BY KEN MORSE
The buses rolled into the Naugatuck High School parking lot on the night of Feb. 1, led by a contingent of police cars and fire trucks in an annual tradition to welcome home the champions.
Horns blared and friends and families cheered as the 2022 NVL champions descended down the steps of the buses for well-deserved hugs and photos to capture the moment in memories that will last a lifetime.
The Naugy boys defended their 2020 NVL title, as there was no NVL season last year. For the girls, it was a little bit of a longer wait, winning their first NVL title since 2010.
All season long, coach Ralph Roper was trying hard to keep this under wraps, but there was no hiding the fact that Naugy was a cut above the rest when it came to championship time.
“I was trying to keep us focused on the task at hand,” said Roper. “Yes, I knew we had something special going on, but I also knew we had a lot of work to do in order to pull it off.”
The boys team did it on the track, scoring enough points to hang on after the field events were concluded. The Greyhounds edged out runner-up Woodland, 106-104, with Derby finishing third.
The girls were definitely a cut above the rest this season finishing ahead of runner-up Watertown by a 132-100 margin. Woodland had its streak of nine straight titles come to an end, finishing third with 69 points.
“For the past week or so we have been doing a lot of soul searching,” said Roper. “Trying to work on our mental toughness. Trying to prepare us, not only physically but mentally, for the atmosphere of a championship meet that can throw you off your game if you are not ready for it.”
The boys won only one event but finished in the top three in ten of the track events and that was enough to push them across the finish line as this year’s champions. Lalo Lopez led the way winning the 600 meters (1:27.62), taking second in the 300 meters (37.48) and finishing third in the 55 dash.
The 4×800 relay squad of Matt Kilmer, Chantz Cegielski, Brendan Lyles and Max Hammond took second at 9:18.02. The 4×400 foursome of Kilmer, Chance Conklin, Zach McCasland and Taylor Trowers finished second, just five-tenths away from first, with a time of 3:44.83. The 1600 medley relay team of Tafari Downer, Gabriel Braganca, Dan Anderson and McCasland placed second at 3:58.62.
Matt Nofri finished third in both the 1000 and 1600 meters, Shayne Hasipi was third in the 3200, Trowers was third in the 300 and McCasland took third in the 600.
The girls were able to quicly gain control of the top team spot. Senior Allison Murphy raced to victory in the 300 (43.09) and the 600 (1:52.57), and she finished third in the 55 hurdles. Freshman Lily Jason was also a double winner, taking first in the long jump (16-4.5) and the 55 hurdles (9.20). Jason finished third in the 55 dash.
Nadia Cestari threw to a first place distance in the shot put (30-9) and was part of the second place 1600 medley relay team, along with Zahra Bayonne, Jodie Saint Paul and Julia Kropo (4:50.64).
The girls took second in three of the relays, just as the boys team did. The 4×400 team of Divine Kabongo, Leticia DoNascimento, Saint Paul and Kropo raced to a second place finish in 4:33.71. The 4×800 squad of Lily Dalton, DoNascimento, Jayda Costa and Rana Aljamal finished second in 11:23.21.
Lauren Sonski raced to a pair of second place finishes in the 1600 (5:54.25) and 3200 (12:55.95), DoNascimento finished third in the 600 and Kropo landed a third place finish in the 1000.
“I think we came in here prepared,” said Roper. “We came in focused and there were some events we didn’t excel in, but we did get the most bang-for-our-buck in the events that we did excel at. Everyone went out and did their job. I don’t put them in a position to fail. They knew their roles and completed the mission.”
BY KEN MORSE