BEACON FALLS — There’s no doubt Woodland is home to one of the best boys’ track and field programs in all of Class M—the Hawks are the reigning indoor and outdoor runners-up—but until February, the Black and Gold had never been the best in their own league. So the team’s recent Naugatuck Valley League indoor championship constituted a breakthrough.
“Oh, we’re definitely looking to that to help us build on an NVL outdoor championship; there’s no question about that,” WRHS coach Jeff Lownds said. “We know [Seymour has] some good guys, Naugatuck’s got some good guys, so it’s not going to be easy for us. But we’ve got some talented kids, and our attitude is good. Talent and attitude go a long way.”
The vaunted four-by-400 meter relay team claims a good chunk of that talent: Woodland has won the last three NVL incarnations of the event and is the defending Class M outdoor champ. Three of the title-winning squad’s members, Tyler Murphy, Chris Savvidou and Brandon Fowler, return as seniors this season, fresh off an 11th-place showing at the New England indoor meet. Junior Kyle Cranney, the fourth member of that indoor relay, figures to run longer distances during the outdoor campaign. He finished 10th at the Class M cross country championships last fall, and Woodland coach Tim Shea expects Cranney to compete in the four-by-800 meter relay and the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races.
Sophomore Eric Dietz, a swim team member during the winter season, is the most likely candidate to fill the four-by-400 spot vacated by Zak Favoccia, but he, like everyone else on the team, will have to earn his track time.
“The way we’ve always preached it is the four fastest will run in the relay,” Shea said. “… All those guys’ spots aren’t particularly safe.”
The relay team isn’t the Hawks’ only defending state champion. Last spring, Fowler won the 300-meter hurdles in thrilling fashion, outleaning East Catholic’s Brendin Beaulieu-Jones by .01 of a second, in 39.58. And Dan Park, a senior who was recently accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy, crushed the Class M field in the triple jump, clearing 45 feet, one inch. His closest competitor jumped 43-7 1/4, and his closest returning competitor posted a 40-8, so Park is a heavy favorite to repeat this season.
The WRHS girls may lack state championship contenders but certainly possess the depth to win a Brass Division crown. Senior Alyssa Marti has established herself as the NVL’s dominant hurdler; she won the 110-meter hurdles last outdoor season and recently claimed the 55-meter hurdles title indoors. This year, she’ll aim for a spot in the Class M finals, after missing by .01 of a second last season.
The trio of senior Brittany Albright, junior Crystal Steinfeld and sophomore Melissa Kiley, who have led Woodland to two straight undefeated, NVL-championship cross country seasons, will likely team up again to form three-quarters of a competitive four-by-800 meter relay team. Last spring, they and the versatile Brittany Battis placed third at the NVL meet; at Class M, it was Katelyn Trauger helping the squad to an 11th-place showing.
Both Battis and Trauger are seniors this season, and Lownds expects them to be significant contributors to the team. Battis is coming off a third-place effort in the pole vault and a 10th-place finish in the 400 at the 2009 NVL outdoor meet. Trauger runs the 400 and the four-by-400 and four-by-100 meter relays.
According to Lownds, they and a handful of newcomers should bolster Woodland’s typically spotty stable of sprinters. He sees promise in freshmen Stephanie Dumond, Kerri DeBiase and Miranda Moffet, and junior Arica Watford, a transfer from Sacred Heart Academy.
“We’ve always had some good mid- and long-distance girls; we always had that,” Lownds said. “But now, we finally have some quick girls, which we really have not had an awful lot of, over the last three or four years. If you win the four-by-100 relay, you get five points, and the other team doesn’t get anything. So it’s nice to start out winning the four-by-eight and then winning the four-by-one, now you’ve got a team 10 points in the hole already.”