NAUGATUCK — He wasn’t exactly Brad Childress waiting with bated whistle to hear whether Brett Favre would rejoin the Minnesota Vikings (still uncertain, by the way), but Naugatuck track and field coach Ralph Roper had more than a casual interest in whether Nick Moriello would run for the Greyhounds this spring.
“Word has it,” Roper said Friday morning, the fifth day of spring sports practice, “that Nick will in fact be joining us on the track team this outdoor season.”
So, he’s been practicing with the team?
“No, no,” Roper said. “There’s some, let’s just say, late-breaking news.”
Gosh, maybe this is Favre-like after all.
Citizen’s News confirmed Friday afternoon that Moriello, who played baseball last spring and had been working with the diamond dudes earlier in the week, will indeed trade knickers for short shorts and bat for baton. He practiced with the runners later that day.
“I’m excited to back with the track team,” Moriello said. “I think we’ll be able to give [Seymour and Woodland] a pretty good run.”
The Naugatuck boys finished third at last year’s league championship meet, behind the Wildcats and Hawks.
Moriello is a huge pickup for the Hounds—the sophomore was Naugy’s best miler and anchored the four-by-800 meter relay team during the indoor season—but is not the only one. Freshman Erik Desousa didn’t run indoors but was NHS’ No. 2 cross country runner by the end of the fall; he finished fourth at the Naugatuck Valley League championships and was the fastest frosh at the Class L meet.
The additions of Moriello and Desousa could present Roper and fellow coach Bill Hanley with a delightful predicament: five studs—those two, Jeff Dorosh, Thomas Mashia and Ralph Liquori—to fill four relay slots.
Also returning to the squad, after a one-year hiatus, is junior Jamaal Gee, a natural athlete who plays football and basketball.
“He started working with the indoor kids at the end of basketball season, and he looks good,” Roper said. “I think he’s going to be one of those pleasant surprises.”
Roper expects Gee to run the 200- and 400-meter races.
Amanze Williams, another junior, could be one of the Garnet and Grey’s most versatile athletes this spring. He plans to continue competing in the long jump, high jump and triple jump, his best event, and add to his repertoire the 400. Williams hopped, skipped and jumped 44 feet, 2 1/4 inches at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships March 12, good for 12th place at the event.
“He’s being a lot more conscientious of his technique, trying to get his arms up to help him maintain more air time,” Roper said of Williams. “I think he’s going to be a big factor not just in the NVL but also in the state, as far as the triple jump is concerned.”
Williams finished second at the Class L meet and seventh at the State Open last year.
On the girls’ side, the Greyhounds return 800-meter star Tori Pisco and 1,600- and 3,200-meter sensation Rosa Moriello, both seniors. Each has an extensive and impressive résumé but also has something to chase this season. For Pisco, it’s a return to the New England championships. Last year, she appeared to finish fourth at the Open but was disqualified for impeding another runner. For Moriello, it’s breaking the five-minute mile mark, a feat she has sniffed multiple times but never tasted.
According to Hanley, elite runners, like that pair, possess the chutzpa to meet such challenging goals.
“When they go to the line, they want to be first over that line,” he said. “And they’re willing to overcome a lot of obstacles; they’re willing to give up things in their life. There are social things. They’re willing to eat properly and maybe give up some of the food and drink that isn’t healthy. And they’re able to tell their friends at a certain hour in the evening, ‘OK, catch you later. I’ve got a meet. I need my rest’”
One underclassman who may some day fall into that elite category too is Samantha Morrill, a promising middle distance runner.
“[During the indoor season], she was running some very comparable times to Pisco’s when she was a freshman,” Roper said. “She has a lot of heart and she goes; she goes. So I think she’s going to be another kid to watch.”
The NHS girls were the 2009 NVL runners-up, behind Torrington.