Hawks seek to remain frontrunners

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Woodland cross country captains, from left, Clara Drozdowski, Jeff Giusto, Brian Sardinskas and Kelsey Mitchell will lead the Hawks this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI
Woodland cross country captains, from left, Clara Drozdowski, Jeff Giusto, Brian Sardinskas and Kelsey Mitchell will lead the Hawks this season. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

BEACON FALLS — Woodland cross country head coach Jeff Lownds tried to sound politically correct and humble in the same breath when talking about is girls team.

“The league title is very difficult to win and we are just looking to make a good showing,” Lownds said.

The fact of the matter is the Woodland girls are the two-time defending NVL champions, and return last year’s NVL champion and the runner-up in a lineup that is already teaming with stars.

The Woodland girls finished their second straight undefeated season going 14-0 last year after a 13-0 mark in 2013, and come into this season with a 27-meet winning streak in the league. They will be led by All-NVL senior captains Kelsey Mitchell, who ran to a first place finish at the NVL meet last year in 20:38, and Clara Drozdowski, who finished right behind in second place with a time of 20:47.

The Hawks captured first, second and third with Stephanie Kiley helping Woodland to the top three spots. Kiley along with Emma Poryanda and Taylor Dragon have graduated, but Woodland returns senior Bianca Poehailos (All-Iron Division) and sophomore Emilie Noreika (All-NVL) to pick up the slack.

Considering the terrain of a cross country course and the many obstacles runners need to navigate, it’s easy to see why coach Lownds is trying to down play past performances. It wasn’t too long ago that coach Lownds was scrapping the barrel trying to field enough runners to compete.

In 2011, Woodland had only six girls on the team and finished fifth in the league. However, Lownds enters his 15th season with a 139-38 mark on the girls side and a 126-55 mark on the boys side, and knows how to negotiate all the twists and turns of a season to guide his charges to success.

“We are returning four of our top five runners and hope to have another successful season,” Lownds said. “The girls division will be very good this year. We are just looking to do well each week and make a good showing in Class M.”

Woodland is going through the paces to prepare for the season under coach Lownds and first-year assistant coach Chris Misuraca as the Hawks look to improve on last year’s seventh place finish out of 18 teams in the Class M state meet.

The Lady Hawks have solid experience with seniors Kailyn Accetura and Kyla Porter leading the charge along with juniors Meredith Dykman, Meg Terni, Sydney Patterson and Marina Bojka. Sophomores Jessica Fox and Casey Donnelly join freshman Bayan Galal to give Woodland the depth to remain competitive.

The Woodland boys finished 14-1 last season and second at the NVL championship, landing five runners in the top 20. The Hawks shinned in the postseason, placing fifth in Class SS out of 22 teams, and graduated just three runners: Dean Conway, Pat Conway and Zach Noreika.

“We return almost all of our boys,” Lownds said. “We have a dedicated group who work hard each day. We want to have a good NVL season and perform well in the Class SS.”

Leading the charge this season are All-NVL senior captains Jeff Giusto and Brian Sardinskas. Seniors James Jensen (All-Iron Division), Colin Blewitt, Pat Vogel, Chris Pinevich and Anthony LaFrancois have helped the Hawks to a 37-8 record over the past three seasons.

All Iron Division junior Paul Jones leads a junior class that will add experience along with Matt Giaquinto, Colin Kennedy and Tyler Orloski. Sophomores Tom Bucciferro, Matt Luxeder, Justin Raymond, Emilio Dule and Wes Stein provide the depth to be competitive.

The Hawks also welcome freshman Kyle Crowell, Luke Nolan, Greg Aldrich and Nick Piscitelli into the mix as Woodland looks to be one of the teams in the hunt for a league title.

Woodland gets the season started Sept. 15 at home against Wilby, St. Paul and Waterbury Career for a 3:45 p.m. start.