Long wait for games comes to an end

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Student-athletes return to action for first time since March

Naugatuck’s Lilly Lyons (17) and Seymour’s McKenna Walters (5) battle for position as they chase down the ball during a game Oct. 1 at Naugatuck High School. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

The Naugatuck girls soccer match against Seymour Oct. 1 covered a few bases.

The match was the season and home openers for the Greyhounds. It was also their senior night.

A sparse crowd of fans, all donning masks and practicing social distancing in the bleachers at Veterans Field, looked on as the Greyhounds defeated Seymour, 3-2, before recognizing the team’s six seniors: Aaliyah Henry, Noelle Jacobi, Emma Sonski, Victoria Lawson, Kylie O’Donnell and Angelina Oliveira.

With no guarantee there would be another game due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Greyhounds wanted to make sure the seniors got their due.

Such is the landscape of high school sports amid the coronavirus.

It was a long road — 204 days for those counting — since winter state tournament games were played March 9 before being canceled and high school athletes competed in live games again Oct. 1.

The journey has been an arduous one for student-athletes, who learn many lessons playing sports. One key lesson learned on this venture was resiliency.

Woodland’s Daniel Sargent (5) pressures Derby’s Bekim Balidemaj (8) during a game Oct. 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Along the way, the spring sports season met the ax due to COVID-19 shutting down just about everything across the country.

A ray of hope appeared in July when athletes were allowed to begin conditioning for the fall season. But the lead up to the season had its share of uncertainty, as the fall season was not set in stone.

“It was a long ramp up for our athletes,” Woodland athletic director Chris Decker said. “They were out there conditioning since July, and then it was a start-and-stop scenario at times.”

The on-again-off-again season led to frustration, and ultimately the cancelation of fall high school football.

“It was frustrating, kind of like a carrot being dangled in front of the kids,” said Decker about the starts and stops along the way. “But it really took a village of many people and countless hours of planning and re-planning to make this (the fall season) happen. It was a testament of perseverance for everyone involved.”

A little bit of normalcy returned Oct. 1 as the long wait ended and the fall high school sports season — albeit a shortened one — got underway.

Naugatuck’s Allison Murphy (3) beats Seymour’s Katherine Bruno to the ball during a game Oct. 1 at Naugatuck High School. Naugatuck won the game, 3-2. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

For volleyball players, the new normal means playing in gyms with no fans while wearing masks.

The defending NVL champion Greyhounds got their first taste of volleyball during the pandemic with a 3-0 win over Wolcott Oct. 1.

“I thought for being the first time out there we did really well,” Naugatuck junior captain Kaylee Jackson said. “It was a little different playing without fans, but we had our teammates and coaches cheering us on. We didn’t feel any pressure playing as defending champs, it was just so good to be back out there.”

The soccer fields were full of action Oct. 1, as well. The Woodland boys and girls soccer teams picked up wins over Derby. The reigning NVL champion Naugatuck boys defeated Wolcott on the road, and the Naugy girls earned a win at home against Seymour.

Woodland’s Jon Schwarz (8) and Derby’s Edmond Pergjoka (5) battle for position as they chase down the ball during a game Oct. 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

The coming week or so promises to bring the return of cross country and swim meets as well as the Hawks’ volleyball opener.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano about the season. “With no league championship tournaments, keeping the kids motivated for just to have the chance to play will be a challenge. But actually going to have some games to play is exciting after being shut down for so long.”

“This was definitely the right move for the kids,” he added. “They were so disappointed having the spring season canceled and it affected them mentally and emotionally. Of course putting this all in place, the kids’ safety and health was our number one concern.”