Centaurs season ends in Norwich
The girls basketball season for the Woodstock Academy Centaurs came to a close earlier this week.
But the Centaurs did leave a little something behind; momentum going into next winter.
“I’m really proud of these kids to start 1-9, but keep their nose to the grindstone and finish 6-4 on the back half. The opponents didn’t change much. It was just as competitive, still tough teams, had a couple of close games that we won. I think it’s a true testament to them that they stayed focused,” Woodstock Academy coach Will Fleeton said.
The Centaurs did so with only four seniors on the roster.
Katie Papp, Kayla Gaudreau, Rachel Lambert and Hallie Saracina have donned a Woodstock Academy basketball uniform for a final time.
“They will certainly be missed. They brought some of the grit that has been created in the program. That will, obviously, be missed and I hope they were able to transfer that same passion to the underclassmen,” Fleeton said. “They’ve been in the program all four years and I watched them grow up in life and in basketball.”
Papp was the leader in the paint.
She finished tops on the team with eight points and seven rebounds a game despite being undersized.
“She played low at 5-foot-7 ½ even though I listed her at 5-10. She’s not 5-10,” Fleeton said with a laugh.
Gaudreau averaged 7.6 points per game and led the team with 29 3-pointers while Saracina was the assists leader with almost two per game. Lambert chipped in just about everywhere.
Aurissa Boardman, sidelined for over half the season with a broken finger, will return as the leading scorer for the Centaurs next season.
The sophomore finished with 7.2 points a contest and, despite playing only half a year, was third on the team from beyond the arc with 11 3-pointers.
Junior Alexa Pechie will have the honors as the top returning long distance threat as she had 16 on the season and averaged a solid six points a game.
Other players the Centaurs expect to have back include soon-to-be-seniors Peyton Saracina and Kaitlin Birlin and Victoria Garcia who will be a junior next season.
“We will be young next year, but there seems to be some big interest in basketball with this group. I expect they will work hard and get better and we will continue to claw and fight. That’s what we have become and I don’t see a reason to change that,” Fleeton said.
One thing he would like to see is his players get on the court in the offseason between now and next winter.
That’s easier said than done for most of his players who have other athletic pursuits.
“I think it’s necessary considering the opponents we face because their players all play (in the offseason). I think the more we touch the basketball the better although we seem to be well-rounded with other sports and activities. That’s good. It’s a problem per se for a basketball coach, but it’s not a problem in life. They should experience everything they can right now. One day, they won’t be able to. They just have to find time to wiggle time in for things that they want and it’s necessary (for his players to play offseason basketball) if we’re going to compete in the (Eastern Connecticut Conference),” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs got a taste of it again in their final game of the season.
Woodstock Academy qualified for the Class LL state tournament as the 29th seed.
Unfortunately, for the third time this season, they were matched up with Norwich Free Academy, the No. 4 team in the division.
The result was similar to the two previous meetings, a 65-37 win for the Wildcats.
The game was close early but a 16-0 run by NFA, thanks in part to nine steals, contributed greatly to the Centaurs downfall.
Woodstock Academy trailed, 37-16, at the half.
“I think that game symbolized the whole season. We played neck-and-neck with them for a quarter and a half. They made a run going into the half and then we battled the rest of the way with them. We may have fell behind, but we were still battling and that’s a credit to my players and their effort and desire to play. That’s what made it a successful season in my mind,” Fleeton said.
Gaudreau led the Centaurs with 10 points in the loss while Papp added seven.
Woodstock Academy finished the season with a 7-15 overall record.
The ECC did decide recently to shift the Centaurs to Division II next season.
Bacon Academy will move up to Division I while Stonington will move from Division II back to Division III and Killingly will move up.
It means the Centaurs will play Fitch, Ledyard, Killingly and Waterford twice each.
It will only have to play NFA, New London, East Lyme and Bacon Academy once.
“I have to say, I think it’s better but every game out, we will play someone tough regardless. I think where it will help is that we will have a fuller schedule from the league because there are more teams in the division. I think that’s a bonus. We’re not going to have to go shake the bushes to fill the schedule out. That’s the biggest benefit but I don’t think much changes on the basketball court. We still face the better teams in the league,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs have also been invited back to play in the Cranston (R.I.) tournament during the Christmas break next season.
Three Woodstock Academy seniors were honored at the Eastern Connecticut Conference girls basketball semifinals at Norwich Free Academy Saturday.
Katie Papp was named an ECC Honorable Mention All-Star.
Kayla Gaudreau received the team's Sportsmanship Award and Rachel Lambert was the Centaurs' Scholar-Athlete.
Centaurs nipped by Ledyard in ECC tournament
Two good efforts.
It was enough to put a smile on the face of Woodstock Academy girls basketball coach Will Fleeton for the next week and a half.
That’s the break the Centaurs face after they finished the regular season with a 49-42 win over rival Killingly on Monday.
The win meant the Centaurs finished with a 7-13 regular season record, good enough to qualify for the Class LL state tournament.
“The kids have been going hard and doing things the right way so there is not much to be sad about. In the big scheme of things, their effort has paid dividends recently and that’s how we got to seven wins,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs won four of their last six regular season games.
They followed that up with a hard-fought 31-30 loss to Ledyard in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I girls tournament game Wednesday at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
The offense was hard to find at times for the eight-seeded Centaurs against the No. 9 Colonels (6-15).
But the defense was stellar.
“That’s who we are,” Fleeton said. “We put our emphasis on the defensive end and, a lot of times, it might spark some transition offense. I thought we defended them well and we executed the defensive game plan.”
But that game plan, both offensively and defensively, against Ledyard was thrown askew when senior guard Kayla Gaudreau picked up her third foul with just a little over two minutes left in the first quarter.
“That hurt,” Fleeton agreed.
The Woodstock Academy coach had a sub waiting to come in when Gaudreau picked up her second foul just about a minute and a half before.
Without a stoppage in play, Peyton Saracina kneeled in front of the scorer’s table and Gaudreau, playing Ledyard’s top offensive threat, Natalyah Williams, was whistled again before Peyton Saracina could get on to the court.
After the third foul, Fleeton knew he had to sit Gaudreau for an extended period of time as she was likely to quickly draw her fourth against the physical Williams.
She didn’t return to the floor until midway through the third quarter.
“It put a damper on things to have a key contributor on the bench,” Fleeton said.
Fellow senior Hallie Saracina, who had at least four steals in the first half, took over on Williams defensively and held her at bay as the sophomore scored only six points prior to the break.
“She gets after it,” Fleeton said of Hallie Saracina. “From the minute that ball goes up in the air to the final horn, she’s definitely a competitor. If the ball is loose, she’s somewhere in the mix. If it’s on the floor, she is somewhere in the pile. If it’s coming off the glass, she’s going for the rebound. That’s who Hallie Saracina is.”
That defensive effort was crucial as Woodstock Academy owned a 16-14 lead at the end of the half following an Alexa Pechie (11 points) 3-pointer with 1:34 left in the second quarter.
The biggest margin in the second half was a four-point Woodstock Academy lead on a Katie Papp basket off an assist from Gaudreau with a minute left in the third quarter.
But Ledyard tied the game with 3:01 to play when Williams drove to the hoop and went ahead when sophomore point guard Sam Money, following an offensive rebound by Tajeah Winston, hit a bucket.
The Centaurs clawed back within one when Peyton Saracina (7 points) hit a free throw.
Hallie and Peyton Saracina forced turnovers on the next two Ledyard possessions and Woodstock Academy finally was rewarded when Pechie was fouled and she sank the two free throws.
Another offensive board by Ledyard set up what proved to be the game-winner as Williams (14 points) took a jumper from the right elbow to put the Colonels up by a point with four seconds left. A desperation shot by the Centaurs at the buzzer fell short.
The win over Killingly earlier in the week was the second this season and second in a week for Woodstock Academy over their rivals
“Any time we play locally, it brings that rivalry atmosphere to the game. To play well against a local opponent is key and I thought our kids played well,” Fleeton said. “Killingly is clearly a good team so those were two valuable wins that matter.”
Fleeton said the game felt like a 1-point game throughout even though the Centaurs briefly established a double-digit lead on Killingly’s home floor.
“I felt the pressure, thought it was a tight game, even though we were managing it,” Fleeton said.
Papp led the Centaurs with 18 points.
“She dominated the paint just like she had in the first meeting (with Killingly),” Fleeton said. “The strategy to keep her off (Killingly senior center Trinity) Angel increased her rebounds because she was able to clean up everything on the backside and she went after them all. She’s more of a stretch-four player but we need her to do some things that (a center) would do.”
Gaudreau added 10 points in the win.
The Centaurs now have until Monday, March 2 before playing again.
“That’s a big gap but the norm is the norm, we have to work and get ready for the next one. Nothing really changes,” Fleeton said.
There was the possibility that the Centaurs were going to have to travel to some faraway place like Trumbull, Danbury or Norwalk.
Fleeton was fine with that.
“I don’t worry about the miles,” Fleeton said with a laugh. “When you are in Woodstock, you put a lot of miles on no matter what.”
Instead, as expected, the Centaurs finished as the 29th seed in Class LL and will travel a much short distance to play No. 4 Norwich Free Academy for a third time this season.
“It’s both a plus and a minus. We know them, they know us, so there is a little comfort because in state tournament play, you sometimes have to dig for information. With this being a league team and having played them twice, the information is right there. But they know who we are, too,” Fleeton said.
Norwich Free Academy won both meetings between the two in the regular season.
Centaurs in line for postseason play
The good news is that the girls basketball season will extend beyond 20 games for the Woodstock Academy Centaurs.
The bad news is that they could, possibly, face one of the top two teams in the state, Norwich Free Academy, two more times.
The Centaurs put themselves in strong position to qualify for the Class LL state tournament with a 39-38 win over Killingly on Monday.
Those hopes weren’t dampened all that much by a 56-26 loss to Norwich Free Academy on Tuesday.
The loss dropped Woodstock Academy to 6-13 but the top 32 teams in Class LL make the state tournament.
The Centaurs are currently seeded at No. 30.
"We have a pretty good chance but we will take it one at a time until we get there. Things look a little brighter. The kids have picked a good time to pick it up. We've won a few recently that put us in this position and we just have to continue to take one at a time," Woodstock Academy coach Will Fleeton said.
The Centaurs only have one game left to play in the regular season.
They travel to Killingly on Monday for a 7 p.m. game.
The first meeting between the two produced some nail-biting times for both teams.
The direction from Fleeton to senior Kayla Gaudreau with under 30 seconds to play was pretty simple
Go after the basketball.
If you foul, that's OK, too.
The result was even better than Fleeton could have imagined as it led directly to the Senior Night win for the Centaurs.
"Seniors usually come through on Senior Night from what I've seen," Fleeton said. "Going into the last in-bound, I made it clear that we had to go for the steal but if we didn't get it, we would have to foul right away. I wanted them to go after the ball and if (the officials) called a foul, so what?"
Gaudreau took those words to heart.
Killingly had an in-bounds pass from under the basket, but instead of finding a player close, Killingly opted to go for a lengthy in-bounds pass. Gaudreau got up in the air and deflected the ball and then, it was a foot race.
"They picked up the foul and if they hadn't, I had a good feeling that she was going to have a break away basket," Fleeton said. "Luckily, she picked up the foul and was clutch at the free throw line and knocked them down.”
Those free throws proved to be the game-tying and game-winning points.
“I had a lot of pressure on me, but I just really wanted to get the win,” Gaudreau said. “It was my first foul shots of the night. It was nerve-wracking but I knew I could do it and I had to do it for Senior Night.”
The game had been close throughout.
Killingly opened a first quarter lead, 15-11, but the Centaurs reversed those numbers a bit in the second quarter and fought back to a 22-22 tie.
The two teams were also tied at the end of the third quarter at 32.
Gaudreau finished with 13 points in the game.
“We knew it was going to be an intense game especially with a big crowd at home. It was good to pull off the win,” Gaudreau said.
Fellow senior Katie Papp added nine.
Rachel Lambert and Hallie Saracina were honored in Senior Night activities prior to the game along with Gaudreau and Papp.
"I'm going to miss them a ton," Fleeton said. "The game with Killingly highlighted that. There were several, tough, gritty plays, six or seven consecutive plays that were ball on the floor, tie-up type of deals. That's what this senior class brings."
Gaudreau said it’s starting to hit home now.
“I’m just realizing how fast it all went by and how I’m going to miss everyone so much,” Gaudreau said.
The Centaurs struggled a bit against NFA.
The Wildcats (16-3) are one of the top two teams in Class LL and played like it on Tuesday.
A 3-point basket by Saracina and another hoop at the buzzer by Papp kept the Centaurs within 10, 19-9, at the end of the first quarter.
But NFA’s defensive pressure and ability to score wore down the Centaurs.
The Wildcats were responsible for many of the 30 turnovers in the game by Woodstock Academy.
As a result, NFA extended the lead to 17, 31-14, at the half and were up, 48-22, at the end of the third quarter.
“That (Woodstock Academy) team looked a lot different than when we played them last week (a 66-31 win for NFA in Norwich),” said Wildcats coach Courtney Gomez. “They were aggressive, weren’t backing down from the press, had great ball movement in the zone and played some great defense. They came out and played tough. It was good for them to come out like that and build some confidence and momentum going into the tournament.”
Gaudreau led the Centaurs with nine points and six rebounds, Papp added five points in the loss.
It may not have been the last time the two will meet this season.
The Centaurs are likely to finish seeded either eighth or ninth-seeded in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I tournament.
Should they get past the play-in game, they could meet NFA in the quarterfinals.
The two could also meet in an early round game of the Class LL state tournament.
Papp leads Centaurs to win
There was a highlighted word on the white board prior to the Woodstock Academy girls basketball game with Fitch on Thursday.
“They have a couple of six-footers out there. Everyone we play, we have to rebound. We have to fight for our lives to rebound,” Centaurs coach Will Fleeton said.
At first, the Centaurs weren’t doing that.
But they reversed that trend in the second half and that, along with some timely outside shooting, produced a 48-44 win over the Falcons at the Alumni Fieldhouse Thursday.
Fleeton was a little concerned with how his team started the game.
“I don’t want to say it was the jitters, because we’re at the end of the season, but definitely something was a little off. It almost looked like Fitch was Woodstock as far as the game plan was concerned. They beat us down the floor a couple of times, played tough ‘D’, outscrapped us, beat us to a couple of loose balls,” Fleeton said.
As a result, the Centaurs (5-12) fell behind, 8-0, halfway through the first quarter.
Fortunately for Woodstock Academy, the offense started to produce.
Kayla Gaudreau took a pass from Hallie Saracina for the Centaurs’ first bucket with 3:46 to play in the quarter.
Kaitlin Birlin added a three-point play and Katie Papp, also off an assist from Saracina, added a late basket to make it 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Despite getting outrebounded 20-9 in the first half, the Centaurs hung in
A 3-pointer by Gaudreau (11 points) with 1:40 to play in the half was significant as it kept Woodstock Academy close, it trailed only 18-14 at the half.
Something changed in the locker room.
“Mentality, 100 percent,” Papp said. “We weren’t hustling, we weren’t trying our hardest and, at halftime, we came to the realization that we have to go hard.”
“It was totally due to effort and fight. I can’t stretch them at the half,” Fleeton said with a laugh.
The Centaurs turned things around.
They were still behind in rebounds for the game, 29-27, but it meant they owned an 18-9 advantage in the second half.
A lot of that was due to Papp.
The senior pulled down the majority of her 13 rebounds in the second half.
As a result, she finished with a double-double as she also had 16 points.
“I’m more impressed with the rebounds,” Fleeton said with a smile. “The scoring, the ESPN SportsCenter highlight stuff, I love that stuff because it’s exciting. But I really appreciate the finer points of the game. (Papp) getting 13 boards, fighting the big girl, fronting her on the post, and she and Rachel Lambert did a great job getting in front of their six-foot players and getting backside help. I was most excited about those things. I’m, honestly, shocked she got that many points.”
Just like Fitch (11-6) had done in the first half, it was the Centaurs who opened the second with an eight-point run to take a 22-18 lead.
Woodstock Academy doubled that lead following a Papp basket with 1:16 to play in the third quarter, but a late run by the Falcons made it a 33-31 game going into the final quarter.
Gaudreau (two) and Alexa Pechie combined for three 3-pointers to spark the 19-point third quarter for the Centaurs.
“They are both volume shooters so I think they have to take a lot to get into the rhythm. If they taking a lot and making a lot, it’s a long day for the opposing team. If they’re taking a lot and missing a lot, then it’s a long day for me,” Fleeton said.
Fitch tied the game up early in the fourth quarter and went ahead, 38-37, on a 3-pointer by Nyseanah Ishmael (23 points) with 5:42 left.
Birlin came up big at the right time.
The junior drove to the basket twice in 46 seconds and made both her layups to put Woodstock Academy up, 41-38.
The Centaurs could have built a much larger lead but misfired on five consecutive free throws.
Birlin and Papp finally made one each and a Saracina basket off a Pechie assist with 1:54 slammed the door on the Falcons as it put Woodstock Academy up, 45-37.
“This was huge,” Papp said of the win. “We played them in the second game of the season and lost so this was a big revenge game for us. We did pretty good."
The Centaurs opened the week with a 66-31 loss to one of the best teams in the state, Norwich Free Academy, in Norwich.
The loss dropped Woodstock Academy to 0-5 in Division I of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
“NFA is tough,” Fleeton said. “They are No. 1 in (Class) LL for a reason. They have a quality, deep team and have all the tools and pieces. We’re trying to be who we are and I don’t think we played too bad there. We were just dealing with an exceptional team that plays a style that fits their athleticism."
Pechie finished with 10 points and Papp added eight for the Centaurs.
Unfortunately for Woodstock Academy, it needs to win its three remaining games to qualify for the Class LL state tournament and, among those games, is a home game against NFA. The other two matchups are against local rival, Killingly.
Fleeton said, sometimes, seasons are not defined by records however.
“If we continue to play this hard, show the spirit they showed in the second half (against Fitch), it really hasn’t been that tough a season. They’re doing what I’m asking. They’re playing hard. We’re on the back half of the season and they’re playing like its Game 1. That’s a great season,” Fleeton said.
Gaudreau's 4th quarter play sparks Centaurs
Kayla Gaudreau saved the day for the Woodstock Academy girls basketball team on Saturday.
The Centaurs watched a 17-point halftime lead disappear but thanks to some timely plays late in the fourth quarter by their senior guard were able to pull out a 45-41 win at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
The Centaurs were trailing by a point with under a minute left and Achievement First Amistad High School in possession of the ball.
Gaudreau engineered a five-second violation against the Wolves and got the ball back for Woodstock Academy with 33 seconds to play.
She was hardly done.
Fifteen seconds later, she buried a 3-pointer from the corner and gave Woodstock Academy a two-point lead.
The senior had two more big plays left.
She deflected the in-bounds pass off a Wolves player out-of-bounds to give the Centaurs the ball once again.
She capped it off with five seconds left with a nice bounce pass to senior Katie Papp for the insurance basket.
“I’ve been singing Kayla’s praises all season because she has really delivered effort-wise, on the defensive end and scoring some points. The game on Saturday, once again, displayed not only her scoring ability but also her defensive skills,” Woodstock Academy coach Will Fleeton said.
With Gaudreau working against Wolves’ standout Paige McDonald and holding her to four first half points, the Centaurs were able to jump out to a 27-10 lead at the half.
Gaudreau scored 10 of her team-high 19 in the first half while Rachel Lambert tossed in seven of her eight points.
The good times ended quickly in the second half.
“I think (Achievement First Amistad) ramped up the pressure, showed some true grit and fight. Hats off to them, they definitely did not quit and got us into some spots we definitely did not want to be in and took advantage of it,” Fleeton said.
Before the Centaurs knew what happened, the 17-point lead suddenly was a five-point differential in the third quarter.
McDonald was a big cause of that as she scored eight of the Wolves 19 points in the quarter.
Still, the Centaurs led by nine, 38-29, going into the fourth but eight more McDonald points, giving her 20 on the day, made it close at the end.
The non-league win raised the Centaurs record to 4-11.
“Of course, it was great to find another ‘W,’” Fleeton said.
Papp finished with eight points and nine rebounds while another senior, Hallie Saracina, dished out six assists.
The Centaurs only had a two-game week.
The Thursday contest was not as productive as Saturday’s, Woodstock Academy lost to Bacon Academy in Colchester, 62-39.
Papp led the Centaurs with 14 points while Alexa Pechie tossed in 11.
The Centaurs (4-11) need a few more if they wish to qualify for the Class LL state tournament.
Woodstock Academy would have to win four of their last five to accomplish that.
Pechie leads Centaurs to 1st home win
Woodstock Academy junior guard Alexa Pechie had three points going into the final 1 minute, 35 seconds of the Centaurs girls basketball contest with Ledyard at the Alumni Fieldhouse on Thursday.
She finished with 12.
“She was clutch,” Woodstock Academy coach Will Fleeton said.
Pechie helped the Centaurs claw back from a seven-point deficit to score a 45-42 win over the Colonels.
It was the first win of the season for Woodstock Academy (3-10) on its home floor this season.
“It means the world,” Pechie said. “We were on a long (eight out of 10 games) road streak so it just felt really nice to get a win at home.”
It didn’t look like that would be the case.
Ledyard (2-10) went on a seven-point run, spurred on by three points each from Monet Augmon and Claire Inyang to go up, 40-33.
The Centaurs had not had a basket in over 6 ½ minutes.
But then Pechie stepped well behind the 3-point line and buried it to cut the lead almost in half.
“I’ve given them the green light the last few weeks which is why some of them may not have been so good. They were reckless. They’re definitely going to take them and I’m OK with that. That (Pechie shot) was probably from NBA range,” Fleeton said.
After a Ledyard turnover, Kayla Gaudreau, who had 10 of her 12 points in the second half, cut the Colonels’ lead to two, 40-38.
Another Ledyard turnover and an ensuing foul produced two free throws for Pechie who sank them both to tie the game.
The Centaurs then benefitted from a third consecutive Ledyard turnover and Hallie Saracina found Pechie open in the lane with a nice bounce pass.
“We’ve been working in practice with just getting open against the 2-3 zone and that really paid off (Thursday),” Pechie said.
The basket gave the Centaurs a two-point lead with 26 seconds to play.
The fourth straight turnover meant Ledyard was forced to foul again and Saracina made 1-of-2 from the line to give Woodstock Academy a three-point lead with 12 seconds remaining.
Samantha Money brought it back to one with a pair of free throws for Ledyard with seven seconds on the clock before Pechie sealed the win with two more from the charity stripe with five seconds left.
“She was clutch at the free throw line and really good on the defensive end. She got a key turnover right on the baseline. Maybe I should start calling her ‘Miss fourth quarter,’” Fleeton said with a chuckle.
The win was certainly a good one for the Centaurs.
“It was nice to get a home win. Obviously, we’re searching for W’s. It was nice to be back at home, be able to play in front of our people and give Ledyard a good game and have a good showing,” Fleeton said.
Despite the lack of victories thus far, Pechie said the team has maintained a positive outlook.
“The losses don’t really determine our attitude. We just keep moving on to the next one,” Pechie said.
They are missing two starters.
Aurissa Boardman is out with a broken finger and Peyton Saracina has also been sidelined.
It means players like Pechie have to deliver.
“I feel like I have had to step up a lot. It’s tough for Peyton because we lost her last year,too, to the same thing, a concussion. Me, Kayla and Hallie have grouped together and have worked really well,” Pechie said. “This year is a building year since we lost Heather (Converse) from last year. I think we can improve more this season.”
The week began on a difficult note as the Centaurs had to face East Lyme senior Sophie Dubreuil.
She delivered for the Vikings, scoring half of their points, in a 54-38 win over the Centaurs at the Fieldhouse.
“I thought we defended her a little better than the first time (East Lyme posted a 68-44 win over the Centaurs on Jan. 4). She’s a heck of a player. It’s one thing if the scouting report says a player is mediocre and she scores 27 but this is an All-State player. I know what she can do and she’s capable of scoring 47,” Fleeton said.
Gaudreau was tasked with guarding Dubreuil and, according to Fleeton, did a nice job against her as well as getting points of her own.
Gaudreau finished with 15 points, all coming on 3-pointers, and with the two she hit against Ledyard, now has 16 3-pointers this season.
“She’s been playing, she’s been the scrapper since Game 1,” Fleeton said. “She’s been guarding the tough offensive players night in and night out, guarding bigs, guarding quick guards, slashers and shooters and lately, she’s been seeing the ball go down and getting some confidence. The last few weeks, she’s found her rhythm.”
Katie Papp added 12 and Pechie seven in the loss for the Centaurs.
“If you look at the wins and losses and if that was the only reason why we’re here, it would be a tough season. I look for five or six key things for my players to do year in and year out and if we play hard and defend, I’m happy. Everybody wants to win or we wouldn’t be playing the game and that’s our goal every night but it hasn’t been a tough season because the kids are bringing it,” Fleeton said.
Centaurs break skid
There was concern about traveling to Bristol on Saturday due to an impending snowstorm.
But the game was moved up a couple of hours and the Woodstock Academy girls basketball team made the near cross-state trek to play at Bristol Central.
The Centaurs were glad they did.
Woodstock Academy broke a seven-game losing streak with a 54-40 win over the Rams.
“More than you believe,” Centaurs coach Will Fleeton said when asked how much his team needed a win. “The spirits have been high but this win was needed to keep them high. It was also good to see the girls see a positive result from all their hard work.”
Woodstock Academy raised its record to 2-9 with the win.
It also did something for a first time this season.
It broke the 50-point mark.
“We limited the turnovers, got some transition offense and finally made some jump shots,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs also hit a lot of 3-pointers early.
Kayla Gaudreau hit a trio of 3’s in the first half when she scored 11 of her 17 points.
Gaudreau wasn’t the only one hitting from beyond the arc.
Alexa Pechie added two 3-pointers of her own and Katie Papp stepped outside to add another.
The long distance barrage meant Woodstock Academy owned a 30-21 lead at halftime.
Kaitlin Birlin was the second half fuel.
The 5-foot-9 junior finished with a game-high 22 points.
Five of those came in the third quarter and she added 11 of the 15 points the Centaurs scored in the fourth quarter.
In addition to five field goals, Birlin made 6-of-9 from the free throw line in the second half.
“She had a great game and was able to finish in transition,” Fleeton said. “All of her points came from attacking the rim and the free throw line. Her teammates did a good job of finding her in the open court, but the most exciting part for me was her defense against Bristol Central’s top scorer.”
Earlier in the week, Gaudreau was the player tasked with playing some shut down defense.
The Woodstock Academy senior was in charge of holding Longmeadow guard Ilana Kofman at bay.
Gaudreau held Kofman scoreless in the first half.
Unfortunately, the Lancers proved that Kofman was not the only shooter on the team and finished by making seven of their 11 3-point attempts to hand the Centaurs a 39-23 loss at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
"I think Kayla, once again, defended (the opponent's) top player and did a good job holding her. If you didn't know better, you would have thought (Longmeadow guard Olivia) Brown was the top scorer,"Fleeton said.
Unfortunately, while the Centaurs may have taken away Kofman, Brown was able to pick up the slack.
Both teams struggled in the first half offensively.
Longmeadow failed to hit a field goal and was forced to live off of six made free throws.
It was enough, however, for the Lancers (6-3) to hold the first quarter lead.
Woodstock Academy also had its struggles on the offensive end.
Papp, who led the Centaurs with nine points, hit a pair of buckets in the final 30 seconds of the quarter but Woodstock Academy still trailed, 6-5.
The Centaurs offense, before Saturday, had not been very productive.
That caused the Centaurs to adopt a new philosophy.
Without a dominant post player, Woodstock Academy has been forced to go to a more transition-oriented offense.
But the Centaurs haven't quite perfected it and they committed 17 turnovers in the game with the Lancers.
"A couple of those turnovers were 'accepted' turnovers. For the style of play we're trying, we're going to have some turnovers. I call those 'accepted' turnovers, unforced errors, like when we're trying to get out and make the pass ahead and it's not exactly right. It's going to happen in that style. We try to make up for them on the defensive end," Fleeton said.
It's not what Fleeton and the Centaurs are used to.
"We can't play inside-out, which we like to do, without a big presence in the paint. We have to find other areas to get scoring opportunities. I will say, we've always played a transition game but this is different," Fleeton said.
What makes matters even worse, almost as soon as the new system was put in place, guard Peyton Saracina went down with an injury.
"She was the catalyst and she went down the day after we installed the new transition game," Fleeton said with a shake of his head. "It's a work in progress."
Longmeadow opened things up in the second quarter.
Nia Trajkovski hit a 3-pointer just 39 seconds into the second quarter and Brown (nine points) added two more 3's to put the Lancers up, 14-6.
The Centaurs followed with four points but Brown put another 3-pointer down at the buzzer for a 17-10 halftime lead.
"We were making a surge and it was not the time to give up one," Fleeton said.
Woodstock Academy did get as close as three points, 19-16, in the third quarter only to see Longmeadow score the last seven points for a double-digit lead going into the final quarter.
The Centaurs scored the first five points of the fourth, with Birlin getting three of her five points in the game, but the Lancers salted it away with an 8-0 run.
"For sure, we have to score more (than 23 points)," Fleeton said. "I think we had opportunities and we have to make those count. Scoring 23 is not enough to beat many. We play great defense, but to ask them to hold opponents to 22 might be asking a bit too much."
Centaurs continue to battle through tough early season
It’s true, the record is not what the Woodstock Academy girls basketball team was hoping for nine games into the season.
But, behind the scenes, things are not as bleak as the 1-8 record thus far may indicate.
“I think we’re growing. I think we’re starting to come together as a unit. We’re taking small steps forward,” said Woodstock Academy coach Will Fleeton.
The Centaurs knew it would be a work in progress, having lost the majority of their ballhandling and scoring from the year before.
That has turned out to be the case.
It has also not been easy being on the road for all but two of their first nine games.
To add a little kick in the butt to that, even when they are home, the Centaurs have had bad luck.
Early last week, Woodstock Academy finally got a chance to play a home game.
It was the first time that happened since Dec. 20.
But it would not be on the court the girls expected to play on.
There was a little problem inside the Alumni Fieldhouse gym early in the week.
Although very little water was sitting atop the gymnasium roof, there was one lone puddle.
And that puddle found a seam in the roof and was sending down a drop every minute or so.
It just happened to be right over one of the foul lanes.
The Centaurs girls basketball game had to be moved to the other side of the gym and that may have been one of the reasons why poor shooting plagued Woodstock Academy in a 51-33 loss to Stonington.
Even though it was in the same building, the same area, the dynamics had changed.
"Of course, I think it had to have an impact," said Fleeton. "It shouldn't because a basketball court is a basketball court, but we're not dealing with professionals, we're dealing with high school players and any little curveball makes an impact. I'm not making excuses, but when I walked up the steps to the gym, saw everyone on the other side and I just thought, 'Oh no.' It wasn't the point of playing there, it was how my players would adjust to it."
Not too well.
The Centaurs made just 10 of 57 shots from the floor (17 percent) and were 8-for-19 from the line in the loss to Stonington.
Woodstock Academy fell behind 9-4 in the first quarter and the Bears (4-1) extended that to 10 early in the second.
But Alexa Pechie found the range with a pair of 3-pointers within 34 seconds of one another to cut that deficit to just four with 3:43 left in the first half.
Pechie led the Centaurs with 13 points.
"She's been pretty good so far," Fleeton said of the junior guard.
The momentum didn't last as Stonington responded with eight of the last 10 points to take a 22-12 halftime lead.
Kayla Gaudreau opened the second half with a 3-pointer for the Centaurs just 30 seconds in.
Gaudreau has been one of the bright spots in the lineup.
“Despite the situation we’re in, the effort and desire is there especially with some of the kids like Kayla Gaudreau. She is just grinding it out, playing her heart out and playing hard every possession,” Fleeton said.
But Gaudreau’s basket was to be Woodstock Academy's only bucket for nearly the next seven minutes.
The Centaurs missed their next nine shots and turned the ball over five times.
"I can't go and make the layup for them so, hopefully, as we continue to practice, it gets to be the norm. I'm happy we were just able to get some shots off this game. Prior to this, we were dealing with turnover issues and not getting shots," Fleeton said.
The drought allowed Stonington to take a 38-20 lead by the end of the third quarter and the Centaurs never got closer than 15 points the remainder of the way.
Peyton Saracina added 10 points for the Centaurs.
"It's a matter of getting everyone to play well on the same night," Fleeton said. "That's what I'm waiting for. We've had someone lead the way and show us something they can do pretty much every game - I'm a big fan of having different leading scorers - but right now, we need more than one to put up good numbers for us to be in a game."
There weren’t many good numbers on Friday.
The Centaurs traveled to New London to face one of the top teams in the state, New London.
The Whalers rolled to a 65-30 win over Woodstock Academy.
The loss dropped the Centaurs to 0-3 in Division I of the Eastern Connecticut Conference.
Katie Papp led the Centaurs with nine points, Victoria Garcia added six.
That game may have also affected the Centaurs’ effort less than 24 hours later when they had to travel back to Southeast Connecticut and lost to Montville, 53-36.
“I think we lost some legs (against New London) because we played tremendously hard against New London. That’s all I can ask for,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs also could not cope with the presence of Maya Hillman.
Montville’s 6-foot-1 center poured in 26 points for the Indians.
“(Montville) played some good team ball but she is definitely the catalyst,” Fleeton said of Hillman. “I thought we played tough inside but tough is not tall. She is tough to guard in the post.”
Aurissa Boardman led the way with nine points and Garcia contributed seven.
A tough week for Centaur girls
Sophie Dubreuil had not been on the floor for the East Lyme Vikings this season going into their game on Saturday with Woodstock Academy.
“She is an All-State player who hasn’t played,” Centaurs coach Will Fleeton said.
Until his Woodstock Academy team showed up.
Dubreuil made her season debut and made up for the lost time, scoring 21 points in the first half to lead the previously winless Vikings to a 68-44 win over the Centaurs.
It was the culmination to a tough New Year’s week for the Centaurs who also suffered a 53-35 setback against Waterford.
The two defeats left Woodstock Academy with a 1-5 overall record and an 0-2 Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I mark.
The stated goal for the season for the Centaurs has been to make the Class LL state tournament.
To do that, Woodstock Academy has to win seven of its last 14 games.
It's a tall order and one that Fleeton is not particularly concerned about.
“Even in the best situations, you have to stay focused, look at one game at a time and focus on one at a time. Being 1-5, you can’t look that far down the road, we have to look at today and tomorrow. If we were 6-1, I would probably feel the same way. It’s one step at a time. It’s not a smart move to look ahead,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs hung with the Vikings (1-6, 1-1 ECC Div. I) for the first few minutes thanks to a pair of baskets by Katie Papp and Kaitlin Birlin.
But the rest of the first quarter was a blur for Fleeton.
East Lyme reeled off 16 unanswered points to open a 22-4 lead.
Dubreuil scored 12 of those points.
“They play tough competition and that 0-6 record was not indicative of who they are. I knew going in that it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk because of the personnel that he has,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs played a little better in the second quarter, getting 16 points but East Lyme got 24 and led 46-20 at the break.
To make matters worse, the Centaurs haven’t scored more than 44 points in a game this season.
“We don’t have the scoring capability to play from behind like that and we were down right out of the gates,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs made Dubreuil their prime target for the rest of the game.
“We had to chase just her in the second half to try and stop her,” Fleeton said.
Woodstock Academy accomplished its task pretty well.
It held Dubreuil (26 points) to five second half points, but that opened up the floor for the rest of the Vikings who led 59-28 at the end of three.
The Centaurs did win the fourth quarter, 16-9, and it wasn’t against the Vikings JV unit.
East Lyme kept its starters on the floor for the most part.
Fleeton surmised the Vikings did so to work Dubreuil back into the offense.
Birlin finished with eight points to tie for the team-high scoring honors with Papp and Peyton Saracina.
Birlin was making her first varsity start in place of senior Rachel Lambert who was injured in the Waterford game.
“She showed she deserved the start,” Fleeton said of the sophomore’s effort. “We tried a few new things to prepare for the game and she was a big part of that. She came through for us.”
Birlin also played well off the bench against the Lancers (4-1) who, like East Lyme, had a player that the Centaurs didn’t have an answer for.
Milly Walker, a 5-foot-11 sophomore center, scored 26 points against Woodstock Academy.
Sophomore Aurissa Boardman led the Centaurs with 14 points.
Fleeton was also happy with the contributions of Saracina and Victoria Garcia in both games.
“Victoria Garcia and Peyton Saracina really showed and stepped up coming off the bench in both of the games. The two of them and Birlin are the bright spots right now,” Fleeton said.
It doesn’t get much easier for the Centaurs this week.
They do have a home game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday but it’s against Stonington (3-1).
Woodstock Academy then goes on the road for their second game of the season against the fifth-ranked team in the state, New London (6-1), Thursday and then on to Montville (3-2) Saturday.
Centaurs deal with R.I. rules, but fall short in Cranston title game
Will Fleeton was beginning to wonder what he got himself into.
The Woodstock Academy girls basketball coach had forgotten that he had gone over the state line to the east.
“When the officials came over and told us all the differences (between Connecticut and Rhode Island rules). I was wondering, ‘My God, why did we come down here?’ It’s totally different rules to an extent because of how the game was called than up here. At that moment, I was thinking we shouldn’t have done it. Looking back on it, it was probably one of the best things for us,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs traveled to Cranston West High School in Rhode Island for the Hank Orabone Holiday Tournament on Friday and Saturday.
Woodstock Academy handled the changes pretty well.
The Centaurs downed East Providence, 44-35, on Friday afternoon in the first round and just lost to host Cranston West, 45-37, in the championship game.
In addition to how games are officiated, Rhode Island follows NCAA not Federation rules which means games are split into halves, not quarters, and there is a shot clock.
“I think the kids did a good job adjusting. It caused a little trouble because we’re not used to it and we had a couple of possessions where we lost track of the time,” Fleeton said.
To help the players on the floor, the bench began counting down when the shot clock hit 10 seconds.
“We were counting every time, not that we were in trouble, but we wanted to give the kids a little comfort so they would know what was going on and not forget where they are,” Fleeton said.
Although he had no numbers to back it up, he thinks the opposition in both games were more prone to shot clock violations than his team.
It’s a feature Fleeton would love to see adopted by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.
“I’m a defensive guy so if we can play ‘D’ and cut some time off the clock, the pressure is on the offense. I’m a huge fan. I think it makes defense a little bit stronger,” Fleeton said.
It took a little while to get used to.
The Centaurs (1-3) found themselves down to East Providence early in the first half by nine points.
But Woodstock Academy rallied with an 11-point run at the end of the second quarter to take a three-point lead by halftime.
“It was a full team effort which is why I was personally so excited about it. Everybody got touches and I think, everyone who was on the floor, scored,” Fleeton said.
Katie Papp battled hard inside for the Centaurs, something they needed since East Providence had a bit of a size advantage.
The senior finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists to lead the Centaurs. Sophomore Aurissa Boardman was also in double digits with 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. Kayla Gaudreau helped with eight points including a pair of 3-pointers.
The Centaurs started out well in the championship game against their hosts, Cranston West, only to see the Rhode Island school rally.
“I think they just outplayed us, outworked us, outhustled us and, at times, even outcoached us. With all that said, we were in the game. That’s why I say those things because I think a few positive adjustments and we have a win,” Fleeton said.
Papp had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds to go with two blocks.
She was named the Centaurs MVP in both games.
“Katie played well. She was clearly a force under the basket in the first game and, offensively, she was in rhythm so she put up some good points for us, For the people in Rhode Island, they got to see something special in Katie Papp. They got to see everything she can do,” Fleeton said.
Hallie Saracina added six points while both Boardman and Gaudreau finished with five.
It was the Centaurs first holiday tournament since the Centaurs Classic came to a close a couple of years ago at Woodstock Academy.
“I like the comfort of being at home but I would much rather play a tournament situation like this on the road because the pressure is on the home team especially if it makes the final like Cranston West did. It’s their tournament. I’m sure they wanted to win their own trophy,” Fleeton said. “It was nice to take as trip during vacation week and playing teams we’re not familiar with was even more important.”
The Centaurs opened the week with a matinee loss last Monday to Fitch, 41-32.
Peyton Saracina led Woodstock Academy with eight points in the loss while Alexa Pechie finished with six points.
“We could very well be 3-1 or 2-2 if a couple of things had gone differently. I think the kids have shown the possibility is there, it’s just a matter of me and my staff getting it out of them,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs are off until Thursday when they visit Waterford (3-0) and then play at East Lyme (0-4) also on the road on Saturday.
Whalers early lead too much for Centaurs
The Woodstock Academy Centaurs girls basketball team knew its first real foray on to the court was not going to be easy.
They invited the fifth-ranked team in the state, New London, to the Alumni Fieldhouse on Friday.
A shaky start put the Centaurs behind early, but they didn’t give up and acquitted themselves pretty well in the end, falling 41-26, in their season opener.
“(New London) has lightning fast feet, quick hands, they try to get a steal on every pass,” Woodstock Academy coach Will Fleeton said.
To make matters worse, the Centaurs had troubles handling the ball early, committing some 18 turnovers in Fleeton’s guesstimate and not all of those turnovers were forced by the Whalers.
“There were passes that should have been stolen,” Fleeton said.
Fortunately for the Centaurs, New London’s shooting wasn’t exactly perfect either.
The Whalers (2-0, 1-0 Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I) scored the first eight points of the game but it took them most of the first quarter to do so.
Woodstock Academy’s first basket wouldn’t come until senior captain Rachel Lambert (3 points) scored with 2:16 left in the first quarter.
The Whalers would own a 12-3 lead at the end of the first quarter and then scored the first 11 points of the second quarter. Sophomore Joniyah Bland-Fitzpatrick had four of those and freshman D’Nazia Uzzle added a 3-pointer.
“We started to settle down in the second quarter and broke through that pressure which got us some shots and we were able to score,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs scored seven of the last eight points of the half, five by sophomore Aurissa Boardman and only trailed at the half, 24-10.
“Once we relaxed a little, did the things we know, took care of the ball and made better passes, it wasn’t as effective,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs did get it down to as few as 11 points in the third when Boardman hit a putback with 2:51 left in the quarter to make it 27-16.
Boardman finished with a team high 11 points.
“This was her first varsity game. She played last year and got some spotty minutes but this was her first varsity game with huge expectations and I think she did a good job. I think she did a better job on defense than she did on offense to be honest,” Fleeton said.
New London re-took control, scoring 11 of the next 13 points to put the game out of reach.
Wendy Gethers led the Whalers with 13 points, Jayden Burns added 10.
Fleeton said he thinks the experience of playing a fast, aggressive team like New London right out of the gate may help down the road.
“I think it’s just a matter of relaxing,” the Woodstock Academy coach said. “Their speed and aggression took us out of the game early and foced us into some bad decisions. We dribbled it into trap spots and got trapped. That’s going to happen. You are going to turn it over. I think the experience of learning from those mistakes and making better decisions will keep us out of those spots.”
2019-20 Girls Basketball Preview: Schedule is a challenge for Centaurs
The schedule is not appetizing for the Woodstock Academy girls basketball team to the start the 2019-20 season.
The Centaurs open at home, but they do so against Class LL runnerup last season and 2017 state champion, New London, on Friday.
The Whalers, the fifth-ranked team in the state, opened with a 49-47 win over East Haven.
“We’re starting with the best of the best so no better way to get things rolling fast,” said Centaurs coach Will Fleeton.
He added, with a laugh, that it probably will feel like another two months before he and the Centaurs have another home game.
It won’t be quite that long.
But it will be almost three weeks before the Centaurs finally return to the friendly confines of Alumni Fieldhouse on Jan. 7 to play Stonington.
Along the way, the Centaurs will play at Fitch, East Lyme, and Waterford and after the Stonington game, have another game with the Whalers at New London.
“Let’s get the tough stuff right away and see what we can do,” Fleeton said. “It’s going to be a tough learning year and it will start with a gut check. We will get to see what the kids have inside of them. They’re going to need a lot to make it through this and battle the way we want to.”
Woodstock Academy senior Rachel Lambert understands what lies ahead.
“New London is definitely going to be a challenging program. They are a great team, very competitive. It will definitely push us and so will going on the road after that. That is a long time, but we get to finish up with a lot of home games which will be an enjoyable experience,” Lambert said.
The Centaurs have only four seniors.
In addition to Lambert, Katie Papp, Hallie Saracina and Kayla Gaudreau return.
“Obviously, the four seniors are leading, they being seniors, but it looks like we have a very good mix of kids where I’m drawing some leadership from the younger group as well. There are plenty of leaders in this bunch,” Fleeton said.
The Centaurs did lose some key players to graduation from their 10-12 season a year ago.
Heather Converse was the team’s leading scorer at 12.2 points per game and rebounder (209 for the season). She also contributed 40 steals, 35 assists and 22 blocks.
Aislin Tracey (5.2 ppg, 37 steals, 29 assists) also graduated.
Point guard Marina Monrabal (67 assists, 3.8 ppg) chose not to return to the States this school year.
“Everybody who is coming back to the program is filling in those roles really well and just trying to rebuild,” Lambert said.
Fleeton would agree.
He is not so much concerned about specific positions as he is about a specific trait.
“There are a handful of players who played quality varsity minutes last year and then there is the other half who played quality JV minutes. The transition for the JV players to the varsity style of play will be key and we may see some kids on the floor who have never played a high school game yet,” Fleeton said.
Fleeton doesn’t believe in the term “point guard.”
He likes to refer to his back court as “combo” guards.
Monrabal was an exception to that rule.
She had the abilities to play the point and Fleeton did affix the label to her.
He doesn’t think that will be the case this season.
“I hope all the guards will do their share and will do it together and it will work out and take care of itself,” Fleeton said.
Those guards will include senior Hallie Saracina, juniors Peyton Saracina and Alexa Pechie, and freshmen Leila McKinnon and Amanda Currie.
Gaudreau, junior Kaitlin Birlin and sophomore Aurissa Boardman will see action both in the front and backcourts.
Papp and Lambert are slated to be up front.
“This is her going out party,” Fleeton said of Lambert. “She’s been very strong in her leadership role the first couple weeks. She’s been in the program since she was a freshman so I expect the world from Rachel Lambert to be honest with you."
Papp returns as the leading scorer at 7.8 points per game with Gaudreau at 6.8.
No one else scored more than two points per game.
That’s OK with Fleeton.
“At Woodstock Academy, I don’t need 15 points a game from anyone. I think, collectively as a group, we all have to chip in and score. But most of the state knows that we’re going to defend first and pick up the pieces after that,” Fleeton said.
Lambert, said she wants to improve offensively, but understands it’s a defense-first philosophy.
“Our first thought is always to take pride in the defense. It’s our big thing and every day at practice, that’s what we’re working hard on. You can’t really do anything without a good defense. It’s the foundation of our team,” Lambert said.
Fleeton said the “door is always open” when it comes to his team improving on its record of a year ago.
He likes the work ethic he has seen early on although some of the progression of practices was affected a bit when his first two were canceled because of snow.
Still, he wouldn’t mind seeing the schedule flip-flopped.
“I think there is more pressure on the road and if I could flip the schedule, I would feel much better about it. If we could start where we are comfortable, they would be ready to be uncomfortable later. I’m a little concerned if we get comfortable at the end of the season where we shouldn’t be. I would love to be able to stay home, get our feet underneath us and then go out and travel, but you don’t get it how you like it all the time. It’s not Burger King,” Fleeton said with a laugh.