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The Woodstock Academy 2021 girls basketball preview

Defense has been the mantra of girls basketball teams at The Woodstock Academy under the guidance of coach Will Fleeton.

And in this oh so different year, that will not change.

The emphasis on defense for the Centaurs will remain.

Everything else will depend on how things go.

“We just want to have a season. We just want to make it to the end with no problems medically,” Fleeton said. “I think the goal this season is to allow these kids and myself to embrace this opportunity and to have a good time doing it; To give the seniors some memories.”:

Like the fall season, the girls high school basketball regular season will be reduced, in this case, in half.

The Centaurs will play a 10-game regular season against regional Eastern Connecticut Conference opponents, travelling no further than Griswold to the south and Lyman Memorial to the west.

That will be followed by a regional tournament.

There will be no state tournament.

Also, at least at the beginning of this short season which is scheduled to come to an end in mid-March, there will be no fans in the stands per ECC rule.

It all means a bit of a different approach for players and coaches alike.

“We, as coaches, get competitive and push the kids to their limits. We want to compete at the highest level and get that win. What the pandemic has done is let us put everything in perspective. This year, it’s more about the kids having an experience, creating some memories, having some fun - all of that should come first. I think it always does. But we, as coaches, get caught in the grind, teaching the best we can, getting the most out of them, trying to win, making the playoffs. Adults, sometimes, get caught up in all that stuff,” Fleeton said.

The Centaurs played most of their season a year ago.

They finished 7-14 and lost in the first round of the ECC tournament.

From that team, they lost four players, including their top two scorers.

Katie Papp (8 points per game) and Kayla Gaudreau (7.6 points including 31 3-pointers) left in June.

“Scoring will be tough. It’s been tough every year and it will be tough again this year,” Fleeton said. “We do try and set the foundation on the defensive end. The emphasis will be the same. We will defend first and, hopefully, get some scoring opportunities from our defense.”

It will be, however, on the defensive end that Gaudreau will be missed most.

“She bought into the system as a young kid, stuck to the defensive roles and she was a stopper as a senior against tough opponents day in and day out,” Fleeton said.

Papp was the inside player which allowed then-sophomore Aurissa Boardman to roam outside on the perimeter.

Boardman delivered 7.2 points per game with 11 3-pointers in just nine games.

Now, the junior will be the team’s top returning scorer and one of the taller players on the roster alongside fellow 5-foot-9 players Alex Cloutier and Amanda Currie.

Boardman also had 31 rebounds in nine games last year but is not a true post player.

“She can do some things (inside the paint), but for Aurissa to be the best she can be, I think we have to utilize her versatility. I can’t just jam her in the paint and keep her there all the time. That’s not to say she won’t be down there,” Fleeton said. “I think Boardman has a lot of options. She can do things in the paint, her mid-range game is nice, the sky is the limit for her. She was injured much of last season, so I look forward to see what she can bring this year.”

The Centaurs also lost another post player, Rachel Lambert, and guard Hallie Saracina, both of whom scored almost three points per game.

It leaves Boardman and seniors Kaitlin Birlin (3.9 ppg); Alexa Pechie (5.8 ppg, 17 3-pointers, a team-best 31 assists and 31 steals, second-best on the team), and Peyton Saracina (3.5 ppg, 22 assists) as returning varsity players.

In addition to some experimentation up front, Fleeton will also be mixing things up in the back with no specified point guard.

“I think it will be by committee with a little of Peyton Saracina, Pechie, and Sadie Susi. We will do it as a group. I try to call my guards combo-guards and, hopefully, they can develop into point guards and, at the same time, be shooting guards depending on the combination on the floor,” Fleeton said.

Sophomores Cloutier, Currie, Emma Korsu, and Leila MacKinnon also saw limited varsity time.

Senior Sara Soria-Cotillo will help at guard this season as she steps up from the JV level with newcomer Susi, sophomores Lennon Favreau and Ellie Nunes and freshman Reegan Reynolds also making their varsity debuts for the Centaurs.

The Centaurs will not field a freshman team this season.

“We’re young,” Fleeton said. “The JV team is also primarily freshmen and sophomores. Most all of the seniors had some varsity experience. Hopefully, that pays off and promotes a little varsity leadership. My sophomores are a year older. Covid delayed their offseason development over the past year. Not many played a lot of varsity minutes, some made varsity this season, and this will be their coming out year. Hopefully, the freshman we added to the mix will be able to play at the varsity level.”