A state championship is about as big as it gets for a high school sports team. If all goes according to plan this fall for the Bishop Hendricken cross country team, the state championship will just be a first step.
It’s the rest of the journey that the Hawks are focused on.
For the second time in four years, Hendricken will be trying to make noise not just at the state level, not just at the regional level but at the national level.
It’s a quest worth watching.
Cross country tends not to have fans outside of parents and the people involved. But it’s a sport you can appreciate, and when the goals are this big, you can appreciate it even more.
It’s going to be a fun year.
In 2009, Hendricken qualified for Nike Nationals in Portland, Oregon, and came home with a 10th-place finish. Ever since last fall, when the Hawks won state and New England titles with just one senior on the roster, getting back to the national stage has been the primary objective.
And it’s within reach. The Hawks are a heavy favorite to win the state title. They’ve emerged in recent years as a New England power, and they’ll be in position to win that title too. In a recent preseason poll, the Hawks were ranked 12th – in the country.
When you sit back and think about it, that’s an amazing feat. Rhode Island produces top-flight runners almost every year, from Andrew Springer to Bobby Allen and Mike Marsella. They’re fun to watch. They run 3.1 miles at a pace that most people couldn’t maintain for half a mile.
In the current crop of high-school runners, there are more standouts. And a lot of them ended up on the same team.
Of the top 15 finishers at last year’s state meet, one third were Hendricken runners slated to be back for another year. Now they’re back and ready for more.
The defining characteristic is the quality of their depth. Tyler Henseler, now a senior, finished fifth at states last year. Colin Tierney, a junior, finished 20th at New Englands.
And this year, both may take a backseat to sophomore Michael Potter, who could end up as the team’s top runner. Add in Connor Doyle, Alex Doherty, Collin Manning, Greg Beaudette and Grant Gauthier – none of whom are far off the pace – and you’ve got one of the deepest teams in the region.
And they’re embarking on a unique quest. In most sports, the state level is as far as you can go. There are national polls and mythical national championships, but nothing more.
For other sports, there are regional competitions. Track and cross country take it a step further, and the Hawks are primed to seize that opportunity.
It’s also a rare chance for a Rhode Island team. Florida, California, Texas – those states dominate rankings in football, basketball and baseball. Hendricken and Cranston West have cracked the baseball rankings a few times. Mount St. Charles has made national headlines in hockey.
These Hawks are already in the national mix, and they’ll have actually have the chance to compete at that level if they can have the kind of year they’re hoping for. It won’t be easy. They’ll have to qualify at a regional competition, and anything can happen in a high-level race like that.
But the Hawks will keep pushing.
You’ll probably see them around Warwick, running on the sidewalks – and running fast. Give ‘em a little cheer next time.
They’re chasing big dreams.
William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.