Woodland boys have new coach, same culture

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BEACON FALLS — For the first time in more than a dozen years, a new face will patrol the sidelines for the Woodland boys basketball team — and the Hawks got a good one.

Former college assistant coach and Naugatuck native John Mariano takes over for Tom Hunt, who resigned last summer following 12 years leading the Hawks. Hunt went 86-166 during his dozen seasons with seven state tournament berths in the last 10 seasons.

As soon as Hunt tendered his resignation in July, Mariano — a former player at Division II Saint Anselm who later coached at his alma mater and Division I Brown — knew it was a job he wanted.

“When Woodland opened up, I applied right away,” said Mariano, who teaches in Naugatuck. “I knew there was a good culture here with winning in general — they win in a lot of sports. There are good people here who are hardworking. The biggest thing is I know that the kids are tough here. That’s what I like to coach — tough and smart. When I applied, I was praying that I got it. It worked out.”

The Hawks finished 8-13 last year and reached the Division IV state tournament. They have plenty of talent to replace, including 1,000-point scorer Zack Bedryczuk and frontcourt stalwarts Mickey Meier and Justin Marks.

Mariano is confident in the players who return this season and the system he plans to install.

Jason Palmieri, who recently earned All-State accolades in football, will pick up where he left off as a freshman as the starting point guard. Nate Bodnar, Nick DeLucia, Nathanel Smith and Trey Mastropietro will likely round out the starting lineup to begin the winter.

“Jason Palmieri is coming off football and looks really good to start,” Mariano said. “Bodnar looks like he’s taken another step and is working really hard. Nick DeLucia is going to provide us with leadership, fundamentals and discipline — same thing with Trey Mastropietro. They’re tough and play hard. Than is another guy who has taken a step. He’s really skilled and can play guard and as a perimeter four.”

Mariano plans on using an eight-man rotation and looks for guys such as Joey Giuliani, Rob Moriarty, and others to fill those bench roles.

In terms of the Hawks’ gameplay, Mariano said he embraces the hardworking, tough style that Hunt’s teams embodied over the years. The rookie coach will add his own elements to defense and offense.

“We’re going to be hard-nosed and tough,” Mariano said. “For the most part, we’re going to play man-to-man on defense. We’re going to be locked in and stopping people — we’re not just going to hope that they miss. Offensively, I’m going to run a motion (offense). We’re really teaching the fundamentals of basketball and being unselfish and sharing the ball. It’s going to take a while. It’s a difficult style to play.”

While the roster is dominated by underclassmen — DeLucia, Mastropietro and Sam Trumbley are the lone seniors, while Smith, Giuliani, Conrad Filippone and Steadman Rowe are the only juniors — Mariano said he likes the makeup of the team because of its skill and work ethic.

“We have a young group that is very smart, but we also have good upperclassmen,” Mariano said. “We don’t waste a lot of time in practice. We do a lot of skill work and a lot of reps. We’re going two hours every day, but the reps are quick. There’s a lot of things being put in.”

Woodland will start the season Thursday with a home game against Crosby before visiting Watertown on Monday. Their first Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division contest will be against Oxford on Dec. 27 in the first round of the Cowboy Classic in Litchfield.

While Mariano said this year’s goals focus on returning to the postseason and growing as a program, he thinks this group has the potential to make program history in the not-too-distant future.

“I mentioned putting a banner up there (on the wall) a lot,” Mariano said. “I foresee that with this group. I think we have a good, solid corps. It’s going to take some time and it’s a process. I know we made the state tournament last year, and my expectation is the same thing this year.”