BEACON FALLS — This winter is sure to be one full of eight balls for the Woodland boys basketball team. The Hawks are starting behind a bunch of them, anyway.
Not only did Woodland lose four of its five starters — and leading scorers — but the only returner with starting experience has yet to take the court less than a week before the start of the season.
Tanner Kingsley, who will have a legitimate chance to become the first player in program history to reach the 1,000-point mark for his career, has been busy quarterbacking the Woodland football team to the state finals. He will have only a few days of practice under his belt before the Hawks’ opener against Sacred Heart Dec. 18.
It puts Woodland head coach Tom Hunt and his squad in a quandary with the team’s leader preoccupied on the eve of a new season.
Kingsley was the team’s second leading scorer a season ago with 13.8 points per game. Woodland lost almost all of its other scoring production, including point guard Dave Uhl (16.3 ppg), swingman Rahmi Rountree (11.3 ppg), center Kirk Chamenko (8.8 ppg) and forward Steve Baeder (4.0 ppg).
The Hawks were not a deep team last season, when they went 13-10 and reached the second round of the Class S state tournament. Woodland led Weaver deep into the second half of the second-round game before falling to the tourney’s eventual runner-up.
Only about seven players saw regular court time for the Hawks, including the five starters plus then-juniors Shane Classey and Kenny Koch. Classey, an undersized forward, was set to be the team’s go-to player underneath before an ACL injury in the offseason rendered him unable to play until the second half of this season.
Koch usually saw time when the team was able to exploit his 3-point shooting ability. Koch enters the season as a 44 percent career shooter from behind the arc and figures to have plenty more chances this season.
Another pair of seniors, Jack Pinho and Anthony D’Agnone, should see time in the backcourt and on the wings. D’Agnone’s playing time increased through the second half of last season, and Hunt sees Pinho as one of the team’s emotional leaders. It was last January when Woodland upset then-undefeated and No. 2-ranked Wilby just a day after George Pinho’s funeral.
Woodland’s frontcourt will be the most youthful spot on the floor. Hunt especially likes the potential of sophomore center Eric Beutel, who checked in at 6-foot-5 as a freshman. With the graduation of Chamenko, the team’s leading rebounder at the same height, Hunt hopes Beutel can emerge to anchor the Hawks’ low post for the next few seasons.
Hunt has led Woodland to four straight state tournament berths and the Hawks have won playoff games in two of their last three trips. They will open up the regular season Dec. 18 at home against Sacred Heart and will host Crosby Dec. 20.