BY KYLE BRENNAN
WEST HARTFORD — Finishing as the state runner-up to a rival school is bittersweet, but any bitterness washed away quickly for the Woodland boys swim team.
The Hawks set another program record with a second-place finish at the Class S championships on March 15 at the Cornerstone Aquatics Center. They scored 541.5 points, painstakingly close to Holy Cross’ 546.
It was a measure of revenge for the Crusaders, who saw their reign of seven straight Naugatuck Valley League titles ended by Woodland earlier in March. Still, earning the swim program’s first runner-up trophy — the fifth sports program at Woodland to finish second or better at states — is an accomplishment that second-year coach Brendan Heller celebrated without reservations.
“We had an incredible season with a magical run,” Heller said. “To be able to come out and have a dominating NVLs, followed by a strong day at the state trials, and to put everything we had into the state finals and earn runner-up, it was nothing short of amazing.”
The Hawks and Crusaders swapped the lead throughout the meet multiple times. In the penultimate event, the 100-yard breaststroke, Woodland’s Alex Weisenbacher finished fourth and Tyler Cyr was ninth to close the gap to just a half-point entering the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay.
With that event determining the state champion, Holy Cross placed second and Woodland was fourth.
Weisenbacher was the Hawks’ top individual performer. The freshman earned All-State honors by finishing second in the 500 free — setting a school record in 4:55.92 — and fourth in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.89). He advanced to the State Open in both events, and was also on the fourth-place 400 free relay and third-place 200 medley relay teams.
Senior diver D.J. Mulligan also advanced to the State Open by finishing fourth with 364.35 points.
Other top-10 finishers for Woodland included Hunter Morgan (eighth in the 100 backstroke, 58.67), Chase Starzman (sixth in the 200 free, 1:54.67; ninth in the 100 butterfly, 58.24), DeAngelo Allen (sixth in diving, 271.75), Nolan Bernier in the 200 individual medley (eighth, 2:15.83), Cyr (eighth in the 50 free, 23.30; ninth in the 100 breaststroke, 1:04.45), and Aiden Kennedy (eighth in the 100 free, 51.29; ninth in the 50 free, 23.79).
The 200 medley relay team of Weisenbacher, Cyr, Starzman, and Kennedy was third in 1:43.60, while the 400 free relay team of Kennedy, Starzman, Bernier, and Weisenbacher was fourth in 3:26.85.
Heller said he was happiest with the improvement Woodland showed throughout the season, especially with many of its top swimmers being underclassmen.
“While it was tough to be just short, the team performed better as time went on throughout March, rising to each challenge all season,” Heller said. “We lost three dual meets, and those helped us pick up our training, and it showed how hard they worked when they just kept getting faster throughout the championship season.”
He also acknowledged the importance of the team’s seniors: Allen, Cyr, Kennedy, Tyler Macdowall, Morgan, Mulligan, Will Tottenham, and Taha Turshani.
“We are losing a great group of seniors that have elevated this program greatly,” Heller said. “To go out with an NVL title and a Class S runner-up title, [I] can’t put words on that for them — extremely proud and grateful to coach this group of guys.”
BY KYLE BRENNAN