New coach, same mission

Naugatuck boys swim captains, from left, Austin Herb, Joe Rafala and Dale Wakeley will lead the Greyhounds this season. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys swim team heads back to the pool this season with a new head coach for the first time in 42 years, but the mission remains the same.

The Greyhounds, who finished as Naugatuck Valley League runner-up the past three seasons, are gearing up for another showdown with four-time defending NVL champion Holy Cross.

They will do so with a new coach at the helm.

Former head coach Jim McKee stepped down after last season. Dan Knepple, a former Oxford High swimmer who went on to swim for Montclair State University, has stepped into the role.

Knepple served one season as the assistant girls swim coach at Masuk under the tutelage of Mark McKee, the son of Jim McKee. That indoctrination into coaching should make it a smoother transition, even after the Greyhounds graduated a talented group of 13 seniors last year, including All-NVL swimmer Brian Goggin.

“I’m hopeful that all the offseason training will put us in a position to go out and compete and win it this year,” said Knepple, who holds the record in the 1000 and 1650 at Montclair, about the NVL championship.

Knepple added, “When we swim against Holy Cross in the dual meet it will give us an indication as to how we will compete with them at the NVL championship.”

In the pool, the Greyhounds will be led by senior captains Austin Herb, Joe Rafala and Dale Wakeley.

“As seniors we definitely want to go out on top,” Wakeley said.

“I don’t foresee any problems with a new coach because the goals are still the same,” Rafala added.

Seniors Jon Lauer, Logan Martin and Yeshe Rakagme add to the team’s leadership.

Naugy also has an experienced group of 10 juniors that includes Spencer Maher, who finished third in the 200 IM and the 100 fly at last year’s NVL championship, and Alex Manasoiu, who finished fifth in the 100 backstroke.

With a number of swimmers who placed in the top ten last year at NVLs back, the Greyhounds are in position to once again be in the title hunt.

“Our attitude and work ethic remains the same as it always has,” Herb said.

Knepple is also looking at the underclassmen, including freshmen Steven Herb and Gavin McKeon, to see how they develop this season.

“We have a lot of new swimmers in the program,” Knepple said. “Steve and Gavin I think can be pretty good, along with some of the other new faces in the program who came out this year.”

Naugatuck will get the season underway on Tuesday at Watertown and will host Glastonbury on Thursday. The Greyhounds will then take a break and return to action after the New Year.

As the Greyhounds prepare for their first meet, Knepple is looking forward to carrying the torch lit by Jim McKee more than 40 years ago.

“Jim put a lot of work into building this program over the last 42 years,” Knepple said. “He has been a tremendous help getting me acclimated into this season, and we are just looking forward to continuing that success.”

The Greyhounds will hold their annual alumni meet on Dec. 26 with Jim McKee coaching for the alumni.