NAUGATUCK — The past three Naugatuck Valley League boys swim championship came down to a two-team race between Naugatuck and Holy Cross.
Naugatuck will once again look to contend for the title at next week’s championship, but the undefeated Crusaders may be stronger this year than their last three squads.
The Greyhounds will not only need to contend with the four-time defending NVL champions, they will also need to compete with other contenders looking to knock off Holy Cross. Woodland has put together its best season in program history, Torrington and Sacred Heart finished third and fourth respectively in two of the last three years, and then there is a very talented Seymour squad that looks to be in the mix.
Time trials are set for Tuesday, followed by the diving final on Wednesday and the championship March 1, all at Kennedy High School in Waterbury.
Naugatuck’s group of ten seniors has been the NVL runner-up its entire high school career and will look break through next week.
“There are opportunities for some of our guys to do things they haven’t been able to do in the past and that is a good motivation factor,” Naugatuck head coach Dan Knepple said.
What the Greyhounds (8-5) have in their favor is experience.
Senior captain Dale Wakeley finished sixth in the 200 freestyle and seventh in the 100 freestyle at last year’s championships. As a freshman, Wakeley finished sixth in the 200 freestyle, then placed seventh in the 200 and eighth in the 100 butterfly as a sophomore.
Senior captain Austin Herb finished ninth in the 500 freestyle and 10th in the 200 freestyle last year, while senior captain Joe Rafala finished 10th in the 100 breaststroke.
“The seniors are just looking to go out with personal bests instead of trying to focus on how many points they can score for the team,” Knepple said.
A few juniors have also made their mark in recent years. Alex Manasoiu finished fifth in the 100 backstroke in his freshman and sophomore seasons. Spencer Maher placed third in the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly last year after finishing sixth in the 500 freestyle and seventh in the 200 IM as a freshman, and Bailey Ceryak placed seventh in the 100 backstroke last year.
Last year’s 200 freestyle relay squad that placed second returns three of four swimmers, as does the 400 freestyle relay team that finished fourth.
Naugy also has deep diving squad led by senior Logan Martin, who finished third last year, junior Ethan Phaneuf, who placed fourth last year, and senior Tsering Dhondup, who finished sixth last season. Sophomores William Brown, Tyler Ruisi and Justin Stone are also looking to make their mark on the diving board.
“We are hoping to line up pretty well in the individual events,” Knepple said. “Holy Cross is going to be very strong so it will be a very difficult race. The good part is during the dual meets we only get to use three swimmers in each event where at the NVLs we get to use four and it comes down to how you set your lineup.”
“The key is not to be racing your guys against one another,” Knepple added. “You want to utilize your guys so you are getting the most out of your effort and having the depth to compete in the other events.”
The Greyhounds faced Woodland in the final regular season meet on Feb. 15 — a 95-91 loss — before turning their attention to the NVL championship.
Depth is key in a championship meet, and Knepple has been hard at work all season developing the versatility of his squad.
“We have a lot more versatility,” Knepple said. “We have a lot of personal goals based on each swimmer and it will come down to meeting those expectations.”