Woodland making splash in the NVL

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By Kyle Brennan
Citizen’s News

BEACON FALLS — The Woodland-Holy Cross boys swimming rivalry is as competitive as ever entering the Naugatuck Valley League finals Friday at Kennedy High. But if Hawks coach Brendan Heller’s prediction comes true, Woodland will earn a three-peat championship over the Crusaders.

“I think we should win the meet,” Heller said. “I feel like we’re a lot deeper than the rest of the field. I don’t say that arrogantly, but I think we have four people who are in a good position to score in each event.”

That was Woodland’s recipe for its championships in the last two seasons. Heller acknowledges that Holy Cross’ top swimmers are the best in the league — “they have four All-State kids on their team, so everyone knows how good they are,” he said — but quality depth usually beats gold medalists when it comes to the team title.

“I don’t know that we’re in the position to get gold in [many races], but we should have one or two guys in the top six of most events,” Heller said. “We’re hoping to score four kids pretty high in every event, and hopefully our relays will do well.”

The Hawks’ only loss during the NVL dual-meet season came against Holy Cross on Feb. 9, and it came down to the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay. When the team of Chase Starzman, Ryan Iannone, Nolan Bernier, and Alex Weisenbacher finished three seconds behind the Crusaders’ foursome, it gave Cross a 97-89 victory.

That meet played out much like Heller thinks the league meet could look. Woodland only won two events — Weisenbacher took the 100 backstroke in 56.43 seconds, and the 200 free relay team of Edgar Jorge, Tyler Patchkofsky, Andrew Orlowski, and Liam Kimball won in 1:36.59 — but the Hawks went 2-3-4 in three events and 2-3 in two other events.

“The guys battled hard,” Heller said. “They battled to the very end. If we had gotten first place in the final relay, we would have tied. We were right there and just didn’t finish, but it was a great test for us and I think it will pay off for us.”

Woodland closed the regular season Feb. 16 with a 93-85 win over Oxford, a victory that helped the Hawks finish the dual-meet season with a 10-2 record. Individual winners for Woodland in that meet included Starzman (200 free, 1:54.97 and 500 free, 5:21.53), Weisenbacher (200 individual medley, 2:12.54 and 100 free, 52.74), and Bernier (100 backstroke, 1:02.35).

Patchkofsky also won the diving event with 149.10 points. He and Jorge, who was third against Oxford, could come in handy for the championships. They were set to compete earlier in the week, and it was Woodland’s divers who clinched last year’s team title.

“They’re doing great,” Heller said.

One additional factor that could benefit the Hawks’ try for a three-peat is their experience at the championships.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how the guys react to being in championship season,” Heller said. “We don’t have a lot of new guys this year, so our guys are experienced and they’ll be ready to go.”