SEYMOUR — It may have been the first race of their high school careers, but Woodland freshmen Jaden Young and Brooke Iannone looked like seasoned veterans during the season-opening cross country race Tuesday at Seymour High.
Young won the 3.1-mile girls race in 22 minutes, 5 seconds, just ahead of Iannone (22:10). They led the Hawks’ charge as they swept the top six spots in the girls race to sweep Naugatuck, Seymour and Kennedy.
Woodland senior Matt Luxeder also won the boys race in 17:07, helping the Hawks also earn a sweep in the boys team competition.
Young and Iannone were especially impressive on the twisty course in Seymour. Although they were unknown to the competition entering the race, the rookie duo knew otherwise.
“It felt really good because I trained all summer and I worked hard for it,” Young said. “I knew I was able to do it, I just didn’t know how I was going to do, so I just went out there and did my best.”
Young and Iannello swapped the lead throughout the race. Iannello had the advantage early in the second of two laps, but Young spurted ahead later in the course for the victory.
“It was fun,” Iannello said “It was kind of scary because I didn’t know if I could hold my placement or if I was going to drop back. I hope I just keep improving and keep getting my time down — and maybe beat Jaden next race.”
Longtime Woodland coach Jeff Lownds, who is also a teacher at Long River Middle School, had an idea of the talented freshmen entering his program.
“I knew that they’d be pretty good,” Lownds said. “I taught them both at Long River and I followed them as they ran cross country there. I knew they were coming and that they’d signed up for some summer programs, so I knew they were coming in prepared.”
Those two weren’t the only leaders for Woodland. The top six spots in the girls race all went to the Hawks: Jill Brotherton (22:26), Emilie Noreika (22:39), Emma Slavin (22:43) and Jessica Fox (23:07) rounded out an all-Woodland top six.
“It was a great performance from all the girls,” Lownds said. “I thought for the opening meet on a warm day, everyone had some decent performances. We want to build on that.”
Luxeder earned the victory in the boys race by out-sprinting Kennedy’s Alex Brites to the finish line by one second. Although Luxeder wasn’t the first male runner to cross the finish line, he ended up finishing first after a Kennedy runner was disqualified for running an incorrect line on the course.
That disqualification not only gave Luxeder the individual win, but it also lifted Woodland to the team sweep.
Lownds said Luxeder is the go-to leader on a squad that features plenty of youth.
“He’s an excellent leader,” Lownds said. “He leads by example. He’s not a rah-rah kind of guy, but he leads by example and the kids all listen to him.”
The Naugatuck boys and girls each earned one team victory Tuesday — the boys topped Seymour, while the girls beat Kennedy.
Ross Via (17:12) and Elliot Via (17:18) finished third and fourth in the boys race to pace the Greyhounds, while Abby Lombardi (22:43) and Lauren Rupsis (24:03) gave the Naugy girls a pair of top-10 finishers.
“It was a great start,” Naugatuck coach Bill Hanley said. “We knew we have a young team. You build this over time, so that wasn’t going to happen in two weeks. I was pleasantly surprised. Our freshmen are knocking on the door for varsity. They’re working hard. And we have some returning athletes who have improved their 5K times by two minutes. It’s exciting.”
Woodland will host a meet Tuesday against Wilby, St. Paul and Waterbury Career. Naugatuck will also host a meet Tuesday against Crosby, Ansonia and Holy Cross.