Hawks looking to leave a legacy

Woodland’s Jeff Varesio does the breaststroke during the 200 IM during a meet versus Crosby-WCA Jan. 8 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Varesio is one six seniors on the team, which is off to the best start in program history. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — This season has been, among many other descriptors, different for the Woodland boys swim team.

Their 7-0 start to the Naugatuck Valley League season is the best start in program history. They’ve beaten Torrington and Sacred Heart in dual meets for the first time. Decade-old records are in danger of falling.

Greg Aldrich, one of six seniors on the squad and perhaps the team’s most outstanding swimmer so far this season, sees the Hawks’ success in the big picture.

“Anyone wants to leave a legacy, whether you’re on a team or in a club or whatever,” Aldrich said. “I feel like this year, the progress that we’ve made in beating teams for the first time and the goals we’re setting to break some of those records that have been up for 10 years — I’ve always wanted to leave behind a legacy, and I feel like we’re doing it. We’re setting records we didn’t even think were possible.”

Woodland feels as though its 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams have the opportunity to break school records — “at the beginning of the season, I don’t think any of us thought we’d be even close to those,” Aldrich admitted — and senior diver Riley Clark already owns the school’s diving milestones. A couple of individuals may also challenge for school records during the championship season.

But the Hawks’ favorite moments so far don’t have to do with the record board that hangs high above the pool. Instead, they point to historic team wins over Torrington and Sacred Heart, as well as an upset of Seymour on Jan. 15, as their top successes so far this winter.

“I think our win against Seymour was one of our peak moments,” senior Zack Hummel said. “As a group, we got together during that meet and really showed everyone what we could do. It said that our depth and our chemistry as a team can really make a showing in the NVL.”

It’s been a struggle for Woodland to reach this point. The last three years, aside from Clark’s two straight NVL diving championships, have been mostly unremarkable for the Hawks. While they achieved personal growth in the pool, dual-meet records and championship performances didn’t place them near the top of the league.

That fact makes this season sweeter for the six guys who have experienced the not-so-great times.

“It’s really great to have this sense of victory because all of us have put in so much work for the last four years,” senior Jeff Varesio said. “Seeing all these freshmen and sophomores who’ve come in and want to work just as hard as we have, that’s great to see.”

The upperclassmen realize that the influx of rookies into the program over the last two years has been a major reason for the Hawks’ success this season. For the first time in a long time, Woodland has quality depth to challenge for high points in every event.

“This team, every grade here, there isn’t one person who doesn’t want to be here and doesn’t want to do their best every single day,” Clark said. “The chemistry and effort that every swimmer and diver is putting in, it’s just pushing us to where we’ve never been before.”

At this point, success breeds success.

“To see how strong we are as a team, it really motivates me to put in 100 percent effort in everything I do,” senior Joe Flaherty said. “The whole time we’ve been upperclassmen, we’ve been trying to mentor the younger grades. I feel like that’s led to a more tight-knit team.”

The loose nature of the squad has plenty to do with the success, too. Every practice is filled with laughter between laps, and that relationship extends outside the water.

“The best part about our team is that we’re a family,” Varesio said. “When we joined as freshmen, we were brought up by our seniors and juniors and they made us feel like we were really part of the team. That’s what we’re doing this year — we wanted to make this year’s freshmen feel like they’re part of the family. We swim as a family, we play polo as a family, we eat as a family. It’s just really good to have a team where you can get together and do anything and not have to worry about anything else.”

Coach Tom Currier has seen the difference in this team since the preseason, owing to a blend of successful swimming with a positive team culture.

“They’re not afraid to push that extra yard this year, knowing what they’re capable of,” Currier said. “They’ve always worked hard, but there’s definitely that little extra in the tank that they want to get out just to get more out of this season, especially knowing it’s their last year.”

The Hawks close the regular season with some tough dual meets. Woodland will face Holy Cross Friday before meets Feb. 8 against Watertown, Feb. 12 at Naugatuck and Feb. 14 vs. Masuk.

“I think we’re going to get pushed a lot harder because we have a real shot to be a contender in the NVL,” senior Zack Arisian said. “These next few weeks are going to be hard so we can get ready to be in championship condition, and we’re ready for it.”