WATERBURY — In 16 years of coaching swimming at Woodland, Mike Magas had never seen a Naugatuck Valley League championship meet quite like the one that played out this fall.
In about as close of a finish as any championship meet could have, the Hawks won their second NVL title in three years by edging powerhouse Seymour, 907-905, on Nov. 8 at Kennedy High’s Jack Reardon Pool.
“It was something we’ve been thinking about from the very beginning of the year,” Magas said of the championship. “We knew that Seymour was absolutely loaded, and for us to pull it off, everything had to come together just right. Did I think we could do it? Yes. I had faith.”
But by just two points?
“From the first race to the last, every swimmer had to watch where they finished, for both teams (for the tight finish to happen),” Magas said.
Although the Hawks won just one event — Kayleigh Theroux in the diving competition — their sheer number of quality swimmers was enough to overcome nine event victories by Seymour.
Of the 33 athletes on Woodland’s roster — which is the largest in the league — 24 scored points during the NVL finals.
“A big key was depth,” Magas said. “Our divers helped us tremendously (with a 1-2-5 finish). We knew going in that (Seymour) had the best swimmer in most events, and even the top two in some events. We knew they couldn’t go any higher, but we knew our girls could go higher (than their seeds). That was going to be the key for our girls to all step up a little bit.”
The top individual swimming finishes for the Hawks came by Kyla Behrle, who was second in the 500 freestyle and third in the 100 butterfly, Maura Beltrami, who was third in the 500 free and fifth in the 200 IM, Molly Kennedy, who was fourth in both the 50 and 100 free, and Morgan Swift, who was fourth in the 100 breaststroke.
Woodland also finished second place behind Seymour in all three relays. Those swimmers included Behrle, Beltrami, Swift, Kennedy, Aly Rojcov, Camille Terrell and Casey Brooks.
The two-point victory came down razor-thin margins — not just in the overall score, but in countless individual events.
“There were probably 30 or 40 occurrences I could point at,” Magas said about reasons why the Hawks won. “Molly Kennedy touched out a Naugy girl by one one-hundredth of a second. Aly Rojcov touched out a girl from Seymour for seventh place in the backstroke. Liana Demirs and Lauren Avery in the 100 free, they went 1-2 in their heat. It seemed like every race, every heat, there was something someone was doing to help us.
“It was hard to pinpoint one in particular,” Magas continued. “Every race, someone had a huge drop in times. The girls have bought in. I tell them all year to trust me and believe in what we’re doing.”
Woodland’s diving results also gave the Hawks a massive advantage that they never lost. In addition to Theroux’s win with 353.45 points, Ella Bernegger was second with 332.30 point and Shaelin DiGioia was fifth with 297.20 points. Seymour doesn’t have any divers, accounting for a huge edge in the standings.
Magas credited his divers’ success with their hard work and the efforts of new diving coach Michele Griffith.
“Michele Griffith really is even-keel and knowledgeable,” Magas said. “She demands a lot from the girls, but she gives them a lot back. Michelle’s guidance really helped Kayleigh step up and become more confident in herself as a diver.”
Bernegger (ninth, 305.85) and Theroux (10th, 300.20) also competed in the Class S diving championships last Thursday in Plainville. The swimmers are set to compete in their state finals Tuesday at Southern Connecticut State.
Although the Hawks might not have as many superstars as other teams, Magas said the championship proves that consistent training pays off.
“It’s pretty sweet,” Magas said. “Sometimes it’s hard for swimmers to understand what they’re doing in workouts, but the end result showed that we were right.”