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2022-23 Woodstock Academy girls basketball season preview

In this day and age of shrinking programs, Woodstock Academy girls basketball coach Will Fleeton is happy about what he has seen heading into the season.

The interest at the school remains strong.

Some 36 girls tried out for the program over the last couple of weeks.

“That’s always a good number to compose some teams at the high school level and that bodes well for the program and makes me happy,” Fleeton said.

Some girls basketball programs are struggling to field junior varsity programs, never mind a freshman team.

The Centaurs will have both.

“When you lose a piece of a program like that, it’s twice as hard to get back. I work every year to keep a freshman team as that base – it’s not a feeder program – but it’s the base to the future of the program. I think it’s critical and it also offers the opportunity for kids to develop and grow,” Fleeton said.

The Centaurs return a good core of players from last season including a pair of seniors.

That may not be a big number, but in this case, it may be quality over quantity as Leila MacKinnon and Lennon Favreau both return to the fold.

“They’re A-1 when it comes to leadership, in fact, I think leaders is too small a word to describe those two,” Fleeton said with a smile. “I think they are great people. They’re smart. They are full-plate kids who are part of a lot of activities including things like Model UN, honor society stuff and you can’t top that and be an athlete at the same time, never mind being a three-sport athlete like they both are.”

The two also bring recent success with them.

MacKinnon was a member of the volleyball team that made it to the Class L state tournament semifinals and Favreau played for the Eastern Connecticut Conference champion girls soccer team which advanced as far as the Class L state quarterfinals.

“Absolutely, it can translate,” MacKinnon said of the recent past success. “If you look at our volleyball and basketball seasons, it’s a mirror image. We had two rebuilding seasons for both basketball and volleyball and as a leader for both teams, I think we can carry that through and get some wins.”

The two will swing between guard and forward as the entire roster for the Centaurs will.

MacKinnon will function as a co-captain alongside junior Reegan Reynolds. Kerry Blais and Leah Danis are two other juniors on the varsity roster which will also include sophomores Sophia Sarkis and Eva Monahan.

There will be some freshmen who will see varsity playing time including Kaylee Saucier, Isabel D’Alleva-Bochain, Vivian Bibeau, Sidney Anderson and Allison Camara.

“I love having some younger players on the roster especially because I know what my leaders are capable of,” Fleeton said. “I know they will handle things, will embrace everyone and look out for them. I’m happy and super-confident only because I know what the endgame is with their leadership ability that they will navigate with this season.”

Favreau added that the freshmen may be young age-wise, but not so much basketball-wise.

“I, honestly, think that this year’s freshmen don’t feel like freshmen. I feel like, sometimes, they know more than I do which is really nice,” Favreau said.

The Centaurs will have some height to work with.

“You want to be bigger than smaller just like you would rather be faster than slower,” Fleeton said with a laugh. “I won’t say we’re huge but as a group, across the board, we’re probably one of the bigger girls teams.”

The Centaurs don’t go much below 5-feet-5 inches and do go up to 6-0 with Monahan.

In addition, Anderson is 5-10, Camara is 5-9 and Reynolds, Blais and Danis all come in at 5-8.

Fleeton has always been a defense-first type of coach and that won’t change this season although he was still sorting through things last week going into the first and only scrimmage of the season at Montville on Thursday.

“We haven’t done a lot yet, obviously, as far as learning the system but the effort level is through the roof. If we can compete and play with that kind of effort, I’m sure we can defend because you have to work hard to play defense,” he said.

The Centaurs did move up a division in the Eastern Connecticut Conference from Division II to Division I.

That may not be a bad thing.

Division 1 tournament champion, New London which finished 20-4 last season, is now in Division II alongside Bacon Academy (23-4), Ledyard (17-8) and Waterford (13-10).

And while Woodstock Academy will play some of those teams, the Centaurs have to worry more about Fitch (13-10), East Lyme (7-15) and Norwich Free Academy (3-19).

“My feeling is neutral, it is what it is, we have to play the game regardless. The league is tough. We face who gets off the bus. That’s the easiest way to look at it,” Fleeton said.

It will be the Centaurs who get off the bus first as their season opener is on the road against non-league foe Coventry on Monday at 6:45 p.m.

“We have to ready, there is no other way,” Fleeton said. “There will be growing pains from game-to-game and just like every other team in the state, Game 1 in most cases will be a little ugly because of the pressure to get ready so quickly and then having to compete but we will be ready.”

MacKinnon and Favreau have to be.

It’s their last hurrah.

“I’m ecstatic. I’ve kind of been waiting for a season like this. We have a really great group of kids, have been working together throughout the offseason, or as Coach calls it ‘the working season’ because we’re not really off. We’ve built a really great chemistry and like Lennon said about the freshmen, they’re comfortable with each other, we’re comfortable playing with each other, and that’s really important to have that confidence,” MacKinnon said.