Volleyball alums still got game, humor

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BEACON FALLS — It’s “the legacy that keeps on returning,” as Woodland volleyball coach Jim Amato says—the seemingly-instinctual migration of the Hawks’ volleyball alumnae to compete in an annual tournament just before Thanksgiving. And after just a few points in the first matches of the night, one thing became obvious: Just as Pavlov’s dog never forgets to drool at the smell of meat powder, Woodland’s alumns can still brush off the knee pads and play some top-notch volleyball.

“It’s a really great tradition the coaching staff started a few years ago,” 2008 graduate Lauren Gentile said. “It’s great to come back from college and play with the girls like we used to.”

Twenty-five former players returned to their old stomping grounds to compete in a four-team tournament—which they take very seriously, by the way.

It was intense. This was not your typical adult volleyball hour. No, there were players hitting the floor, laying out to ensure no ball within a four-foot radius hit the floor. Girls were equipped with knee pads, ankle braces, Spandex, the whole shebang.

Now, it’s not too hard to see why Woodland has, in just a few short years, established itself as a Naugatuck Valley League power, with two titles in the last three years and four NVL tournament championship game appearances in the last five.

Still, the night was not just full of cutthroat competition—the old, high-school-humor side of the girls came back out. Just check out a couple of the team names: Will Work for Sets and I Swear I was a Big Deal in High School.

Maybe the best part of the night—at least for a spectator like me—was to see what will seemingly be the Woodland all-decade volleyball team before my eyes. We had the classic digs of Caitlin Classey and Krista Conti; returning were the rifle-like hits of Jessica Gruemken and Rebecca Rydzik; back were the perfect sets of Jackie Palomba and Kaitlin Renkewith. None of them looked like they’ve lost a step at all.

Not coincidentally, the two oddly-named squads reached the finals of the double-elimination tourney. Will Work for Sets, comprised mostly of players from the 2007 NVL championship-winning unit (including Gentile, Gruemken, Classey, Renkewith, and Lisa Janeiro, as well as 2007 grad Marie Culik), managed to run away with the title, winning, 25-14, on an ace by Janeiro.

“It felt good to come back here and win like we used to,” Janeiro said.

“We did work,” Culik added. “We got s— done.”

Maybe you’ll agree, it’s pretty darn competitive.