Woodland girls defend cross country title

The Woodland girls cross country team won the Naugatuck Valley League championship Oct. 18 at Veterans Park in Watertown. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

WATERTOWN — Woodland cross country coach Jeff Lownds has seen a lot of good teams during his nearly two decades leading the Hawks. His girls this fall just might be the best of the bunch.

The Woodland girls cruised to a defense of their Naugatuck Valley League cross country championship Oct. 18 at Veterans Park in Watertown, claiming their sixth crown overall thanks to seven runners finishing among the top 20.

“We go seven-deep with this team,” Lownds said. “They’re very good athletically, but they care about the sport, they care about each other, they care about the team, and they want everyone to be successful. If one has a bad day, the others pick it up.”

There was no bad day to be found. Emma Slavin led the Hawks with a third-place finish in 20 minutes, 2.4 seconds. She was followed by Calisa Costanzo (fifth, 20:13.5), Chloe Poulos (sixth, 20:21.8), Jaden Young (eighth, 21:18.2), Brooke Iannone (11th, 21:47.1), Jill Brotherton (15th, 21:58.5) and Kayla Drmic (19th, 22:23).

“I’m so blessed to work with these girls every day,” Slavin told the Republican-American. “The atmosphere is so supportive, and everyone is just so hard-working. We’ve been working on this not since September, but since June. We’ve been getting up early, like all those early mornings on the track, doing workouts and long runs and getting enough sleep and eating right and hydrating and supporting each other.”

Woodland scored 33 points, 10 points clear of runner-up Derby and miles ahead of the rest of the pack.

“That was a nice race for us,” Lownds said. “We made it interesting. Derby ran us really hard, and I knew they would. That was really good for us.”

Costanzo may have been the surprise of the day with her fifth-place finish for All-NVL honors.

“Calisa has been anywhere to second to fourth for us, depending on the meet,” Lownds said. “The nice thing is that our first four girls are almost interchangeable. If one isn’t having a great day, the others pick up. They’ll still be the top four girls, but it might be a different order each day. Our 5-6-7 girls pick each other up, too, and they’re not that far behind the others. It’s a good team.”

The Woodland boys fell short of a title defense, but the Hawks placed second with 87 points, trailing only Naugatuck (35 points).

Colin Slavin continued his strong sophomore season with a second-place finish in 17:29.6. Martin Swercewski (10th, 18:12.7) and Chase Young (17th, 18:37.4) gave the Hawks three runners among the top 20.

“I’m very proud of the boys,” Lownds said. “Colin Slavin’s had a great year. The nice thing is that we have no seniors. We look forward to continuing that (success) next year because some guys made great strides this year.”

Woodland is set to conclude the season Saturday in the state championship meets at Wickham Park in Manchester.