By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
The Naugatuck Valley League cross country championships might end up becoming the Woodland Invitational.
Woodland coach Jeff Lownds, though, said that there is plenty of work to do if his teams want to capture the titles.
“We’re both in the conversation for the championships, but crazy things happen in that [championship] race,” Lownds said. “Sometimes kids you don’t necessarily expect to run at the front end up competing for the championship, so you never know.”
The Woodland boys ended the regular season 12-0 with matching 15-45 wins over Oxford and Derby on Oct. 12. Colin Slavin won the race in 16 minutes, 34 seconds.
Slavin, who earned All-State honors last fall, has been arguably the league’s top runner so far, and his supporting cast of Nick LaChapelle, Chase Young, Sam Ambrocio and Eric Meade has helped Woodland blow past all opponents so far.
“The boys, I think, are very good, but they’re not satisfied,” Lownds said. “Colin, Eric Meade and Chase Young have been leading the way on the course and as leaders of the team.”
However, Lownds pointed to Holy Cross and Naugatuck as teams capable of pushing the Hawks during the Oct. 20 championship race at Veterans Memorial Park in Watertown. Naugy, which won the 2019 title, will be led by Zach McCasland, Matt Nofri and Brendan Lyles.
“I would never count Naugy out,” Lownds said. “They’re always a strong program.”
The Naugy boys finished the regular season with wins over Torrington, 19-43, and Wolcott, 15-49, Oct. 12 to improve to 8-2. Nofri took first in 18:23.
“On the boys side, we’ve had a few different guys leading us in competitions this year. Matt Nofri, Zach McCasland and Brendan Lyles have all lead our team in different meets this year,” Naugatuck coach Kevin Schumann said. “We will certainly be leaning on those boys up front to lead our team, but we have a strong pack of runners behind them that will really dictate where we finish as a team.”
The Woodland girls, who won their sixth league title in 2019, finished the regular season 11-1. Derby handed the Hawks their only loss by a score of 20-35 in the regular-season finale. Woodland ran past Oxford, 15-45.
The Hawks are led by Chloe Poulos, a 2020 All-State honoree who has run so far ahead of the competition this season that “nobody in the league has come close” yet, according to Lownds.
Poulos won the Oct. 12 meet in 19:25; more than 2 minutes ahead of Derby’s Cassidy Ngaopraseutsack (21:43) in second.
Kim Poulos, Kate Foley, Kayla Drmic and freshmen Faye Carnemolla and Lily Miko give Woodland the depth to earn a repeat championship.
Naugatuck will lean on Julia Kropo and Jayda Costa, the Greyhounds’ two leading runners this fall.
The Naugy girls beat Torrington, 15-50, and Wolcott, 27-29, in the final regular-season meet to improve to 6-4. Kropo placed second (24:03) to pace Naugatuck. Costa took fourth (24:37).
“Kropo has done a great job of leading our girls throughout the season. We’ve also had some great contributions from Jada Costa and Lily Dalton,” Schumann said. “I am very pleased with the progress the girls have made throughout the season. They have consistently lowered their times. In the girls race, we are hoping to see the pack we have tighten up a bit, if we do that, we will be in a good position to run our best race when we need to at NVLs.”
This will be the first NVL championship meet since 2019. The Woodland girls easily won by placing seven runners among the top 19, but only two of those runners, Chloe Poulos (sixth) and Drmic (19th), will return for this year’s race. The Naugy girls were eighth, and Kropo returns with the most experience.
The Naugy boys also ran away with the crown in 2019 with their top seven runners all inside the top 20, but Nofri (ninth) is the only returner. Woodland, which finished second in that race, will bring back Slavin (second) and Young (17th) with strong experience.
Woodland also brings a slight advantage to this year’s championship race because it ran at Veterans Memorial Park earlier in the season when it competed against Watertown.
“There’s always a place on a course where you can race and where you can’t race,” Lownds said. “If you run there in the regular season, you get an idea [of those places]. At Watertown, you come out of the woods and then you can race from there on. It also gives you an opportunity to learn how to pace yourself. You can see the terrain and figure out where you want to make your moves.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the article published in the Oct. 14 print edition to include results from meets on Oct. 12.