Rival cross country teams in the South-West Conference learned a tough lesson again Oct. 21 in Bethel -- never underestimate New Milford High School's Green Wave.

The NMHS boys' and girls' packs both "rose to the occasion," as boys' coach Chris Bacich described it, to capture respective SWC championships over Bethel High School's rolling, five-kilometer course.

Even with eight straight titles on the program's resume, coach Bacich's crew was chalked in as perhaps the third pick by league pundits behind Newtown, which had outrun the Green Wave during their most recent meeting, and a talented Pomperaug squad.

Still, as the sun settled deep in the western sky last week on a gorgeous autumn afternoon, all seven NMHS runners finished in the top 25 among the 86 runners to give coach Bacich the needed balance to prevail.

"We came as underdogs," agreed coach Bacich, "which is an unusual position for us."

Still, led by senior captain Nick Grudev's third-place run, the Green Wave was able to total just 54 points for its first five finishers to edge Pomperaug (6) and Newtown (66), as well as 10 other SWC schools.

"Nick has done an excellent job as senior captain in keeping our guys focused on the importance of coming up big in the important meets," praised coach Bacich.

Among the biggest surprises this fall as the NMHS boys attempted to overcome the loss of all but one varsity runner from last years SWC and state championship pack have been Ryan Clarke and John Perrino.

"Ryan Clarke and John Perrino made the jump from never having run cross country to all-conference status," noted their coach, "which says a lot about their sense of competitiveness and commitment."

The Green Wave's title run was built on the talents of Nick Grudev (3rd, 15:41.4), Stephen Anderson (9th, 16:27.1), Ryan Clarke (12th, 16:33.6), Noah Rossiter (14th, 16:37.2), John Hansell (16th, 16:39.2), John Perrino (22nd, 16:52.1) and Kevin Ortega (25th, 16:56.1).

"We've improved vastly as a team in the past two weeks," reflected coach Bacich. "We don't necessarily have overachievers, but we have guys who are only now learning what they are capable of."

The veteran NMHS mentor briefly pondered what it would be like to win a 10th straight SWC title next fall, but knows the team's focus needs to be on the state class `L' race set tomorrow (Saturday) at 2:40 p.m. at Wickham Park in Manchester.

"A tenth straight title banner would be a nice achievement for next year," he mused, "but for now it's back to business."

------

The Green Wave girls similarly had to overcome a deep and talented Pomperaug and 13 other squads to earn a second straight SWC title.

Running the afternoon's first race, coach Tom Marks' NMHS girls went out quickly and emerged on top thanks to senior captain Jennifer Paradiso's fifth-place effort and solid runs by the rest of the lineup.

The Green Wave totalled 60 points compared with 64 for Pomperaug and 77 for third-place Immaculate.

Checking in at 19:15.8 for her tour of the Bethel campus, Jen Paradiso showed the way for Jessica Noteware (8th, 19:30.6), Candice Weiss (10th, 19:41.1), Gabby Passarelli (12th, 19:49.3) and Sofia Amaral (25th, 20:22.9) in scoring roles and Rachel Watson (20:45.8) and Erin Kersten (41st, 21:02.3) as support.

"I was really looking forward to this race," said coach Marks, "because I knew how competitive it was going to be. It could have been anybody's race."

The Green Wave will take their act tomorrow (Saturday) at 3:10 p.m. into the state class `LL' race.

Echoing success of the NMHS varsity, the boys' and girls' JV squads posted victories in their respective events to give the Green Wave a sweep.

"It was a good day for green," concluded coach Marks.