The Toll Gate girls’ cross country team should be better than it was a season ago.
And the Titans were pretty good last year.
Toll Gate took 12th place at the state meet last season and lost only one senior from that group – No. 2 runner Tess Russo. The other six are back, and they’re a year more experienced and a year further along in their development.
That bodes well for this year, where the Titans are hoping individual improvement leads to team improvement across the board.
“They’re better than last year,” coach Norm Bouthillier said. “Overall, the top 7 are going to be solid. Last year we had a lot of holes. We’ve had some new kids that came out that are very good.”
Heading the pack is sophomore Erika Pena, who burst onto the scene last year as a freshman.
She finished seventh in the Class B meet, leading the Titans to a fourth-place overall finish. Then, she was the team’s top runner at the state meet, where she captured 37th.
“She should have some more confidence this year,” Bouthillier said. “She could be top 25 at states easily. She’s got the body to do it. She’s like 5-foot-10. One of her stride lengths is equal to most people’s two. She’s got the athletic ability to be top 25 with ease.”
Also returning is senior Haley Moen, who was a soccer player through her sophomore year before joining the cross country team last year as a junior.
With a fully year of competitive cross country running under her belt, the hope is that she takes a big stride forward.
“Haley has been a scorer in track every year,” Bouthillier said. “She could be up there too.”
After that, there are a bunch of girls who are all running very similar times, giving Toll Gate some quality depth.
Senior Casey Soares is a captain and she’s back after coming in 60th at states last year. Sophomore Jess Cawley, who played soccer last year, is also on the team, and Bouthillier thinks she’ll be in the top three or four on the team.
Other returners include juniors Danielle Petrangelo and Katie Lavalle, as well as senior captain Elena Chace.
Sophomore Abigail Tillotson did the high jump on the track team, then decided to come out for cross country for the first time. She’s already making noise, as she’s running under 23 minutes.
“It definitely shows in the workouts,” Bouthillier said. “They’re all pushing each other. They’re doing great together. They’re like little training buddies.”
Now they’ll have to see what it all adds up to. Cawley has been out with an injury and Moen has been away on college visits, but once the full team is together, it should be formidable.
“We’re going to try to get top 3 at the class meet,” Bouthillier said. “South Kingstown is in our class, so they’re going to be tough. Bay View is very good too. If we get third behind them I think it’s very doable and very attainable. By doing that, we’d make the state meet.”
Improved Pats hoping to qualify
The Pilgrim girls’ cross country team had a competitive season a year ago, one that saw the Pats go 7-4 in dual meets but miss out on the state meet.
They’d like to remedy that this year – and they think they’ve got the runners to get it done.
Pilgrim has some of its top runners back and has added two new freshmen into the mix. Despite an injury to sophomore Melanie Brunelle – the team’s top runner last year – that could keep her out for an extender period of time, hopes are high.
“I’m very happy with the way that everyone’s looking,” Pilgrim head coach Issy Nielson said. “I think we’re in a better position then we were last year, which is good.”
The loss of Brunelle hurts the team’s cause, as she had emerged as one of the better freshmen in the division, and perhaps the state.
“She was a super-fast freshman, but she was injured over the summer,” Nielson said. “Hopefully she’ll be back at some point – I’m not really sure.”
Still, there’s plenty to go on, starting with senior Natalie Tocco.
Tocco was right up with Brunelle last year, and she’s poised for big things in her final year with the team.
“State level, as an individual, I think she’ll be there this year,” Nielson said. “She’s working hard. She has her goals set high and she’s working her hardest every day.”
Tocco took fifth place overall in Monday’s season-opening meet, and the next Pilgrim finisher was junior Megan Wilks, who came in 10th.
She figures to run in the No. 2 spot, while the next two spots might be occupied by freshmen.
Danika Wayss and Nicole Morales have had strong practices thus far and ran well on Monday, putting them squarely in the top 5.
“They’re looking pretty good, but they have no real running experience,” Nielson said. “I’m excited.”
The team’s other captain besides Tocco is senior Emily Pride, who will also be in the mix for one of the top five spots. Junior Becca O’Donnell is back again in that top group as well.
There are 19 total girls on the team, which is another thing the Pats are excited about.
“I had a bunch of new freshmen last year,” Nielson said. “Half my team was new freshmen. All but two are returning, so it’s nice to have girls coming back and working their hardest.”
The team’s outlook could change depending on if Brunelle returns to the lineup or not, and how strong she is if she gets back, but expectations are up no matter what happens.
“I would like to try to make it to states this year,” Nielson said. “We didn’t end up going last year. We definitely have potential. We’re a better-looking team than last year, at least at this point. I would like to see the girls improve.”
Top three sets pace for Vets
The Vets girls don’t have many runners suiting up this season, but what they lack in quantity, they make up for in quality.
Their top three runners are poised for big seasons, and with the rest keeping up, the ’Canes are aiming for a step in the right direction.
“All the girls dropped a ton of time in the first race, so I’m looking forward to a much improved season over last year,” said head coach Scott Bayha. “And we improved a lot last year from the year before. So I think we’ll be pretty good.”
The ’Canes never have the biggest roster in the league, but every few years, they trot out some top runners, and this could be one of those years.
Sophomore Sarah Grace Plante qualified for the state meet as a freshman last year and finished 72nd. She’ll be back and ready for bigger things.
Seniors Elizabeth Bennett and Angeline Marks just missed out on states last year but both have been mainstays in the lineup for several years and will be poised to make a run at postseason success.
That trio sets the tone for the ’Canes.
“They did a real nice job over the summer,” Bayha said. “They worked hard.”
Juniors K.J. Johnson, Chelsea Reid and Victoria Soares round out the roster at this point. A few more girls could be joining the team soon, which will allow the ’Canes to think more about team scores and not just individual times.
Ultimately, the ’Canes may not contend for a state meet spot as a team, but if the progress keeps coming – and if the top runners meet their goals – it’ll go down as a good season.
“If we avoid injuries and keep training hard, then we should improve quite a bit,” Bayha said. “We’re looking to get a few more girls ready. We’re definitely improving and I’d say the future looks good too.”