BEACON FALLS — Jim Amato has been at the front end of the Woodland volleyball bench for 13 years. Only once has he had to build up one of his teams after a season like the one the Hawks endured last fall.
The Hawks went 11-11 last year, the same record they had during Amato’s first season at the helm in 2006. The next year? They won their first Naugatuck Valley League title and earned the No. 2 seed in the Class M state tournament.
Amato is hoping for a repeat of that history this fall.
“It was a growing year,” Amato said of last season. “They were learning the speed of the game and who they could rely on. I think it’s great for this season because they got close (last year to the NVL final) and it made them want more. They’ve set goals that they went to get all the way to the 17th (the Class M final in November).”
Woodland lost just one senior, defensive specialist Julia Swiatek, from last year’s team. They return six starters, including one of the NVL’s top front-row players in Steph Krebbs. Krebbs recorded 10 kills and 2.6 blocks per match last season as a junior.
The Hawks also return their other two top hitters, seniors Lexie Chabot (5.9 kills per match) and Alyssa Lukeski (4.8 kills per match), meaning they’ll boast a front line with height and hitting ability.
“It’s something we haven’t had in a while,” Amato said of that height. “It’s a lot of fun to coach.”
While Krebbs will likely emerge as the team’s top hitter again, Amato is confident in the abilities of the other players on the floor to pick up the slack when other teams target Krebbs defensively. The Hawks also return Fatima Khalid, a senior who led the team in assists (20.8 per match) and digs (11 per match) last season.
“We run a spread offense, so we make sure everyone is involved in the game,” Amato said. “If we have a player who we know is going to be targeted by the other team, we always have options we can swing off to. Steph is definitely going to be there. You have Alyssa Lukeski. You have Lexie Chabot, Sydnie Overby, and then some underclassmen.”
Amato said the key to this season will be mental toughness that could have been the difference in turning several losses from last season into wins.
“There’s a great song by Trapt called ‘Headstrong,’” Amato said. “That’s the mantra for this year. If we stay headstrong, we’re going to make some noise.”
Woodland will open the season Thursday against Oxford. After a nonleague test at Brookfield on Sept. 11, the Hawks will visit Ansonia on Sept. 13 and host Kennedy on Sept. 14.