Pieces fall into place for NFA girls again

Norwich Free Academy's MiaLynne Park, center, sprints ahead of the rest of the field while running the anchor leg of the Wildcats' winning 4x100-meter relay at Saturday's Eastern Connecticut Conference Track & Field Championships. NFA won all three relay events en route to winning their seventh straight team title.

Montville - Putting together her relay teams is like a puzzle for Norwich Free Academy coach Kara Kochanski-Vendola. Freshman Margaret Lewerk, for instance, can run anywhere from the 100 meters to the 3,200.

"Everything's due by Tuesday," Kochanski-Vendola said of the lineups for Saturday's Eastern Connecticut Conference championship meet. "You have to pick it and stick with what you chose."

Likely, most of the other girls' track and field coaches in the ECC wish they had Kochanski-Vendola's "difficulties."

NFA swept the three relay events and won its seventh straight league championship, finishing with 125.5 points. Woodstock Academy was second with 85, followed by East Lyme with 84 and Montville with 57.5.

"Everyone played a part. It's an honor to be on this team, honestly," said Nicole Coughlin, a member of the winning 4x400 and 4x800 relays.

Charlotte van Sambeck, Coughlin, Lewerk and Alyssa Field won the 4x800 to start the meet (10:05.91) and the Wildcats followed that with a victory in the 4x100 with Lauren Knerr, Camille McKenzie, Taylor Driggers and MiaLynne Park (49.98).

Van Sambeck, Coughlin, Park and McKenzie capped the meet with a 4x400 victory in 4:07.40, with Kochanski-Vendola enveloping them in a group hug following the race.

In the finale, it was van Sambeck who seized the lead on the third leg, allowing Park a comfortable margin as the anchor.

McKenzie added a win in the 300 hurdles (48.35) for the Wildcats, the ECC Large Division champions during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Driggers took the long jump (17-4) and triple jump (35-10) and Olivia Lane won the shot put (35-11.5) and the discus (106-1). Lane's previous best in the discus was 99-6.

"We were so pumped up to run," said McKenzie, one of the Wildcats' eight captains who provided leadership in the wake of the graduation of state champions Dyshelle Pemberton, Brianna Lenehan and Erin Schaeffer from last year's Class LL state championship team.

"Coming from a freshman, seeing all the girls competing over the years. No one's sad (from losing the ECC)," McKenzie said. "We want to keep it continuing."

NFA defeated East Lyme 86.5-63.5 on May 6 to decide the regular-season race in the Large Division, close enough, however, to make Kochanski-Vendola wary of the Vikings coming into the ECC meet.

East Lyme got wins from Kirsten Thompson in the 800 (2:25.43) and Jenna Schumacher in the javelin (116-6).

"Kudos to both teams," Kochanski-Vendola said. "It always is a chess match. It's been like that since I've been coaching. What is on the paper, that's pretty much what we have to do to win."

Thompson, a sophomore who was 19th in the Class MM state meet during cross country, said she enjoys the change of pace the 800 brings in the spring.

"That was awesome. It felt awesome. I knew I wanted to win that really bad," Thompson said. "I love cross country. It's my sport. But the 800 is just a different dynamic vs. the other races. It's a different tempo. It's more fun."

Ledyard's Chenoa Sebastian set the only meet record of the day for the girls, breaking her own mark in the 100 hurdles (14.82 seconds). She set the record at 14.91 last season.



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