Last year was as good as it’s ever been for the Warwick Vets gymnastics team. The ’Canes came in second place in Division II in both the regular season and at the state meet, and they also saw freshman Candis Kowalik become the first individual state champion in program history.
Now, they’re ready for some sustained success. With Kowalik back in the fold for her sophomore season, and a few other talented gymnasts stepping up, Vets is off to a 3-1 start this season and should be in the mix for the top spot when it’s all said and done.
“I think we definitely have a chance if the girls are pulling it together,” first-year head coach Stacy Capone-Melino said.
Capone-Melino is taking over the program from Angela Cidade, and it’s her first head coaching job at the high school level. She also teaches gymnastics at the Warwick Dance and Gymnastics Academy.
She’s inherited a team on the rise, as Vets posted a winning record for the first time in many years last season, and graduated only two seniors, with Kristen Hyle being the biggest loss. Everyone else, though, is back and hoping to push the ’Canes to the top of the division.
“We have a pretty strong team this year,” Capone-Melino said. “We have a lot of seniors.”
Vets lost its opening meet of the season to defending D-II champion West Warwick, but just barely. The Wizards won 121.90 to 119.80. Since then, the ’Canes have posted three straight wins, including a pair of victories on Sunday over Portsmouth and Exeter-West Greenwich. EWG, in particular, is another team that should be in the running. Vets beat the Scarlet Knights by just two points.
“We have a little competition with Exeter-West Greenwich that’s going to be close,” Capone-Melino said. “We scored two points higher than them today. And West Warwick, they’re very good too.”
One thing that Vets has going for it that the other schools won’t be able to match is Kowalik, who scored the second-highest all-around score in Rhode Island state meet history last year as a freshman.
This year, she’s already qualified for states as an all-around gymnast, and she scored a 37.250 on Sunday.
“She has maybe one person who is close,” Capone-Melino said. “But we’re hoping for her to keep the state champion title. I’d like to see her get that.”
Vets is also led by its two captains, seniors Danielle Granata and Thalia Rivera-Ortiz. Unfortunately, Granata tore her ACL in the first meet of the season and she will miss the rest of the year.
Rivera-Ortiz was a state meet qualifier last year and she finished in 24th place overall with a score of 26.250. She qualified for states in the vault event with a strong showing on Sunday.
The ’Canes also saw junior Kayleigh Desjarlais qualify in the vault, as well as sophomore Alli Quinn.
“Overall, they’re very hard workers,” Capone-Melino said. “The energy is just incredible.”
Vets will also get some help from sophomore Sloan Kinney, who is new to the team. She’s a dancer normally, so she’ll compete in the floor event.
Others include Elizabeth Bennett, Jessica Browning, Brittanie Cole, Danielle Grenci, Shannon Law, Michaela McNally, Nicole Nehiley and Megan Macrae.
They’ve all been receptive to their new coach.
“Megan Macrae stuck her beam routine today,” Capone-Melino said. “I said, ‘Don’t you fall off beam today.’ She just said, ‘Okay.’ The kids are hysterical. They’re great.”
It amounts to a strong mix of girls who are hoping to continue the program’s ascent. The ’Canes will have another shot at West Warwick later in the season, with the opportunity to avenge the early season loss. Vets has already improved since that loss, as they scored a 122.40 in a victory over Mt. Hope last Saturday.
Then they’ll try to make some noise at the state meet, while Kowalik tries to become the sixth gymnast to claim consecutive individual state titles in Rhode Island history. The last to do it was North Kingstown’s Alysse Pazienza in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
Vets’ next meet is Saturday at the YMCA Newport County against Portsmouth at 3:30 p.m. Portsmouth is currently 0-1.
“We’re excited,” Capone-Melino said. “It’s a really great group of girls. We’re having fun.”