Woodland girls extend title run

Boys finish third at NVL indoor track championship

NEW HAVEN — It didn’t happen after the repeat. It didn’t happen after the three-peat, the four-peat, the five-peat or the six-peat.

But after the Woodland girls indoor track team won its seventh straight Naugatuck Valley League championship Monday at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven, longtime Hawks coach Jeff Lownds finally paused to revel in the program’s remarkable accomplishment.

“I usually don’t, but I did this year,” Lownds said. “I don’t know what really made me do it. Winning one championship is hard enough. When you win a couple in a row, that’s pretty good. When you win seven in a row, that’s a real testament to the athletes that have come into the program. We didn’t do this with the same kids. We’ve been fortunate enough to continue a strong tradition in the program of being willing to work hard and doing the absolute best you can for your teammates.”

Woodland won the league title with 108 team points, 28 ahead of Watertown.

As they often do, the Hawks claimed the championship without many event victories. They won only two events: the 4×800 and 4×400 relays. Those wins earned spots on the All-NVL team for Sydney Grillo, Emilie Noreika, Jessica Fox, Jaden Young, Jade Brennan, Megen Sirowich, Karly Laliberte and Erika Michie.

“I think we’ve been fortunate to have the right combination of mid-distance, long-distance and sprinters, so we can populate those relays pretty well,” Lownds said.

Both relay wins were impressive in their own right. The 4×800 squad was seeded third in the field, but the foursome delivered with its best time of the season and Young anchored the team to an upset win. The 4×400 unit took the track with the championship already sealed but still claimed the gold.

“That was the exclamation point,” Lownds said. “That speaks volumes about them, that they were willing to put themselves out there knowing we’d already won.”

Lownds pointed to the addition of Sirowich, Laliberte and Julia Accetura to this year’s team as being a difference maker. They helped the Hawks win last year’s NVL outdoor track title but hadn’t joined the indoor team until this winter.

“They made us better because of their athleticism, and we were able to piece together our relay teams a little better with them,” Lownds said.

Michie earned silver in the 55-meter dash and a bronze in the 300, finishing a combined five one-hundredths of a second shy of gold medals. Allie Cianciolo racked up 16 team points by herself, finishing third in the 55 hurdles, third in the long jump and fourth in the high jump.

Other top-five individual finishers on the girls side included Brennan (fourth in the 300), Sirowich (fourth in the 400), Victoria Gugliotti (fifth in the 600), Emma Slavin (third in the 1,600, fifth in the 3,200), Noreika (second in the pole vault), Stephanie Poynton (fifth in the long jump), Jasmine Michie (second in the shot put) and Kristen Persico (fourth in the shot put).

The Woodland boys finished third in the team standings with 47 points, behind three-time reigning champion Derby (96) and Naugatuck (56). Two Hawks earned gold medals: Matt Luxeder in the 600 and Craig Starkey in the pole vault.

Other top-five individual finishers on the boys side included Ben Nuss (fourth in the 55) and Maciej Lewicki (fifth in the 55 hurdles).

Lownds said part of the secret to team success in the championship meet is stringing together the right lineup. He said that he, boys coach Bill Ferrare and assistant coach Mario Longo spent about a week trying to optimize the Hawks’ lineups to earn the most points.

“We would try stuff and throw it out, and then we’d try again,” Lownds said. “We were able to put the athletes in the positions where they could do their best for the team and for themselves. We’re lucky to have kids who buy in. We have a good staff who support each other. We look forward to going to practice every day.”

After posting plenty of season-best times at the NVL meet, now the Hawks will gear up for state competition next week. The girls will compete in the Class M meet Friday, while the boys will take part in the Class S meet next Saturday.

“A lot of them improved times and a lot of them ran better than they have all year,” Lownds said. “In our training cycle, we were tapering so they wouldn’t be overworked. We have states next week. It’s great to win NVLs, but if you perform like this at the state level, that’s a bigger thing.”