BY KEN MORSE
Ever since the doors opened at Woodland High School in September 2001, the athletic program took on a natural rivalry with its closest neighbor, Naugatuck.
There are other schools in close proximity like Seymour and Oxford that could claim to be a rival as well. For the most part, Naugatuck holds more of a heartfelt rivalry, with several teachers and coaches having been part of the Greyhound family prior to coming to Beacon Falls.
It took some time for the athletic program to develop at Woodland, especially starting out with just freshmen and sophomores when the school first opened. Considering the field of athletic competition, the track is where this rivalry seemed to heat up first.
Over the past 20 years in this rivalry, it seems like the Woodland girls have held the upper hand and the Naugatuck boys have led the way. The Hawks have won eight of the last 10 NVL girls titles in outdoor track, and the Greyhound boys have won nine titles, including the last three.
The Woodland girls have been on the map since Gina DellaRose (Class of 2005) earned three state championships and set five school records. Nicole Jones (2007) set seven school records while Liz Galla (2008) and Brittany Battis (2010) each set six school records.
Tayler Boncal (Class of 2013) was a seven-time NVL champion who set seven school records at Woodland. Jazmyn Menzies (2015) was a nine-time NVL champion while Erika Michie (2018) racked up eight titles. Clara Drozdowski (2016), a seven-time NVL champ, has also helped to keep the trophy case filled.
Michael Lang (2013) was a 15-time NVL champion for the Woodland boys, and that included seven school records. Eric Alfiere (2009), a three-time All-State athlete, led the 2009 team to its best record to that point at 11-1. Tyler Murphy (nine-time NVL champion, five school records) and Brandon Fowler (eight-time NVL champion, eight school records, five-time state champion) really kicked it up a notch in 2010.
“We have had some really outstanding athletes over the years,” said Woodland coach Jeff Lownds. “I don’t know how much of a rivalry we have with Naugatuck, but they certainly are one of the main competitors at the NVL championships. It’s not like other sports where you face a team twice during the season and build up a rivalry in that sense.”
The Naugy boys have seen their fair share of success, led by some athletes who have really raised the bar. Amanze Williams (Class of 2011), an eight-time NVL champion, six-time All-State champion and a two-time All-New England champion, leads the pack. Mohamed Hrezi (2007) went on to represent Libya in the 2016 Summer Olympics. Over the years there have been: Muad Hrezi (2012), an eight-time NVL champion and two-time state champion; Dan Schumacher (2015), a six-time NVL champion and three-time state champion; Fejiro Onakpoma (2016), a four-time state champion; and Josh Perry, a 2007 state open champion.
The girls may have only won two NVL championships over the past two decades, but they have not gone unnoticed, led by: Rosa Moriello (2010), a 17-time NVL champion; Tori Pisco, a 13-time NVL champion; Jenn Rosenblatt (2000), a two-time All-State performer; and Krystal Pabey (2001), a state open and New England javelin champion.
“It’s always a great day at the track competing against Woodland,” said Naugatuck coach Ralph Roper. “We’ve had some battles out there and yes, maybe that rivalry kicks it up for some of the athletes, but both teams are always competitive and have had some exceptional athletes over the years.”