Woodland returns experience-laden squad

Woodland girls soccer captains, from left, Olivia Kotsaftis, Haley Wolfanger and Juliana Villano will lead the Hawks this season. –KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — Woodland girls soccer coach Cait Witham didn’t expect the Hawks to be quite as good as they were last season, but she also didn’t expect them to exit both the Naugatuck Valley League and Class M state tournaments so early.

This year, Witham’s goal for the Hawks is to be playing their best soccer at the right time.

“Our key is going to be not peaking in the middle of the season,” Witham said. “The past two or three years, we’ve had brilliant regular-season records and then we get to the postseason and don’t produce. That’s going to come from me being patient with them at the beginning because they’re settling into new roles. I need them to peak at the right time.”

Woodland finished 16-4 last year after a 14-2 regular season. Disappointing upset losses in the NVL semifinals and Class M second round spoiled a promising year for the Hawks, who were led by Haley Andrews, Eliza Smith and Meg Sirowich.

With only those players and a few others lost from last year’s squad, Witham and the Hawks are expecting to improve upon their postseason letdowns from a season ago.

“The expectations have shifted a little this year because we have a very experience-laden team,” Witham said. “I have a lot of upperclassmen, so I don’t expect us to have the same mental issues and lackadaisical-ness because we have girls who have played so much. They know what to expect. They should know the magnitude of games down the stretch.”

Witham tabbed Olivia Kotsaftis, Haley Wolfanger and Juliana Villano to serve as captains for this year’s team. Even though they’re part of a team that only lost a handful of contributors from last season, Witham expects plenty out of her three leaders.

“I expect them to be vocal,” Witham said. “I expect them to hold their teammates to a high standard. When they see their teammates getting frustrated, I want them to encourage them to work through it. I want them to be the backbone of our team because they’re great leaders.”

In typical Woodland tradition, Witham also doesn’t expect one superstar to emerge from the bunch. Rather, she expects offense and defense in front of returning goalie Alanna Carasone to come from a variety of sources.

“We’ve never really had just one kid who scores a lot of goals,” Witham said. “That’s a good and a bad (thing) for us. I have a feeling we’ll have many scorers for us.”

Woodland will open the season Thursday against Sacred Heart-Kaynor Tech before a home match against Brookfield on Saturday. The Hawks will also host St. Paul on Sept. 11 and Wolcott on Sept. 13.