State qualifiers mount up for balanced Gaels

Sam Klein, Will Rodrigues and Jacob Villalobos lead the way for Shelton.

Sam Klein, Will Rodrigues and Jacob Villalobos lead the way for Shelton.

Bill Bloxsom / Hearst Connecticut Media

“We have guys to cover every area, sprints, distance, jumpers, throwers. We have balance,” Shelton boys’ track coach Mike Gambardella said after his Gaels swept a pair of tri-meets to open the season. “We have 65 kids. I’m happy with the participation level and how hard they are working.”

Shelton’s captains, Sam Klein, Jacob Villalobos and Will Rodrigues, lead in separate events.

“It doesn’t always work out that way because kids vote, but it great to spread that leadership around,” Gambardella said. “Jacob is senior captain with our throwers. Sam Klein is with our sprinting group. He has qualified in the 100, 200 and 400. Will Rodrigues (3200 and 1600) is with the distance group. We have a solid distance team carrying over from cross country and Will leads that. I’m excited about the way the captains have taken the bull by the horns and are leading their groups.”

Ayden Sepkasi and Joe Gigliotti have been a boost in the throwing events.

“Neither had tried track before,” Gambardella said of the football standouts. “Ayden and Joe have qualified for states in the javelin. Tyler Radzion is good in shot put and discus. Jacob Villalobos is close to qualifying in javelin.”

The 4x800 team of Luke Pacheco, Aidan O’Grady, Jayden Opper and Jackson Jones have punched their ticket to states. Connor Picheco in the 100 and Ethan Oko in high hurdles are also headed to the state meet.

“Joe Savino is our leading jumper and has qualified in the high jump,” Gambardella said. “He does long and triple jump as well and I’m sure he’ll qualify in those events. Caleb Ranger is working to be in position for states.”

Gambardella is putting together his best 4x400 relay.

“It will be a combination of 4x8, 4x1 guys with two sprinters and two mid distance guys,” he said. “At the end of the year guys can only compete in three events. I’ll be switching up the lineup.”

The competition is challenging.

“Jonathan Law, Hillhouse and Cheshire are pretty good, and we expect tough meets,” Gambardella said. “We have the O’Grady Relay coming up (Friday, Saturday in Danbury). The kids look forward to it. Every event is a relay event, running, jumping, throwing. It’s a nice twist. Teams with good depth to okay.”

This is Gambardella’s 38th season coaching the Gaels. He is in reach of 300 wins.

“Time goes by fast,” he said. “I don’t keep track, but titles are hard to come by. Amity was in our division for years. Nobody could touch them. The best we’ve done was runner-up one of my first years coaching at State Open.”

Gambardella said his goal as coach is simple.

“Competing each day. With track there are so many variables involved. The kids train hard, but it is a fine line,” he said. “If you train them too hard, they can get hurt. You want them at their best without going over the top. They will break down. The kids only have so many races in them. The most important meets come at the end of the year. You need them to have that pop then.”

Gambardella believes great assistants make for great teams.

“Tony Branca has been with me for years. He is his own head coach up on the upper field with the throwers. I have total confidence in him, the way he leads the kids and gets them to perform at an optimum level,” he said.

“Mike Barone is our indoor coach and outdoors works with short relay team, the 4x4 and all the sprinters. I call he and Tony co-head coaches. They are as instrumental in any of our success as I am. Mike handles the conditioning, which is also a big part of our success.”

Multi-sport athletes help the program.

“We get a lot from soccer, some football, and cross country is a natural carry over,” Gambardella said. “The continuity with Mike doing indoor and I my doing outdoor and cross country has worked out well. The kids identify with us.”

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354