New Haven - Sports and superstitions go together like snowstorms and mass hysteria. So when Norwich Free Academy got off to a hot start at Saturday's CIAC Class LL girls' indoor track and field championships, coach Chad Johnson became worried.
"I have this thing where if you start doing well at the beginning of the meet, it usually doesn't bode well for the end of the meet," Johnson said. "If you do bad at the beginning, you know you're going to do good at the end."
The Wildcats should have snapped Johnson's belief system for good Saturday. They won the meet's final event, the 4x400-meter relay, and comfortably won their first indoor state title.
"I was kind of waiting for the shoe to fall, and it didn't," Johnson said. "They just kept performing to the last relay. It was definitely an exceptional performance."
NFA senior Dyshelle Pemberton said, "It was way better than I expected."
The Wildcats had 83.5 points. Staples of Westport was the runnerup (58).
The NFA boys also shined, winning three events to finish third (46 points). Staples narrowly edged Danbury, 78-76, for the team title.
"We know we didn't have the depth to win," Johnson said, "but we're looking at the guys that we had and said, 'you know what, there's a lot of these kids with the potential to be state champs. And if you start adding up those points, we could do okay.
"Every boy that we brought here had their best performance. ... I couldn't be more proud."
Brianna Lenehan was NFA's biggest individual winner. She won the 1,600 (5:01.85) and 1,000 (2:54.49). She broke 1,000 meet record set by Glastonbury's Lindsay Crevoiserati in 2010 (2:54.71).
The meet was postponed nine days due to last weekend's major winter storm, so Lenehan, who lives in Bozrah, got in extra work by running around town while school was out. That included a run last Saturday.
"Our coach always says 'you take those days to kind of get ahead of your competion,'" Lenehan said. "'They could be at home resting, so just kind of get ahead a little.'
"The roads looked like ski trails. ... There was a lot of ice. It was not the best (conditions). I slipped a few times, but didn't fall."
Pemberton won the 300 (41.46), placed second in the 600 (1:37.22), and ran the final leg of the 4x400. She teamed with Camille McKenzie, MiaLynne Park and Charlotte Van Sambeck to win that relay (4:06.87). Katherine Gabriele won the pole vault (10 feet, three inches).
Brittany Grabill finished third in the 55 dash, fourth in the long jump, and teamed with Lauren Kneer, McKenzie and Park to finish second in the 4x200.
Other placewinners for the NFA girls were Gabbi Wise (pole vault, fifth), Erin Schaeffer (high jump, sixth), Park (300, sixth), and Taylor Dreggers, Kneer, McKenzie and Van Sambeck in the 1,600 sprint medley (fourth).
Martin Lewerk won the long jump (21-½) and was runnerup in the 55 meters (6.62). Both were personal records. He said the blizzard worked to his advantage as he was able to rest his aching calves while school was out.
"I came in rested today," Lewerk said, "and I got the time in (to train) after it got postponed. I got to put in a couple of more days of practice in to get back into a groove of things because even though the rest was good, I was still a little rough around the edges."
Lewerk also teamed with Kobe Amos, Joe Trahan and Liang to win the 1,600 sprint medley relay (3:40.14), setting a school record in the process.
Chris Byars won the shot put (47-9) and Liang was second in the 600.
"We're just a big family, and I think they kind of feed off each other," Johnson said. "When the boys see the girls having success, they say, 'Hey, why not us?'
"That was special."