BY KEN MORSE
Woodland swim coach Brendan Heller splashed around in the John Reardon Pool at Kennedy High School with his team on March 5, smiling from ear to ear celebrating the first boys NVL championship for the Hawks.
After a pair of back-to-back third place finishes, last season, Heller’s first, the Hawks put all expectations aside and just went right after it and fell only ten points short to Holy Cross, 831-821, finishing as NVL runner-up.
“We had five great seniors last year and we were knocking on the door,” said Heller. “We had a little bit of incentive after getting beat in the dual meets this year by Holy Cross and Oxford.”
Coming into this season, Woodland was motivated in trying to make up for those 10 points. They came into the NVL championship meet with a full head of steam thanks to senior D.J. Mulligan (417.30), who won the NVL diving championship for the second season in a row.
Seniors DeAngelo Allen (3rd place, 337.85) and Taha Turshani (9th place, 227.90) finished in the same positions they held at last year’s diving championship. The Hawks’ 75 diving points scored, on top of Holy Cross gaining just 48 points and Oxford not scoring, was enough to tip the scales.
“We would not have won the meet without the strength of our divers,” said Heller. “We were very fortunate last year.
“We had a superstar in Jake Arisian but he didn’t swim this year. So I had to develop a lot of guys to swim in multiple events. Just having guys swim in different strokes and different distances helped us to be more diversified.”
Woodland brought home only two first place finishes, but they were ever so timely. Heading down the stretch with only a handful of points separating the top three teams, freshman Alex Weisenbacher (100 backstroke, 55.88) and senior Tyler Cyr (100 breaststroke, 1:06.35) brought home the only two gold medals for the Hawks.
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“I’ll tell you what that was on our mind all season,” said senior captain Tyler Cyr. “To go out and make school history winning the first NVL swim title for the boys team.”
The back-to-back first place finishes was enough to deliver the NVL title to Woodland (880 points) with Oxford finishing as runner-up (836) and Holy Cross settling for third (832), snapping the seven-year title streak of the Crusaders.
“We have a very diverse group of swimmers,” said senior captain Hunter Morgan. “I think that gave us an edge when it came to our relays.”
While a strong senior class of 10 swimmers and divers guided the Hawks back to the NVL championship, meet it was a pair of freshmen and their inspiring performances that assured the Hawks’ cupboard won’t be bare next season when they set out to defend their title.
“We couldn’t be any happier especially after being so close last year,” said senior captain William Tottenham.
Weisenbacher swam to a silver medal in the 200 freestyle (1:50.45) and freshman Nolan Bernier finished with a silver with a second place swim in the 500 freestyle (5:09.15)
The 200 medley relay squad of Weisenbacher, Cyr, sophomore Chase Starzman and senior Aiden Kennedy raced to silver in 1:43.76 and senior Tyler Macdowall brought home the bronze in the 100 breaststroke.
Other point scorers finishing in the top five for the Hawks was Starzman (4th, 200 IM, 5th, 100 butterfly) senior Hunter Morgan (4th, 100 backstroke) and Kennedy (5th, 50 freestyle).
Naugatuck finished well off the pace of the top three teams, placing fourth with 584.5 points. Senior Steven Herb made the most of his final NVL championship by claiming a bronze in the 100 butterfly (56.90), a fourth place in the 50 freestyle (23.15). Herb was also part of two silver medal relays (200 and 400 freestyle).
The 200 free relay team of Herb, Jack Healy, Eric Fortney and Kellen Maher finished second in 1:33.34 and the foursome of Gavin McKeon, Maher, Fortney and Herb finished second in 3:26.69.
The freshman Maher took home the bronze in the 50 freestyle (23.08). Senior McKeon had a pair of fourth place finishes (500 free, 100 breaststroke), junior Healy placed fourth in the 100 fly and junior Hudson Bombery took sixth in the 100 back.
“We had some good swims, said the tri-captain Herb. “We just didn’t have the kind of depth to hang with those top three teams. I’m excited about the performances of some of the younger swimmers and feel we can be competitive next season and beyond, but we need more depth to make a run at the title.”
BY KEN MORSE