The Warwick Vets gymnastics team had high hopes for this year’s state meet, and understandably so. The ’Canes went 11-1 during the regular season, best in Division II. On top of that, they had the state’s No. 1 ranked gymnast on their team in sophomore Candis Kowalik. They were the favorites to claim the D-II title.
That all changed two Sundays ago, Feb. 17, when Kowalik broke her ankle on the dismount of her beam routine during the team’s final meet of the season against North Smithfield.
And with Kowalik out, Vets’ team score suffered. The ’Canes finished in third place at states on Monday with a total of 115.55. Exeter-West Greenwich won the D-II title with a 126.45.
Overall, though, Vets wasn’t at all disappointed with its performance. The team knew it would be an uphill climb without Kowalik, and the ’Canes actually performed well considering the circumstances.
Third place wasn’t bad at all.
“I think as a team they did absolutely excellent,” Vets head coach Stacy Capone-Melino said. “We put a different person up on each event that had to step up and kind of replace Candis – though you need like two people to try to replace Candis – so they pulled together. They did a good job.”
West Warwick took second with a score of 121.40. In Division I, North Kingstown ended La Salle’s 10-year championship streak with a score of 138.850. The Rams came in second, with Barrington in third. Barrington’s Nicole Silva won the individual title with an all-around score of 36.550.
Kowalik, the defending individual champion, was the initial favorite, as her all-around average of 37.450 was the highest in the state by nearly a full point.
But Vets didn’t win 11 meets solely because of Kowalik, and the rest of the team stepped into the spotlight on Monday.
Kayleigh Desjarlais was the top performer, pulling an all-around score of 30.100. Allie Quinn added a 29.550, while Thalia Rivera-Ortiz came in with a 27.050.
“We did pretty good,” Rivera-Ortiz said. “We worked our hardest. Candis wasn’t here, and she’s our top all-around. We had to pick up her slack.”
Those were the only three gymnasts who competed in all four events for the ’Canes, but others helped out in various spots. Megan Macrae competed in vault and beam, while Michaela McNally competed in beam and floor. Elizabeth Bennett also competed in beam and floor, and Jessica Browning competed in vault and bars. Shannon Law did vault, while Brittanie Cole and Nicole Nehiley each did bars.
Sloan Kinney only competed in the floor event, but she put up Vets’ second-highest score of the day in any event with an 8.350.
“Sloan on floor, she was going to be kind of our carrier with that,” Capone-Melino said. “She did a great job.”
The ’Canes’ highest score in any event belonged to Quinn, who scored an 8.450 in the vault.
The third-place finish marked the second straight year that the ’Canes have placed at states. They took second last year after going 8-2 during the regular season.
Still, Vets was left to wonder what could have been if Kowalik was healthy. The team’s highest score this season with Kowalik was a 126.60, which would have been good enough to win on Monday.
“We’ve scored 126 before with Candis here,” Capone-Melino said. “With Candis here, it would have been close. I’m kind of bummed about that.”
Of course, there’s always next year, and next year should be good again. Although the ’Canes will lose Bennett, Cole, Danielle Granata, Law, Nehiley and Rivera-Ortiz to graduation, they’ll have Kowalik back in the fold as well as big-time contributors like Quinn and Desjarlais.
Plus, Capone-Melino is expecting an influx of impact freshmen to help lead the program.
“Warwick Vets is a team on the rise,” she said. “I have seven freshman coming in that are level 8 or higher next year. I think for the years to come – Candis still has two more years – it should be good. I’m excited.”
Two Titans compete
Toll Gate didn’t qualify for the state meet as a team after finishing fifth in D-II, but two girls did qualify in individual events.
Freshman Katelyn Foeller and senior Brianna Santopietro each competed, with Foeller competing on floor and Santopietro competing on vault.
“Obviously, these are the best individuals in the state, so just to have them qualify I think is a huge honor,” Toll Gate head coach Christy DeMelis said. “I’m just proud that they made it.”
And they each performed well. Foeller scored a 7.8 on floor while Santopietro scored an 8.2 on vault.
“There’s no pressure here at all for them,” DeMelis said. “It’s just to try to do their best and get a good score, and they both did that. I think they’re both happy with what they did.”
Toll Gate had only one girl at last year’s state meet, and the team went winless. This year, with two girls at states and five wins during the season, the Titans took a big step forward.“We had five wins, which is five more than last year,” DeMelis said. “And we improved quite a bit on our all-around score. We started at a 105, and our highest was a 115. Ten points is a pretty big jump. They very much exceeded my expectations.”