caption, page 7:

The Woodstock Academy Centaurs volleyball team celebrates its second ECC Div. 1 tournament championship. Brenda Orlowski photo.

Taking the
Div. I crown
--- again
Offense wins games; defense wins championships.
The Woodstock Academy volleyball team proved that old adage correct once again Oct. 31 at Norwich Free Academy.
The Centaurs defense never allowed the East Lyme offense to gain any traction and Woodstock Academy left Alumni Gym with its second consecutive Eastern Connecticut Conference Division 1 tournament championship plaque with a 3-0 win over the Vikings.
“The feeling is just amazing,” Woodstock Academy senior Bekah Wesler said after the shutout victory.
Some teams feel an ECC tournament championship is nice, others put a little more emphasis on it.
The Centaurs are in the latter category.
“It definitely means huge amounts to us,” Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone said. “From being here how many times in the past and always coming up short. Now, we’re recognized as a team that is dominant not only in the league, but also in the state. We take a lot of pride in the way we play and our brand of volleyball. It’s big for us.”
Bottone listed it as the second check in the box.
The first was an undefeated regular season and a divisional regular season league title that was not shared with another team.
Still to come, hopefully, a Class L state championship.
How dominant was the Centaurs defense?
Woodstock Academy (21-0) never let the Vikings string more than two points together in a set.
It was a far cry from the previous Monday when Fitch gave the top-seeded Centaurs a little more than expected in the semifinals, even though Woodstock Academy still prevailed, 3-0.
“We didn’t play our best game defensively. We struggled quite a bit, especially with our front row play,” Bottone said.
So, the Centaurs coach sought a little advice.
Bottone is connected with a volleyball company that provides some expert coaching advice. Following the Fitch match, he had an email conversation with one of the U.S. Olympic men’s volleyball coaches, Mark Wall.
Bottone sent him some film of the team and asked for any advice he could impart.
Wall’s message was simple and Bottone talked about it with his team on the trip down to Norwich Oct. 31.
“As he said, all the stars need to align for a block to be effective,” Bottone said.
But blocks are not always necessary.
Sometimes, just getting a hand on it is all that is needed.
“We got so many more touches and were able to keep the ball in play, and slow it down for the back row,” Bottone said.
That made it easier for players like Maddy Gronski, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, to not only make 19 digs, but also to return hard spikes from the likes of East Lyme outside hitters Sydney Iannantuono and Mya Delesdernier.
“Maddy played out of her mind defensively,” Bottone said. “Bekah Wesler stepped up and took tips and was reading the ball tremendously. I couldn’t be any prouder with how we played defense.”
Gronski, after the match, was still digesting the idea that she was the best player in the championship match.
“I’m still kind of out of it a bit,” Gronski said. “I think it means that I was one of those working the hardest out there. The defense was really good this game. All of us were getting really good ups. We get into (East Lyme’s) heads if we keep pounding it at them and they are not getting any kills especially since they are an outside hitting team. Once we took Sydney out of the equation, passing as well as did, we can basically just take a team out.”
The Centaurs gave up the most points to the Vikings in the first set when they posted a 25-15 victory.
Wesler took over behind the service line with the Centaurs up, 17-13, in the first set. She served the next six points.
“I get really nervous when I serve,” Wesler said. “(Wednesday) Coach was like, ‘Bekah, you have to get your serves in, it’s really important. I really took that to heart.”
Wesler also served up six straight points in the second set which was won by the Centaurs, 25-14.
The Vikings faithful began to depart early in the final set.
Paula Hernandez laid whatever hope the Vikings (18-4) had left to waste when she served eight straight points, four of them were aces giving her 70 for the season, and the Centaurs led 20-6 en route to a 25-8 rout and ECC championship.
Hernandez now has 389 kills on the season after getting 16 in the win as well as 20 digs. Natalie Low (261 kills this season) added 15.
Sammie Orlowski increased her assist total to 586 as she recorded 50 in the win over the Vikings.
Prior to the match, Hernandez, Gronski and Low were honored as ECC first-team All-Stars. Orlowski was honorable mention with Wesler as the team’s Scholar-Athlete. Katie Papp was given the Sportsmanship Award.
The Centaurs also received another surprise earlier in the day Oct. 31.
MaxPreps’ XCellent 25 poll named the Centaurs as one of the Top 25 teams in the country.
The Centaurs were ranked No. 24 in the country this week.
“I didn’t even know that existed,” Bottone said. “It’s still a pretty cool honor. It’s not something that you just forget about, it’s pretty cool, something we’ve never had happen before.”
Gronski said it was hard to believe the lofty heights that the team has accomplished this season.
“It’s weird to think about because there are so many teams and none of them are from Connecticut in that poll. It’s insane,” Gronski said.
“We’ve worked so hard this season and seeing our name up there just feels so good,” Wesler said.
Now comes the hard part for Bottone – keeping the team engaged.
The Centaurs are the top-ranked team in Class L and, as such, will receive a first-round bye and won’t have to play again until Thursday when they meet the winner of the (16) Avon/(17) Masuk match.
“That’s tough,” Bottone said. “We may look to get a scrimmage in there, maybe that’s the best thing to do, I don’t know. We will play it by ear, keep the practices short and very specific.”
Marc Allard
Sports Information Director
The Woodstock Academy


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