BEACON FALLS — The defending Naugatuck Valley League indoor track champions are ready for a repeat.
Woodland, which swept the boys and girls titles last January, will try to make it two in a row on both sides at Tuesday’s NVL championships at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven.
Based on the Hawks’ recent performance at high-profile area meets, boys coach Tim Shea thinks both squads have what it takes to make a run at the repeat.
“We’re improving nicely,” said Shea, who works along with girls coach Jeff Lownds and assistant Adam Schultz. “Some of our kids are finally getting into shape. We’re in the right frame of mind. Our times are dropping and our distances are getting longer.”
Woodland had several important tune-up meets this month after getting off to a slow start in December. The Hawks competed at the SCC Coaches Invitational on Jan. 12 in New Haven and were the highest-scoring NVL school at the meet.
“At the SCC meet we were running against very good competition,” Shea said. “Most of the NVL schools were there so it was a chance to see where we stood on a bigger stage. It was a good day overall for us.”
Mike Lang, who could win multiple events at Tuesday’s league competition, won the long jump at the SCC meet with a season-best bound of 21 feet, 6 ½ inches. He is the top seed in that event at the NVL championships and is tied for the top seed in the high jump, and is among the top three qualifiers for next month’s Class S state championships.
Lang is just one of many Hawks with top seeds entering the NVL meet. As usual, Woodland’s relays are among the best in the league and could bring home several victories. The boys and girls 4-by-200-meter, sprint medley and 4-by-400 teams — six of the eight relay races on the schedule — are top seeds based on qualifying performances.
Other top seeds include Brett Fowler (55 hurdles), Steph Dumond (55 dash), Nick LaPerriere (300 dash) and Meghan Lynch (pole vault).
Aside from favorites, the Hawks have plenty of other athletes within striking distance of the top qualifying marks. Both 4-by-800 relay teams are seeded among the top three, and other top-three qualifiers include Marissa Macek (No. 3, 55 hurdles), Steph Kiley (No. 3, 1,600 and 3,200 runs), Tayler Boncal (No. 2, 300 dash), Clara Atallah (No. 2, pole vault), Kim Thrasher (No. 2, pole vault), Sydney Corneau (No. 2, long jump), Jazmyn Menzies (No. 3, high jump), Levi Fancher (No. 2, shot put) and Nikole Tyrrell (No. 2, shot put).
If Woodland’s seeds hold true, the Hawks may be the favorites to sweep the championships again. But what happens on paper doesn’t matter, Shea said.
“Everything on paper is great until the gun goes off,” he said. “We plotted and looked at a lot of different scenarios. I think what you see Tuesday is the best we can put together.”
Shea said he, Lownds and Schultz spent plenty of time after practice this week to figure out how best to use their athletes to earn the most points, splitting their time between individual and relay events.
“The coaches met for 3 ½ or 4 hours to figure out our lineup and maximize the most points on paper,” Shea said. “We looked at the results of all the meets around, trying to see what other schools ran. Then it comes down to a chess match to see where you can get the most points.”
Woodland will have to deal with Naugatuck, Holy Cross, Watertown and Seymour, among others at Tuesday’s league championships. But the Hawks are probably the favorites again.
“That was last year and this is this year,” Shea said. “The league is different this year. This week we’ve been preaching to the kids, ‘You haven’t done anything yet. You have to earn it and it won’t be handed to you.’”
Shea said it will be tough for the team to overcome numerous strikes to the morale of the athletes over the last few weeks. Aside the fairly trivial sporadic illnesses and midterm exams, the deaths of art teacher Susan Lewis and football coach George Pinho have hit particularly hard.
“Susan Lewis had a big impact on the school as an advisor and a teacher,” Shea said. “We were at a meet Saturday when we found out (about Pinho). It’s very tough. George was everywhere and a lot of the kids loved him. We have a lot of adversity we’re dealing with. Hopefully the kids are strong enough to get through this. I think they are.”