Team effort sparks NVL track streak

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Woodland’s Ashley Michie wins the 100 meter dash ahead of Holy Cross’ Keili Sullivan in May 2014 during the NVL track and field championships in Beacon Falls. The Woodland girls team won the NVL title, one of five straight they’ve won. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Before the high school sports year begins, we would like to take a look back at some of the most memorable sports streaks Naugatuck High and Woodland have to offer. In this final part of our series, we look at the Woodland girls streak of five straight NVL outdoor track and field championships — a streak that is still active.

BEACON FALLS — There is a favorite phrase quoted by a lot of coaches that states, “There is no ‘I’ in team.” That isn’t any more evident than when it comes to the sport of track and field.

One or two superstars might get the job done in other sports. But it takes a contingent of 40 to 50 athletes all working their hardest to put together a successful track and field program.

Even from a coaching standpoint it’s hardly a one-man show. Woodland girls track coach Jeff Lownds is quick to credit former coaches Tim Shea and Adam Shultz along with current coaches Courtney Ambrose, Mario Longo and Bill Ferrare in helping to establish a foundation for success.

That foundation has produced a girls program that has run away with five straight NVL outdoor track and field titles. At one point during the run, the Woodland girls collected eight NVL championships in a row between cross country, indoor track and outdoor track.

“It goes a lot farther than winning,” Lownds said. “Of course winning is one of the ultimate goals, but at Woodland it’s more about a philosophy. It’s about preparing these kids to not only be successful in sports but to be successful in life.

“And I’m just one of four coaches. This is not about me, coach Lownds, winning titles, this is about the kids buying into the philosophy of working as a team. We are preparing them to be successful in the real world after they leave Woodland and I’m just fortunate to be a part of it.”

Ever since Woodland first opened its doors in 2001 Lownds has been a fixture in the Hawks’ athletic program. The coach recalled the days when he had just ten girls on the track team. But every year they did have successful athletes who qualified for the states.

In 2011, things began to take form as Woodland finished runner-up to league champion Watertown at the NVL championship meet.

The following year the Woodland girls pulled off the upset defeating league champion Watertown 134-132 to win the 2012 NVL championship meet.

A year later, Woodland won its first NVL girls outdoor championship and won the NVL championship meet, 150-136, over Watertown.

Sydney Corneau had the only individual first-place finish for the Hawks in the 300 meter hurdles. It was the team concept that carried Woodland to victory as the relay teams won all three races.

The 4×100 team of Taylor Boncal, Jiye Park, Steph Dumond and Ashley Michie ran to victory. The foursome of Ava Capuano, Jazmyn Menzies, Lisa Thrasher and Boncal won the 4×400. The Hawks swept the relays with Clara Drozdowski, Miranda Moffat, Emma Poryanda and Capuano winning the 4×800.

That began a streak of success as Woodland has not lost an NVL girls outdoor title since.

The team concept was on full display again in 2016 when the girls won their fourth straight title without winning a single event at the NVL championship meet.

The final count was Woodland first with 111 team points, Derby second with 106 points and Seymour third at 102 points. Lauren Lombardo was third in the triple jump and Kelsey Mitchell finished third in the 3200.

“Everyone on the team always gave it their best no matter what,” said Mitchell, who now runs cross country for Merrimack College. “We all supported one another and I think that was the key. To be part of such a successful program has meant so much to me, and we had great coaching.”

Woodland’s Kristina Poynton competes in the long jump during the NVL outdoor track and field championships in May at Seymour High School. The girls won the title, their fifth straight. –FILE PHOTO

The girls won their fifth straight title this past spring and graduated a large class that went undefeated in their high school career. Seniors Emilie Noreika (first in the pole vault), Stephanie McLean (second in the discus) and Samantha Plasky (third in the pole vault) were all instrumental in the Hawks’ success.

“Being part of something so amazing shows that hard work does pay off,” McLean said. “Our record of winning the NVL all four years in high school is something that we are all proud of.

“The constant support between teammates not only cultivated friendships but also gave us that extra boost of confidence and put us over the top. Our coaches told us every day that practicing well would help us to succeed and we took that to heart.”

Woodland was led by junior Erika Michie, who took first in the 100 and 200, and she will lead the next group of Hawks looking to extend the streak.

The Hawks will certainly miss the seniors who put it all out there, including Jordan Williams, who finished third in the 100 hurdles at the championship meet, and the second place 4×400 relay team of Gina Polletta, Megan Sirowich, Karli Laliberte and Jade Brennan.

“It was an honor to be on such a successful team all four years at Woodland,” Plasky said. “Having coaches that truly cared and wanted success for us made it all possible. We pushed each other every day at practice to be the best that we could be.”