With a steadily-improving group of returning gymnasts and a talented newcomer, the Warwick Vets gymnastics team knew before the season began that it would be more competitive than it’s been in recent years.
Expected or not, though, the ’Canes couldn’t hide their excitement when the potential came to life on Sunday.
Hosting Exeter/West Greenwich and North Smithfield in the season opener, the ’Canes put up 120.5 points to beat both teams and start the year 2-0. Already, that’s more wins than the ’Canes have had in the last three years, combined. Vets went 1-9 in the 2008-09 season before going 0-10 the last two years.
For many on this year’s team, Sunday’s victories were the first of their careers.
“We’re excited,” said head coach Angela Cidade. “I knew we had a stronger team coming in, but I didn’t really know where we would place in the division, so it’s great to start out like this.”
It could be the beginning of something big.
Vets has always faced an uphill battle against the other teams in its division, teams with more experienced gymnasts. This year, the identity has changed. The improvement shown by a strong returning nucleus plus the addition of freshman standout Candis Kowalik has given Vets a foundation for success.
“It’s a lot more of a self sufficient team,” Cidade said. “They know their routines and they know their skills so when they come to practice, we can work on next-level skills instead of just trying to get enough done to get six kids on an event.”
And that means the ’Canes can shoot for new goals. The program has never qualified as a team for the state championship, which is also known as A States. With a top three finish in their division, the ’Canes could do it this year. The regular season schedule only includes 10 meets, so a 2-0 start is a pretty good first step.
“Since Vets has had a team, they’ve never made it to A states,” Cidade said. “So that’s our goal. Just to make it would be great.”
The ’Canes are led by senior captain Kristen Hyle and junior captain Danielle Granata. Both can handle every event, and Hyle has been a regular all-around performer since her freshman season.
“Kristen and Danielle are both great kids,” Cidade said. “They work all four events, and they’re great role models for all the girls.”
Cassandra Buteau and Hannah Messier are the other seniors. The junior class includes Elizabeth Bennett, Brittanie Cole, Katelyn Martins, Nicole Nehiley and Thalia Rivera-Ortiz. Sophomores Jessica Browning, Kayleigh Desjarlais, Megan MacCrae and Michaela McNally are also key performers.
Kowalik is the only freshman on the roster, but her presence has given the team a major boost. Kowalik is a Level 10 gymnast and has immediately become Vets’ top scorer. She has also qualified for states as an individual already.
“She’s a super strong gymnast,” Cidade said. “She’ll be our top scorer in every event.”
With Kowalik’s points added to the already rising totals from the returning gymnasts, Vets is seeing a big spike in points. Cidade said the biggest difference so far has come on bars, where the team used to struggle.
“Our bars is what has improved the most from last year,” Cidade said. “We have five girls now who can do low bar and high bar, and we haven’t had that.”
As the season kicks into high gear this month, the ’Canes are hoping to keep improving. The next step is making headway on beam
“Sticking beam is it,” Cidade said. “Today was a little rough on beam. It’s always the most nerve-wracking event for them. So I think just the more meets we’re in, the more confident they’ll get. If we can get our beam scores on, that’s going to help us a lot.”
Whatever happens, the ’Canes will keep aiming high. They’ll visit Mt. Hope for their second meet of the season this Saturday.