Woodland boys swim earns NVL three-peat

For a third winter in a row, the firetrucks from Beacon Hose blared their sirens as a bus filled with Woodland swimmers and divers rolled down Route 8’s Exit 24 in Beacon Falls.
That enjoyable cruise was much like the outcome of the Naugatuck Valley League championships on March 1 at Waterbury’s Kennedy High, where Woodland easily sailed past the competition to win their third league crown in as many years.
As head coach Brendan Heller predicted going into the meet, the Hawks’ depth carried them to the three-peat. Despite only junior Nolan Bernier picking up a gold medal (5:10.73 in the 500-yard freestyle), Woodland loaded each race with medalists and other high finishers to easily top runner-up Holy Cross, 887-726.
The Hawks garnered seven silver medals, including all three relays. Senior Chase Starzman (100 and 200 freestyles) and junior Alex Weisenbacher (100 backstroke and 100 breaststroke) each claimed a pair of silvers.
“Our relays really stepped up,” Heller said. “Our fourth, fifth swimmer in each race in scoring territory stepped it up. It was awesome. I’m really proud of the guys.”
Although Weisenbacher didn’t collect a gold medal, his performance at the end of the meet was indisputably impressive. He swam the final three races consecutively, winning silver in his two individual events and helping the 400 free relay touch second.
Three events, no break, and clearly, no big deal.
“I just had to man up, step up,” said Weisenbacher, who swam a 55.90 in the 100 back and a 1:03.50 in the 100 breast. “My team needed it, so I’ve just got to do it.”
Starzman acknowledged that his younger teammate pulled off a feat that few others could even consider trying.
“I think it’s insane. I don’t think I could do that,” said Starzman, who clocked a 49.98 in the 100 free and a 1:51.85 in the 200 free. “To go at his speed in those three, it’s insane really.
It’s very hard, very hard.”
Bernier was the other individual star. His time of 5:10.73 in the 500 free was 15 seconds better than the runner-up, and he placed fourth in the 200 free (1:52.82)— but plenty of other swimmers helped Woodland bring home the hardware again.
Other top 10 individual finishers for the Hawks included Ryan Iannone (third in the 200 IM, 2:06.00, and third in the 100 butterfly, 56.67), Andrew Princic (sixth in the 50 free, 24.70, and ninth in the 100 free, 54.88), Nick LaChappelle (sixth in the 500 free, 5:38.59, and seventh in the 200 IM, 2:18.06), Jack Bshara (seventh in the 100 breast, 1:13.81), Andrew Orlowski (eighth in the 50 free, 24.81), Arkadiusz Kuzebski (seventh in the 100 back, 1:03.77, and eighth in the 200 free, 2:00.10), Jake Southard (ninth in the 50 free, 25.08), Vincent Sasso (ninth in the 100 fly, 1:04.08, and 10th in the 200 free, 2:04.16), Jacob Beyer (eighth in the 500 free, 5:41.25, and 10th in the 200 IM, 2:31.68), Robert Gugliotti (10th in the 100 fly, 1:04.22), and Zach Sharkey (10th in the 100 breast, 1:15.23).
“I think our middle guys make us a great team,” Weisenbacher said. “Every person scores, we all swim great and we all step up. … It’s really great [to win a third straight NVL title], but
I think it’s not one individual on the team; it’s everybody. The team is really great, and I enjoy swimming with them.”
Starzman said a grueling practice schedule helped prepare the Hawks for another championship.
“A lot of effort goes into it. Practice is super hard every day,” Starzman said. “This is probably the hardest season I’ve ever had in my life, practice-wise. Every guy shows up almost every day and puts the work in. I think they really deserve it.”
Woodland was set to turn its focus to the Class S state championships. In the diving competition March 6, Woodland’s Tyler Patchkofsky placed eighth with 221.85 points, while the Hawks’ Edgar Jorge was ninth with 187.10. Swim trials were scheduled for March 8 with finals March 11. The State Open will be March 16.
The Republican-American’s Kevin Roberts contributed to this story.