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Woodstock Academy junior Paula Hernandez, alongside Centaurs volleyball coach Adam Bottone, proudly displays the Connecticut High School Coaches Association girls’ volleyball Player of the Year Award following the CHSCA All-State banquet Nov. 27. Photo by Sean Saucier/Woodstock Academy.

It didn’t hit home for Woodstock Academy junior Paula Hernandez immediately.
The native of Puerto Rico is still getting familiar with the handing out of postseason awards that follow high school athletic seasons in the continental U.S.
So last week when she traveled to Southington along with senior teammate Natalie Low and Centaurs coach Adam Bottone to the Connecticut High School Coaches Association All-State banquet, she thought she was just going to receive her All-State award.
Hernandez brought home something even more special.
She became the first volleyball player in the history of the Centaurs program to receive the CHSCA Player of the Year award.
“It was definitely unexpected for her,” Bottone said. “I don’t think she knew what it was to begin with, but after I spoke with her, she now has a solid grasp of what it means and how important an award it is.”
Indeed, Hernandez wanted to leave as the awards ceremony was winding down.
Both she and Low had received their All-State awards, which was also a first for the program; two first team All-State players in the same season.
“I wasn’t paying attention, I feel like everybody knew, but me,” Hernandez admitted with a smile. “I thought the (Player of the Year) awards only went to the teams that won the championship and we didn’t. I was really surprised and excited and some people got emotional.”
She included herself in that last category.
And then quickly added that the award itself would not have been possible without a lot of help.
“I think (the award) is for the whole team, not only me. We’re a whole. I wasn’t the only person who did (what the team accomplished this season). I’m very proud that it was given to me, but I think it’s for all the girls on the team,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez has changed the fate of the Centaurs volleyball program over the past two seasons.
When she came to the program last September, it sported a 3-3 record.
Since her arrival, the Centaurs have not lost a regular season or Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament match.
That’s a streak of 44 wins in 46 matches.
It includes two ECC regular season titles (the Centaurs shared a Division II championship with Killingly last year and won a Division I crown of their own this season) and a pair of ECC Division 1 tournament championships.
It also included two Class L state championship appearances.
Those are the only two losses for the Centaurs.
They fell to RHAM last year and suffered a heartbreaker this past season when they took a 2-0 lead on Joel Barlow, only to fall 3-2.
Hernandez finished with 493 kills, 370 digs, 145 assists, and 261 service points including 76 aces this season.
“I had an idea that she might get it. I didn’t know for sure, but I knew a lot of people had put her on their ballots. I reached out to a quite a few coaches, Even the coach of Windsor High School, who was there for our game versus Bristol Eastern, asked me who No. 9 was because she was going on her ballot. Paula is a pretty impressive player and she deserves it. It’s nice that it happened. It wasn’t a surprise to me and I’m glad that stayed so she could receive the honor in person,” Bottone said.
The bad news for the rest of the state is that she will be back in a Centaurs uniform next season.
Hernandez said, even with the award, she has work to do.
“I definitely need to work on my serve/receive, probably on my hitting and technique; jump higher, be more consistent. Even my serves need to get better. I’m a hard hitter, but not the best server,” Hernandez said.
She will get the time to do so in the offseason.
Hernandez plays for the Husky volleyball club where she will be a part of its national team.
She is also thinking about her college prospects and playing for a high-level club team, if she prospers, will certainly elevate those prospects.
The CHSCA award won’t hurt in that regard either.
“(College coaches) were coming out in droves this year to begin with. Being just a junior, a lot of the smaller schools around here already have her on their radar and are already talking to her. It might open the eyes of some Division I or II schools. To be considered the best player in the state, there is nothing to balk at,” Bottone said.
Bottone said he and Hernandez spent some time during the All-State banquet discussing the possibilities for next season.
“For her and for me, it starts now,” Bottone said.
There will have to be changes.
The Centaurs are losing Hernandez’s fellow outside hitter, Low (306 kills, 208 service points, 271 digs); setter Sammie Orlowski (689 assists, 18 blocks, 138 digs); libero Maddy Gronski (484 digs, 199 service points); Bekah Wesler (164 services points) and Emma Green (310 assists) as well as Rachel Durand, Danuse Horka and McKenna Gagnon to graduation.
“This was a pretty special team. It was hard to get back (to the state championship) for a second year, it’s going to be even harder for a third year. It’s going to be a completely different team. Paula is embracing that and wants to work with the girls and get them where they need to go,” Bottone said.
But a state championship is not, necessarily, the highest priority for Hernandez.
“I’m not going to be playing for the championship, I’m going to be playing more to teach others, to get them to play better together,” Hernandez said.
Bottone said that’s where Hernandez needs to and will improve the most; her ability to lead the team.
The junior is, generally, quiet and reserved.
“When she came last year, in the middle of the season, she was just feeling everything out. This year, she took a little more of a leadership role, but being a junior, she held back a little. It’s not about her leading with her play; she can do that, but rather the intangibles. She did a lot more coaching with the girls this year, in addition to what I was doing, and I would like to see her continue to grow in that respect. She doesn’t like the limelight, is pretty humble about everything. She knows the team has helped her get where she is, but at the same time, she has to step out a little more next year,” Bottone said.
Marc Allard
Sports Information Director
The Woodstock Academy


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