Success measured differently in fall season like no other

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Naugatuck’s Emma Sonski (8) controls the ball as Woodland’s Paige Letourneau (18) pressures her during a game Nov. 2 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Success for teams this fall came in the form of completing a season that hung in the balance from one day to the next due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It gave us a whole different perspective,” said Naugatuck senior volleyball captain Alyssa Roberts about playing this season. “We were thankful for every day we had out on the court knowing that it could end at any moment. I think it taught us to make the most out of every opportunity you have in life.”

As thoughts of back to school replaced the warm days of summer, many student-athletes wondered if they would have a season to come back to. Some, namely football players, had their fall season canceled.

“It was great that we even had a season,” said Woodland senior cross country captain Jaden Young, who helped lead the Hawks to a 5-0 record. “I wasn’t even sure if we would make it past the first meet. Before the season even started I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be surprised if they canceled the season altogether. I’m so glad we had this opportunity.”

That uncertainly was just one of the obstacles student-athletes and coaches had to overcome.

“We were a little unsure at the start at how we would all come together,” said Naugatuck volleyball coach Kevin Wesche, who guided the defending Naugatuck Valley League champions to a 12-0 record.

Wesche continued, “Keeping our mental focus with everything that was going on around us was the biggest challenge we faced, and the girls rose to the occasion.”

The Woodland boys and girls soccer teams also persevered this challenge-filled season to finish unbeaten in divisional play.

Woodland girls soccer coach Cait Witham credited the team’s seniors with keeping the Hawks focused.

“The team clicked as well as we could have hoped for,” Witham said. “It was hard to know what to expect from one day to the next. But our upperclassmen helped to maintain a standard that we are used to, especially the first few weeks of the season.”

The challenges for swimmers included staying motivated without any competitors in the next lane. Some teams had a few in-person meets, including Woodland, but most swam virtual meets all season.

Naugatuck junior Haley Deller, who came within five-tenths of a second from setting the school record in the 100 backstroke this season, credited her teammates and coaches for providing an exciting atmosphere.

“It was a little challenging to self-motivate,” Deller said. “But it was my coaches and teammates that helped me to prepare myself to do (almost set the record). Even without fans there was a lot of cheering going on and that really inspired me.”

“It’s exciting and nerve-racking at the same time,” she added. “I swim year-round for a team called the Sea Dogs in Cheshire and I’m looking forward to another opportunity next season to break that record.”

The season came to a screeching halt when the NVL canceled the postseason due to COVID-19 concerns as it was about to get into full swing. But the number one priority for the season was the safety of the student-athletes.

“I think the league needed to put the best interest of the athletes first,” Witham said. “And as a league I think we did that. But putting everything into a proper perspective, just to have a season at all was a huge success for the athletes, the coaches and the league.”