Early meets provide testing ground for Hawks

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BEACON FALLS — The first few weeks of the outdoor season have been a testing ground for the Woodland track team.

While coaches Jeff Lownds and Bill Ferrare knew they had plenty of talent carrying over from the previous indoor and outdoor seasons, they’ve been pleased to see newcomers contribute during the first three meets of the spring.

“So far I think we’ve done a very good job,” Lownds said. “We’ve got some new people coming through and scoring for us. We have a nice core of freshman and sophomore girls, and we have a few boys who have been surprises for us.”

The Woodland girls “are gliding,” Lownds said, with a 4-0 start to the spring on the strength of wins over Crosby, Oxford, Waterbury Career and Kennedy.

In addition to the usual cast of characters — Emma Slavin, Jade Brennan, Jaden Young, Jasmine Michie and others — Lownds is excited with the development of other athletes. He cited freshman sprinters Katy Moore and Sarah Alessio, freshman thrower Faith Herren and senior jumper Emily Cipriano as early-season surprises.

On the boys side, upperclassmen have stepped up to help the Hawks to a 3-1 start, their only defeat coming April 10 against Kennedy. Junior thrower Steve Persico finished second in javelin at the Bellringer Invitational and has already qualified for the state championships in two events. Seniors Matt Iannone, Ryan Swanson and Peter Rosato have also performed well, along with junior jumper and pole vaulter Cole Barrows.

In terms of distance, freshmen Colin Slavin and Chase Young, who helped the boys win their first Naugatuck Valley League cross country title in the fall, are “handling a lot of the load for the distance guys,” Lownds said. “They’re two of the top guys we have.”

The early part of the season also allows the Hawks’ coaching staff to test different athletes in different events and start to build toward the championship season. For example, Woodland changed up its squads in the 4×100 relays during the home meet against Kennedy and Waterbury Career.

The girls ran the 4×100 with Alessio, Moore, senior Julia Accetura and Brennan, the latter of whom is usually a mid-distance runner. Brennan, who said she’d only run that relay once before in her career, replaced Karly Laliberte.

“We took Karly Laliberte out of the 4×100 because we really count on her in the 100, 400 and 4×400,” Lownds said. “We’re trying to balance that out a little bit.”

Woodland also experimented with a new combination in the 4×100 with freshman Jason Palmieri, seniors Edit Krivca and Zack Cochran, and junior Zach Kabusk.

“Kabusk made states in the 100 (during the meet),” Lownds said. “We’re always trying to get the right combination without burning guys out so when you get to the NVL and state meets, you can have good performances.”

Lownds said the team is able to shuffle around athletes not only because of their versatility, but also because the league championship is now solely based on the NVL meet in May. That means a stray regular-season defeat wouldn’t factor in, allowing for some extra freedom.

“We always go into a meet with the intention of winning because your mindset should be on that, but it’s part of an overall plan,” Lownds said. “We’re a work in progress, but we’re making strides.”

Woodland will face Watertown and Torrington on Tuesday, before hosting Sacred Heart and Naugatuck on April 23.