West Hartford’s Hall High School boys indoor track and field team won the Class LL Championship on Feb. 8, 2024.
By Howie Lam
In a nail-biting competition against one of the most competitive class divisions in Connecticut Indoor Track and Field, the Hall boys track and field team prevail once again, edging out rival powerhouses Danbury, Manchester, and Norwich Free Academy.
Outstanding athletes, strong relay teams, and even unexpected performances from a handful of individuals helped contribute to the championship title.
Going into the 4x800m Danbury had taken first place in the 4x200m – which shot them into the lead with Manchester and Norwich Free Academy also scoring points – but a bold kick from Ben Lewis on the lead-off leg put Hall in a prime spot to win. Connor Mayr continued the lead with a breakout performance, splitting his leg in a time of right around two minutes. Jacob Szalewicz, on the third leg, continued to pull away and battle as they entered into the final stages of the race. Donovan Connole, on the anchor leg, led for the first two laps until Ridgefield’s Steven Hergenrother, who just came off of a 4:09 mile at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, pushed the pace and pulled away on the last lap.
The Titans were able to finish in second place, with a time of 8:11.56, a season’s best for the team that added eight points on the scoreboard. Danbury finished right behind in third place.
Senior captain Joe Nham has been through it all. After finishing last year as Class LL Champion in the 55m hurdles, he came back ready to defend his title. At the Yale Invite just a few weeks before, Nham not only shattered his personal best, but also the school record.
The previous record before Nham had touched it was 8.14s, held by Connor Blodgett in 2017. Nham destroyed the record in his breakout junior season, running 7.77s. At the Yale Invite, Nham progressed from the preliminary rounds in 7.81s, to 7.73s, to an astonishing 7.46s in the finals to take the win. However, a week later, Nham unfortunately broke his wrist while sledding and was forced to take time off.
Not knowing whether or not he’d be back for the rest of the indoor season, his hopes remained high. After a few check-ins with the doctor following his surgery, they miraculously cleared him to race just two days before the state championship. Nham comfortably ran a 7.96s in the preliminary round to advance him into the final, and was able to defend his prized title, winning the finals in 7.75 seconds, with the second place finish coming in over a quarter of a second after, in 8.03s.
“My season has been a rollercoaster … I was speechless after my time [at Yale] and I was really happy about what I ran. It was heartbreaking when I broke my left wrist. I had to get surgery and I thought my season was over. However, I prayed every day hoping that there would be a miracle. When my second follow-up appointment came by, I was hoping and praying that my doctor would clear me … I ended up winning and the only thing I could say is ‘It’s great to be back.’ Now I am trying to do everything to get back where I was three weeks ago. It’s like a crazy fairytale,” said Nham as he reflected on his season so far.
With about a quarter of the boys events done, Hall was in third place, to Danbury and Norwich Free Academy. Over the field events, Hall’s Jacob Walters and Nick Xaiver added to the team score, placing third and fourth, with massive feats of 50 feet 4.5 inches, and 49 feet 11.75 inches respectively in the shot put.
Walters, who primarily focuses on throwing javelin, has gone much further than he expected. “Going into this season, my goal was just 48 feet. I’m so amazed at how far I’ve come, and now that I’ve qualified for the state open championship, I’m extremely excited to continue competing,” said Walters. Walters had a rocky beginning of the season, throwing right around his personal best for the first few competitions, but at the Yale Invite he was able to produce a massive personal record, throwing just about 46 feet. Just last night, he threw 50 feet, adding four points to the team score.
Pole vaulters Liam Wright and and David Ladieu made a major impact for Hall on Thursday night. Wright, a senior, won the event with a 15-00 vault, and Ladieu came in fourth clearing 12-00. Colby Yingling also added points with a sixth-place finish.
Hall continued its rally back on the track with the 1000m. Nathan Yingling, originally seeded 14th overall going into the championship, had a stellar performance to rank him fifth overall in the meet, in a time of 2:44.59. Not only is that a massive personal best, but it was a performance that helped the Titans find some point to keep them in contention. His fellow teammates, Jonah Schulman and Jeremy Baun, finished 12th and 15th overall respectively.
In the boys 600m, a very competitive last heat helped put down more points for the team score. Hall’s Gabriel Sisk strung out the race, as Jacob Szalewicz who started far behind brought himself back into contention by the end of the first lap. Sisk continued to lead with a steady pace as the pack began to fall off around the 400m mark. In the final stages of the race, Sisk and Szalewicz battled New Britain’s Yendri Ruiz and Manchester’s Gavin Kane, ultimately finishing in third and fourth place respectively, in times of 1:26.27 and 1:26.29.
Returning 4x800m runner Connor Mayr was not done yet (and not for a while). Mayr came back for the 1600m wanting to continue a night of great racing. As he started the race, Mayr immediately went out to the front and heated up the pace to about 4:20/mile. Being the gutsy and ambitious runner he is, Mayr continued the massive lead and passed through the halfway point in about 2:10. Battling it out in the last lap with Ridgefield’s Sullivan Dunn, Mayr ultimately pulled away in the last 100m to win his heat in a time of 4:33.11.
The race helped to fire up state open outdoor 3200m champion and Boston University commit Isaac Mahler for his race right after. Mahler’s race was a lot more tactical, with most of the competition seeded much faster than 4:33. However, the group passed the 800m mark at about 4:40/mile. A bold surge by Mahler with a lap and a half to go shocked the rest of the race as Staples’ Ben Lorenz and Fairfield Warde’s Parker Broderick followed behind. Mahler finished in third place overall in a time of 4:29.74, which resulted in five more points added to the team score.
A hard fought battle in the sprint medley relay (200m-200m-400m-800m) put four more points on the table, as Caleb Rainey, Tommy Nash, Julian Serrano, and Donovan Connole placed fourth overall, behind Manchester, Danbury, and Ridgefield, however offsetting Norwich Free Academy by a few points.
The tactical distance races followed in the 3200m. Going into the race, favorites Ben Lorenz from Staples and Isaac Mahler from Hall planned to duke it out like last year’s competition. Not only did Mahler have to race Lorenz, but also the four Danbury athletes who planned to tail him throughout the race. If they placed ahead, it could define the team champions. As the gun went off, the pace was sluggish, as five runners went out to the front, and none of them being Lorenz, Mahler, or the Danbury runners. After passing the 800m mark, Mahler shot to the front of the pack and reconnected the chase pack with the lead pack. A striking surge by Norwich Free Academy’s Patrick Croughwell stunned the field with two laps to go, however the rest of the pack decided to turn it into a race going into the last lap. Croughwell won the race, with Mahler finishing fourth in a time of 9:45.69, just ahead of all four Danbury guys. The result now had pushed Hall into the lead by four points, Hall’s 70 to Danbury’s 66.
The final race that capped off a thrilling night was the boys 4x400m relay. At this point, it was past 10 p.m. People were tired, ready to go home. However, the Hall boys were found spread all across the track for the last event of the evening. Julian Serrano, who came back from the SMR relay, fought hard against first place Hamden. Jacob Szalewicz, Connor Mayr, and Seamus Deveney, all who had now tripled, battled against Hamden and Trumbull to finish in third place.
“I’m so proud of how far this team has come and what we have in store for seasons and years to come. Everybody worked so hard for this, and through the hardships and unfortunate injuries that prevented individuals from running in their individual events or relays, it’s really special,” said Jacob Szalewicz after his 4x400m race.
Hall had finally done it again – the seventh year in a row winning a state class LL title.
They now move onto the CIAC State Open Championship, hoping to defend their back-to-back title from many big contenders.
To follow along, click this link: (https://www.nestiming.com/events/ciacindooropen24) and to purchase tickets and find more information, click here: https://www.athletic.net/TrackAndField/meet/520732/info.
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