BEACON FALLS — Mary Sardinskas took the cross country path less traveled this fall.
Longtime Woodland coach Jeff Lownds decided to name the senior the Hawks’ lone captain for both the girls and boys teams this season. It’s an honor only bestowed one prior time in program history.
“Coach told me at the beginning of the season when he made me captain that only one other person has ever done it before, and that was Brittany Albright,” Sardinskas said. “At first he was a little hesitant to make me captain because during practices I used to fool around a little bit. I always put my effort in, but I’d always talk and show up late. So he told me we could try it out and see how it goes.”
Sardinskas said she’s taken the duty seriously since her first practice as solo captain, but it hasn’t come without challenges.
“I was really excited,” Sardinskas said. “Ever since the first practice, I’ve led the whole team. I led warmups and made sure everyone knew what to do. I loved it because I love being a leader. It’s been a little hard because if someone doesn’t respect me, I don’t have someone to back me up. I have the coaches, and they’re great, but sometimes I can use somebody else.”
Her performance on the trails this fall has earned plenty of respect. She’s been at the front of the pack in almost every regular-season meet, winning four of her five outings. The only race she didn’t win was a meet at Seymour, where she finished second to the undefeated Madison Beasley of Naugatuck.
Sardinskas’ on-trail performances have led the Hawks (13-0) to their first Naugatuck Valley League Brass Division title since 2009, which was also the last time they ran through a regular season with an undefeated record. Woodland also won the league championship that year.
Sardinskas led the girls team to another league title at Wednesday’s NVL meet. She finished second overall with a time of 20:10.38. The Woodland boys, who finished the regular season 11-3, came in fifth at the meet.
Sardinskas has had help from top runners including Clara Drozdowski, Steph Kiley, Kelsey Mitchell, Bianca Poehailos, Carly Giusto, Angie Rosato and others. But the leader of the pack didn’t even come to high school with the intention of being a cross country runner.
“I played soccer for 10 years but I quit my freshman year because I didn’t play as much as I wanted to, and I knew I would be better at running,” Sardinskas said. “I came in and got All-NVL my sophomore year, and that really pushed me because I saw what I could do.”
In that 2011 season, the Hawks had a short-handed team but still won 11 meets. Sardinskas said that season still sticks out to the veterans on this year’s squad.
“Coach always tells us that no matter how much you want to think it’s individual, he always reminds us that you need seven boys or girls in before any other team to win,” Sardinskas said. “My sophomore year we only had five girls in the team, so it was challenging. Now that we have more girls, he emphasized to stay together. Plus, we’re all close and we all get along. We know it’s all for the team.”