NAUGATUCK— The Naugatuck cross country program had an impressive season last fall. The question this year was whether the Greyhounds could sustain the pace without some of their key players from last season. Both boys and girls teams have responded well to that question.
The boys, the two-time defending NVL champions, have started the season 5-0, and have only lost one meet since the beginning of the 2013 season.
Head coach Bill Hanley said this team might be his best.
“We haven’t had this situation in many years,” Hanley said. “On any given day, any of our top 10 runners can finish in our top seven for our team.”
Hanley, who has always stressed how the fifth runner is very important, now has a seemingly unlimited amount of runners at his disposal.
This showed at Tuesday’s meet, where the boys defeated Wilby (18-45), Sacred Heart (17-44), and Oxford (18-45).
The Greyhounds had five runners finish in the top ten and 11 finish in the top 20. Naugatuck’s Grady Beasley won the meet in a time of 17:19. His teammate, Mark Zamani, crossed the finish line 10 second later to take second place.
Dave Kerns (fifth), Luis Garces (seventh) and Ross Via (eighth) rounded out the top 10 finishes for Naugy.
In their first meet Sept. 15 versus Holy Cross and Crosby, the top four runners were Greyhounds.
If Hanley can get results like these on a consistent basis, the ‘Hounds should already be an early favorite to take the league title once again.
Hanley said that a great part of the team’s early success has come from the leadership of some of his top runners: Beasley, Mark Zamani and Mike Zamani.
“Grady, Mark, and Mike have really taken charge of their team,” Hanley said. “They’re constantly encouraging and instructing their younger teammates to focus in practice and to go hard when it’s time to go hard.”
The girls currently stand at 3-2. After a bit of a struggle in their first meet, defeating Crosby but losing to Holy Cross, the ‘Hounds rebounded strong Tuesday. The girls defeated Oxford, 26-29, and Wilby, 21-35. The Greyhounds fell in a close 26-29 decision to a solid Sacred Heart squad, which stands at 5-1 on the year.
The Greyhounds have a lot of potential this season. In their first meet, the first and second finishers were both Greyhounds, Courtney Morin and Lauren Stankiewicz. Morin and Stankiewicz also finished third and fifth, respectively, in Tuesday’s meet.
Briana Lennon added a ninth-place finish for the Greyhounds on Tuesday.
Hanley said the girls squad will only get better as the season progresses.
“The girls collectively dropped 5 minutes, 33 seconds between this week and last week on the same course,” Hanley said. “We’re continuing to work toward becoming a little more patient and controlled in the early stage of the race. Their sense of pace is improving with each competition.”
Hanley cannot be more impressed with how mentally tough the girls are staying throughout their meets.
“I’m pleased with the girls’ mental toughness in the middle part of the race,” he said. “They make no excuses when things get tough.”
Naugatuck is scheduled to get back on the course next Tuesday when they Greyhounds will face Derby, Wolcott and St. Paul at Derby High.