Based on her early success, Melanie Brunelle was hoping to run well at Monday’s cross country city championship at City Park.
She did that and more.
The Pilgrim freshman surged to a first-place finish in the girls’ race, running the 5K course in 21 minutes. Tess Russo of Toll Gate took second place, 22 seconds behind Brunelle.
“I wasn’t expecting to come in first, that’s for sure,” Brunelle said. “I guess it was just that adrenaline rush of wanting to win.”
Pilgrim’s Natalie Tocco joined Brunelle in the top four, but Toll Gate had too much depth and won the race for the team title. The Titans placed seven runners in the top 10.
On the boys’ side, Hendricken’s Greg Beaudette finished first to lead the Hawks to the team crown. Toll Gate was tops among Warwick public schools.
For Brunelle, the victory was the first of her career. Before high school, she had never run competitively, but she announced her presence early in the year when she took seventh at the preseason Injury Fund freshman race.
She continued to run well through the dual-meet season, culminating with Monday’s performance. Brunelle was on the lead pack the whole way, and she delivered a strong kick as she came down the stretch.
“This is the first race that I’ve won so it’s exciting,” Brunelle said. “Being a freshman, I’ve never run before this.”
Tocco finished fourth for Pilgrim in 21:34. Sarah Grace Plante was the top performer for Vets, taking eighth.
The rest of the top 10 was dominated by Toll Gate. Russo finished second in 21:22 and Erika Pena was third in 21:25. Toll Gate beat Pilgrim 23-38 and topped Vets 15-48.
“Going against the other Warwick schools, you’ve got the rivalry thing going,” said Toll Gate head coach Jon Deming. “We were already eliminated from getting into states through dual meets so we just wanted the girls to run hard and run fast.”
Casey Soares finished fifth for the Titans in 23:38, Dena Goldblatt was sixth in 23:48 and Katie Lavalle took seventh in 23:53. Holly Gerber-George rounded out the scoring for Toll Gate with a ninth-place finish, just ahead of teammate Rachel Walker.
“They ran well,” Deming said. “Our top girls ran the fastest they’ve run all year, and they’re two of the newer girls. We had some pretty good performances.”
For Pilgrim, Emily Pride finished 13th, Becca O’Donnell took 16th and Kaitlyn Pellicano closed out the top five with a 17th-place finish. Pilgrim beat Vets 21-40 to close the dual-meet season with a 7-4 mark.
Vets was led by Plante, who ran 24:02 to grab eighth. Angelina Marks finished 11th, Elizabeth Bennett was 23rd, K.J. Johnson finished 24th and Jess McDonald took 25th. The ’Canes finished the regular season at 2-9.
In the boys’ race, Hendricken led the charge despite holding out its top six runners, who had competed over the weekend in a race in North Carolina.
The boys’ race was impacted by a wrong turn that several runners took, putting a number of competitors ahead of where they would have been and a few more behind. But Beaudette still paced the Hawks with a first-place finish in 18:17. John Wheeler was just behind him in second, finishing at 18:23. Also scoring for the Hawks were Chase Martin, Ryan Tierney and Corey Palumbo, who finished sixth, seventh and eighth.
The Hawks beat Toll Gate 21-38 and handled both Pilgrim and Vets by 15-50 scores. The wins secured a fourth consecutive unbeaten dual-meet season for the Hawks, who have clinched the suburban division championship. They’ll be looking for their fourth consecutive state championship next month.
As for Warwick’s public schools, Toll Gate had another strong showing in a season full of them. The Titans put two runners in the top four and beat both Pilgrim and Vets, giving them a 9-3 record in dual meets.
Senior Brandon Golda led the pack for the Titans, finishing just off Beaudette’s pace to take third in 18:24. Sophomore Henry Smithers finished just a second behind him for fourth.
Head coach Norm Bouthillier was happy to see Golda run so well.
“He’s been sort of missing in action in the races,” Bouthillier said. “He hasn’t been himself. But he ran really well today.”
Joe Frost finished ninth for the Titans, Austin Medeiros was 12th and Brock Massa capped the scoring in 13th.
The Titans just missed a top-three finish in their division, which would have given them an automatic bid to states. They’ll still have a shot to get there with a strong finish at the class championship.
“The guys team is poised to make a run at the class meet and do really well,” Bouthillier said. “They’re pumped. They know that the class meet is going to be big for them.”
Vets was led by Dan Pickering, who finished fifth in 18:25. Ian Anderson was next to cross the line in 30th, Nicholas Thompson finished 31st, Evan Anderson grabbed 39th, Jordan Allegretta took 42nd and Jonathan Norden finished 48th.
For Pilgrim, Brian Masse took 22nd to lead the way. He was followed by Cameron Devine in 27th, Sam Eleuterio in 28th, Mark Lenz in 29th and Andrew Allen in 56th.
Pilgrim edged Vets 26-31 for third place, securing a 7-5 regular season. Vets finished at 5-7.
Teams will now gear up for the postseason, with several schools lined up to compete in invitational meets across the region. After those are in the books, teams will compete in the class meets on Oct. 29 and the state meet on Nov. 6.