NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck boys and girls cross country teams enter the Naugatuck Valley League championship meet Wednesday as the Copper Division champs for the second year in a row.
The boys (11-1) are looking to improve on last year’s second-place finish as Watertown will look to hold onto the title it has held for the past three years.
The Naugatuck girls finished 9-3 and would like to move up from last year’s fourth-place showing at the NVL championship but will need to get by three-time champion Wolcott and a very solid Woodland squad.
The meet is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at Veterans Park in Watertown.
“Back in September I wouldn’t have thought we had the runners to compete for a title,” Naugatuck coach Bill Hanley said. “This team did an awful lot of work over the summer to get ready for the season and it is really showing now that we have a legitimate chance. Watertown is always a strong challenge and Wolcott is right there also. But I like our chances on the boys side. Our girls are young and may not have the experience as Wolcott, Watertown and Woodland. But Madison (Beasley) has really proven to be our leader and finished the regular season undefeated. I like her chances going into the championship race.”
Beasley, a senior captain, struggled with shin injuries over the past few seasons but came into her own last spring when she began piling up victories in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races in the outdoor track season.
“I really worked hard to strengthen my legs and haven’t had any shin issues,” Beasley said. “I learned how to pace myself during the spring season and I like to sit about fifth place just off the front of the pack. That gives me enough space to make my move down the stretch.”
Joining Beasley on the girls side will be sophomores Courtney Morin and Heyi Cheng, who ran in last year’s NVL championship. Filling out the lineup will be sophomores Lauren Stankiewicz, Liz Trumbley and Taylot Sbat. The seventh runner will be a race-day decision between juniors Harmony Sturdivant and Mercedes DeSousa along with sophomore Jill Orts.
“We are a young team but the girls have worked really hard,” Beasley said. “I know that Wolcott, Watertown and Woodland are going to be tough to beat. But I have an awful lot of confidence going into the race. My last time out I broke the 20-minute mark, hitting a 19:57, and that’s about a little over two minutes better than last year’s time. If I can keep that up and turn in a time like that I will do well.”
The boys team took its only loss against Watertown in the last meet of the season. Junior captain Dan Schumacher came in undefeated on the season and finished third in 16:19. In fact, three Naugatuck runners broke the 17-minute barrier with junior Brody Hale taking fourth in 16:41 and freshman Graden Beasley fifth in 16:59.
If Naugatuck can post those kinds of times or better, the ‘Hounds will pose a threat to Watertown and Wolcott, two of the top contenders for the title.
“I think it has been an advantage for us to be training at Hop Brook as opposed to the high school with the renovations,” Schumacher said. “The hills, trails and overall terrain is quite similar to Veterans Park and Wickham. It simulates what we will face on race day instead of running on the flat at the high school.”
Schumacher will be joined by Hale, Beasley and sophomores Mark Zamani and Mike Huzior. The ‘Hounds will also have some experience with three seniors who competed in last year’s race with John Caruso, James Dorosh and Tyler Hayward.
“We might have just had a bad day at Watertown,” Schumacher said. “If we put that behind us and come out and give out best times we can be very competitive against the top teams in the race. I finished 10th the year before and third last year so I’m looking to win it all going into this race.”