The season that never was

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By Kyle Brennan and Ken Morse, Citizen’s News

High school spring sports were among the many joys of our society stripped away by the COVID-19 pandemic. Locally, dozens of senior student-athletes were deprived of the opportunity to take the field, track or court for the last time, and several teams with championship potential will forever be left with that what-if question. Still, the class of 2020 (and the should-have-been teams of spring 2020) deserves to be remembered — so sportswriters Kyle Brennan and Ken Morse caught up with local coaches to spotlight the student-athletes we would have watched over the last two and a half months. Congratulations to the class of 2020!

Baseball

Naugatuck’s Derrick Jagello (10) is greeted by teammates at home plate after blasting a solo home run in the sixth inning of a 2-0 win over Brien McMahon in 2019 at Naugatuck High School. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Naugatuck

2019 results: 14-9 overall; lost to Newtown in Class LL second round, lost to St. Paul in NVL quarterfinals.

What could have been: Naugatuck would have entered the season with quite a few holes to fill after graduating eight seniors — a majority of the starting lineup — returning just two starters. A good group of 10 seniors would have had the opportunity to seize varsity roles. Derrick Jagello, an All-NVL player who will continue his career at Southern Connecticut, and Ryan McCarthy, who was 2-0 with a 1.75 ERA last season, and Jonathan Chatfield would have been the Greyhounds’ top players.

Seniors: Derrick Jagello, Ryan McCarthy, Aidan Alexander, Joel Alexander, Alvin Torres, Finbar Galvin, Jake Murphy, John Braziel, Nathan Delaney, Sean Doxsey.

Look out next year: The opportunities that were present this season will continue next year when pitcher-infielder Jonathan Chatfield will be the only starting player returning. Alex Sosa and Ryan Galiette will join Chatfield as the only seniors. There will be plenty of opportunities to fill varsity roles.

Coach Tom Deller’s take: “Derrick ranked among the best shortstops to play the position in the last 20 years,” Deller said. “Ryan was going to be one of our top four pitchers. It would have been nice to see them compete in their final year.”

Woodland’s Jason Claiborn (3) slides safely into third base for a triple to lead off the bottom of the first inning as Nonnewaug’s Austin Bedard (32) covers the base during a Class M quarterfinal game in June 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

Woodland

2019 results: 20-6 overall; NVL Copper Division champion; lost to Wolcott in Class M semifinals and Holy Cross in NVL semifinals.

What could have been: Although Woodland lost some major components from one of the best squads in school history, the Hawks likely would have been in the mix to defend their division title with a strong senior class. Top pitcher Mike Szturma would have been unable to pitch after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the offseason, but multi-year starters Jason Claiborn, Nick DeLucia and Trey Mastropietro would have led a competitive bunch in both the lineup and on the diamond.

Seniors: Mike Szturma, Jason Claiborn, Andrew Rowley, Trey Mastropietro, Nick DeLucia, Kyle Simpson, Tyler Mei.

Look out next year: After losing two consecutive graduating classes full of major contributors, the Hawks will have to turn to a group without much varsity experience. Cam Heeman, Matthew Belcher and Jayden Tomasella should be some of the team’s top contributors.

Coach Mike Kingsley’s take: “I don’t know if we would have been a 20-win team, but we would have been a tournament team,” Kingsley said. “I’m disappointed I don’t get to spend another year with (the seniors).”

Boys Tennis

Naugatuck’s Jay Mezzo returns a shot versus Sacred Heart’s Seth Drewry during a Naugatuck Valley League tournament quarterfinal match in May 2019 at Naugatuck High School. –FILE PHOTO

Naugatuck

2019 results: 14-2 overall; NVL and NVL Iron Division champion.

What could have been: Naugatuck lost a lot of its senior leadership, graduating nine seniors, including five regular starters. It would have taken some doing to repeat as NVL champs, but the Greyhounds certainly would not have come into the fray empty-handed. Jay Mezzo likely would have headed back to singles after winning the NVL doubles title with Jared Montini, and Chris Cook has emerged as one of the league’s top singles players.

Seniors: Jay Mezzo, Andre Sweet.

Look out next year: The Greyhounds have always prided themselves as a work in progress under head coach Brett Hayward. No. 1 singles player Chris Cook and the emergence of Dan Fine in last year’s championship run will give Naugy two established players to build upon.

Coach Brett Hayward’s take: “Jay, the male CIAC Scholar-Athlete for the class of 2020, has worked real hard for everything he’s accomplished,” Hayward said. “His never-give-up attitude helped to bring the program where it is today. Andre is our other senior leader, and to finish in the top 10 in (Naugatuck’s) student ranking is an incredible achievement.”

Woodland’s Dante Polletta returns a shot during a match with Naugatuck’s Jared Montini in April 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

Woodland

2019 results: 14-3 overall; lost to Torrington in NVL semifinals.

What could have been: Despite the graduation of most of the Hawks’ top singles players, including NVL champion Josh Powanda, Woodland would have been able to fill most of its starting lineup with experienced players. Dante and Devon Polletta, who earned the No. 8 seed in last year’s Class S doubles tournament and both earned All-NVL honors, would have been the Hawks’ top two players. Austin Roberts, Tyler Macdowall and Andrew Hopkinson also likely would have seen substantial playing time.

Seniors: Dante Polletta, Devon Polletta.

Look out next year: Roberts will be poised to take the lead at No. 1 singles for his senior year, while Macdowall and Hopkinson will be the only other returning players with past varsity experience.

Coach Mike Magas’ take: “We were really looking forward to the 2020 season as we had solid players returning,” Magas said. “Although we graduated a strong senior class, including the No. 1 player in the league, we had five players coming back that were very strong. These five would have made up our three singles positions and our No. 1 doubles slot. We were truly looking forward to this spring season and felt that this would have been another successful season for WRHS boys tennis.”

Girls Tennis

Naugatuck’s Brielle Behuniak returns a shot as her partner, Hailey Russell, looks on during the Naugatuck Valley League doubles tournament final in May 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

Naugatuck

2019 results: 18-2 overall; NVL and NVL Iron Division champion; lost to Waterford in Class M first round.

What could have been: Although Naugatuck did graduate five seniors, including four from the regular rotation, the Greyhounds were poised to make a run at a repeat performance among a very strong group of NVL competitors. The reigning NVL doubles champions, Brielle Behuniak and Hailey Russell, were set to return to defend their title, and it would have been tough to bet against them.

Seniors: Brielle Behuniak, Hailey Russell, Cristina Rego, Yahna Ancheta, Adriana Moreno, Abby Larriccia, Alice Pereira and Gabrielle Cantoni.

Look out next year: Coach Jose Sendra spends an awful lot of time grooming the younger players and helping them to gain confidence. When it comes time to replace graduating seniors, the coach usually has a stable of players that is quite comfortable taking on a larger role, and that should be the case among the 15 juniors and 11 sophomores vying for varsity time.

Coach Jose Sendra’s take: “Three-sport athletes like Brielle and Hailey have that refuse-to-lose mentality, and they were more than ready to defend their title,” Sendra said. “Cristina is a no-nonsense player, and Yahna is focused and driven to win. This team had all the capabilities to repeat as champions.”

Woodland

2019 results: 10-6 overall; lost to St. Paul in NVL quarterfinals.

What could have been: The Hawks graduated six seniors, including All-NVL doubles players Alanna Carasone and Mia Piccolo and top singles players Rachel Poulos and Kaitlyn Crosby. That would have left plenty of room for emerging players. Morgan Swift and Ella Parker likely would have been among the top singles players with plenty of depth behind them in the singles and doubles lineups.

Seniors: Morgan Swift, Theresa Sherwood, Paige Resnick, Casey Brooks.

Look out next year: Woodland will return seven players who have experience in the program: Ella Parker, Olivia Vallejo, Samantha Erickson, Brooke Reilly, Brooke Johnson, Meghan Ruhl and Aubrey Fazzone.

Coach Jess DeGennaro’s take: “(The seniors were) all rising tennis stars on the courts — committed, dedicated and supportive teammates,” DeGennaro said. “This was their year to climb to the top of the lineup.”

Golf

Naugatuck

2019 results: 3-13 overall.

What could have been: Naugatuck would have entered the season with its lowest numbers in quite a few seasons, just nine golfers on the roster. The low numbers last year led to six forfeits, and the Greyhounds headed into this season with plenty of holes to fill and many opportunities on the varsity roster. Naugy graduated one senior from last year, Derek McGrath, and other top players Joe Macary and Liz Kilmer were set to pursue other opportunities away from the course.

Seniors: none

Look out next year: Juniors Ryan Hunt and Zach Crosswait have the most returning experience. Adding to the roster will be the top priority to get back to the kind of numbers that will help the Greyhounds to be competitive.

Coach Pete Kovalski’s take: “We developed some players, but we didn’t have the numbers to be competitive,” Kovalski said at the end of last season. “Naugatuck is a town that has its own golf course, so you would hope to generate more interest at this level.”

Woodland’s Tom Conroy putts on the first green during a match against Naugatuck in April 2019 at Oxford Greens in Oxford. –FILE PHOTO

Woodland

2019 results: 6-9 overall

What could have been: Woodland spent most of last season focusing on helping its younger players gain experience — the Hawks had one junior, one sophomore and six freshmen on that roster. As the only upperclassman and team captain, Tom Conroy placed seventh in last year’s NVL tournament and could have challenged for All-NVL honors this season. Mark Barbarito was also set to return after emerging as the team’s top rookie. Coach Bill Carangelo hoped that more players would join the program after seeing numbers trail off in recent years, and the goal was to send a full team to this year’s NVL tournament after only having Conroy and Barbarito play in it last time.

Seniors: Tom Conroy

Look out next year: Mark Barbarito, who placed 25th of 38 golfers at his first NVL tournament, will likely take over as the team’s No. 1 player. Mike Bunce, Jackson Bradley and Skylar DeFazio also improved throughout the 2019 season and could emerge as important scorers.

Coach Bill Carangelo’s take: “The key to them getting better is playing over the summer,” Carangelo said at the end of last season. “I tell them that just because the season will be over doesn’t mean they can stop playing. It’s about getting the kids to play on their own. Our parents have been very supportive.”

Boys Track and Field

Naugatuck’s Sam Daniel, left, takes the baton from Charlie Marenghi as they run the 4×800 relay during a track meet in April 2019 against Torrington and Wolcott at Naugatuck High School. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Naugatuck

2019 results: 12-0 overall; NVL and NVL Iron Division champion; 12th at Class L championships.

What could have been: The Greyhounds had a legitimate shot at not only defending their NVL title, but the seniors were looking to finish with a clean sweep — the 2019 NVL cross country championship, the 2020 NVL indoor track championship and the 2020 NVL outdoor title. Naugy would have had to do it this year without the sensational Zach Koslosky, but there were other top performers ready to go, including Brendon Soubannarath, Charley Marenghi and Tyvias Dippelhofer.

Seniors: Samuel Daniel, Brendon Soubannarath, Connor Behuniak, Amarion Akinsanya, Tyvias Dippelhofer, Joe Macary, David Green, Malachi Gatison, Herve Tshibamba, Isaiah Williams, Paul Marsh, Charles Marenghi.

Look out next year: It goes without saying that the ‘Hounds are graduating a wealth of experience and leadership, but coach Ralph Roper still has some talented go-to guys in Chris Akindura, Jonny Volpe, Aaron Smith and Ethan Garcia. It will certainly be more difficult to get that NVL title repeat, though, with these two years’ worth of graduations.

Coach Ralph Roper’s take: “Brendon (Soubannarath) ran career-best times in the 800, 1600 and 3200,” Roper said. “It’s a shame we don’t get to see what he could have done this year. Charley (Marenghi) is one of the hardest working athletes I have coached. Tyvias (Dippelhofer) worked really hard to get better and it showed with him winning the indoor title in the shot put. I think we had a chance to do something special this spring season.”

Woodland’s Ryan Knobel throws the javelin during a meet against Naugatuck and Sacred Heart in April 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

Woodland

2019 results: 10-4 overall; 28th at Class M championships, eighth at NVL championships.

What could have been: The Hawks likely would have improved their championship showings from 2019 as they were set to return many key scorers, including NVL javelin champion Stephen Persico. Throwing, pole vault and long-distance track events would have been Woodland’s strong suit with other key returners such as pole vaulter Cole Barrows and distance runner Colin Slavin.

Seniors: Cole Barrows, Kelvin Esselfie, Stephen Persico, George Hughes, David Martins, Sam Trumbley, Alek Tolboe, Ryan Knobel, Ethan Carlone.

Look out next year: The Hawks’ underclassmen had shown tremendous potential over the last year or two, and they’ll get their chance to shine next spring. Top athletes should include Conrad Filippone, Jack Schwarz, Nathaniel Smith, Andrew Shea, Nick Santovasi, Justin Petta, Noah Scott, Chase Young, Colin Slavin, Eric Meade, Tommy Meade, Jason Palmieri, Nate Bodnar, Luca Cambra, Elias Sturdevant, Sean Swanson, Carl Cicchetti, Ervin Owusu, Alex Farr and Landon Barrows.

Coach Jeff Lownds’ take: “We were relying on our freshmen and sophomores to make valuable contributions, and we had several experienced upperclassmen who have been very successful, so this would have been an exciting year for the boys team,” Lownds said. “We also want to thank our senior boys for their positive contributions to our program.”

Girls Track and Field

Naugatuck’s Rachel Huculak, left, takes the baton from teammate Paige Cruz as they compete in the 4×400 relay during the Naugatuck Valley League championships in May 2019 at Torrington High School. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Naugatuck

2019 results: 7-4 overall; 14th at Class L championships, fourth at NVL championships.

What could have been: The Greyhounds graduated 13 seniors, but they were set to come back this year with a purpose. Naugatuck showed some of that promise by landing a third-place finish at the NVL indoor track championship this winter. Kylie Neretich was set to defend her 100-meter hurdles gold medal from last indoor season, and a number of All-NVL runners were set to return, including Paige Cruz, Rachel Huculak and Allison Murphy.

Seniors: Kylie Neretich, Paige Cruz, Rachel Huculak, Daniella Acevedo, Elizabeth Krooss, Abby Lawson, Priya Patel, Lauren Rupsis, Mikayla Williams, Kaitlyn Zarrella.

Look out next year: Naugatuck has slowly been building steam over the past few years, and next year the Greyhounds may hit their stride. They’ll be led by the talented Allison Murphy, who is already an All-NVL and All-State performer. The list goes on with Julia Kropo, Kaylee Jackson, Aalyiah Henry, Lilly Lyons, Viola Cerminka and Britney Soubannarath.

Coach Ralph Roper’s take: “We would have made some noise,” Roper said. “Kylie (Neretich) never gave up, regardless of the challenges she faced. Paige (Cruz) was a solid contributor, and then we had girls who always stepped up like Daniella (Acevedo), Lauren (Rupsis), Liz (Krooss) and Mikayla (Williams). But I think next year’s group is going to be ready to roll.”

Woodland’s Jasmine Michie throws the discus during a meet against Naugatuck and Sacred Heart in April 2019 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls. –FILE PHOTO

Woodland

2019 results: 13-1 overall; NVL Copper Division champion; 20th at Class M championships, second at NVL championships

What could have been: After seeing their six-year NVL championship streak snapped last season, the Hawks would have been strong contenders to regain their crown. They did, after all, win their ninth straight NVL indoor championship this winter. A prolific senior class — many of whom won eight NVL titles between cross country and both track seasons — had a chance to win plenty of hardware this spring. Kim Poulos, Emma Slavin, Jade Brennan, Jaden Young and Jasmine Michie were all looking to defend NVL gold medals.

Seniors: Jade Brennan, Hailey Bernier, Jill Brotherton, Eliana Cambra, Caitlin Marvin, Jasmine Michie, Emma Slavin, Diondra Owusu, Calisa Costanzo, Victoria Baliga, Sylvia Lemanski, Alexandra Guillet, Victoria Gugliotti, Katie Sirowich, Lauren Avery.

Look out next year: Despite the loss of a large and impactful senior class, the cupboard is far from bare. Jaden Young became Woodland’s first female track All-State recipient in 12 years when she earned those honors in the 1000 meters during indoor season, and she will lead a talented group that includes Erica Poehailos, Megan Luxeder, Brooke Iannone, Rebecca Benoit, Abby Colt, Kim Poulos, Chloe Poulos, Sara Alessio, Kayleigh Theroux, Kasey Beard, Isabela Mejias, Ella McKay, Amber Rosato, Kayla Drmic, Faith Herren, Kate Foley, Darci Dokla, Isabella Bianchini and Lily Lombardo.

Coach Jeff Lownds’ take: “We returned several upper-class athletes who would have combined with some freshmen and sophomores to contribute to our success,” Lownds said. “We hoped to make a strong showing in both the NVL and Class M. Our senior girls have contributed greatly to our success and we thank them for their dedication to our program.”

Softball

Naugatuck’s Jordyn Hunt (15) and Shannon Barnes (5) try to run down a foul ball during a game against Torrington in May 2018 at Naugatuck High School. – REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

Naugatuck

2019 results: 12-10 overall; lost to Lyman Hall in Class L first round, lost to St. Paul in NVL quarterfinals.

What could have been: Naugatuck needed to replace a few big bats in the lineup — none bigger than All-Stater Hailey Deitelbaum (.484, 17 runs, 18 RBI) — as the Greyhounds graduated four seniors. But Naugy had a strong nucleus of young players that filled out the lineup and was looking to get back to 2018 form, when they advanced to the state quarterfinals. Three-year starter Jordyn Hunt and Autumn Travis would have been captains.

Seniors: Jordyn Hunt, Autumn Travis.

Look out next year: It will start with the All-State battery mates, pitcher Alyssa Roberts and catcher Kendall Allen (.494, 40 hits, 22 RBI). No team in the NVL can boast that kind of 1-2 punch. It certainly doesn’t hurt that head coach Kevin Wesche inserted four freshmen into the 2019 lineup, and they all excelled. Allen, Samantha Mullin, Nadia Cestari and Felicia Salvati will give Naugy fans a reason to cheer for the next couple of seasons.

Coach Kevin Wesche’s take: “We will certainly miss having Jordyn around,” Wesche said. “She is a tremendous leader — the first to arrive and the last to leave and has always been one of the hardest working student-athletes. Autumn is a leader who compliments Jordyn. She is always ready to rumble. I think together they could have led us to a very successful season.”

Woodland

2019 results: 14-8 overall; lost to Jonathan Law in Class M first round and Seymour in NVL quarterfinals.

What could have been: The Hawks might have been favorites to win the NVL championship this year after graduating only four seniors. They were set to return eight players who were either full-time starters or regular contributors, including All-State second baseman May Dawes, All-NVL catcher Kylie Bulinski and pitcher Riley Kane. Woodland gave Seymour all it could handle three times last spring, and the Hawks looked to have more firepower in the lineup and in the circle entering this season.

Seniors: none

Look out next year: On the bright side, the 2021 squad will look almost identical to the way the 2020 team would have looked. In addition to Dawes, Bulinski and Kane, key players will include Isabella Kraemer, Cassidy Doiron, Rory Nolan, Chelsea Donovan and Sam Sosnovich. They will likely be the NVL favorite and could be poised for a deep run in the state tournament.

Coach Loren Luddy’s take: “Fortunately, (the whole roster) will be together again,” Luddy told the Republican-American earlier this spring. “It’s brutal for (other teams’ seniors) because they’re heartbroken, but at the same time they understand.”