centaurs pg 1 3-9-23

This was the one that got away last year.
“(The Eastern Connecticut Eagles) came in here last year, stole the show from us in front of all of our fans and it really sucked so we made sure to keep that one under our hats (Saturday) and we really got on them,” said junior winger Donnie Sousa.
The Woodstock Academy boys’ hockey team was not to be denied for a second straight season.
It posted a 5-1 win over the Eagles to bring home the Nutmeg Conference tournament championship.
“We knew we were playing the same team that came in here and upset us last year. We knew they won 7-1 (versus Tri-Town in the semifinals the night before) and we knew that they were going to come out hungry and they were going to come out fast,” said coach Mark Smolak.
When those conditions exist, it’s important that the tone is set early.
Smolak thought the reason for last year’s 3-2 upset by the Eagles was that the Centaurs weren’t ready to play.
He made sure that wasn’t going to be the case this season.
“Their goalie (Cam McCollum) made a couple of outrageous saves but we were able to bear down, keep with it, keep pressure toward the net and battled for rebounds,” Smolak said.
It paid off — Max Larkin got the Centaurs on the board first off assists from Sam Desmond and Sam Lescault at the 12 minute, 43 second mark of the first period to give the Centaurs a lead going into the second period.
But Eastern Connecticut (7-14) answered midway through the second period when Wade Larson poked one into the Centaurs’ net.
“I think we started to let up a bit after we got confidence based on our first goal,” said captain Jacob Jurnovoy said. “But when they got the goal back, we started pushing back.”
There was a little concern, however, as the Eagles did get a surge from the tying goal.
“You could see they were pushing us back on our heels. They were coming with a lot more speed. They felt like they had got the tie and wanted more and we gave them opportunities but it was bend, don’t break. We had to weather the storm and push back harder,” Smolak said.
A slashing call against the Eagles put the Centaurs on the power play with 49 seconds left in the period and Sousa provided what proved to be the game winner 20 seconds later.
“I was rolling around the circle, didn’t know if I was going to get the puck or not. Then Noah (Sampson) got it right in front of the crease, slid it right to me and the goalie didn’t know what to do,” Sousa described.
“Any goal in the last minute of a period is a back breaker,” Smolak added.
Woodstock didn’t wait long to take a two-goal advantage as Maxx Corradi scored an unassisted goal just 3:03 into the final period.
“We knew we had to come out in the third period and be physical and it was really helpful for us to keep the play in their end,” Smolak said.
The score remained that way until the final minute when the Eagles pulled McCollum to get an extra attacker.
Corradi, off a pass from Sampson, put one into the empty net with 34 seconds left for his second tally of the game and 12 seconds later, Sousa equaled that with one of his own.
“It was really great. Anything can happen with a two-goal game so it’s good to get those insurance goals, just to guarantee you’re going to win this game,” Sousa said.
As soon as the buzzer sounded, the Centaurs skated over to the student section and the celebration began.
“It feels amazing,” Jurnovoy said. “We’ve been wanting this ever since last year when we came off the ice with a loss. We’ve been determined to bring back the Nutmeg championship to Woodstock Academy.”
Prior to the game, six members of the Centaurs were recognized as Nutmeg Conference All-Stars: Jurnovoy, Kaiden Keddy, Ian Sherman, Sousa, Sampson and Corradi achieved all-league status.
Now, the tough work begins.
The Centaurs skate into the state tournament with a 20-1 record and winners of 13 straight.
Throw those records out, however, in Div. II play.
“At this point, we are the second seed and everything previous doesn’t matter. This is the one sport where there is a team who doesn’t belong on the ice who can still come out and win. We have to have the mentality of taking no one lightly, have to play in our system with the style that got us where we are and we have to ramp it up. Everyone will be coming at us hard,” Smolak said.
The Centaurs opened state tournament play Tuesday (game ended too late for this edition).
The Guardians came in with a 7-12-1 record and were familiar to the Centaurs.
Woodstock downed Glastonbury, 3-1, on its home ice on Feb. 18.
“It helps that we’ve played them before but we did so without a full lineup. We had two guys recovering from a stomach bug and three guys who were out with that stomach bug. They pushed us hard and it was a close game until the third period. We need to realize that they are a physical team with speed. We have to be ready,” Smolak said.
Sometimes, it’s not easy to flip the switch.
Coming off the high of winning a championship on a Saturday to playing another game on a Tuesday but Jurnovoy assured there will be no letdown by the Centaurs.
“I feel like we can keep this team on its toes. We definitely have the work ethic to carry us to a state title,” the captain said.
Aleman finishes 2nd; team 4th at CIAC State Open
Woodstock almost made it two in a row as far as individual State Open champions.
Sophomore Olivia Aleman came within 5/100th’s of a point to following in teammate Taylor Markley’s footsteps as she finished second in the All-Around competition at the CIAC State Open championship at New Milford High School.
Markley finished first in the event a year ago.
The Centaurs finished fourth as a team. Aleman finished with a 37.7 total but was just nipped by Emma Johnson of Fairfield Warde who finished with a 37.75 total.
“It was awesome. She really did her absolute best and that’s all you can ask for. We’re very proud of her,” said coach Kasey Tocchio.
Aleman finished tied with Plainfield’s Brenna Johnson for first in the floor exercise with a 9.6. The Woodstock sophomore was third in vault (9.45) and bars (9.2) and fourth on beam (9.45).
“She has been very consistent on the floor and she just had a clean routine (Saturday). Her beam was really great, too, but she had an uncharacteristic hit of her foot on bars which cost her little bit,” Tocchio said.
Her performance earned her a trip to the New England championship on Saturday. Aleman will not be the only Centaur headed north. Freshman Julia Kerr also put together a strong performance on floor (9.075) and beam (9.025) to also qualify for New England competition.
“Julia being a freshman and Olivia being only a sophomore, they’re just going to keep building on these feelings of success. Getting to New England’s will really help them for the next couple of years,” Tocchio said.
The team, as a whole, came in seeded fourth and had hopes of climbing the ladder into third place at least.
Unfortunately the other three teams involved had other ideas.
Daniel Hand of Madison placed first with a 141.75 total followed by Ellington/Tolland (138.6), Fairfield Warde (137.9) and the Centaurs (135.325).
“I’m happy. It was a really good learning year for us. We are a young team and a lot of the girls are going to come back next season and will remember this feeling and, hopefully, will work hard toward being even more successful next year,” Tocchio said.
Girls’ Basketball
The season came to an end for the Woodstock girls’ basketball team this week.
But there were only smiles after the Centaurs left the court, falling just short, 51-38, to Masuk in a Class L first-round state tournament game.
The Centaurs had completed a season that saw them finish with a 13-10 record.
They downed Waterford and advanced to play in an ECC quarterfinal game. They not only made the state tournament, they were able to host a contest.
That all coming after the team missed the state tournament a year ago.
It was a quick reload for the Centaurs.
“I’m happy,” said coach Will Fleeton. “From what I saw early, I thought we would be capable of having success in the win-loss column. I also thought the character of the kids meant we would have other successes as well, other than the win-loss record. I think it went the way I had hoped. I had a good group of new kids mix in with a solid group of returning kids. There was a lot of learning going on, but at the same time, we were competing and were able to pick up some wins along the way.”
The Centaurs went into the state tournament as the 15th-seed and hosted No. 18 Masuk Monday.
The Panthers quickly broke out on top thanks to the play of Bailey Bajda and Natalie Lieto.
Bajda had 10 of her 19 points in the first quarter to help Masuk surge to a 19-10 lead.
Lieto was a constant threat, grabbing rebounds, controlling the play and scoring 13 points for the Panthers.
The visitors from Monroe were able to build on that lead in the second quarter, extending it to as many as 14 before settling for a 12-point advantage, 32-20, at halftime.
“I don’t think we got off to a great start defensively, which is rare, but I did think we got off to a good offensive start and I was like, ‘What’s going on here?’ myself. I think our defense got back to where it should be but the deficit might have been a bit too much,” Fleeton said
Still, Woodstock did not go quietly. Freshman Kaylee Saucier sparked a third-quarter rally, scoring eight of her 19 points in a 1 ½ - minute span in the third quarter to help the Centaurs pull within six, 38-32.
The Panthers (11-11) scored the final three points of the third quarter and first five of the fourth to hold off their hosts.
“That’s the nice thing of having an experienced group. I don’t think Masuk ever wavered, never feared that we got as close as six and just kept their nose to the grind like a veteran team would. I think Masuk was pretty good and played extremely hard. I think we showed that we had a lot of fight in us, too,” Fleeton said.
Sophomore Eva Monahan finished with 10 points for Woodstock.
Fleeton said tough games against Masuk and New London, as well as some other good encounters late in the season including a home game against East Lyme, an overtime battle with Fitch, and a defensive battle with Killingly will only help next season.
“It has to make us better. I don’t think it hurt us,” Fleeton said with a smile.
Now, the team goes its separate ways for the spring season.
Most will return for the 2023-24 campaign.
Although the two seniors, Leila MacKinnon and Lennon Favreau, will be missed.
They will remain in Div. I in the ECC but that division will grow as the New London Whalers will come up from Div. II to join the Centaurs, Norwich Free Academy, Fitch and East Lyme.
The Whalers won the ECC tournament championship this season.
There will also be something new to adjust to.
The CIAC has adopted a 35-second shot clock which will be in place for a first time next season.
“I think it’s long overdue,” Fleeton said. “I think it could help us because of the way we want to defend and I’ve always said, we would be twice the team with a shot clock. But now, with this group, this might be one of the more patient offensive groups that I’ve coached in my life. I’m hoping that doesn’t backfire on us. I love the patience this group shows, they are probably the best in that regard without turning the ball over that I have had, but how will that affect us with a shot clock?”
Fleeton said it will be an adjustment for everyone involved, including himself, since he has not coached with a shot clock since his prep school days.
But he can take some confidence in the fact that when the team played in the Cranston (R.I.) tournament, it has done well with the shot clock which Rhode Island teams utilize.
The Centaurs, a year ago at the Cranston tournament, didn’t have a shot clock violation and forced their opponents into a couple.
This year, the girls forced four shot clock violations and didn’t have any.
“I want to think we’re OK. We didn’t make any adjustments, that’s just what happened. But I do have a little concern because we are a patient group,” Fleeton said.
Now comes the offseason.
Or as Fleeton refers to it, the “improvement” season, since he wants to see his players continue to play.
“We have a ways to go with a lot to fill in so they have to stay active, continue to play and continue to play together. That’s the key for our improvement. I hope some of our multi-sport athletes find some time to invest in basketball,” Fleeton said.
Other Sports
Woodstock senior Jared Eaton placed 14th in New England in the shotput at the New England indoor track championship in Boston Saturday.
Eaton accomplished that with a personal best throw of 50-feet, 2 ¾ inches.
Four members of the Woodstock  boys’ basketball team were recognized at the ECC  Brady Ericson was named a Div. II All-Star while senior Brandon Nagle was an honorable mention selection.
Senior James D’Alleva-Bochain was the team’s ECC Scholar-Athlete and classmate Braiden Saucier was the ECC Sportsmanship Award recipient.
Two members of the Woodstock ski team also received postseason honors.
Senior Davis Simpson and sophomore Emma Brody were named honorable mention All-State by the Connecticut Interscholastic Ski League.  
Marc Allard
Director of Sports Information
The Woodstock Academy

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