Woodland spikers find different way to win

Woodland’s Kylie Bulinski (23) passes the ball during a match against Wolcott Oct. 15 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — The wins might be coming differently than they have in the past, but Woodland volleyball coach Jim Amato can’t complain too much right now.

The Hawks, who had to break in an almost entirely new starting lineup this year after last year’s run to the Class M semifinals, entered the last two weeks of the regular season with an 12-2 record thanks to a defense that covers the floor as well as a Persian rug.

“I’m coaching one of the most defensive-minded teams I’ve had in years,” Amato said after a 3-0 win over Holy Cross on Oct. 17. “It’s anchored in our libero, May Dawes. We usually have good liberos, and she’s one of the finest between her consistency, accuracy and efficiency.”

The pink-glad girl in the back row hasn’t been alone in the strong defensive effort, which has given the league’s only two unbeaten teams, Seymour and Naugatuck, problems during the Hawks’ lone defeats of the season.

Joanna Emin, Allyson Koliani and Brooke Johnson have been strong back-row players, and setters Kylie Bulinski and Mary Pelkey have also gotten in on the action — defensively and offensively.

“Our leading diggers on the team (besides Dawes) are our two setters,” Amato noted. “Our setters are offensive-minded setters and they set each other. There’s a lot of offense that comes from that side of the floor.”

The Hawks’ attack has been a work in progress since the preseason after losing almost all of their major hitters from a year ago. Amato said the coaching staff has worked on turning strong defense into quick offense.

Woodland’s Mary Pelkey (30) passes the ball during a match against Wolcott Oct. 15 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

“We’re getting the ball to the net, and now we’re working on termination of play,” Amato said. “One girl who’s really learned how to terminate is Elayna Beutel. She’s also defensive-minded, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she leads the league in true blocks.”

The team’s leading hitters have not only changed from night to night, but sometimes they change from set to set. In one set, it might be Beutel. In another, it could be Isabella Fabrizi and Sydney Harrison. Later, Katie Sirowich and Megan Luxeder might step in. Sometimes, the attack might come from even deeper on the bench.

“We’re running a committee of hitters, and those girls are coming on the floor when they’re needed to execute those skills at the time,” Amato said. “We don’t know who’s going to rise to the occasion on a given night.”

Woodland’s also matured enough to play marathon stanzas. In the 3-1 loss to Naugatuck, the Hawks suffered a loss in a 32-30 set. During the win over Holy Cross, they pulled out a 26-24 win.

“If there’s volleyball to play, we’re in for it,” Amato said.

The Hawks are set to play Oxford on Monday and at East Haven Wednesday. They’ll start to wrap up the regular season Thursday at Ansonia before a pair of home matches next week, Oct. 28 vs. Seymour and Oct. 30 vs. Sacred Heart. The NVL tournament begins Nov. 2.