By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
BEACON FALLS — There aren’t many sports that naturally build in social distancing more than cross country, but the COVID-19 pandemic has even affected the way Woodland coach Jeff Lownds presides over practices and meets.
“It’s not really that different in terms of preparation or training, but it’s very different in the fact that you always have to remind your athletes of masks and distance,” Lownds said. “When we finish at our meets, we have one person handing out cards, and that person is wearing a mask and gloves. (Runners) go right to the scoring table, (the scorer) writes their names down, and they leave the area. We’re very conscious of making sure there’s no real group getting together.”
This year’s meets only include two schools, which is different than the three- or four-team meets usually held throughout a season. The Hawks compete against Holy Cross, Seymour, Oxford, Naugatuck and Derby this year.
Lownds said the precautions have been easy to enforce with his team because the athletes know that their season constantly hangs in the balance.
“We’re fortunate that we have kids who buy in and are willing to do what it takes COVID-wise to make sure we have a season,” Lownds said. “I’m very fortunate that I have Chris Misuraca as my assistant, and we’re both on the same page as far as safety concerns. Our kids are generally pretty good.”
So far, the Hawks have enjoyed their usual success on the trails. Both the boys and girls cruised to victories in their opening meets against the Crusaders and the Wildcats.
“We’ve been doing very well so far,” Lownds said. “I’ve got a nice mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen.”
Colin Slavin “has been doing terrific,” Lownds said, in leading the boys so far. He was the top finisher in each of the first two meets, posting times of 17:12 and 17:20. Chase Young was right behind him in both races, finishing in 17:45 and 18:43.
Other top runners on the boys side include Eric Meade, Nick LaChappelle, Sam Ambrocio, Kayo Niebrzydowski, Nick Santovasi, Elias Sturdevant and Cole Verrelli.
Chloe Poulos also dominated her first two races and “has been running lights-out,” according to Lownds, finishing in 19:04 and 19:14 — both times more than 90 seconds ahead of the field. Jaden Young (20:43 and 20:52) and Brooke Iannone (21:52 and 22:10) placed second and third in both races.
Other top runners on the girls side include Ireland Starziski, Kim Poulos, Madison Aucoin, Payton Kane, Kate Foley, Kayla Drmic and Rebecca Benoit.
The coach also praised the work of his captains: Santovasi and Noah Behrle for the boys, and Young and Iannone for the girls.
“They provide good leadership and attention to detail,” Lownds said. “It’s easy with them.”
The Hawks have three more dual meets scheduled — Oct. 20 vs. Oxford, Oct. 27 vs. Naugatuck and Nov. 3 vs. Derby — before a possible postseason meet. The Naugatuck Valley League is considering some sort of postseason meet, though nothing is final.