BEACON FALLS — The preliminary to the main event took place Tuesday on the Woodland track.
The Hawks hosted Naugatuck, Seymour and Kennedy in the final cross country meet of the regular season before next week’s NVL championship. The stakes were high in the boys race, as Naugatuck and Woodland entered the meet with equal 11-0 records.
Naugatuck won the battle of the unbeatens, 26-31, over Woodland and picked up wins over Seymour (18-43) and Kennedy (18-43) to improve to 15-0.
Naugatuck has a one-two punch that could level any team in the field. The Greyhounds are led by two-time All-NVL junior captain Graden Beasley and senior captain Mark Zamani.
Beasley won the race in 17:03 with Zamani right behind in second place at 17:22. Naugatuck placed four runners in the top ten with Brandon Thomas taking eighth at 18:35 and Luis Garces tenth at 18:46.
“We came in just looking to get as many runners in front of their five and it worked out for us,” Beasley said. “Our top seven is strong and if we all perform the way we are capable of I like our chances going into the NVLs.”
The Woodland boys handled Kennedy (20-43) and Seymour (21-35) to end the regular season 14-1.
Woodland senior captain Brian Sardinskas finished fourth in 17:35, with Matt Luxeder sixth in 18:25, Kyle Crowell seventh in 18:29 and Paul Jones ninth at 18:43.
“We knew Naugatuck was the best team and we were looking forward to competing against them,” Woodland head coach Jeff Lownds said. “We wanted to challenge ourselves right before the NVL meet, and we just got beat by a better team.
“Fortunately we get another shot at them in the NVLs and we will take our chances and see what happens. I’m proud of my boys they worked real hard and give credit to Naugy, they came up here and beat us fair and square.”
The girls race didn’t have as much as stake, but plenty of drama.
Woodland is led by senior captains Kelsey Mitchell, last year’s NVL champion who has been a top five finisher in all four meets this season, and Clara Drozdowski, who won the first race of the season and has been a top ten finisher throughout the year. Woodland also has senior Kailyn Accetura, another top ten finisher.
Naugatuck’s hopes were resting on senior captain Courtney Morin, who came in with a first, third and fifth place in her four meets, and junior Lauren Stankiewicz, who has run to a second, a fifth and two other top ten finishes.
A lack of depth would come back to decide the girls race.
Mitchell overtook her teammate Marina Bojka in the last 100 yards to pull out the victory in 21:34 with Bojka right behind in 21:39.
“It certainly helps to be running on your own home course,” Mitchell said. “We have been training hard the past few weeks gearing up for this one, it’s always a big rivalry with Naugatuck.
“I know the hills on this course can be challenging, but personally I like hills and it really helped me a lot as I was able to overtake other runners.”
Drozdowski was third at 21:55 and that set up Woodland to run away from the competition.
The Hawks placed six runners in the top 10 and eight in the top 20 for an 18-41 win over Naugatuck. Woodland defeated Kennedy, 16-41, and Seymour, 17-44, to improve to 12-2 on the season.
“I know the girls were disappointed having two losses this year and they are not used to that. But any time you go 39-2 in the last three years you have nothing to be disappointed about, and the boys are 27-2 the last two seasons. I’ll take that any day,” Lownds said.
Morin came in fourth for the Greyhounds in a time of 22:42 and Stankiewicz finished seventh in 23:11, giving Naugatuck just two runners in the top ten. Naugatuck defeated Kennedy, 27-28, and Seymour, 25-30, to improve to 8-6 on the season.
“I’m real proud of how our girls responded to the challenge,” Naugatuck head coach Bill Hanley said. “This is a tough course, the air was heavy but I’m pleased at where this team is at heading into the NVLs.”
The NVL championship is set for Oct. 21 at Veterans’ Park in Watertown.
“Anything can happen at the NVL championship and there are a lot of teams to be concerned with,” Lownds said. “Watertown and Derby are contenders and almost all the teams have a couple of strong runners. It will be a great meet.”