Players, coaches grateful for a chance to play


By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Woodland’s Nate Smith (5) drives to the basket against Oxford’s Patrick Mucherino (4) and Tanner Soracco (23) during the Cowboy Classic tournament in December 2019 at Litchfield High School. The CIAC Board of Control has approved a plan for high school winter sports that allows some sports to begin competitions on Feb. 8. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

The CIAC’s approval of a plan for the winter high school season was met with a sigh of relief by some, while others were left to speculate whether their sports will be able to compete.

“A sigh of relief is definitely one way to put it,” said Naugatuck girls basketball head coach Adam Purcaro, who is in his first year at the helm of the team. “After finally landing my dream job of coaching at Naugatuck where I played basketball, it was kind of disappointing with the uncertainty if we were going to be able to even play a season.”

The CIAC Board of Control on Jan. 14 approved a plan for the high school winter sports season. Under the plan, teams are allowed to begin practicing Jan. 19, while games won’t start until at least Feb. 8. Only boys and girls basketball, boys ice hockey, gymnastics and boys swimming will be able to play games.

Sports deemed high risk for spreading COVID-19 — wrestling, competitive dance and competitive cheer — will not have events and are limited to small-group conditioning and non-contact skill work.

Boys and girls indoor track is limited to just practice, too. Actual meets will not be considered until at least March.

“We can have competition in March, but I’m not sure what the region is going to decide for us,” said Woodland indoor track coach Jeff Lownds, referring to the Region 16 school district. “I’m happy they decided to start the season, but how it relates to indoor track we are not exactly sure at this point.”

Teams have been allowed to do limited conditioning work, and Purcaro has been taking advantage of that time.

“We have started to build some of that camaraderie during our small-group conditioning workouts,” he said. “It will be nice to finally get out there and have the opportunity, and we feel grateful to have a season.”

The Woodland boys basketball team qualified for the state tournament last season under first-year head coach John Mariano before the CIAC shut down state tournaments. The Hawks return several seniors this year looking to get back on the court again, not only for the opportunity to play but to also have a chance to showcase their talents to colleges.

“I was really hoping for a season,” said Woodland senior Nate Smith, who earned all-division honors last year and averaged 12 points per game.

“We just started to get it going when the season ended,” he added. “I’m glad we get the chance to comeback this season and make some noise, even if it’s just for 12 games. I’m really looking to play at the next level and this season is so important to show colleges what I can do.”

Teams will condition and practice for 15 days before games can start, and avoiding injuries and building endurance is the focus for everyone.

Swimming is the most grueling when it comes to overall endurance. With such a short window to work with, it begs the question of how long it will take before athletes can compete at their optimum level.

Naugatuck junior swimmer Steven Herb said he’s been running to try and keep his endurance up.

“I think staying motivated to try and build up our endurance will be our biggest challenge at the start of the season,” Herb said. “It’s going to take some time before we are at our peak performance level, but we need to make sure we don’t try and do too much too soon so we stay away from injury.”