The constant of change: Woodstock boys adjust to fourth coach in four years

  • Woodstock coach Steve Landon and players on the bench, from left, Zach Martsolf-Tan, Izaiah Moses and Chris Bradley encourage Woodstock's Declan McCullough as he moves the ball up court against Hartford's Brandon Potter (20) during their game in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 4, 2022. At right is Hartford's Jacob Seaver. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news photograpsh — Geoff Hansen

  • Hartford coach Jeff Thomas, left, and Woodstock coach Steve Landon speak before their game in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 4, 2022. After coaching at Hartford for 24 years, Landon is the Woodstock's fourth boys basketball coach in four years. Thomas replaced Landon at Hartford in 2019 after leading Woodstock to the state title in 2015. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

  • Woodstock coach Steve Landon gives instructions to his team while they play defense against Hartford in Woodstock, Vt., on Jan. 4, 2022. Landon is a first-year coach with the team after coaching at Hartford for 24 years. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2022 8:53:05 PM
Modified: 1/5/2022 8:52:25 PM

WOODSTOCK — At the beginning of the season, Steve Landon met with his Woodstock Union High boys basketball team in a classroom.

He wanted to talk with the team about everything and anything, basketball-related or not. He wanted to get to know them and start building the trust required between a group of players and a new coach.

It’s nothing new for the Wasps. Landon is Woodstock’s fourth varsity head coach in the last four years. For the two or three seasons this senior class has played varsity basketball, change has been a constant.

“We don’t really know anything different,” senior Cooper Dorsogna said. “I don’t know if we can compare it to having a coach all four years and sticking with the same playbook. We don’t really know.”

Woodstock has five seniors: Dorsogna, Corey White, Alex Rice, Cooper Jones and Nathan Gnodde. Through the seasons of coaches coming and going, they’ve had each other to lean on. It hasn’t impacted their friendship — if anything, it’s strengthened it.

But it has affected team chemistry. Having to start every season at square one, getting to know a new coach and letting that coach get to know them, cuts into their time to advance their games. It’s like repeating a grade in school three straight years. It eventually gets old doing the same bonding activities and learning the basics before they can really start to improve.

Jones said the players know those things are necessary with a new coach, no matter how repetitive it gets, and they’re used to it by now. But he acknowledged the limitations it creates on the start of the season.

“It definitely takes up a lot of our time, the bonding with a coach that’s going to take us through our games our whole season,” Jones said. “Time that we spent bonding with him is time that we could have spent learning new plays and building chemistry with the team rather than a new coach every year.”

Landon spent two seasons coaching the girls team at Woodstock before moving to the boys basketball job. He left Hartford High in 2019 after six years coaching the Hurricanes’ girls team followed by seven years with the boys. He led the Hartford girls to a state title in 2012 but didn’t record a playoff win with the boys after his first season.

The previous two head coaches, Tom Avellino and Jason Tarleton (who served as interim head coach last year), both worked at Woodstock. That made the acclimation process a little easier.

Though Landon doesn’t work at the school, his experience at Hartford made it easier for the Woodstock players to trust him. Landon also started working with them while he was the girls coach at Woodstock. He helped Tarleton at practices last year but stuck with his girls team on game nights.

Landon said that time last year was a tremendous help entering this year. Getting the senior class to buy in has been even more important as he tries to mold Woodstock’s program into his own.

“It sets the blocks for everything moving forward,” Landon said. “There is no way that you can replace that. You just can’t. If you don’t have that senior leadership, you’re not going to be able to build that culture. And those guys know that; we talked openly about it. And I appreciate them doing it.”

For Landon, that culture is an important part of what he wants to do at Woodstock. He wants to set a high standard and consistent expectations, even beyond the varsity squad.

He’s emphasizing implementing that culture throughout age groups, even in elementary school kids. He wants to build up Woodstock’s feeder system, which was one of the main reasons he left Hartford.

As Woodstock’s players have grown more comfortable with Landon and seen that approach in action, their confidence in their new coach has only increased.

“I could see him being a staple in this program,” Dorsogna said. “I feel like he might be the one that sticks.”

Woodstock’s game against Hartford (led by former Woodstock head coach Jeff Thomas) on Tuesday was a good sign for Landon that his program is moving in the right direction.

The Hurricanes were 4-1 entering the game and have the depth and talent necessary for a potential playoff run. Woodstock was 1-2.

Many expected a lopsided Hartford victory, but the Wasps battled hard all game. They matched Hartford’s fast pace and physicality for much of the contest. The game was tied late in the second quarter, and Woodstock made a run to cut Hartford’s lead to five points in the fourth quarter.

Hartford standout Jacob Seaver proved too tough an assignment for Woodstock’s defenders, as the Canes pulled out a 65-50 win in a raucous atmosphere that seemed to revive the Woodstock-Hartford basketball rivalry.

But Landon said his team’s effort was an indicator of a good culture at Woodstock starting to set in place.

“I was in the right locker room after this game. These guys competed, and that’s all I can ask,” Landon said after the game. “After our effort at Fair Haven (in a 63-42 Slaters win), night-and-day different. These guys have been different in practice also. That’s where we’re starting to change things.

“If we compete like we did tonight, we’re gonna beat a lot of teams — including the one we played tonight.”

Seth Tow can be reached at

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