The cross country season began Monday, and for the first time in many years, the Bishop Hendricken Hawks didn’t hit the course as the clear-cut favorite to win the state title. In the preseason coaches poll, the five-time defending champion Hawks ended up in a first-place tie with La Salle.
But the preseason forecasts won’t lower expectations – or slow the Hawks down.
“We’re thinking the same thing we think every year – we have to go out and win a state championship,” said head coach Jim Doyle. “It’s going to be a tough year. La Salle really has a good team, East Greenwich has a great program this year. It could be one of those years where we work and work and work and have a great team and we still lose. The thing they have to do is just accomplish their goals.”
The Hawks lost four of last year’s top seven to graduation, including multi-year contributors Connor Doyle and Tyler Henseler. Meanwhile, La Salle brings back its top runner from a year ago – junior Jake Grundy – and a solid core around him that includes freshman standout D.J. Principe.
But the Hawks won’t be conceding anything. The cupboard is far from bare.
Senior Colin Tierney, the team’s top finisher at New Englands in each of the last two years, returns to lead the squad. Junior Michael Potter is also a returning standout.
“We have two outstanding runners out front and some other guys that are coming along,” Doyle said.
Those up-and-coming runners will say a lot for Hendricken’s chances, and it’s a deep group. Junior Grant Gauthier ran step-for-step with Potter in Monday’s season opener and won the race. Sophomore Avery Ingegneri ran with Tierney and finished third.
Those four are looking solid at the head of the pack, but the rest of the spots in the top seven are up for grabs. Seniors Collin Manning and Pat Gower, juniors Tom Grizzetti, Jack Rossi and Jared Boulanger and sophomores Dom Parlato, Matt Wilks and Tom McMahon are among the runners battling to be in the top tier, and they all ran well on Monday. Juniors Tim Andraka, Caleb George, Patrick Hagerty, Chris Ferreira and Walter Fitzhugh and sophomores Jake Cardello and Mike Kiernan joined that group in finishing the race in under 18 minutes.
Every one of those runners was sprinting to the finish line – and that’s not a bad thing.
“The thing I like is we have a lot of depth,” Doyle said. “That’s why they’re running so well. They all want to improve. It’s very competitive. That’s a good thing. That makes the team stronger.”
The Hawks will mold their lineup as the season goes on. When all is said and done, they plan to be finishing strong when the state meet rolls around.
“We’ll be there,” Doyle said. “We’ll have a good team. As long as we compete, we have a chance.”
Hurricanes thinking big
Warwick Vets hasn’t had a lot of cross country success recently. Plenty of seasons have been labeled rebuilding years.
This isn’t one of them.
The boys’ team is coming off its first winning season in more than a decade and has a veteran group back that’s ready for more. The girls’ team lost some key contributors to graduation but is also aiming high.
“Every year, I always say we’re in the building phase,” said coach Scott Bayha. “This year, I think the building phase is over. It’s built. We’ll see what it is.”
The boys are especially eager to see the construction results. Five seniors carried a big load as juniors last year and powered a 7-5 campaign. They’re excited to take the next step this season.
“They’ve worked for four years and they’ve improved every year,” Bayha said. “I think this summer, they thought ‘We’re seniors. It’ll just come to us.’ After their first meet, they kind of said, ‘Oh wait. This isn’t just given to us.’ They’ve stepped it up. They’re doing a great job.”
Senior Ian Anderson is the team’s top runner. He finished third at the Class B Meet last season and 79th at the state meet. His twin brother, Evan, is also a stand-out.
The Andersons are joined in the veteran core by seniors Dean Bussick, Jonathan Nordin and David Valladolid. Sophomore Chris Smith, a newcomer, is also making a push into the top tier.
In addition to the top group, the ’Canes more depth than usual, including a five-man freshman class that should be part of the next building process.
But for now, it’s all about the present. The ’Canes, who went 1-1 in their first dual-meet of the season, are hoping to qualify as a team for the state meet, something the Vets boys’ team hasn’t done since 2001.
“According to last year, we’re still on the outside looking in, but I think that’s a good place for us,” Bayha said. “Now we know we want it. I think that’s what they’re looking forward to. I can’t believe how hard they work every day. They’re just flying. We’ll see.”
The goals are also high for the girls’ team, which is looking to improve on a 4-7 campaign from a year ago. Even with some graduation losses, it’s looking like a realistic goal.
“I think we could be better than last year,” Bayha said. “If you told me that at the end of last year, with who we were losing, I would have said, ‘No way. We’re going to be hurting.’”
Instead, the ’Canes are developing a solid team.
Leading the way is senior Kaitlyn Johnson, one of the top performers a year ago. Junior Sarah Grace Plante and sophomore Jeannie Nguyen are also back after contributing last year. Seniors Victoria Soares and Alexis DiGiacomo and sophomores Kylie Maziuk and Natalie Preciado are also stepping up. A big freshman class is also in the fold, which includes Tess Bussick, Ashley Clift, Vanessa Isherwood and Sarah Tyson.
So far, all the ’Canes – young and old – have impressed.
And it’s reason to be excited.
“Every day you do a practice, and it’s like, ‘Did they just do that?’” Bayha said. “It’s great to coach these type of people because you know they’re giving their all. There isn’t one girl who isn’t working hard.”
Pats ready for solid years
New coaches are leading both the boys’ and girls’ teams at Pilgrim, and they’re inheriting squads with some talented veterans leading the way.
The girls’ team is hoping to improve on a 5-6 campaign, which came on the heels of two straight winning seasons.
“It’s been good,” said head coach Mike Xiarhos. “It’s a little bit of transition, my first year and the girls getting to know me. But we have some veteran runners and they’ve been working hard. Their times have been consistently improving since we started and I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Sophomore Danika Wayss is emerging as Pilgrim’s top performer and one of the best young runners in the division. Wayss was Pilgrim’s third-best finisher at the cross country class meet last year, and she followed that up with strong track seasons. She opened this season by finishing sixth in a preseason Injury Fund race.
“She put in a really good performance in the Injury Fund,” Xiarhos said. “She puts a lot of pressure on herself. We like the kids to feel the pressure a little bit but not to over-do it. She expects big things out of herself and we expect big things from her.”
Pilgrim lost standout Natalie Tocco to graduation, but Megan Wilks – the team’s only senior – and junior Nicole Gauthier are filling the leadership void as captains. Wilks was the team’s second-best performer at the class and state meets last year.
“They’re great kids, and there’s some talent there as well,” Xiarhos said. “They’re solid.”
Junior Melanie Brunelle is also on the team and should be a big addition. A cross country star as a freshman, Brunelle missed the 2012 fall season with an injury before returning for big seasons in indoor and outdoor track.
“Her times have been good,” Xiarhos said. “She puts a lot of pressure on herself as well. It’s frustrating for her when that hip starts acting up. For her, the biggest thing is she wants to push and push and push. She’s starting to learn the difference between a little bit of pain and being injured. It’s a balance.”
The Pats have a big team around their veterans, which includes 13 juniors. Four sophomores and four freshmen are also in the fold.
The Pats are hoping it adds up to a good season.
“Being new, I know what to expect from us but I don’t know what to expect from the rest of the league,” Xiarhos said. “I look at the times from last year and I think right now we should be somewhere in the middle of the pack based on that.”
On the boys’ side, Frank Notarianni is taking over for Mike Daniels, who will remain the indoor and outdoor track coach. Similar to the girls’ team, Notarianni has some strong returning runners returning to lead the way.
“So far, so good,” he said. “We have good some freshmen coming in and some good veterans coming back.”
The team’s top runners are sophomore Brandon Lawton and senior Sam Eleuterio. Lawton burst onto the scene as a freshman last year, while Eleuterio made a leap from the previous season. They finished 66th and 68th at the state meet, the top finishes for Warwick public school boys.
This year, they’re picking up where they left off, with Lawton making a splash at the Injury Fund Race. He finished 10th in a field that included Bishop Hendricken.
“Those are the two who are really leading the way for the team this year,” Notarianni said.
Juniors Alex Balkum, Brandon Paiva and Andrew Picard should also score on a consistent basis for the Pats, while freshmen Eddie Casella and Joe Tocco are pushing their way to the top.
“They’ve been nice surprises,” Notarianni said.
Several other runners could also contribute and the goal is for everybody to improve as the season goes on.
If all goes according to plan, the Pats could be in the mix for a state meet berth.
“Our goal is to make states,” Notarianni said. “Last year, they missed it by just a few points. Our goal is to get in there.”
Titans looking for state berths
The Toll Gate boys’ cross country hasn’t qualified for the state meet by virtue of a top-three division finish since 2005.
The simple goal this year is to end that streak, and the Titans are off to a great start.
Toll Gate is 3-0 on the season after posting victories over Johnston, Juanita Sanchez and Coventry at Monday’s season-opening meet at Roger Williams Park. While the team has been to states over the past few years, it has always gotten there thanks to big performances at class meet.
This time, the Titans are hoping to breathe a little bit easier when the class meet does come around, with the hard work of qualifying for Rhode Island’s biggest meet already behind them.
Beating Coventry on Monday was crucial to that goal, especially in a division with Bishop Hendricken and East Greenwich. Assuming those two are going to finish first and second, then Toll Gate is in a battle with teams like Coventry for that last spot.
“We wanted to beat Coventry, so we thought on paper if we beat Coventry – they lost some key guys – we thought we could make it,” Toll Gate head coach Norm Bouthillier said.
Setting the pace for the Titans are their top three runners, seniors Alex Pires, Pat Rocchio and Brock Massa. Those three have been with the program for years and are competing for the top spot. Henry Smithers, who would have been the team’s best runner this year after being near the top in the past, left for prep school. Pires was the team’s first man across the line on Monday, taking second place overall.
“I don’t think there’s any special order right now,” Bouthillier said. “They’re 1-2-3. I think they’re going to be bopping around. I think it’s going to be back-and-forth all year.”
Running behind them are sophomore Nick Mattioli and junior Evan Cummiskey.
“They’re running four and five right now,” Bouthillier said. “I don’t know if that’s going to change or not. I kind of hope so, because that means other guys are stepping up.”
Junior Anthony Hart is running in the sixth spot right now, while juniors Jared Paolino and John Soares should contend for top-seven positions. Freshman John Bennett also has a chance to break in, as Bouthillier likes what he’s seen out of the first-year high school runner so far.
And if it all comes together correctly, Toll Gate will find itself running at states after earning it in the regular season.
“We figure this is our best shot in a long time to get third in our division,” Bouthillier said.
The girls’ team should be in for another solid season too. It hasn’t had a losing season since 1994 and it doesn’t figure to break that trend this year.
On Monday, the Lady Titans went 2-1, beating Juanita Sanchez and Johnston but losing to Coventry 26-33. The past three years, Toll Gate has gone 8-3 in the regular season, and somewhere in that range seems about right once again.
“I think we’ll probably be second or third in the division,” said head coach Jon Deming. “I think that’s how we’re going to make the state meet, is through the division.”
Heading the pack is junior Erika Pena, the team’s top runner for a third consecutive year. She took 58th at states last year and finished in first place on Monday.
“Erika would like to run 20 minutes,” Deming said. “If she could get under 20 minutes it would be good. Where that would put her in the state meet, I don’t know because there are some really fast girls. She could probably be in the top 20.”
Behind her is junior Jess Cawley, who came in second on Monday, just a fraction of a second behind Pena. She, too, could be in for a big season.
“She could be in that top 50, depending on how the rest of the state works out,” Deming said.
The rest of the top seven isn’t completely set, but the rest of the team is competing. Seniors Danielle Petrangelo and Katie Lavallee are back and will be in that top group, as will junior Abigail Tillotson. Junior Debbie Jessop, Toll Gate’s No. 3 finisher at the state meet last season, is also squarely in the top seven.
Junior Nora Hall, who came over from track after not having run cross country before, will likely crack the lineup, and sophomore Anne Marie Martella – another track runner without cross country experience – also has a chance.
It’s a largely experienced group that is hoping to build off last year, improve and make a little noise when the postseason comes around.
“We want to make the state meet, which I think we’ll do,” Deming said. “Then, maybe make the top 10. We don’t have that one girl that’s out there running 18 minutes, like some other teams. We’ve got a lot of girls running 20-to-22 minutes. They do some pack running, so if we can get them across the line together we can score low.”