WATERBURY — No one ever said the road to a championship would be an easy trek. Sometimes the journey can be a heartbreaking trail.
For the Naugatuck boys swim team that sentiment rang true, as the Greyhounds finished as NVL runner-up to Holy Cross for the second year in a row.
Holy Cross tallied 844 points to edge out Naugatuck, which compiled 827 points, and win the NVL swim championship at Kennedy High School on March 3.
“I’m not happy with the results,” Naugatuck head coach Jim McKee said. “Of course you shouldn’t be happy when you lose. Obviously we’ve improved a lot but just not quite enough.”
Naugatuck came into the championship meet with a little more momentum than last year.
The Greyhounds outscored the Crusaders 82-67 during the NVL diving final March 1 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. Senior Eric Cruz (346.60) finished third and senior Grady Beasley (308.00) took fifth. Freshman Quade Vassak was 13th and scored 15 team points for the Greyhounds, and sophomore Tsering Dhondup added 13 points with a 14th-place finish.
“In this sport every point counts, and we came into the championship really pumped up,” Cruz said. “Winning my first NVL medal is a good feeling. Grady came in fifth in his first NVL championship and didn’t let his nerves get in the way. Even our two younger divers scored points for us, and that was huge.”
Holy Cross jumped out in front of Naugatuck after winning the 200 medley relay and Naugatuck finished fifth. Both teams came in around their seeded times.
Senior Evan Bombery knocked off several seconds from his seeded times and took second in the 200 freestyle (1:47.46) and in the 500 freestyle (4:58.41) with one of his best times, only to be outdone in both races by Dan Walsh of Sacred Heart.
“We got a lot of great swimmers on this team and we have put in a lot of hard work at practices,” Bombery said.
Naugatuck junior Brian Goggin, one of the toughest competitors in the league, battled to keep the ‘Hounds within striking distance. Goggin raced to victory in the 50 freestyle (22.47), winning a touch at the wall and then finished second (49.33) in another split-second decision in the 100 freestyle.
The foursome of P.J. Morrissey, Bombery, Cruz and Brian Goggin swam to first in the 200 freestyle relay, and Naugatuck was right on the Crusaders’ heels trailing by 13 points.
In the 100 backstroke, senior Omar Solomon took third (59.10), freshman Alex Manasoiu was fifth (1:02.52) and Morrissey sixth (1:03.54). That depth led to a point swing that put Naugy on top 715.5 to the Crusaders’ 710 with two events to go.
“We got guys laying it all on the line,” Solomon said. “You have to love being in a situation like this with the noise from a crowd this size.”
Naugatuck was fast and putting up best times, but Holy Cross was just a bit faster. In the 100 breaststroke junior Zach Alves finished sixth (1:09.35), and the Crusaders took fourth and fifth to retake the lead 780-769 going into the final event.
The noise in the Kennedy Pool rose to a fevered pitch as the swimmers took their place on the blocks for the start of the 400 freestyle relay.
Win the race and win the NVL title. That’s what was at stake.
The swimmers churned up the water as the crowd roared and the coaches paced the pool deck.
When it was over Holy Cross was the victor, taking first place in 3:18.35. The Naugy foursome of Solomon, Morrissey, Bombery and Brian Goggin hit the wall second in 3:21.14, 1.5 seconds faster than their winning time last year but not fast enough to get past the Crusaders.
Sophomore Dale Wakeley (7th, 200 free and 8th, 100 butterfly) and freshman Spencer Maher (6th, 500 freestyle and 7th, 200 IM) added top-ten finishes for Naugatuck.
The Greyhounds will now turn their attention to the Class L state meet March 14 at Wesleyan University in Middletown.