‘Hounds hunting titles

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The Naugatuck boys and girls track teams are looking to stake their claim to NVL glory this season. The Greyhounds will be lead by captains, from left, Mercedes DeSousa, Carla Soares, Harmony Sturdivant, head coach Ralph Roper, captains Dan Schumacher and Brody Hale. –KEN MORSE
The Naugatuck boys and girls track teams are looking to stake their claim to NVL glory this season. The Greyhounds will be lead by captains, from left, Mercedes DeSousa, Carla Soares, Harmony Sturdivant, head coach Ralph Roper, captains Dan Schumacher and Brody Hale. –KEN MORSE

NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck High boys track team has its sights set on making this school year a clean sweep.

The boys won their second straight NVL cross country championship in the fall and followed that up with a NVL indoor track title over the winter. Taking home an outdoor track NVL title in the spring season would give Naugatuck a year to remember.

“It definitely hasn’t escaped our attention that we have a chance to win three championships in our senior year and that would certainly be a perfect ending to a high school career,” senior Dan Schumacher said.

The Naugatuck girls team has seen steady improvement and is poised to make a run at a title this season. The girls finished second at the NVL championships last year and third this winter at the NVL indoor championship.

The Greyhounds’ ranks have swelled for the spring season, and head coach Ralph Roper expects Naugatuck to have a balanced attack.

“We have 95 kids out for the team and that is the most we’ve had in quite some time,” Roper said. “We have a solid core of mid-distance runners, but we will also have a lot more balance this season.

“We will have a good group of jumpers and we have a new strengthening coach who is working with our throwers. We are starting to come into our own in the other events and you will see a more balanced team that will make us more competitive.”

It all starts with Schumacher, who is the NVL cross country champion and won the 1,000, 1,600 and 3,200 at the NVL indoor championship. His effort at the indoor meet earned him the outstanding performer award, the outstanding distance award and the outstanding senior award. That landed Schumacher on the All-NVL, All-State and All-New England teams, and he recently competed at the Nationals.

“Words can not describe the experience of being at the Nationals competing with the best athletes from across the country,” said Schumacher, who has been accepted to run for Columbia University in the fall. “Running in the Nationals is certainly a confidence booster heading into the spring season. Going to Columbia is very gratifying proving that all the hard work in the classroom and out on the track has paid off. But I had an awful lot of support along the way. I couldn’t have done this by myself.”

Schumacher will be backed up by fellow seniors Brody Hale, who finished second at the NVL indoor championship in the 1,000 and 1,600, and Mark Zamani, who was second in the 600 and third in the 3,200 at indoors.

Schumacher said winning a third NVL title in one year will take a team effort.

“We need to keep our eyes on the prize. Running may be our bread and butter, but it’s going to take a total team effort to get it done,” Schumacher said.

Senior Brian Reilly is another threat for the ‘Hounds in the sprints and the jumps along with sophomore Graden Beasley, who finished third in the 1,600 at last year’s NVL meet.

The Naugatuck girls lost 10 key athletes from last season. However, they return a solid core of 10 seniors and 15 juniors who feel they have something to prove after last year’s second-place finish at NVLs.

Seniors Carla Soares, who finished first in the 4×100 and second in the 300 hurdles at last year’s NVL meet, Harmony Sturdivant, who took second in the long jump and in the 4×400 last year, join senior Mercedes DeSousa as team captains with something to prove.

“What we have is program kids,” Roper said. “Girls who have been in it for the long haul since their freshman year and have bought into the program. They have got better every year and gained experience. But it all comes down to staying focused and putting in the hard work. It starts in practice putting ourselves in a position to be successful. If it’s not done in practice, it just won’t happen in competition.”

The Greyhounds have a very strong and talented junior class led by Heyi Cheng, who finished second in the 400, first in the 4×100 and second in the 4×400 at last year’s NVL meet. Juniors Jasmine Grey, who was second in the 4×400, and Abreana McKoy, who finished third in the high jump, add to the Greyhounds’ talented and experienced roster.

As does sophomore Michaela Rossamondo, who finished first in the 4×100, second in the 100 meters and third in the 200 as a freshman.

How all this talent and experience comes together this season remains to be seen, but the Greyhounds have the athletes to reach the finish line.

Naugatuck is scheduled to open the season Saturday at the 10th annual Bloomfield Invitational. The Greyhounds will begin their quest for an NVL title Tuesday in Seymour to take on the Wildcats, Kennedy and Torrington.