Woodland swim earns impressive runner-up finish

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BY KYLE BRENNAN
CITIZEN’S NEWS
A few weeks before the Naugatuck Valley League boys swimming and diving championships, Woodland head coach Brendan Heller said his team wanted to win a third straight league title, but he didn’t want his team to peak then.
Heller thought his team should set its sights on the Class S championship, and the Hawks almost captured it.
For the second time in three years, Woodland finished as the Class S runner-up, falling just 10 points shy of Weston. The Hawks scored 547 points to the Trojans’ 557 on March 11 at the Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford.
“We did awesome,” Heller said. “It was heartbreaking to fall short, but the guys really went for it.”
Woodland and Weston traded the lead throughout the meet, and the Trojans held a two-point lead entering the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay. Weston’s foursome won the event, beating its seeded time by nine seconds to finish in 3:18.82, nearly four seconds ahead of the third-place Hawks.
Heller said a lot of the team’s success was set up by its efforts at state trials March 8.
“We did so well at the trials. We put ourselves in a shot to win the meet,” Heller said. “Going into it, we were talking about who would step up and make the impact at trials to get a bunch of points for us. Jake Southard had an unbelievable trials where he jumped about 10 people [seeded above him] in two different events. Andrew Princic made a big impact and had his moment in his last meet.”
Ryan Iannone earned All-State honors by finishing third in the 100 breaststroke in 1:01.93, while Chase Starzman — a senior whom Heller called “one of the best swimmers to come through this program — was fourth in the 200 IM (2:02.93) and fifth in the 100 butterfly (54.15).
Woodland’s Ryan Iannone earned All-State honors after finishing third in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Class S championship meet on March 11.
Other Woodland individuals who competed in the A-heat in the Class S finals included Alex Weisenbacher (fourth in the 100 backstroke, 56.09; eighth in the 100 butterfly, 55.58) and Nolan Bernier (fifth in the 500 free, 5:00.76; seventh in the 200 free, 1:50.56).
All three of Woodland’s relay teams placed among the top five. The 400 free relay team of Weisenbacher, Bernier, Starzman, and Iannone was third in 3:22.22, while the medley relay team of Andrew Orlowski, Weisenbacher, Starzman, and Princic was fourth in 1:43.62 and the 200 free relay team of Princic, Bernier, Orlowski, and Iannone placed fifth in 1:34.76.
Woodland’s success once again came down to team depth.
“We’re not pulling in all these gold medals, but we have a hardworking group who sets the bar high,” Heller said. “You strive to be at your best at the end of the season.”
Heller said he was also impressed by the way the Hawks refocused after the emotions of winning a third straight NVL championship a week before state trials.
“We went to the [NVL championship] meet, executed, won, and then we turned the page the next day to get ready for states,” Heller said. “I was really proud of how we handled that.
They showed a lot of maturity and courage to battle for it. It’s easy when you win your conference, you think, ‘Oh, this is awesome,’ but if you’re not ready for states, you go home.
We couldn’t have gotten any closer. They gave it every ounce of their being.”
Starzman qualified for the State Open in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly, while Weisenbacher made the cut in the 100 backstroke and Iannone qualified in the 100 breaststroke. The 200 medley and 400 free relay teams also made the event, which was set for March 16 at Yale.
It’ll be the last meet for Starzman, whose senior class includes Princic, Robert Gugliotti, Nick
LaChapelle, Vincent Sasso, and Michael Varesio and will graduate as the most decorated class of athletes in Woodland boys swimming history.
“We’ve raised the bar a little bit, but it’s all due to this senior class,” Heller said. “They’ve had nothing but success, and I’m going to miss these guys. They’ve built this up to a level that hopefully we can sustain. These guys have mentored the younger kids and done a terrific job.”