Greyhounds stepping into ‘big shoes’

The Naugatuck High boys and girls outdoor track teams will be led by a strong senior class. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys and girls track teams finished in the middle of the pack at last year’s outdoor NVL championship meet, but that was tough to tell when it came time to hand out the post-meet awards.

Senior Mark Zamani was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Performer and the Most Outstanding Distance Runner after winning the 800, 1600 and 3200 meters.

Senior Fejiro Onakpoma was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Jumper, winning the triple jump and placing third in the high jump. He went on to win the triple jump at the Class L meet, State Open and New England Championship.

On the girls’ side, senior Ariana Alvarado was named the meet’s Most Outstanding Sprinter, winning the 100, 200 and 400.

That’s an awful lot of success for a team that finished in the middle of the pack. What the Greyhounds were missing was overall team depth.

“We obviously had the skill set as you can tell by the success of Mark, Fejiro and Ariana,” Naugatuck head coach Ralph Roper said. “But we didn’t have enough athletes who felt their needs were being met and went on to pursue other sports.”

The Greyhounds will have some big shoes to fill this season to challenge for the title they last won in 2015.

“We do have a very talented group of younger athletes who are ready to step into some very big shoes,” Roper said.

Naugatuck returns a strong stable of senior boys led by Grady Beasley, who finished third at last year’s championship meet in the distance runs.

Senior distance runners Luis Garces, David Kerns and Brandon Thomas give the Greyhounds the depth they need to compete, but it will take a solid effort from seniors Rami Ammar, Andrew Dempsey, Joe Dempsey and James Clark in the relays to keep Naugy in the hunt.

Versatility will also be key in staying with the top teams in the NVL. Seniors Tyler Blair and Cameron Litwinka in the throws, Xavier Lewis and Dan Oladapo in the sprints, and Bailey Mortensen in the jumps give the Greyhounds a well-rounded team.

Juniors Aren Seeger (hurdles, mid distance) and Ross Via (relays, distance) have experience and success to go along with up-and-coming sophomores Nick Airall, Zach Kosolosky and Ben Healy.

“In order to compete in the league, not only do we need overall team depth, we are also going to need some of these younger athletes to step up and take it to the next level,” Roper said.

The Naugy girls return two-time NVL champion thrower senior Erin Schofield, who finished runner-up in the javelin at last year’s Class L state meet.

Seniors Lauren Stankiewicz (long distance), Renell Clarence (relays) and Nicole Crowley (hurdles) will provide the leadership as the Greyhounds look to establish some consistency.

Naugy will look to juniors Macie Best (jumps) and distance threats Briana Lennon and Cindy Stirk to keep the Greyhounds ahead of the competition.

Roper is also looking for the further development of young sophomores Kimani Grey (jumps), Brianna Soubannarath (hurdles) and Alyssa Zarrella (sprints, mid distance) to put Naugy at the next level.

“We have some athletes who can be successful,” Roper said. “It’s a matter of putting in the work and improving every time they get on the track.”

Naugatuck is scheduled to start the season Tuesday at home against Wolcott and Torrington.