2-0) and the Class M second round against Windham (2-1). Collins said the loss to the Indians left a sting that the returning seniors still feel.
“Last year, we made a really good run,” Collins said. “Losing to Watertown in the final — that hurt. We have the majority of those players coming back. A lot of these boys have been playing varsity since they were freshmen, so being their senior year, I expect a strong showing from them.”
The Hawks have to replace a few key seniors, including Ryan Swanson, Maciej Lewicki, Josh Powanda, Matt Iannone, Tim Mendes and Nick Hudson. But most of Woodland’s scoring last season came from its junior class.
Jason Claiborn headlines the senior scoring talent after leading the squad with nine goals a year ago. Dante and Devon Polletta were also potent goal-scorers, while players such as Cole Barrows and George Hughes return as multi-year starters.
Barrows, Hughes and the Polletta twins are the Hawks’ four captains among a group of about 10 seniors. The numbers of captains and seniors are a rarity for Woodland — and it’s one about which Collins is excited.
“We don’t often have four captains, but there were a lot of people deserving,” Collins said. “To actually have to cap it at four (captains) was a struggle in itself. They really are leaders on the field. I’ve been with them every year because I started the same year they did, and the maturity — I’ve been blown away by some of them. It’s not just the skill; it’s the way they carry themselves.”
In addition to the sizable veteran group, the Hawks will boast at least three impactful sophomores with Sean Hussey, Christian Hotchkiss and Sean Swanson.
“We definitely have some sophomores who can play,” Collins said. “Sean Hussey has pretty much fully immersed himself in the varsity lineup. He’s a very strong left back and he’s going to rack up a lot of assists because he can put in a cross. Christian Hotchkiss is a utility player for us who can play in a lot of different spots. Sean Swanson had a phenomenal year last year, and he plays a bit like his older brother (Ryan).”
Woodland will kick off the season Thursday against Sacred Heart before a nonleague test at Brookfield on Saturday. The Hawks’ home-opener will be Sept. 17 against Waterbury Career. Key dates on the schedule include home clashes against Naugatuck (Sept. 26) and Watertown (Oct. 11).