NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck track team achieved what they could this season. The boys won the NVL championship meet for the first time since 2010, while the girls finished third.
Then came the tough part: competing in the Class L state meet and the State Open.
The ‘Hounds don’t have the numbers as some of the larger schools that carry an average of 150 athletes, but Naugatuck left it all on the track and did have some success.
Junior Fejiro Onakpoma became a Class L state champion in the triple jump and placed fifth at the State Open earning his place in the New England Championship meet. He will compete in Sacco, Maine on Saturday representing the Garnet and Grey.
“We may not have the kind of numbers that some of the larger schools have,” Naugatuck head coach Ralph Roper said. “But between coach Bill Hanley and myself, we have a way of making things happen and putting these athletes in a position to be successful.”
The boys finished 15th with 15 points at the Class L outdoor track championship last week. The girls also put up 15 points and finished tied for 17th.
Aside from Onakpoma, Brian Reilly and Mike Popescu tallied points at the Class L meet.
Reilly finished sixth in 300 hurdles, and Popescu took seventh in long jump.
Ariana Alvarado (seventh in the 100), Abreanna McKoy (third in the high jump), Harmony Sturdivant (third in triple jump), and Erin Schofield (eighth in the javelin) accounted for the points for the girls.
“Maybe we don’t match up well with the larger schools in the state meets. But we do the best with what we have and that is a testament to the hard work these kids put in to the program,” Roper said.
More than a few hard-working athletes came to the coach’s mind.
“Fejiro is a basketball player who came out for the team for the first time and by the end of the season college coaches wanted to know who he was,” Roper said. “Brian Reilly wasn’t on anyone’s radar last season and this year finishes a half a second out of the State Open in the hurdles.”
Roper continued, “Mike Popescu came to us as an All-NVL tennis player and leaves us heading to UConn as a member of their track team. Erin Schofield, just a sophomore, is another one who came out for the first time and winds up as the NVL champion in the javelin.”
The Naugatuck boys team will lose some go-to-guys to graduation, including senior long distance threat Dan Schumacher, who has All-NVL, All State and All-New England status under his belt as he heads to Columbia.
Popescu, Reilly and Brody Hale, who was All-NVL and the 3,200 champion, are also among a group of nine seniors in all that are graduating.
The girls team will only lose three athletes to graduation, but those spots will be hard to fill. Naugatuck will say goodbye to seniors Carla Soares, the hurdles specialist, Brianna Prentice, who made a name for herself in the pole vault, and Harmony Sturdivant, a State Open jumper in the triple and long jumps.
The girls will return a solid core of 13 juniors, who will lead the way next season.
McKoy was a State Open high jumper and is a capable thrower and Alvarado is a speedster. Courtney Morin, Hannah Lauer, Tatyana Brewer and Jasmine Grey have all around skills. Melissa Goja, Brittany Burkman, Jill Orts, Lexi Paul, Samantha Morin, Tamanna Brar and Elizabeth Trumbley are all returning, as well.
“We have a good group of athletes coming back on the girls side,” Roper said. “Of course it will be awfully hard to replace the three girls we are losing as they all had special skills.”
The boys side may be losing a lot of talent, but the ‘Hounds may have opponents seeing double if not triple next season.
The Zamani twins will be seniors next season. Mark Zamani is the All-NVL champion in the 800 and 1,600 and his brother Mike Zamani led the relay squads to victory. The Via twins of Ross and Elliot just completed a successful freshman season and stepped into a as part of the relay squads.
If that’s not enough for opponents to do a double take, Naugatuck will utilize the talents of the Dempsey triplets Andrew, Jacob and Joseph as the sensational sophomores gained a little more experience and will be looking to settle into their roles next season.
And there is more with the Raupach triplets, who just completed their freshman season with Jeremy and Nicholas looking to step into their roles and Matthew taking on the integral role as team manager.
“We have more than a few weapons lined up for next season,” Roper said. “There is always a surprise or two along the way as our motto is we do the best with what we have. And if athletes like Onakpoma, Popescu and Schofield are any indication I would say we are on the right track.”