Woods Ready to Continue Morgan’s Winning Tradition
Sports have been a huge part in the Woods family for as long as Caitlin Woods can remember. Caitlin grew up playing sports, while watching her brother’s teams play, in addition to watching her father Steve coach football, basketball, and baseball.
“I went to football and basketball practices and that’s where I was babysat. I sat there on the field watching the teams practice,” says Caitlin, who also thanks her mom for always being there, too. “I’ve always looked up to my dad and been really inspired by his dedication and passion and love for the game and the athletes. I’ve always aspired to be like him.”
Now, Caitlin is following in her father’s footsteps as she recently began her first season as head coach of the Morgan girls’ basketball team. Caitlin takes the place of Joe Grippo, who led the Huskies to tremendous success in his 34-year tenure.
“The one and only legendary Joe Grippo decided to retire and I knew it was the right time,” says Caitlin, who’s been a 6th-grade English teacher at Eliot Middle School for six years. “I love the school district. I love the athletic program. I’m replacing a legend whose stats and records speak for themselves.”
Caitlin brings a ton of basketball experience to her new position and a lot of that experience came alongside her father. Caitlin grew up in Ivoryton, attending Essex Elementary School and John Winthrop Middle School. Her family then moved to Old Saybrook as Caitlin was entering high school. That same year, Cailtin’s father took the job as JV coach for the Rams’ girls’ basketball squad.
“I had a wonderful experience at Old Saybrook and it was pretty cool being able to play for him,” Caitlin says. “I was learning from him from the get-go, but I loved being in the gym together in high school.”
After graduating from Old Saybrook, Caitlin earned her degree in education from Fairfield University. In the meantime, her father had become Old Saybrook’s head coach. Upon completing her student teaching, Caitlin’s dad needed an assistant coach and she jumped at the opportunity. For eight years, the father-daughter tandem led the Rams. Then when Caitlin had the opportunity to take over her own program, she had to make a difficult decision.
“It was tough to leave my dad and those kids I’ve been with in the town I went to high school in, but I couldn’t be happier to be at Morgan,” she says. “I never wanted to leave Old Saybrook unless something like this came about. It was a tough decision because I was so ingrained in the program and working with my dad, but I’m really excited about this opportunity.”
The current campaign will bring Caitlin and her dad together on the court in a completely different way. That’s because Morgan and Old Saybrook are Shoreline Conference rivals and will square off on Friday, Jan. 20 in Morgan’s gym at the brand-new high school.
“It will not only be competitive, but a lot of fun and emotional because there are so many connections,” says Caitlin, who’s father is also an assistant coach for Valley Regional football and whose brother Kevin is the team’s offensive coordinator, as well as the head coach of boys’ basketball. “Not only am I coaching against my dad, but the kids we’re trying to beat are kids I’ve coached for the last three years.”
The Huskies have been plenty busy getting ready for the winter season. Caitlin notes that there are only six returning players from last year’s team and 21 new players in the program. However, despite having a fairly inexperienced squad, Caitlin and company are planning on living up to the program’s successful reputation. Cailtin already knows many of Morgan’s athletes from their years at Eliot, where she taught them in class and also worked with a few as the middle school’s cross country and track coach.
“We’re really working hard to build a foundation and build the program and working to be successful. We are not working toward the future. We’re working toward right now in this moment. We’re starting from scratch, but we’re really looking to win, to be competitive. Every game is a new opportunity for us,” Caitlin says. “We only have a few weeks to prepare for season and I’ve already seen huge amount of improvement and we’re just getting started. The program has been so successful in past years and they want to continue that and we’ll work toward that every single day. You can see the belief in their eyes.”
Kevin Rayel, the athletic director at Morgan, feels strongly that Caitlin is the perfect person to continue “our tradition of excellence in girls’ basketball.”
“Coach Woods is well-positioned to continue the program’s strong tradition. She believes in our values and has a deep commitment to the girls on our team,” says Rayel. “We are confident that she truly cares about helping student-athletes succeed in all aspects of their Morgan experience. She has a tremendous affinity for our district, school, and community.”
Caitlin says that coaching takes up most of her spare time as she works with cross country athletes in the fall, basketball players in the winter, and the track team in the spring. Despite the busy schedule, Caitlin wouldn’t have it any other way, especially now that she’s leading her own varsity team.
“It’s busy through the school year, but the athletes I’ve worked with over the years have just been incredible,” Caitlin says. “This year’s team is young and we’re putting together a program. I’m filling the big shoes of Joe Grippo and they’re filling shoes of some incredibly talented players of the past. They’re locked in to be successful this year. It’s going to take a lot of work, but I think we can do it. The athletes make going to the gym an incredible experience.”