Hernandez named Gatorade Player of the Year
For the second consecutive year, The Woodstock Academy has a Gatorade Player of the Year.
It was announced on Monday that Centaurs senior Paula Hernandez has been named the Gatorade Connecticut Volleyball Player of the Year.
Last year, Woodstock Academy Gold prep basketball player, Tre Mitchell, who is now starting at UMass, was the Gatorade Connecticut boys basketball Player of the Year.
"It's just so well deserved," said Woodstock Academy volleyball coach Adam Bottone of Hernandez’s award. "We all know she is a tremendous athlete but she is also a really bright young lady who excels in the classroom as well. It's a great honor for her especially considering everything she has been through and had to overcome. All the adversity that she has faced. It's just awesome."
Hernandez came to Woodstock Academy as a sophomore following Hurricane Maria's devastation of her native Puerto Rico.
She led the Centaurs to Class L state championship matches in her first two years and to a state semifinal this past season when she finished with 500 kills and 622 digs.
She added 230 service points including 66 aces.
Over her 2 ½ year career at Woodstock Academy, she compiled over 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs.
“It’s been really fun here and really different from Puerto Rico. I would say that I played much more passionately because it’s a completely different environment and I loved it. Hopefully, I will be back in the future,” Hernandez said following the state semifinal.
Hernandez was named Connecticut High School Coaches Association Player of the Year last season.
"The Gatorade Player of the Year is another feather in the cap for her," Bottone said.
Hernandez recently announced that she planned to attend Eastern Connecticut State University in the fall.
Hernandez named All-State
Woodstock Academy senior, Paula Hernandez, a nominee for the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year award, was named Class L 1st team All-State recently.
Hernandez led the Centaurs to a 19-6 record and to both the Eastern Connecticut Conference and Class L state tournament semifinals.
Hernandez finished with 500 kills and 622 digs this season.
She added 230 service points including 66 aces.
Season comes to an end in semifinals
It's never easy to make the state championship match once.
Imagine trying to do so three times in a row.
It’s what the Woodstock Academy volleyball team was attempting Wednesday.
This time, it fell short.
The eighth-seeded Centaurs were downed in the Class L state tournament semifinals by No. 5 Guilford, 3-2, at Fitch High School in Groton.
Woodstock Academy finished its season with a 19-6 record.
“We could have played better than what we did for sure,” said coach Adam Bottone. “Our passing was OK, it’s been better, it’s been worse, but we struggled with setting. We just couldn’t develop any consistency. It was my fear. That we would be on this big high after beating (top-seeded) Bristol Eastern( the Saturday before in the quarterfinals). We didn’t lay an egg, but we struggled to keep the intensity up. We made a lot of unforced errors.”
Guilford put the Centaurs on notice early when it captured the first set.
The score was tied at 22 when junior middle hitter Emily Brouder got the ball back for the Indians with one of her four blocks.
Emma Appleman (25 kills) gave Guilford set point with a nice spike and, after a service error, Appleman delivered again with a kill for the 25-23 victory.
Bottone has been a tinkerer all season.
The semifinal match was no exception.
He went to the well for another change.
In the second set, he installed sophomore Annarose Avery in as setter.
“With this team, we’ve done that a lot and it’s nothing new to them. We can make adjustments. We’ve been working on (Avery) setting in practice a lot. The tinkering is not a big deal. I don’t think it had a big impact on the result of the game,” Bottone said.
Avery fit in nicely.
She had seven assists in the second set for the Centaurs.
“It was really hard,” senior Paula Hernandez said of the setter switch, “but I think Annarose did the best she could in the situation. That was her first varsity game and she did a very good job.”
As the set improved, so did the service game.
“Our serving put us on the map. We had a lot of tough serves and (Guilford) struggled with that. We kept a lot of them in,” Bottone said.
Avery (9 service points) helped in that regard as well, she had a run of three service points as did Aurissa Boardman.
Still, the set was close at the end.
A one-hand return by Hernandez (31 kills) fell to the floor and gave the Centaurs a little breathing room, 23-21. The Indians were then called for an illegal return to give the Centaurs set point which came from Amelia Large who slapped the ball down hard from her middle hitter position for the 25-21 win.
Woodstock Academy was dominant in the third set.
It broke out to a 7-2 lead, saw Guilford rally to close within two, but went on another five-point run again powered by Avery’s service to take the 13-6 lead.
That lead just continued to expand and a Hernandez kill off an Avery (26 assists) feed gave the Centaurs the 25-14 victory and a 2-1 lead.
Woodstock Academy needed to win just one of the last two sets to advance to the state title match against Avon.
“I don’t know where it went from there,” Hernandez said.
Bottone said the defense broke down.
Hernandez agreed adding that Guilford was able to target the Centaurs’ Achilles’ heel this season, the back row, and that the team was late to react on volleys.
The Centaurs owned an 8-7 lead in the fourth set when things began to go awry.
Two balls went out on unforced errors and another into the net and Guilford was suddenly on top, 10-8.
The Indians would not trail again.
They expanded the slim lead to seven, 18-11, only to see the Centaurs rally to get within range at 20-16.
Two Appleman kills and an ace by the junior and an illegal hit by Woodstock Academy gave Guilford set point at 24-16.
The Centaurs did score four points but ran out of steam and lost, 25-20, to set up the fifth and decisive set.
The Indians again jumped out early and held a 6-2 lead.
An ace by Hernandez – who had just two aces and seven service points as she was bothered by a finger she injured in the Bristol Eastern match – and a kill by the senior got Woodstock Academy back within two.
But the Centaurs never could establish momentum.
The closest they could come was one point, 11-10.
But Guilford got a block from Olivia Ciocca and an ace from Eva Ott Hill to go up, 13-10, in the 15-point set.
Brouder went a little long on a kill attempt to give the Centaurs hope but that was squashed when Appleman delivered the final two decisive kills.
“We all really wanted to get to the finals not for redemption (the Centaurs had lost in each of their last two appearances), but because we wanted to prove it to ourselves that we could. We had a really rough start (0-3), really hard practices, and I felt with all the hard work we put in, that we deserved to be in the final again,” Hernandez said.
She finished with 36 digs in the match while Marissa Mayhew added 38 digs and 12 service points. Boardman contributed nine kills and 11 service points.
The match marked the final game in a Centaurs uniform for Hernandez, the reigning Connecticut High School Coaches Association Player of the Year. She has been nominated for the Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year this season.
She finished with “crazy” career numbers, according to Bottone, who has consistently said she is a once-in-a-lifetime player for a coach. Hernandez finished with 1,288 career kills (500 this year alone), 1,204 digs and 190 aces.
“I think what I will miss about her most is how she was able to make the rest of the team better. Watching her in practice and in games and seeing her understand the sport. That’s going to be the big difference. I’m not going to get anybody who gets the hits like she has had, but hopefully, we can learn by what we saw from her on the court and it will mean good results in the future for the girls,” Bottone said.
In addition, she led the Centaurs to the two state championships and the semifinals in her three seasons since coming to Connecticut from Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
“It’s been really fun here and really different from Puerto Rico. I would say that I played much more passionately because it’s a completely different environment and I loved it. Hopefully, I will be back in the future,” Hernandez said.
She said, despite not making the title game, this may have well been her most memorable year.
“I’m going to remember this season more because of all the struggles we had and all the effort we put into each other into getting better, not necessarily in volleyball, but as people. This season has been very different from the ones in the past. It’s been a lot of mental work,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez is still undecided about her future educational plans.
Centaurs advance to semis
The Woodstock Academy volleyball team is back in the final four in the Class L state tournament.
The eighth-seeded Centaurs got past No. 1 Bristol Eastern, 3-2, on Saturday in a quarterfinal match in Bristol.
The Centaurs move on to meet No. 8 Guilford in a semifinal match at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Fitch High School in Groton.
“We are 100 percent ready for this,” Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone said. “They have the mindset that this is ripe for the picking. I don’t think a lot of people, after what we lost last year, expected us to be here and I think the girls are using that as the motivation to prove that this program is here and here to stay.”
The Centaurs need just a win over the Indians to advance to their third consecutive Class L state championship match which will be played at 10 a.m. on Saturday at East Haven High School.
The Centaurs have lost in their previous two appearances.
“(Guilford) has a good outside hitter, who is a phenomenal setter in club ball, but they have her on the outside and she’s good. I hear their libero is solid, too,” Bottone said.
The odd games were good for the Centaurs (19-5) against the Lancers on Saturday.
Woodstock Academy took a 10-7 lead early in the first set.
They extended that to 16-9 on their way to a 25-19 victory.
But like they had in their second round match with Joel Barlow, the Centaurs suffered a setback in the second set.
Bristol Eastern got out of the blocks quickly and poured it on, building a 19-11 lead.
The Centaurs didn’t give up.
Woodstock Academy scored seven of the next eight points to cut the deficit to two, 20-18, and tied it at 21.
Unfortunately, the energy expended was not worth the effort as Bristol Eastern prevailed, 25-23, to even up the best-of-five match.
“I took that as a positive,” Bottone said of the comeback effort that nearly yielded a win. “We were down by a lot of points against a team as good as (Bristol Eastern) was and we were able to fight back. I would have been more concerned if we hadn’t come back because it would have meant that we gave up and that there was no hope.”
The Centaurs turned the tables in the third set.
The two teams battled throughout with Bristol Eastern again taking a 20-18 lead.
But Woodstock Academy tied it at 23 and went on to win, 25-23.
A confidence builder, yes, not that the Centaurs really needed one.
“I don’t think we were ever afraid of taking on the No. 1. The way we have changed our play in the last two weeks since we lost to Fitch (in the Eastern Connecticut Conference semifinals), is a completely different mindset and outlook on things. I think we thought we were more than capable of beating them,” Bottone said.
Bristol Eastern wasn’t about to give up either.
The Lancers battled the Centaurs close throughout the fourth set and it was tied at 23 and 25. Bristol Eastern pulled out the win in overtime, 28-26, to set up the decisive fifth set.
“We had to keep the ball in play. Had to limit the service errors and not hit the ball out, get it in and make it difficult on them,” Bottone said of the strategy going into the final, 15-point, set.
The set was tied at 10 before Kileigh Gagnon went on a service run for Woodstock Academy to make it, 13-10.
The Centaurs were up, 13-12, when the Lancers took advantage of a miscommunication in the Woodstock Academy defense and the ball dropped between two players to tie the final set at 13.
Bottone was concerned.
He didn’t have to be.
The Centaurs got the side out on a Lancers’ serve and middle hitter Amelia Large put the finishing touches on things. She got the ball down in a battle at the net and the Lancers were called for four hits to give Woodstock Academy the match point.
Paula Hernandez had 19 kills and 43 digs while Paige Audet added 26 assists in the win.
Centaurs prevail in opening rounds
The serves were not overpowering.
But they were still very effective.
Woodstock Academy senior Diana Gonzalez stepped behind the service line at the perfect time on Thursday and helped the Centaurs to a 3-1 win over Joel Barlow in a Class L state tournament second-round match at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
The Falcons were pretty tough.
Down 2-1 in the fourth set, Joel Barlow forged an 18-16 lead over the Centaurs.
But Hernandez (17 kills, 33 digs) got a key kill to get the ball back in Woodstock Academy’s hands.
Gonzalez was called upon to serve.
“I wasn’t really thinking. I just wanted to get (the ball) over (the net),” Gonzalez said. “I had issues with my serve in the past.”
Gonzalez’s first two serves floated over the net and into the back corner and both were not returned.
“I was very surprised because as soon as I hit the ball, I didn’t think I made great contact. I was so glad they just went over,” Gonzalez said.
Her third serve was sent into the net by Barlow.
Her fourth even brought a smile to Bottone’s face.
It hit the tape at the top of the net hard and just trickled over, the Falcons could not get to it.
“We call that the best serve in volleyball,” Bottone said. “Sometimes, you need to be lucky and it takes a little of the wind out of the other team’s sails. I think that one did that.”
Gonzalez would get one more service point and gave the Centaurs a 22-18 lead.
“Her only job is to serve and she was serving with the season on the line and she is a senior who doesn’t play all that much. Man, she delivered,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs did let Joel Barlow creep back in, but prevailed, 25-23, when a Barlow return drifted out.
It was that kind of match.
One where momentum was hard to find.
“I didn’t expect it to be easy, not by any means,” Bottone said. “There is a history here.”
The Centaurs (18-5) downed the Falcons in the semifinals in 2017, 3-0.
Joel Barlow returned the favor last season when it rebounded from a 2-0 deficit to win the Class L title match, 3-2.
The first two sets saw each team catch fire late.
Woodstock Academy used a 9-3 run to put the Falcons on the brink at 24-16.
Joel Barlow did rally for the next three points, but a service error resulted in a 25-19 win for the Centaurs.
Barlow did build a lead in the second set courtesy of the serves of Kayleigh Emanuelson and Emily Wegener who both had five service points.
The Falcons (19-5) went on to a 25-16 win.
The third set was just an old fashioned white knuckle adventure with neither team able to establish dominance.
Joel Barlow led, 24-23, but could not close out.
A service error by Barlow tied the game at 24.
Grace Gilmore gave Barlow another chance at game point with a kill but another error, two touches, tied it at 25. Barlow got another kill to go up 26-25 only to have Woodstock Academy sophomore Aurissa Boardman (10 kills) tie it with a kill.
The Centaurs finally had their chance at game point when Barlow hit a volley long and the Centaurs cashed in on a Marissa Mayhew ace.
“Winning this meant everything and I think it will give us a lot of momentum. I think it’s what we needed after losing to Fitch (in the Eastern Connecticut Conference semifinals). This is proof that we can do it. It feels good,” Hernandez said. “It was like all or nothing and we didn’t want to finish here.”
For Hernandez, it was the final match on her home floor at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
“I didn’t think about it too much until someone said it to me. It’s kind of sad, but I hope that after I graduate, I can come back here and one day, I hope to coach here,” Hernandez said. “It’s sad but not necessarily a goodbye.”
“I don’t think there are any adjectives that I haven’t used to describe her,” Bottone said. “She is a once in a lifetime player who is up for Gatorade Player of the Year again. The sky is the limit for that girl. She has made this team so much better.”
Although, she may not quite be up to the task yet that she aspires to.
“She has a lot to learn before she takes over coaching,” Bottone said with a laugh.
Early in the week, the Centaurs rolled to a 3-0 win over Maloney in a first-round match also at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
Centaurs pass 1st test
The Maloney Spartans arrived at Woodstock Academy about 20 minutes before the scheduled Class L 1st round state tournament volleyball match was scheduled to begin.
Centaurs coach Adam Bottone urged his team to take advantage of the situation.
“It’s always tough for a team that travels as far as they did, coming from Meriden, you’re on the bus, late getting here. We gave them plenty of time to warm up, but still, getting those legs warmed up after a long ride like that is tough to do,” Bottone said.
The eighth-seeded Centaurs took advantage, breaking out to the early lead in the first set, holding off Maloney in the second and rolling again in the third for a 3-0 win over the No. 25 Spartans.
Woodstock Academy now gets a chance for a little payback when No. 9 Joel Barlow rolls into town at 5 p.m. Thursday for a second-round match at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
The two met in last year’s state championship match which was won by Barlow, 3-2.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it, especially since we’re on home ground and we always play much better at home. We’re definitely ready,” said junior middle hitter Amelia Large.
The match will be broadcast live in both television and radio formats on woodstockacademy.org/live beginning at 5:50 p.m.
“I don’t know much about them. What I worry about most is our mindset going in against them. Are we going to be too amped because we want to beat them or too nervous because of what happened last year. I think if we go in with our heads square and level, and just play the game, that is what is most important,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs jumped out on the Spartans (9-12) Monday.
Aurissa Boardman (eight service points) got the first three points and then Marissa Mayhew got nine of her 12 service points in a row, including a pair of aces, to put the Centaurs up, 13-1.
Large also started to play a role in the middle.
She got the first of her five kills.
“Bottone has told me that I need to swing more, to not be scared of the ball and (Monday), I went for it. The sets were amazing,” Large said.
Bottone did make another tweak in between the Centaurs loss to Fitch in the Eastern Connecticut Conference semifinals and the state tournament.
He flipped middle hitter Sierra Bedard and opposite hitter Katie Papp.
“One of the things throughout the season is that Sierra had had a lot of net calls against her. I just wanted to simplify her movement and slow her down a little. She doesn’t have to move as far to set up a block and she can jump high and get her hands over and put Katie back in the middle where she is more comfortable. It worked,” Bottone said.
In addition to Large’s contribution, Bedard had three blocks.
The Centaurs won the first set easily, 25-12, but then had to weather a Maloney storm in the second set.
“I expected them to come out with a little more passion, which they did. We didn’t help with a lot of hitting and digging errors that put us behind the eight ball a bit. When I called the time outs, I was focused on what our back row was doing because I thought everything else was pretty good. The back row defense was pretty flat,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs still prevailed, 25-19.
Paula Hernandez took all of the wind out of the Spartans’ sails in the third set.
In addition to 14 kills and 25 digs, the senior put on one of her best serving displays in her time at Woodstock Academy.
“I had a lot of confidence that we would win the game and if I made one mistake, I knew it wouldn’t affect us much. I really liked the vibe we had with the fans, they were extremely loud compared to other games so I said, ‘Why not?’” Hernandez said.
She opened the third set with seven straight service points including five aces.
The power she delivered even caught Bottone’s attention.
“That’s how she serves against us in practice and then, in games, she doesn’t serve as hard. I had a talk with her about serving harder. If it’s in, people are going to have difficulty with it. It’s a phenomenal float serve. But I didn’t expect her to ramp it up to the speed with which she was serving. I was shocked when she was doing that. If that’s something she can continue to do, teams are really going to struggle against that,” the Woodstock Academy coach said.
Hernandez finished with 17 service points including eight aces and the Centaurs closed out the match with a 25-9 win in the third set.
Class L state tournament next for Centaurs
After a little break, the season continues for the Woodstock Academy Centaurs on Monday.
On Friday, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference released its Class L state tournament pairings.
The eighth-seeded Centaurs, runners up in Class L for each of the last two years, open at home at the Alumni Fieldhouse against No. 25 Maloney at 6 p.m. Monday
“I don’t know a whole lot about them. They are in the (Central Connecticut Conference) which is tough, but I don’t know what to expect,” Bottone said.
If the Centaurs do get past the first-round encounter, they would meet the team they lost to in last year’s state championship, Joel Barlow.
After that, the top-seed in the Class, Bristol Eastern, will likely be awaiting in the quarterfinals.
That would be the first match on the road.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” Bottone said. “Unless the girls come prepared to play with the right mindset, it might not be pretty, but, it has the potential to be pretty. We will see what happens. I’m optimistic. I’m not giving up. We refocus and figure out what we need to do.”
Concern dotted the face of Bottone following the Centaurs win over Killingly in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division 1 tournament quarterfinal match on Monday.
He knew the Centaurs were going to have to play better, much better, if they were going to advance to another ECC championship match and have a chance at a three-peat for the league championship.
It didn’t happen.
The top-seeded Centaurs never found their rhythm against No. 5 Fitch and fell to the Falcons Wednesday, 3-0, in Groton.
“We’re just struggling creating consistent play. It’s almost like we’re nervous out there which is very unusual for this time of the year because it’s usually when you are less nervous,” Bottone said. “You have the pressure of being in bigger games, but you’ve worked through that over the course of the year. We seem to be inverting that. We were more comfortable early on and not letting things bother us. We’re letting things bother us now.”
Bottone is confounded as to why.
“I don’t know if it’s pressure that they are putting on themselves. We’ve been at the top for a few years now and maybe it’s the pressure of needing to stay up there or feeling that pressure, pressure from me maybe. I don’t really know. We’re struggling with the mental toughness to get through the errors we’re making,” the Woodstock Academy coach added.
Bottone said, naturally, mistakes are a part of the game and will be made.
The problem is when it happens on a repetitive basis.
That’s what the Centaurs (16-5) are having trouble with.
Bottone had worried all along about his team’s penchant to allow the opposition to take a lead.
The Centaurs weren’t bothered by that in the 14-match win streak that included the victory over Killingly.
The Centaurs simply took it in stride and battled back.
That didn’t happen against the Falcons on Wednesday.
Fitch (16-5) took a 10-2 lead in the first set and although the Centaurs fought back, they fell short.
The Falcons prevailed in the first set, 25-18.
“I had told them numerous times that, eventually, you’re not going to be able to turn on that switch when you want to turn it on. Even (Fitch coach) Steve (Banks) said his team didn’t play that well which puts into perspective how much we didn’t perform to the level we needed,” Bottone said.
Fitch prevailed in the second set, 25-19, to put Woodstock Academy on notice.
The Centaurs opened a lead early in the third set, but things went awry and Fitch took control for a 25-14 victory and the trip to the ECC championship versus Waterford. The Falcons prevailed, 3-0.
Paula Hernandez had 15 kills and 13 digs in the loss while senior setter Paige Audet had 18 assists and 13 digs.
Woodstock Academy struggled with some of those same things against the Red Hawks.
But something did go right.
Serving has not been the Centaurs’ forte this season, but they were solid from behind the line and it helped in a 3-0 win over No. 8 Killingly (5-16).
Kileigh Gagnon had 14 service points and Marissa Mayhew (20 digs) added 13 to lead Woodstock Academy to the win over the Red Hawks.
"A big part of volleyball is the service. You don't want to give away easy points. It's important to get your serves in," Gagnon said.
Gagnon had a run of six service points early in the first set that gave Woodstock Academy a 13-4 lead en route to a 25-12 victory over Killingly.
Mayhew also had a run of seven service points in the first game.
Despite the one-sided first set win, Bottone was not all that happy with what he saw on the court.
"We did not come out with energy. I was not pleased with the way we played. We struggled against a team that we should not have struggled against. It was almost a laissez-faire attitude. We're standing upright on defense, letting balls drop, we're not covering our hitters. It was the complete opposite of what I talked about in the pregame," Bottone said.
The Centaurs had to work much harder in the second and third sets.
The Red Hawks hung with the host Centaurs in the second set and trailed only 18-14 late.
The Centaurs only managed to outscore them, 7-5, for the 25-19 win.
Killingly forged a lead in the third set, 9-7.
The Centaurs rallied.
They pulled ahead with seven straight service points from behind the line from Mayhew to take the 20-13 lead and scored a 25-18 victory for the shutout win.
"(Gagnon and Mayhew) were phenomenal serving. That's exactly what we need, but we need that from everyone, in all positions, with all their responsibilities all the time at this point," Bottone said.
Hernandez had 14 kills and 16 digs.
Hernandez was one of those honored during the ECC championship games at Norwich Free Academy Thursday.
She was named a First team ECC All-Star and also received the Scholar-Athlete award for the Centaurs.
Mayhew was also named a First team All-Star and senior Diana Gonzalez was the Sportsmanship Award recipient.
Woodstock Academy finishes in good spirits
When senior Paige Audet was first told by coach Adam Bottone that she was going to be starting at setter, elated is not quite a strong enough word.
“I was so happy, I called my Dad like two seconds after and he was like, ‘Oh my God, let’s go out to dinner and celebrate,'” Audet said with a laugh. “I love setting. I love playing volleyball so I’m just ecstatic.”
The senior has also delivered in her new role.
She finished with 29 assists on Tuesday and helped the Centaurs to a 3-0 win over Waterford at the Alumni Fieldhouse in their final regular season match.
The Centaurs finished with a 15-4 regular season record and a 13-match win streak.
“It was definitely a nice turnaround, I’m not going to argue that. Thirteen in a row is nothing to bat an eye at and there were some quality teams in there for sure. I think it’s a testament to what we do in practice,” Bottone said.
Bottone decided the week before to shake things up.
In addition to Audet moving over to setter, former setter Marissa Mayhew moved back to libero. That displaced Katie Papp who went over to opposite hitter and Gabby Garbutt now shares the outside hitter role with Paula Hernandez and Aurissa Boardman.
So far, so good.
“I think that we understand that it’s for the greater good and Paige has been really working hard and deserves it. We don’t necessarily compete with each other for the position but we know that we need to work for our position. It’s our duty. It’s now or never,” Hernandez said.
That now or never mindset is something that Bottone is trying to get into the heads of his players.
The match with Waterford was a perfect example.
The Lancers hung with the Centaurs right through the first set.
The Centaurs were able to take as much as a three-point lead late.
But Waterford pulled even at 24.
It took one of Hernandez’s 19 kills to put the Centaurs up by a point and then Audet won it with one of her 10 service points, an ace.
“We almost have this presence where we come into play and then, just go through the motions. We get down and then we decide, ‘Oh, we want to start playing now,’” Bottone said. “Sometimes, we rely on Paula (20 digs) a lot and they need to understand how to convert and make it happen on their own. She’s not going to be here next year. They need to step up. If people are struggling, they feel like they have Paula and she will get the kill that we need, that’s not always the case. She doesn’t always get the kill. She makes mistakes, too.”
Such was the case in the second set where Waterford led throughout until Woodstock Academy tied it at 13.
It was 19-17 in favor of the Centaurs when Kileigh Gagnon stepped behind the service line and got four consecutive points. The Centaurs gave up two before winning 25-19 on a Boardman (5 kills) winner and an Amelia Large tip kill.
It was even more pronounced in the third set when the Lancers scored the first 10 points.
It was a shorter road back than expected, however.
The Centaurs tied the set at 12 and went on to win, 25-21, to clinch the victory.
“We’ve done that all season,” Bottone said. “I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m sick of coming back. I want to be able to be right in it where it’s a one or two-point difference or we have the lead. We’ve proven that we can come back from a deficit, we’re battle-tested. We need to learn how to come out poised, disciplined and very intentional about what we’re doing.”
It was a little revenge for the Centaurs who lost to Waterford, 3-0, in their third match of the season on Sept. 16 to fall to 0-3 on the season.
“It was a very special game (Tuesday) because of that loss at the beginning of the season. We were out of it. Had a rough start, but it kept getting better and this was like our proof that we have got better eventually over the season,” Hernandez said.
Audet said, despite the 29 assists, it was a little difficult on the floor against the Lancers.
“It’s taking some adjustment,” Audet said of her new role. “Especially in this match, it was tough on defense. It was tough to get to the ball. We’re working together a lot better in the back row. Marissa plays an amazing libero. I think I do a pretty good job setting and the hitters are getting so good. We’ve had some changes, but I think we’re going up.”
It would be the right time to do so.
The Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament begins on Monday with the top-seeded Centaurs hosting No. 8 Killingly in a Division 1 quarterfinal match at 5 p.m. on Monday at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
The league semifinals take place at Fitch next Wednesday and the championship next Thursday at NFA.
The Class L state tournament follows.
“It’s a different mindset,” Hernandez said of the win or go home nature of tournament play. “Sometimes, we’ve been sloppy during games but we come back from it. We’ve been working on the mindset that it’s five sets or nothing. It’s been really hard but we’re trying our hardest in practice and it’s more of a philosophy thing that we’re working on than anything physical,”
It was Senior Day for the Centaurs who honored Hernandez, Audet, Papp and Diana Gonzalez for their contributions to the program prior to the match with Waterford.
“My whole family came out and it was really special that they were here. My little siblings came to watch me. It was pretty cool,” Audet said.
“You’re going to miss a player like Paula who is a once-in-a-career type player, but they are all quality kids. They all get the big picture of it being a team. Diana has accepted her role as a server or on the back row. She’s always willing to do so. Katie made the switch from libero to front row. They understand the greater picture. When you have a group of girls who lead by example like that, it shows the quality of person they are,” Bottone said.
Centaurs shake things up
It seems like an odd time to make a lineup change.
But that’s what Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone did this past week.
The Centaurs are riding a 12-game win streak heading into their final regular season match against Waterford on Tuesday.
But Bottone didn’t think the team had reached optimum performance yet.
So he pulled the trigger on Friday.
Former setter Marissa Mayhew is now the libero.
Katie Papp, the former libero, moved to opposite hitter.
Paige Audet took over at setter and Gabby Garbutt and Aurissa Boardman now share the outside hitter duties when Paula Hernandez is on the back row.
“I’ve done this twice before in my career, around this time, and both have been successful when I’ve done it,” Bottone said. “A lot of people might look at it and think ‘Oh man, what’s he doing. He’s really going to mess things up.’ I have faith in my girls in what they’re doing in the positions that I have put them in.”
He didn’t do it without their input.
He said he had conversations with them prior to making the changes and they were all on board.
“I really wanted to get them to understand the benefits to the team doing this,” Bottone said. “By having the conversation with the girls that it primarily affected and getting their heads wrapped around it and accepting it was all very positive. Knowing that, I felt pretty comfortable about the switch.”
Bottone said there were a couple of reasons for the lineup change.
Mayhew had been struggling a bit more at setter than she had in the recent past.
“A lot of times, it’s just getting inside your head and you can’t get out,” Bottone said.
Mayhew was drafted into the setter position and began to have troubles recently with double touches.
While Mayhew was battling her setter demons, Papp was also dealing with issues at libero.
Audet, meanwhile, had been working at setter in practice and the rest of the team was beginning to get comfortable with her sets.
Papp gives the Centaurs more of a middle hitter on the opposite side, strengthening the block, while Mayhew is a better passer and defender from the back.
“The one thing that I’m apprehensive about is that while Marissa is not a natural setter, her ability to get to balls and make things happen is the reason I went with her in the first place. Now, if we don’t get a great pass, I kind of lose that with Paige but I think the girls understand the game better now and can step in, take that second ball and do something positive with it,” Bottone said.
It certainly didn’t hurt the Centaurs on Friday.
They downed Newtown, 3-0, to raise their record to 14-4 on the season.
Mayhew finished with nine digs and 11 service points while Audet had 15 assists.
Senior Paula Hernandez was her typical self with 15 kills and 17 digs.
Newtown (10-6) helped the Centaurs’ effort with numerous service errors.
That was something that has haunted Woodstock Academy recently, but the Centaurs made only six service errors in the match.
“We were able, for that reason, to get them out of system a lot,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs won the first set 25-17 and followed that up with wins of 25-18 and 25-15 for the sweep.
Bottone seriously considered the change of duties earlier in the week when the Centaurs had to rebound from a 2-0 deficit to hand Sports Medical Sciences Academy a 3-2 loss in Hartford.
He had already, in practice, been working with Papp on the opposite side to see what her swings looked like with Audet at setter and Mayhew in the back row.
He liked what he saw, and the match against SMSA made his mind up.
Bottone said the 12-match win streak is unexpected, but clearly welcomed.
“I think we’re in a good place,” Bottone said. “The girls are positive. Someone actually said (after the Newtown match) that she thought the change was a good one and made us stronger. I look at the mindset of the girls. We’re going to have good days and bad days on the court, but if they are in a positive way and working hard then I’m confident.”
Following the final regular season match with Waterford, the Centaurs have the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament where he looks at Fitch as a serious challenge.
Then, the Centaurs will take on the challenge of trying to make it to their third consecutive Class L state championship match.
“More so than in years past, the state tournament is anybody’s. Bristol Eastern beat RHAM in five, they’re pretty even. Greenwich had their way with Bristol Eastern and if we were to play Greenwich now, I think we would win. There is a lot of parity this year (in Class L). It’s up for grabs,” Bottone said.
Nice win over Darien
There have been a lot of firsts for the Woodstock Academy volleyball team under the direction of coach Adam Bottone.
But a 3-1 win over Darien on Saturday will go down as one of his personal favorites.
The Blue Wave has been one of the elite teams in the sport in the state.
Darien has won 17 state championships including nine in a row from 2001 to ’09.
Bottone still recalls the two meetings the Centaurs had with Darien in the Class L state tournament
The Blue Wave downed the Centaurs, 3-0, in 2009 in a second round match.
The Centaurs lost in a second round match, 3-0, in 2007, not getting out of single digits in the first two sets.
So a win over Darien was pretty special.
“It’s phenomenal,” Bottone said. “They’re solid and this is one of the biggest wins of my career. I’ve been in some good ones. Back when Ledyard had (Division I player) Michelle Klinikowski, we won with Sarah Swenson when she was a senior. There was the state tournament match against Avon where we were down two, fought back and won in five. This win is definitely up there in the top three.”
The Centaurs (12-4) had to rally a couple of times against the Blue Wave to win their 10th straight match.
Darien took the first set, 25-22, and were up by nine points in the second but Woodstock Academy fought back for the 25-22 win.
The Centaurs went up 2-1 with another 25-22 win in the third but the fourth was a little troublesome.
Woodstock Academy trailed 24-19 and on game point, junior setter Marissa Mayhew stepped behind the service line.
She delivered five of her 12 service points in the match to tie the game at 24.
Darien (8-5) did go up 25-24 before the Centaurs tied it and went ahead, 26-25.
Woodstock Academy took the match despite an errant pass on a volley. The ball was headed low toward the net when middle hitter Amelia Large jumped up, swiped at it with a backward motion of her hand and just dropped it over the net.
Mayhew added 17 assists and 17 digs while senior Paula Hernandez had her typical game with 39 digs, 25 kills and 14 service points.
“(Saturday) wasn’t pretty by any means but the fact that we’re hanging in there, competing and winning, when it’s tough, is important. I would be fearful if I was other teams because when it truly 100 percent clicks for us, we’re going to be close to unstoppable,” Bottone said.
Woodstock Academy did have a tough start to the season to rebound from.
But it didn’t hurt when it came to its Eastern Connecticut Conference record.
The Centaurs finished off their Division I battles in the league with a spotless record through six matches after a 3-0 win over Norwich Free Academy last Wednesday at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
“It’s awesome. Hopefully, it continues for many years to come. I don’t know that it will. There are solid teams in the Large division and to come out undefeated against quality teams with some quality players and good coaching is not easy.
The opposing teams made us work for those wins, it feels great,” Bottone said of another undefeated Division I campaign.
He also likes what he is seeing on the court.
"We're starting to do a lot of things better than we were early on," Bottone added. "Our middles are starting to work a lot better, our receive is getting cleaned up some and now we're working on defense to make it more effective. It was better (Wednesday)."
Bottone had to work in a new libero this season.
He found one in former middle hitter, senior Katie Papp, who has been up-and-down this season but lately, has had much more upside.
“She struggled early on, found her groove and then went back to struggling. We talked about the mindset and how that comes into play with what we do and I think she’s making herself stay relaxed and loose. She’s not worried so much about making a mistake and that has helped her quite a bit. Her passing has been a lot better and her defense is good,” Bottone said.
Papp did have one complaint after the win over NFA.
Her elbows were swollen and painful from hitting the floor.
“I said, ‘Read better, and you won’t have to hit the ground,’” Bottone said with a laugh.
Papp had another solution.
“I need elbow pads,” she said with a smile.
But she agreed with the rest of Bottone’s assessment.
“It’s all mentality. In the beginning of the season, I wasn’t in it mentally and now, I’m more comfortable and am playing much better,” Papp said.
The Centaurs celebrated “Dig Pink night” for breast cancer awareness month which had them pumped for the match with the Wildcats.
“We’re always so excited. We decorated the whole place and we get a ton of people to come. It was a great night,” Papp said.
Both for Dig Pink and on the floor.
The Centaurs won the first set easily, 25-11.
They had to battle a bit more in the second set, three kills by Hernandez at the end, helped to account for the 25-21 win.
Woodstock Academy had to overcome a little adversity.
The service game for the Centaurs was not sharp and they committed eight service errors in the second set alone.
“We struggled at the line a lot and so did they. We gave an error and I was like, ‘Oh man, what are we doing?,’” Bottone said. “We had 18 errors. But every time I said that, (NFA) would return the favor. I don’t think (NFA) played to its potential, part of that was that the balls we put into play, made it difficult for them.”
The Centaurs clinched the win with a 25-19 victory in the final set.
Hernandez finished with 11 kills, 18 digs and 10 service points.
Mayhew had 19 assists to go with seven digs and eight service points.
Woodstock Academy claimed the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I title for itself with a 3-1 win over Fitch in Groton earlier last week.
Hernandez had 23 kills and 25 digs; Sierra Bedard 5 kills and a block and Aurissa Boardman 9 kills and 11 service points for the Centaurs.
Centaurs claim at least a share of ECC Division I title
The Woodstock Academy volleyball team was able to celebrate before and after its match with East Lyme on Wednesday at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
The Centaurs honored senior Paula Hernandez prior to the beginning of the match for her milestone of 1,000 career kills which she accomplished the week before in Ledyard.
The team then went out and shutout East Lyme, 3-0, to clinch at least a share of the Eastern Connecticut Conference regular season title.
“It’s awesome,” said Woodstock Academy coach Adam Bottone of another league championship. “It’s our third year in a row and we couldn’t be happier. It’s always good to do that against East Lyme, they are a good team.”
It’s even more impressive considering the start the Centaurs (9-4, 3-0 ECC Division I) had.
They lost their first three matches, but have won eight of their last nine and the last seven in a row.
“At the beginning of the year, after the first five games, I was thinking this would be a rough season for us. We really dug our heels in, started working more individually with people,” Bottone said.
The success of that approach has been seen in the results.
Woodstock Academy does feature Hernandez who has 277 kills this season.
She added 25 digs in the win over the Vikings and is also closing in on 1,000 digs for her career.
Just her presence is a steadying influence on the rest of the team.
“I know if I’m setting and do my job, I’m 100 percent sure that they will do their job especially Paula. She is just so enthusiastic and aggressive out there and that is what really carries us through sometimes,” junior setter Marissa Mayhew, who had 26 assists in the win, said.
That was the case late in the first set against East Lyme.
The Vikings (6-5, 2-2) had built a 19-15 lead when Hernandez stepped behind the service line.
She never left.
Hernandez delivered 10 straight service points and The Academy won the first set, 25-19.
Hernandez had two aces in that run and a pair of kills from the back.
She also had the help of a kill from sophomore outside hitter, Aurissa Boardman.
It was the last of five that Boardman had in the first set.
“I’m really working on my confidence and it definitely helps when I get the hits because my confidence goes up,” Boardman said.
Bottone has said that confidence or lack thereof is the biggest thing that is standing in Boardman’s way. She is sometimes her own worst enemy.
“It’s not only him, other people have told me that. I just have to work through that,” she added.
Woodstock Academy, as a whole, will have to work through something else, too.
The service game, a strength for the Centaurs this season, was off against the Vikings.
Woodstock Academy had 10 service errors in the match.
“It has been a yes or no thing with us,” Mayhew said. “It’s been known as the best in the league at times and at others, it’s questionable. That just means you have to keep working through it and focus on what we can do ourselves rather than trying to critique each other.”
The Centaurs held off the Vikings in the second set, again overcoming a late deficit, to score the 25-23 win.
It was the same story in the third set with East Lyme ahead, 20-18, before the Centaurs rallied and Mayhew served the final five points in the 25-21 win to seal the victory in the match.
“We didn’t really play that well. We struggled with our receive. (Libero) Katie Papp told me earlier in the season that she does better when she relaxes. She was getting frustrated and I reminded her of that conversation. I said to her,’You need to relax and you will play better.’She went back out and did that. I think it speaks to our resiliency as a team that even when we don’t play well, we are still pushing through and winning. I hate to be the opponents when we start to play really well,” Bottone said.
He’s starting to see signs of that happening.
The Woodstock Academy coach was especially impressed by a block by junior middle hitter Amelia Large.
“She hung in the air for like five hours and then sent it back down, That was ridiculous,” Bottone said with a laugh.
Bottone was also to see Boardman stepping it up and getting a good number of kills and Mayhew going to an overhand set.
“While it was a struggle, I think we finally have our lineup set and now, we just have to start to fine tune everything. We’re still going to have our lumps along the way and that’s OK. It’s how we respond to that, persevere and get over that,” Bottone said.
Earlier in the week, the Centaurs accomplished another season goal.
They qualified for the Class L state tournament with a 3-0 win over Griswold.
It ended the Wolverines five-match win streak at the time.
“After those first five games, I wouldn’t have expected (qualifying for the state tournament) to come so easy),” Bottone said.
Gabby Garbutt had 16 kills and eight service points including four aces in the win over the Wolverines.
Hernandez added 14 kills and 22 digs while Mayhew had 25 assists.
Hernandez reaches milestone; Centaurs win 3
It was not what Paula Hernandez had hoped for.
The senior wanted to become the first in the history of the volleyball program at Woodstock Academy to reach 1,000 career kills at home.
But the Centaurs needed her in a close match at Norwich Free Academy last week and the needs of the team outweighed the needs of the one.
Instead, Hernandez reached the career milestone in a win at Ledyard last Wednesday.
She will still be honored on her home court.
That celebration will take place prior to the match against East Lyme on Wednesday at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
Hernandez didn’t have to wait long in Ledyard to reach 1,000.
That was a good thing since the anticipation had been killing her since last Monday.
That’s when she had 39 kills against Norwich Free Academy in a 3-2 win for the Centaurs.
It left her with 999 for her career.
“I was kind of sad to get 39 last game, I wasn’t expecting that. I wanted to get (her 1,000th) on Friday (against Killingly) because it was a home game. It was special, though, because I had to wait awhile to get it. I was pretty excited about it,” Hernandez said.
She got things over with quickly.
On the second point of the match, which the Centaurs would go on to win 3-0, Hernandez moved up from the back row to her familiar outside position, took a pass, and spiked it to the floor.
“I was nervous, but it was very nice. I’m not used to the attention from the whole gym so it felt a little weird but it was very rewarding,” Hernandez said.
The match was stopped so that Ledyard athletic director Jim Buonocore could tell those in attendance what had just occurred and Hernandez was able to get a few pictures with her team and coach Adam Bottone.
Then, she looked behind her and saw some of the Woodstock Academy faithful who had traveled to Ledyard had unfurled a homemade banner with 1000 splayed across it to commemorate the moment.
“That was pretty awesome,“ Bottone said. “It was good to see.”
Hernandez quickly ran up the bleachers and stood in front for an impromptu photo.
Scoring 1000 points in basketball is difficult.
Getting 1000 kills in volleyball may be even harder.
“It’s similar to that shooting guard who makes all those 3’s, can get open and make things happen. That’s exactly what Paula has done. We’ve talked about how volleyball is very much a team sport and all those other components need to be there for her to get all those kills,” Bottone said.
What may be even more astonishing, in Hernandez’s case, is that she only has played since her sophomore season for the Centaurs.
She finished with 295 kills as a sophomore and 493 as a junior.
“We still have a half-season left, those numbers are mind-blowing,” Bottone said.
There was some question as to whether she would reach the number this season since the original game plan was to put Hernandez at setter.
That was quickly abandoned in the preseason as things just weren’t working the way Bottone had hoped.
“It’s very special because from my understanding, it’s never been done before at the Academy. Even if we don’t get a state championship, I feel it’s like a legacy that I will leave when I graduate. I hope we have another person who reaches it in the future,” Hernandez said.
Bottone said if anyone does, they will have their work cut out for them as Hernandez still has a long way to go this season to add to her current total of 1,031.
Hernandez has led the Centaurs to the last two Class L state championship matches and they have come up just a little short on each occasion.
Woodstock Academy (7-4), after a slow start, is now just one win away from qualifying for the state tournament again.
“The milestone is definitely a feather in her cap. I think the career cap would be a state championship. I don’t know the reality of that this year but, regardless, of how it plays out, I think she can definitely be proud of what she has done individually that has helped elevate this team to a higher level,” Bottone said.
Bottone, like Hernandez, was happy to see the event come early in the match.
“Any time there is hoopla surrounding a match, the players can get distracted. We talked about that at the beginning. I told them she needs one kill, we will recognize it, get a quick photo and then, we’re back into it,” Bottone said.
Still, things got a little dicey in the first set against the Colonels (5-5).
Woodstock Academy broke out to an early, 12-3, lead only to see the home team rally.
Ledyard tied the match at 16 and surged ahead, 23-18.
Aurissa Boardman came to the rescue.
The sophomore outside hitter had four of her 12 kills on the day to bring the Centaurs back within one, 24-23.
An ace by Sierra Bedard tied it.
The two teams exchanged points with Hernandez and Boardman getting kills and a Ledyard mishit gave the Centaurs the 28-26 first set victory.
“Aurissa has struggled a bit lately. She gets down on herself and is her own worst enemy on the court. I’ve been talking to her a lot lately about how to make adjustments to something that is not perfect on the set. She tipped a lot more (Wednesday) and wasn’t forcing things. I was really happy with how she played,” Bottone said.
The other two sets were much easier.
The Centaurs jumped out to an 18-3 second set lead and rolled to a 25-11 victory and held off a late charge by Ledyard to score a 25-13 win in the third.
The match also allowed Bottone to shuffle some younger players into the mix.
“I’m extremely lucky that I have a team that is understanding and know their roles. The girls who don’t play a lot usually just come into serve because I have a deep bench when it comes to serving. I look at Lexi Thompson, a freshman, getting into a varsity match and getting game experience and doing well. That’s huge,” Bottone said.
In addition to the 11 kills for Hernandez, she added 13 service points including three aces. Gabby Garbutt was also effective behind the line, getting 12 service points and three aces.
The Centaurs finished off the week with a 3-0 win over Killingly on Friday.
Hernandez led the way with 21 kills as the Centaurs reeled off wins of 25-18, 25-14 and 25-8 in the three sets.
Boardman added nine kills and 13 service points, including seven aces.
Marissa Mayhew added 24 assists.
Centaurs on top of ECC Division I standings
Woodstock Academy volleyball coach Adam Bottone has learned something about this season.
Nothing will come easy.
Even the 3-0 wins can be difficult.
“I think we’re trying to get the maximum amount of playing time that we can everywhere we go,” Bottone said with a laugh.
The Centaurs lost to Conard 3-1 early in the week.
Neither team finished with less than 23 points in a set and twice the sets went extra points (volleyball matches are played to 25, but teams must win a set by two points).
It was the same in East Lyme in the middle of the week.
Woodstock Academy shutout the Vikings, 3-0, but the first two sets went extra points and the Vikings scored 23 points in the third.
Which brings us to the third match of the week.
The Centaurs ended the Fitch Falcons undefeated ways with a hard-fought 3-1 victory Friday at the Alumni Fieldhouse.
Woodstock Academy outlasted Fitch, 25-17, 21-25, 28-26, 25-21, in the four sets.
“It’s good to be tested at this point of the season, but it has given me a few more gray hairs,” Bottone said.
Those gray hairs might be a small price to pay for the outcome.
The victories over East Lyme and Fitch have put the Centaurs atop the standings in Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I play with a 2-0 record.
It has also brought them back to the .500 mark overall with a 4-4 record.
“I think it gave the group confidence that we can hang,” Bottone said. “When I look at everyone we have played, no team has just dominated us with the exception of Greenwich. We played badly against them. Whether it was them taking us out or whether it was because it was just the second game of the season and followed a long night against Coventry the night before. Every team we’ve played against have been good at some things and we’re good at things, we’re just making too many errors. If we can fine tune that, we’re playing with everybody probably more than people think we are. That’s a good sign.”
Fitch came in with the reputation of the team to beat in the league as it had won its first five matches including a 3-0 shutout against Norwich Free Academy.
The Falcons also featured a strong middle hitter in Honora Ryan.
“We approached it kind of how people approach playing us. You’re not going to stop Paula (Hernandez), you’re going to dig her, sometimes, but she will get her kills. We had to understand Honora was going to get hers and we had to minimize everything else,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs were successful in doing so and Hernandez got her kills.
She finished with 31 to give her 960 for her career for Woodstock Academy.
The senior added 33 digs.
Junior setter Marissa Mayhew had 38 assists and 19 digs.
Bottone said Mayhew is still adjusting to her new position.
“She’s up-and-down. She got called for a lot of double touches (against East Lyme). She still bumps at everything. It’s fine. It gets the ball where it needs to go. I think it’s a combination of her understanding of her understanding her positioning and where she is physically on the court in relation to the net. Also, it’s the hitters who need to better adjust to her. It’s a combination of the two and it’s a work in progress,” Bottone said.
Aurissa Boardman added 10 kills for Woodstock Academy in the victory over Fitch (5-1, 1-1).
Junior Sierra Bedard played a key role in the win over East Lyme.
The Vikings had set point on the Centaurs in the second set, leading 24-21, when Bedard stepped behind the service line.
”We had been having troubles with our serves. We had 16 service errors versus Conard and either 10 or 11 against East Lyme which is a lot for sure. Sierra was someone who had not been serving a lot and I let her serve because others were struggling and she brought us back from the deficit and tied it at 24. She kept us in the game,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs went on to win the set, 27-25.
Senior Diana Gonzalez, who had not played in the first two sets, was called upon in the third set to serve in the third spot.
She delivered two line drive services that East Lyme failed to handle and a third one that just fell in to help the Centaurs to finish off the sweep, 25-23.
Paula Hernandez had 27 kills and 23 digs for the Centaurs against the Vikings.
Mayhew had 31 assists and 11 digs while Boardman contributed six kills and Gabby Garbutt had 11 service points.
Mayhew had 42 assists and Hernandez 39 kills but the Centaurs fell short to Conard in a non-league match to open the week.
Conard took the first two sets, 25-23 and 29-27 before the Centaurs pulled out a 25-23 victory to force a fourth set which was won by Conard, 26-24.
Katie Papp added 20 digs in the loss for the Centaurs.
Centaurs turn the page
The three opening losses weren’t so much the concern.
The Woodstock Academy volleyball team expected a rough go of it early with the losses it suffered to graduation.
But Coach Adam Bottone, admittedly, was wondering when the team would begin to respond and where it would leave them in terms of the state tournament picture.
“I expected the growing pains,” Bottone said. “I scratched my head at 0-3 because of the rankings and where would we get placed because if you drop too low, you’re not in a favorable seed.”
Fortunately, the Centaurs began to right the ship this week.
“We had to get over the hump,” Bottone said. “It was a challenge and there were still a lot of things that we did that weren’t great. There is a lot of work that needs to be done, but, we brought our serve and receive (this week).”
Woodstock Academy downed defending Class S champion, Lyman Memorial, 3-0, at the Alumni Fieldhouse Wednesday and followed that up with a 3-0 win over Bacon Academy on Friday to raise their record to 2-3.
It was the first two home matches of the season for the Centaurs.
“It’s good because it gives us confidence to keep winning and gave us a good feeling for a first time as a whole team this season, hopefully, it keeps on going,” senior outside hitter Paula Hernandez said.
One of the biggest problems for the Centaurs existed in the back.
They were having troubles getting side-outs.
So, Bottone focused on getting the ball back and keeping it against Lyman Memorial.
“We kind of re-focused after those first few games and practice is all about serving and passing right now. I’m not even talking about hitting or anything else, it’s just, can we pass the ball and can we serve effectively? If we can do those things well, it’s a big step in the right direction,” Bottone said.
That happened against the Bulldogs.
The Centaurs found their serve and receive.
“It was so much better than in the first three games,” Bottone said. “It takes time. It takes repetition, the mindset, the determination, it takes a lot. They’re finally buying into it, understanding it, and making the strides forward that we need to make.”
The Centaurs trailed in the first set, 20-19, but Woodstock Academy tied it when the Bulldogs failed to return a serve by Kileigh Gagnon. The junior opposite hitter than delivered a pair of aces and Sierra Bedard blocked a shot to make it 23-20.
A Hernandez kill and a Lyman misfire gave the Centaurs the early 1-0 advantage with the 25-21 win.
Things were a little easier in the second set.
Aurissa Boardman delivered five straight service points to help Woodstock Academy bolt out to a 15-8 lead.
The Bulldogs would never get closer than five the remainder of the way and senior Paige Audet closed things out with a pair of aces for the 25-16 win.
The Centaurs took a 4-3 lead on a service error in the decisive set and never trailed again for the 25-22 win and straight-set victory.
Hernandez finished with 14 kills and 14 digs while junior setter Marissa Mayhew added 16 assists, often taking direction from Hernandez as to where the outside hitter needed the set to be.
“She tells things to her all the time,” Bottone said with a laugh. “But that’s the idea. We want to fine tune those things so we’re getting the ball into the area that we need to a lot. It’s just not as perfect as we want it to be and we give those constant reminders, everybody takes the feedback and make the adjustments to the best of their ability. It’s a work in progress.”
Hernandez agreed that there is plenty to be done.
“There is definitely some frustration, but I think our personalities allow us to create chemistry that we lost because of all the seniors who are gone. The more time we play, the more we enjoy it, the more the chemistry will build up,” the senior said.
Hernandez came into the season expecting to be the setter.
That experiment was abandoned early because of the difficulty of getting passes from the back to Hernandez and Boardman on the outside.
“I’m happy to be back on the outside because I know that whatever plan Bottone has is for the best of the team. Maybe I was a good option as a setter, but maybe the best option was Marissa as the setter and Katie (Papp) as the Libero. I’m OK with anything as long as its beneficial to the team,” Hernandez said.
Boardman finished with 9 service points and 6 kills while Gagnon added 13 service points and five aces.
Papp was also instrumental with 13 digs in what was a good win for the Centaurs.
“(Lyman) is no slouch. That was huge for us. They beat East Lyme, 3-2, so I knew they were going to be good and they’re defending Class S state champs. It was like, ‘Oh my God, we’re 0-3 and have to take on a ranked team. Are we going to be 0-4?' Fortunately, we’re no longer zero and anything,” Bottone said.
The Centaurs followed up that victory with the one against the Bobcats (2-1).
Woodstock Academy was dominant in the first set, winning 25-8. It added 25-20 and 25-16 victories to win in straight sets.
The Centaurs service was again pivotal with Gabby Garbutt getting 21 points and six aces. Hernandez did her part from behind the line with 12 points including five aces.
Hernandez added 13 kills while Garbutt had six, many set up by Mayhew who finished with 17 assists. Bedard added six blocks.
“We hate the feeling losing and everyone contributed (this week) so, hopefully, we keep going from here,” Hernandez said.
Centaurs fall to 0-3
The rough start for the Centaurs continued on Monday in Waterford.
The undefeated Lancers (3-0) handed Woodstock Academy its third straight loss, 3-0.
Paula Hernandez had 12 kills and 11 digs for the Centaurs.
Marissa Mayhew had 13 assists and Gabby Garbutt finished with six service points and 11 digs.