DERBY >> It’s a Wednesday afternoon at Derby High. The track team is warming up inside the small gymnasium. There is no outdoor track, so practices almost always begin inside.
In between dictating warmup drills, Derby coach Nick DiLuggo has one eye on his team and one eye on his two children, who have just arrived with his wife, who is also his assistant coach.
“Family. We’re really a big family,” DiLuggo said about his team. “There’s no animosity; it’s a fun group. They’re family.”
The group of 26 boys combined to compile a 14-0 record during regular season, the first perfect campaign in program history. And now the Red Raiders head into the Naugatuck Valley League championships on Wednesday with a goal of winning that, too.
“I just knew what the program was like when we started, and seeing that vision of what it could be and what we wanted it to be, and to see it actually happen, it’s really gratifying,” DiLuggo said.
It’s been a long time coming for the Class S school. DiLuggo, who is in his seventh year at the helm, remembers the early years when Derby was in the Southern Connecticut Conference and had 13 kids on the roster. He remembers taking valuable advice from Amity’s Thom Jacobs on how to build a program.
Flash forward to 2015 and Derby has seen the fruits of its labor. DiLuggo said it’s been a process of turning disadvantages into advantages.
“We work harder to equal what other teams have that we don’t,” senior Eric Hicks said.
DiLuggo said each year he works to build a well-rounded team. He used to pour all his time into the throws. Now he’s working to establish a solid distance core.
“I also think developing a culture of winning has been what it’s all about,” DiLuggo said. “The last couple years we’ve been seeing it about to happen and this year, here we go. We got kids for four years and they know what the program is all about.”
This spring the Red Raiders have arrived in full force, not only as the team to beat in the NVL, but a contender in the state. Led by Hicks, who broke the program’s 54-year-old high jump record in April by clearing 6 feet, 4 inches, it’s been a well-balanced effort. They defeated three-time defending champion Woodland in a quad-meet and 85 percent of the team has qualified for states in every event except the pole vault.
“Mainly this year we wanted it,” senior Brian Eliasson said. “We had one goal and we’re fighting for it.”
Added senior distance runner Damir Poric: “We’re all one big family. We cheer each other on during every race. We pick each other up when we’re hurting.”
While this historic season has been great, there are more important matters on the horizon.
“What’s more important is that we establish not a legacy, but the program,” DiLuggo said. “Something that is going to continue to grow.”