Spring high school sports return 

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By Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

Starts, stops and postponements mark beginning of season

Woodland’s Rebecca Benoit, center, and Oxford’s Kate Wickenheisser, left, battle it out as they compete in the 100 meter dash during a meet April 13 at Woodland Regional High School. -JIM SHANNON/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

After two years, spring high school sports are back.

The season kicked off April 10, and for the first time since 2019 high school athletes took the fields and courts in the spring. There were fans in the stands, and the banter and cheering could still be heard through the masks.

“It was great to feel the bat hit the ball in my first at bat for the season,” said Naugy junior Nadia Cestari following the Greyhounds’ 20-0 win over Wilby to open the softball season.

For players and coaches, the chance to play a full season and postseason is a welcome sign that things just may be getting back to normal.

“I’m happy we got to play a normal season with a full schedule and a postseason tournament,” Naugy senior pitcher Alyssa Roberts said. “We got to play volleyball in the fall but it was only 12 games with no tournament.”

The Naugatuck girls tennis team didn’t get a chance to defend its NVL title last season. Even after Holy Cross pulled out a 4-3 win over the Greyhounds on opening day, the mood couldn’t be dampened.

Woodland’s May Dawes (10) hits a double against Sacred Heart during a game April 10 at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. -STEVEN VALENTI/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

“It was just nice to be back together as a team,” Naugy senior Ashley Antunes said. “We may come in with a target on our back being the last NVL champion but there is really no pressure on us. We graduated a lot of players from that championship team. But we have a lot of juniors with talent and our confidence level is where it needs to be to compete at a high level.”

The Woodland softball team hit the ground running with a 3-0 start to the season.

“We are following the guidelines. You don’t have to wear a mask while batting or playing in the field, but once you get in the dugout the masks go on. After missing last season it’s just good to see the girls having fun competing again. And the fans are making it pretty exciting,” Woodland softball coach Loren Luddy said.

Golfers are back on the links, as well.

Woodland dropped a match to perennially NVL favorite Watertown to start off the year, but head coach Bill Carangelo was just pleased to get his team out on the course again.

“Without having a JV team this year, the eight players we have is a good number to work with,” Carangelo said. “The kids are happy to be back out there and the weather has cooperated, helping us to make the most of a very short period of time to get ready for the season.”

Naugatuck’s Ben Papp takes a practice swing while getting ready to play Sacred Heart-Crosby at East Mountain Golf Course in Waterbury on April 14. -STEVEN VALENTI/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

The start to the season wasn’t without its bumps in the road.

The Naugatuck boys and girls track and field teams had to wait a little longer than most to get going after their opening meeting at Torrington was postponed

“I don’t know if it was a field issue or what,” Naugy head coach Ralph Roper said. “We were contacted to see if we could host it but we didn’t have a staff of volunteers it takes to host a meet.”

The COVID-19 pandemic made its presence felt early on.

The Woodland baseball team missed the last week of preseason and its season opener was delayed because the team went on COVID-19 quarantine.

After the convincing win over Wilby, Naugatuck’s next softball game was postponed because the Holy Cross team was shut down for two weeks due to COVID protocols.

The precarious nature of the spring season was evident after the first baseball game for the Greyhounds.

Naugatuck defeated Seymour, 5-3, in a morning game April 10 at French Park in Seymour. As the Greyhounds were getting set to take on Wilby that afternoon, word came in that they had to shut down for two weeks due to a positive COVID test.

“We are basically shut down for two weeks,” Naugy head coach Tom Deller said. “That is the protocol. Doesn’t matter if he has symptoms or if it’s a false positive test. The rule is you are down for two weeks.”

The team is set to return to action April 24, he said.

“It probably would have been harder to take if we lost the morning game,” Deller said. “Actually we played really well and we can at least have something positive to look back on instead of having a loss to think about for two weeks.”