CHESHIRE -- The perception of Hoosac Valley girls’ basketball is in the middle of a transformation.
The Hurricanes had been to the Western Massachusetts Division II championship three times from 1976 to 2012 and came away empty each time. That’s an average of one appearance every 12 years.
In the 2012-13 season, Hoosac was 1 for 1 in Western Mass. finals appearances, and it was 1 for 1 in title games. The run to the state semifinals was a continuation of an overhaul that began three seasons ago.
"I think that our program has just completely turned around," junior Meg Rodowicz said. "We went from rarely making the tournament to now expecting to be in the tournament, expecting to get far in the tournament. It’s just really good."
Ron Wojcik took the helm three years ago and has experienced nothing but success. The Hurricanes won the South Division in his first season, were eliminated from the tournament by a point in double overtime last year and secured the program’s first sectional title this year.
A 180-degree turnaround doesn’t do it justice.
"It says a lot for these kids because, I think, they’ve bought in to it," he said. "They bought in to an attitude of winning, an attitude of hard work and focus. They also put their time in in the offseason.
"I think it’s been a number of factors, but I think the biggest thing is the kids buying in."
"The coach actually wanted something to come out of us," she said of Wojcik. "It’s incredible how much coach [Wojcik] has changed. And his mindset is that he wants us to win every game. When we lose, he thinks about that game over and over again until the next game because that’s how much basketball and our team means to him."
As quickly as Hoosac has progressed, it has happened in steps -- albeit large ones.
When the Hurricanes won the South in Wojcik’s first season, he knew they weren’t ready for the tournament. The experience of that atmosphere was simply nonexistent. But that division title gave the team some hope, and raised the expectations for the following year. The division title eluded them, but a run to the quarterfinals gave the team the tournament experience it needed for this year. They needed it this season, especially in a double-overtime victory in their quarterfinal double-overtime victory at No. 2 Hampshire.
"It seems we’ve gained some of that from those two games last year, playing in a very competitive game with Lenox at the end of this season and getting the two tournament games under our belt this year," Wojcik said. "Then being able to go to the Cage and win again, I think we have that tournament experience now. Every time we step on the court, we feel we’re going to win."
It’s become more than a feeling to the Hurricanes, though. They expect to win. They showed that by winning three straight times in the Western Mass. tournament as the underdog. Two of those wins came against the top two ranked teams.
"Our coach has really pushed us to want to win, and he’s really motivated us, all of our coaches, really," Rodowicz said. "They’ve just really helped us get that winner’s mentality."
It’s a mentality the coaches have themselves. Wojcik, along with his three assistants have 66 years of coaching experience. Wojcik has 20 himself with four trips to the Western Mass. final four (two trips to the finals). Assistant Bob LeClair has 16 years coaching junior varsity teams at Hoosac, Drury and McCann Tech. He also assisted on three Drury boys Western Mass. semifinal teams. Stef Curry, who’s daughter won a Western Mass. title with Wahconah, has 27 years experience coaching travel for seventh- and eighth-graders. Meg Vaughn, who went to the state final in 2002 with Wahconah, spent three years on the practice squad at Boston College and year at Alaska-Anchorage. She also assisted at Alaska the year it went to the NCAA Final Four before coming to Hoosac.
"We all have had that experience [of going to the Cage], and, I think, that just prepares the girls for what’s in store for them," LeClair said. "We’ve all been there. There’s not a mystery with four coaches that have seen this.
"It settles them down an awful lot."
"They just always know what to do in game situations," freshman Madi Ryan said. "They know how to handle us. They’re just really good."
While the coaches can have all the experience, the athletes need to believe in themselves. That’s happened in Cheshire, and it culminated with a Western Mass. championship.
"Everyone had confidence in us. We had confidence in ourselves," McKenzie Robinson said. "We work really good together. It’s a strong group, and I think that’s what’s been changing is that we have such a good relationship with all of us that it’s easier to play on the court."
The group should be getting stronger in the coming years, too. The program added a junior varsity team three years ago. The obvious benefit is the younger players receive playing time instead of sitting the bench on varsity. The other is more players have the opportunity to get involved.
Ryan is a product of the JV team, and was a major contributor on the second unit all season. She even paced the offense with 11 points in the Western Mass First Round win against Palmer with 11 points.
"[JV] helped me with the crowd because there was obviously a lot bigger crowd for JV than travel," Ryan said. "It’s a little bit faster pace than travel was, so it helped me with that too."
For Erika Lucia, a senior who sat as a freshman on varsity, she sees the how those on the JV are developing, and it has her expecting big things for program down the road.
"I think in the next few years with the younger girls in eighth grade coming up and that generation down there," Lucia said, "our program’s going to get a lot stronger."