NAUGATUCK — After finishing runner-up at the Naugatuck Valley League championship the last four seasons, the Naugatuck boys swim team is looking to take the next step this year.
The NVL championship meet has been a two-team fight lately between Naugatuck, which finished the regular season last year 8-5, and five-time champion Holy Cross.
“These guys are excited for the season to start,” Naugy head coach Dan Knepple said. “The season really gets going around mid-January, so we have a lot of time to train and be at our best once it starts.”
Knepple, who is in his second year coaching the Greyhounds, is getting his team ready to take the next step, with the help of assistant coaches Rachel Fox and Dave Kunches.
“Rachel is a former four-year swimmer and captain and is very knowledgeable when it comes to working on cutting down times,” Knepple said.
Naugy graduated tri-captains Austin Herb, Dale Wakeley and Joe Rafala, all top-ten finishers at the NVL championship, along with diver Logan Martin.
Senior captains Spencer Maher, David Green, Bailey Ceryak and Joe Amato will lead the way this season.
Maher, who is an All-NVL swimmer, has finished in the top ten in two events each of the last three seasons at NVLs.
“Spencer is hungry,” Knepple said. “He’s not just looking at the NVL, he is looking at the states and the open.”
Ceryak also placed in the top ten in events in each of the last two seasons, and Amato was part of the 200 freestyle relay squad that finished fourth last year.
Senior Alex Manasoiu has placed in the top ten in the 100 backstroke the last three seasons, and the Greyhounds have added experience and depth with seniors Nelson Lavoura, Ethan Phaneuf, Mohammed Ramzeen and Dominic Dombroski.
“I think this is going to be a very good season for us,” Knepple said. “We have 10 seniors and 12 juniors, and with that kind of experience and depth we are looking to take that next step.”
“Almost every one of our seniors have been swimming in the offseason,” he added, “and they are looking to be even better than last year.”
Diving is one of the team’s strengths. The diving squad is led by Phaneuf, who finished in the top five in the NVL the last two seasons. Juniors William Brown, who placed eight last season, Justin Stone, who finished 10th, and Tyler Ruisi bring experience, with freshmen Blake Stone and Jason Main adding depth to the crew.
“I really like our diving team; we go five deep,” Knepple said. “I will take up the coaching for diving and we have some of our former divers coming back to help out, as well.”
The Greyhounds’ roster offers Knepple plenty of options. Juniors Jacob Hall and Ryan Vincent and sophomore Gavin McKeon also have top-ten NVL finishes on their resumes. Junior Mateus Filho, who earned MVP honors during the NVL soccer tournament, is a newcomer to the squad. Junior Kevin Healy, sophomore Steve Herb and freshman Hudson Bombery will look to fill in roles adding to the depth of the squad.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing some of the younger guys make even more improvement this season,” Knepple said. “We have a couple of new guys that came in from other sports and they are natural athletes who can definitely help us out. Gavin and Steve have developed, and we have a freshman, Hudson, who has a lot of speed. He can develop into a real talent for us and help us in the lineup down the road.”
Naugatuck opens the season with a non-league meet Friday at Glastonbury. The Greyhounds will have a lengthy break before their next meet, which is set for Jan. 10 against Kennedy on Jan 10.
In between the two meets, the Greyhounds will hold their alumni meet Dec. 27 as a final tune-up for the NVL season.
With a year of coaching the team under his belt, Knepple and the Greyhounds know what to expect from one another.
“Last year it was a lot to take in,” Knepple said. “It was a learning curve, but this year the team knows what to expect and I know what to expect from them. It makes it much easier to structure things out.”