May 23, 2020 at 4:32 PM May 23, 2020 at 4:46 PM
NORWICH – The Norwich Free Academy boys outdoor track and field team had some unfinished business to win a state title in 2020.
After finishing second by a point to Hall in the 2019 indoor track season and runner-up by 2 1/2 points to Glastonbury outdoors last year, this was the season for the Wildcats to bring home NFA’s first state championship since 2013.
COVID-19 dashed those hopes along with the entire CIAC spring sports season. NFA track coach Tom Teixeira can only imagine how high this unit could climb.
“We were on a mission with the largest senior class I’ve had in my six years here,” Teixeira said. “We had two returning state champs in hurdler David Osagie, pole vaulter Justin Bazinet, some good relay runners, jumpers, sprinters, throwers and distance people. We came so close last year when we weren’t sure we had the depth to pull it off. You never know in a state meet, but we had the horses to get across the finish line.”
Teixeira called Osagie the “headliner.” The senior, who won the LL indoor 55-meter high hurdles and was second in the State Open, was a force in both the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and 110 highs, as well as jumping events.
Bazinet cleared 14 feet to win the LL pole vault indoors after missing the 2019 outdoor season with an injury. The Wildcats also featured a valuable state-level performer in jumper Justin Costick and strong distance runners, including senior Dylan McGuire. Osagie and McGuire will continue competing in track at Southern Connecticut State University.
“These seniors worked so hard to get to the point where they were ready to complete the mission of placing one spot higher than last year,” Teixeira said. “It’s been really sad and strange that the seniors’ careers have ended so unceremoniously.”
Teixeira was looking forward to the continued development of sophomore sprinter D’Angelo Aristilde, who won the ECC 55-meter dash. Senior Nazaiah Paul and sophomore Tyler DeVega headed a core of 200 and 400 runners.
The Wildcats certainly would have been favored to roll in the ECC meet. NFA dominated the indoor ECC Division I meet by 115 points.
NFA’s girls track and field team, which finished third in the Class LL meet outdoors last spring, also held high aspirations. Paige Martin looked to close out her decorated career, complete with two State Open indoor and the 2019 outdoor pole vault crowns, on top.
Teixeira estimates he spends 20 hours or more a week with some athletes such as Martin for six months a year in his capacity as NFA boys and girls indoor coach and boys outdoor coach. The pandemic has left a void for him as well as creating an incomplete and hollow feeling for many competitors.
“There hasn’t been a proper ‘last-meet’ experience and celebration for them,” Teixeira said. “There hasn’t been the right opportunity to say good bye and that’s been hard.”
The coach recalls in past years when he felt the grind of coaching both indoors and outdoors was daunting.
“I felt at times I wanted a couple of days off between indoor and outdoor seasons,” Teixeira said. “I’d coach kids like Allyson Lewis and Paige in the indoor nationals almost right up to the start of outdoor practices. I’ll never think I need time off again, not after this spring.”