BEACON FALLS — Woodland boys’ basketball and success have not been exactly synonymous in the seven-year history of Hawks varsity hoops. In fact, the Black and Gold have posted only one winning record and qualified for state tournament play once. This preseason, however, the feeling in the Woods is different—overwhelming optimism.
After posting a 5-15 record last season, the Hawks have upped their expectations, despite losing six seniors to graduation, including four starters—Jason Skibek, Nick Boucher, KJ Thompson, and Tyler Rich—who also led the team in scoring and rebounding. Despite the losses, third-year head coach Tom Hunt feels their replacements are more than capable of getting the job done, including senior Bryan Spickle and junior Ian Bures.
“I was able to get Bryan Spickle some quality minutes last year, and he will fill some of the gap with his athleticism, as opposed to dominant post play,” Hunt said. “I have him along with Ian Bures, who has the Woodland football mentality. In scrimmages, he has been great, as far as setting picks and rebounding and being a physical force inside. I don’t think we have the depth as last year, but our starting quality should be just as good.”
Bures may be the lynchpin to the Hawks’ success this year. The 6-3, 192-pounder played sparingly last year but has developed into a solid, low-post option over the offseason, according to senior point guard Ryan Genua.
“Ian will play a lot,” Genua said. “He’s got a little more basketball sense than before. He’s getting a lot of one-on-one work with Coach, so he’s understanding what he needs to do. He’s probably in the best shape on the squad.”
Genua will run the offense for the third year and will have to break in some new weapons, including senior Shaine Thompson, who missed the majority of last year with a broken collarbone.
“With [Shaine’s] scoring ability, he’s going to be our main offensive threat,” Hunt noted. “Spickle averaged 14 points a game in some short scrimmages at Windsor, so the trio of those two guys plus Genua will have to lead us on offense.”
The Hawks will also be introducing senior Eric Brandien to the sixth-man role, and junior Sean Deegan and freshman Rahmi Rountree also figure to see time off the bench. Sophomore Ryan Angeloszek, a post player on whom Hunt is very high, is expected to crack the starting lineup early in the season.
“Ryan Angeloszek will be a pleasant surprise as a sophomore starting,” Hunt said. “He can make layups out of our offense, he can make the outside shot, he’s just all-around solid. He’s not one of those players who’s going to overwhelm anybody, but he’s just really solid.”
As has been the case in the past, Woodland will switch between slowing the tempo to execute half-court sets and playing pressure defense with fast breaks, depending on the opponent.
“We’re definitely going to pick our spots where we’re going to run,” Hunt explained. “I think the way the teams break down in the Brass Division, we’re going to look to exploit their weaknesses. We’ll look to play a slower tempo against some of the city schools, where we can take advantage of running our stuff as opposed to playing a playground style.”
With the newly-aligned Brass Division, Woodland feels that it can challenge Wolcott, Watertown, Ansonia, Seymour, Derby, and St. Paul for the division crown. Once junior Yahmad Rountree returns to action midway through the season, Hunt feels his team will be dangerous.
“We’re definitely looking to challenge for the Brass title,” he said. “I think the way the divisions break down it makes the eight wins a lot more attainable because we’re playing schools we’re competitive with. I think that we’re going to be a strong second-half team. I want to hit the finish line flying.”
The Hawks visit Crosby and Wolcott next week before their home opener Dec. 22 against Watertown.