Warriors Holding Out Hope for Winter Season
Sophomore guard Jeremy Arnum and the Valley Regional boys’ basketball team will have to make several adjustments in 2021 beyond competing during a pandemic. The Warriors graduated nine players who all played the bulk of the varsity minutes last year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Warriors’ Head Coach Kevin Woods and the Warriors have their work cut out for them this year as they try to integrate new players in a shortened season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Valley Regional boys’ basketball team is eager to get back onto the court in 2021 after posting a record of 17-5 last year. The Warriors competed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament would have also made an appearance in the Division V State Tournament had the state tournament not been called off by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) due to escalating concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Head Coach Kevin Woods and his squad are waiting for another chance to impress this winter.
Woods’s squad will look a lot different this campaign with nine seniors graduating off last year’s team. The seniors were all varsity starters or played key bench minutes for the Warriors, so there will likely be several adjustments to be made this year. As for now, Valley has to wait until Jan. 19, which is the tentative date from the CIAC for winter-sport practices to begin. Until then, it’s virtual meetings for Woods and his squad.
“We use Google Meets, and we’ve just been trying to keep them in the loop in terms of what’s going on. At this point, I don’t want to get them up or down too much. I just give them the most up-to-date news,” said Woods. “I haven’t heard anything beyond the 19th being the first practice date. I think until we hear anything else, that’s where we look to tentatively. Then we have two weeks of practice until the games start. It will give us a chance to get the guys in shape.”
Coach Woods knows that in a shortened season with wholesale turnover of the roster, it will be a challenge to get the Warriors to peak at the right time. Still, he believes that Valley will continue to be a team to look out for in the Shoreline Conference this year.
“The starters and our bench graduated. We had nine seniors and then [sophomore] Jeremy Arnum was a role player for us last year. We’re coming back with very little experience, but our freshman class is very good. They had only one loss last year, and the JVs had just one loss, too,” Woods said. “JV and freshmen competitions aren’t always a telling story, but I have a lot of confidence. It reminds me of the 2012 season when we lost everyone. We went to the Shoreline Championship that year and lost to eventual state champions at the buzzer that year. I’m very confident. I think we’ll be in contention.”
While this year’s iteration of the Warriors won’t have much varsity experience to speak of outside of sophomore guard Arnum, Coach Woods believes that could play to their advantage.
“You can’t replace experience. They will have to learn on the fly. That makes them both dangerous and vulnerable,” Woods said. “No one knows about them. No one will have a game plan for the team yet, because we’re so different. It will be difficult to adjust to us. They are capable and scrappy.”
One possible challenge that Coach Woods anticipates for the Warriors as they make the jump to varsity is the need for increased physical presence. On top of that, with a truncated season, Woods’s student-athletes will have to learn quickly to adapt.
“The physicality part of it will be tough. They will have to learn how to use their bodies, even if they’re already strong. The strongest kids generally have been playing against kids smaller than them to this point. Now they will play kids bigger and older than them,” said Woods. “You’re looking at a 12-game regular season probably, so that will be tough. We’ll have less time to have those learning games—not that many opportunities for that type of learning this year.”
Still, the Warriors already named a couple of captains due to their clear leadership capabilities last season. Seniors Marcus SantaMaria and Keenan Pindar are slated to take the reins as leaders this season, and Coach Woods trust them to be solid in a constantly shifting environment.
“Marcus SantaMaria is a really hard worker and a kid who is just bringing his game to the next level. Keenan’s a hard-nosed, scrappy player. He makes the most of his abilities. He wasn’t born with a basketball body, but he’s successful on the basketball court,” Coach Woods said. “They are our two captains, but other guys still have a chance to earn captain. We like to see kids put the extra mile during the offseason to earn it.”
Coach Woods may be most excited about seeing what Arnum can do for the Warriors this season. Woods believes that this year could be a breakout campaign for the sophomore guard.
“Jeremy Arnum is a stud. The state will know about him after this year,” Woods said. “I don’t want it to be a secret. He’s as talented a sophomore as I’ve had coming into a season.”
Valley will also employ the services of senior guard Kyle Montecalvo, who most likely would have had significantly more playing time on several other teams according to Woods. It’s tough to crack the rotation when your team is chock full of seniors.
“Kyle Montecalvo will be ready to play. I think he was kind of the older guys’ protégé,” said Woods. “He played against those guys every day in practice, and he’s really had to earn it. Now that he’s a senior, and he’s going to get the opportunity.”
Of course, the Warriors will need others to step into larger roles, but Coach Woods knows that there are quality players in his program just waiting for their chance to make a name for themselves. Hopefully, they will get that chance this year.
“There are about 10 or 11 more kids that can really play and are really athletic. I hope nobody feels bad for us after graduating our seniors,” Coach Woods said. “I think the biggest thing is that if we do have a season, being able to see the guys every day will be worth it. That would be awesome.”