Memorable moments from 2020 high school sports

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Kyle Brennan

Never has there been more unanimous agreement among human beings than there is about this: We are ecstatic to finally ditch the 2020 calendar and see Jan. 1, 2021.

None of us has ever lived through a year quite like 2020, and hopefully we never will again. Of course, there are many more tough days of the COVID-19 pandemic ahead, but there is reason to be optimistic that as each month passes in 2021, things will inch closer to a sense of normal.

A return to the high school sports we know and love hopefully awaits at some point this year. But even with canceled and shortened seasons in 2020, there were still some memorable moments and legacies left this past year.

Here’s a countdown, from 10 to zero, of 2020’s most significant local sports numbers. From all of us at Citizen’s News, best wishes to you all for a happy, healthy and much better 2021!

10: It had been almost 10 decades — yes, almost a century for those who abandon math skills during the holidays — since the CIAC failed to award a state championship in boys basketball.

That changed this past March when the CIAC canceled its boys basketball tournament March 10 due to the at-that-point-unknown coronavirus fears. The decision was panned by many at the time, but in hindsight, it was inevitable.

Naugatuck was awarded the first state title in 1922 “on season’s record,” according to the CIAC.

9: Woodland won its ninth consecutive Naugatuck Valley League girls indoor track championship by clinching the 2020 title in a runaway. The Hawks had eight All-NVL performers: Sara Alessio, Rebecca Benoit, Hailey Bernier, Jade Brennan, Jasmine Michie, Chloe Poulos, Emma Slavin and Jaden Young.

8: Despite a soccer season in which Naugatuck and Woodland were forced to play only in their divisions and the postseason was canceled, eight local players earned All-State honors: Naugatuck’s Jay Barth, Mateus Filho and Lauren Sonski, and Woodland’s Preston Alessio, Aries Bell, Paige Letourneau, Katy More and Nathaniel Smith.

Naugatuck’s Lauren Sonski (18) and Seymour’s Suzana Imetovski (7) run down a loose ball during a match Oct. 19 at Seymour High School. Sonski was one of eight Naugatuck and Woodland soccer players to earn All-State honors in the fall. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

7: The CIAC kicked the spring sports can down the road as long as it could after weathering the backlash from the winter postseason cancellation, but the Connecticut Department of Education’s decision to keep schools closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year took the decision out of the CIAC’s hands.

With that, seven spring sports were canceled in an unprecedented move. Among Woodland’s and Naugatuck’s teams in baseball, softball, golf, boys and girls track and field, and boys and girls tennis, 82 seniors lost their opportunities to participate in their final high school sports seasons.

6: The Naugatuck boys basketball team was ranked No. 6 in the state media poll entering the Division II state tournament, and the Greyhounds felt as though they were primed to win their first state title since 1942. We’ll never know what would have happened, but the Greyhounds, led by All-State picks Avery Hinnant and Ese Onakpoma, did clinch Naugy’s first NVL title in 51 years.

5: It may have been a shortened and watered-down fall season, but at least the local squads got in most of the games they were scheduled to play. Five of those teams — both of Woodland’s soccer and cross country teams, and Naugatuck’s volleyball squad — finished the regular seasons unbeaten.

4: Nonnewaug wrestler Jack Cronin, a Prospect native, cruised to four straight wins to clinch his second consecutive Class S championship in the 182-pound class. Cronin and Woodland’s Elias Sturdevant both won Berkshire-Valley Invitational titles for the second year in a row.

3: Much of the competition in the pool this fall happened virtually — swimming against teammates and the clock, not opposing swimmers — but that didn’t stop Woodland freshman Emme Starzman from making an historic impact as a rookie.

Starzman broke the school’s 100-yard breaststroke record three times this fall, lowering the mark to 1:09.89. It had been one of many records held by Dia Gawronski, the school’s all-time best swimmer.

Members of the Woodland dance team perform a jazz routine during the Naugatuck Valley League championship Feb. 4 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. The Hawks won the championship to earn their first league dance title. –FILE PHOTO

2: The American Legion canceled its baseball season this past summer, and the CIAC followed suit by canceling the fall football season upon the guidance by the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Neither cancellation stopped some who were determined to play.

Two independent leagues popped up to replace the losses: the Connecticut Elite Baseball Association and the Connecticut Independent High School Football League. The baseball league enjoyed a fairly normal summer, while the football league reached the first weekend of November before a rise in COVID-19 cases forced its cancellation.

1: Another historic first at Woodland in 2020 came from the Woodland dance team, which clinched its first NVL championship.

0: For the first time since 1924, there was no Thanksgiving football played in either Naugatuck or Ansonia. Obviously, Woodland and Seymour didn’t get to continue their rivalry, either. Despite the drop in interest in these games over the years, they’re still a special part of many people’s holiday celebrations — and just another one of the countless casualties of the pandemic.

As with everything we lost in 2020, hopefully these games will return with a renewed sense of appreciation in 2021.