Woodstock girls basketball focuses on the ‘positives’

By TRIS WYKES

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-20-2024 5:13 PM

Modified: 02-22-2024 6:37 PM


WOODSTOCK — The referee had changed into street clothes after Monday night’s game and was walking out of Woodstock High’s Dailey Gymnasium when he veered off to shake the hand of Wasps girls basketball coach Timmy MacDonnell.

“You’re a saint,” the man said before heading for the exit.

MacDonnell isn’t yet a glorified soul, but he’s putting in hard and challenging work with the Wasps. Monday’s 50-22 loss to Bellows Falls was the hosts’ seventh consecutive setback and left them at 3-16 ahead of their regular-season finale on Thursday at Leland & Gray.

“I thought we executed better offensively tonight, even if our shots didn’t always go in,” said the coach, whose team committed 24 turnovers against the Terriers (14-5). “We got to spots that we were looking for, but the timing on our passes weren’t always great. We’ve improved since December for sure.”

MacDonnell became Woodstock’s fourth coach in a five-year span when he was hired before last season. He also coached them during the 2016-17 campaign, going 8-13. The program hasn’t had a bench boss last more than two years for more than a decade and last enjoyed a winning season and a playoff victory in 2004.

The Wasps first competed in the playoffs in 1976 but are 7-31 in the postseason and have never reached even a semifinal. They are 11-49 during the last three seasons and have only 17 players in the program.

It wasn’t that long ago that the school fielded only a JV team in the sport, participation reduced by coaching turnover, years of losing and multi-sport winter offerings.

Woodstock athletes can compete in snowboarding, Nordic and Alpine skiing and hockey in addition to basketball, and at a school with an enrollment of roughly 300 students. There are more than a dozen junior high basketball players this season, but will they remain in the sport?

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“I think it’s great that Woodstock offers so many sports, but it certainly pulls kids in different directions,” MacDonnell said. “But Woodstock’s also gone through a coaching carousel, and you lose kids each time there’s a new coach and new systems to learn.

“They wonder, ‘Who’s this guy?’ and they remember that the last guy said he’d be around for years and then wasn’t.”

A Barnard resident married to former Woodstock sports standout and field hockey coach Annie Doton-MacDonnell, Timmy MacDonnell plans to put an end to the leadership revolving door. It promises to be slow going, however, for the Wasps haven’t traditionally done much off-season work.

While other Upper Valley teams regularly compete in local or statewide summer leagues, Woodstock rarely draws a dozen players for open gym workouts.

“The teams with sustained success, their coaches have been there for years, and everyone shows up during the offseason,” MacDonnell said.

MacDonnell grew up in Jericho, Vt., and played at Mount Mansfield High and Gordon College in Massachusetts. He came to the area via a teaching job at Springfield High and was that school’s boys basketball coach and later its athletic director before landing at Hartford High as a math teacher.

After two years assisting in the Hurricanes’ boys basketball program, MacDonnell took over the Wasps. He’s notable during games for rarely raising his voice, a quiet demeanor that often contrasts with that of opposing coaches.

“I could scream and yell from the sidelines, but that’s all it would be,” MacDonnell said. “I don’t want the kids to always be looking at me, because that can become a distraction. As they sub in and out, we talk about what I’m seeing.

“Timeouts become teachable moments, and I try not to take any of them with me. We don’t have a ton of kids, so they’re not just strategic breaks, but a chance to rest and get water.”

Bellows Falls won the opening tap and scored after five seconds. The Terriers led, 27-11, at halftime. Delaney Lockerby had 11 points for the visitors, while Khloe Bruso had six points for Woodstock and teammates Phoebe Goldberg, Alice Cayer and Charley Crowley each had four.

Starting guard Georgia Tarleton, also an impact player in a strong Wasps field hockey program, became emotional upon receiving her third foul and upon fouling out with three minutes remaining. MacDonnell said frustration is understandable, and he works to reduce it and emphasize the positives of high school sports.

“When things are a struggle in basketball, it’s in a very public venue,” he said. “The fans are on top of you, and everyone has an opinion on how things are going.

“Ten or 15 years down the road, no one’s going to remember the score of tonight’s game, but they’ll remember playing with their friends and in front of their families. You have to draw positives because this should be fun.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com.