Woodland girls win 9th straight indoor title

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Woodland’s Kate Foley hands the baton to teammate Kayla Drimic during an event at the Naugatuck Valley League indoor track championships Feb. 3 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven. -STEVEN VALENTI/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NEW HAVEN — The calendar has changed from January to February for thousands of years. For almost a decade now, that page-flipping has meant one thing for sure — it’s championship time for the Woodland girls indoor track team.

So it was again Feb. 3 at the Floyd Little Athletic Center in New Haven, where the Hawks topped runner-up Seymour and the rest of a 15-team field to win an unprecedented ninth consecutive Naugatuck Valley League title.

“We’re very fortunate to have the group of girls we have,” said Woodland coach Jeff Lownds, who’s echoed that familiar sentiment for more than two full cycles of Woodland student-athletes. “They buy into what we’re about, and we don’t put any pressure on them. We never really say that we have to win another one because that’s not our style. We’re going to put you out there and you’ll do your absolute best. If that’s enough to beat everyone else, that’s great.”

It continues to be more than enough thanks to some of the best athletes the school has ever seen.

Senior Emma Slavin added more hardware to her overloaded trophy case. She won the 3200 meters by just six-hundredths of a second over Wolcott’s Kathryn Rodrigues, and she added a third-place finish in the mile.

“None of this is for me. It’s for my team,” Slavin told the Republican-American. “I love them all so much and I would do anything to help them win. I was so excited to pull this out at the end of the meet when we needed it most. They are the most hard-working group of girls I’ve ever been a group with. I’m just so excited I could do this for them.”

Slavin was named the NVL’s most outstanding distance runner and the league’s top senior.

Woodland sealed the title with Slavin’s victory in the second-to-last event and the 4×400 relay squad’s victory in the final event. Jade Brennan, Rebecca Benoit, Sara Alessio and Jaden Young crossed first in 4:26.96.

Young had a massive night for the Hawks. In addition to her anchor leg of the 4×400, she also won the 1000 (3:07.32) and finished third in the 3200. All in all, she helped the Hawks gain 26 of their 115 points.

“That’s a real big night,” Lownds said.

Other winners included Hailey Bernier in the pole vault (8 feet, 6 inches) and Jasmine Michie in the shot put (37-9). Michie broke her own school record in that event yet again.

Lownds also lauded the performances of Chloe Poulos (second place in both the 1000 and the 1600), Brennan (third in the 600, fourth in the 300), and the other three relay teams, which all recorded top-three finishes. Among those runners were Kim Poulos, Isabela Mejias, Jill Brotherton, Kate Foley, Kayla Drmic, Slavin, Alessio and Benoit.

Woodland has won the league title in many ways over the years — this one happened to be an effort powered by high performers.

“Those top girls are all state qualifiers in at least two events,” Lownds said. “They didn’t get there any other way than by dedicating themselves, working hard every day, and doing everything the right way. They checked all the boxes. We knew we would be able to put them in a few events where they should produce pretty well. That was our only chance (to win the title) — to have the high-end girls come out with some high-end performances.”

The Woodland boys finished ninth behind champion Naugatuck, but they also had some strong performances. Cole Barrows was the team’s only All-NVL athlete with a second-place finish in pole vault (11-6).

“He’s had a great season and has been a good captain,” Lownds said of Barrows.

Eric Meade finished third in both the 55 hurdles and the high jump.

“He really put it together,” Lownds said of Meade, a sophomore. “We’re really proud of him.”

Colin Slavin also qualified for the state championships in the mile. Lownds also cited athletes such as Sean Swanson, Ervin Owusu, Alex Farr, Luca Cambra, George Hughes, Jack Schwarz and Cole Verrelli for their efforts. Many of the Hawks’ top performers on the boys side are underclassmen.

“The guys that we thought would help carry us really did come through,” Lownds said. “We’re just young. The future is bright. We were pleased with how well they did.”

Lownds also credited the team’s coaching staff, including boys coach Bill Ferrare, distance coach Mario Longo, throwing coach Mike Sirowich and jumping coach Deb Flaherty for their part in the athletes’ success. Those coaches, along with the positive team attitude, are a recipe for success, according to the veteran coach.

“They like each other and support each other,” Lownds said. “Teams with cliques don’t win. We don’t have that.”

Woodland will now compete at the state championships this weekend. The girls will compete in Class S on Friday afternoon, while the boys will be in Class M action on Saturday afternoon.