BEACON FALLS — Perhaps the Woodland cross country teams won’t be the favorites in as many meets as they have been over the last few years, but that won’t stop the small Hawks squads from challenging in the upper half of the Naugatuck Valley League standings.
Head coach Jeff Lownds, entering his 11th year of leading the programs, realizes this season could be a bit deviant from the success his teams have had, especially recently.
“I don’t want to say we’re in a rebuilding mode, but there are some younger, inexperienced runners who will have to step up,” Lownds said. “It’s going to take hard work, which all of the runners are putting in.”
The boys squad graduated several key runners, including Ryan Mariotti, Kyle Cranney, and Jon Fitzpatrick, who helped the Hawks to a 9-4 overall record and a fifth-place showing at the NVL meet.
This season, the team will be led by a pair of junior captains, Joe Reynolds and Ian Chamenko. They will help groom a group with two other juniors—Kyle Beynor and Dave Terni—and a host of underclassmen, including sophomore Mike Lang and freshmen Drew Chura, Dean Conway, Zack Noreika, Patrick Conway, Mike Lonchar, and Aidan Music.
“We have a young group that has a lot of potential,” Lownds said. “We lost three very important runners and some of the new guys will have to step up to fill in those holes.”
The girls also lost a key component of the team for the last four years in all-state runner Crystal Steinfeld. The team returns senior all-league runner Melissa Kiley, who will be the team’s captain, as well as seniors Tina Diurno, Jamie Norton, and Kelly Diurno.
Junior Miranda Moffat, sophomore Mary Sardinskas, and freshman Stephanie Kiley will fill out the team, which continues the recent trend of small squads at Woodland.
“It’s an advantage because you can give a little more individual attention to the runners,” Lownds said of the team’s size. “The disadvantage of course is that you can score seven places and you don’t want to have somebody get hurt in a big meet. If it’s somebody in your top five, it’s a big disadvantage.”
Lownds recalled, though, that when the team won its last NVL title, the team had a similar makeup.
“When we won the league, we only had about eight girls on the team,” Lownds said. “We’ve been there before and it’s OK.”
For both teams, the losses of key runners and greenness of many on the team now doesn’t mean the expectations will be lowered.
“I don’t believe that you ever overachieve,” Lownds said. “You can only achieve as high as you set your goals, so the expectations will still be high. Both the boys and girls teams are dedicated and hard-working so hopefully we will continue to improve and challenge for some top spots in our league.”
The Hawks will participate in Saturday’s Wilton Invitational before their first NVL meet of the season in which they will head to Veterans Park in Watertown to face the Indians along with Wilby, Torrington, and Crosby.