The season isn’t very old, but the Toll Gate girls’ indoor track team is already hitting its usual stride.
The Titans stormed out of the gates last Wednesday by taking down Cranston West 83-48 and Mount St. Charles 73-36 in their first dual meet of the season. On Saturday, Toll Gate kept at it, taking many of the top spots at the Rhode Island Track Coaches Invitational.
For a team that has finished in the top five in the state each of the last four years and hasn’t lost a dual meet since the 1997-98 season, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.
Toll Gate returns more than a few of the state’s better performers, in multiple events, and also has some impact freshmen who have a chance to make a big difference right off the bat.
“We had a great performance at the Coaches Invitational,” head coach Norm Bouthillier said. “We’ve been doing really well with some new freshmen. We have some very explosive young kids and some really good older kids.”
One of the biggest goals for the Titans is to keep the dual meet winning streak alive, something it managed to do last year with a close victory over North Kingstown in its final meet of the season.
The Skippers figure to be the toughest test for Toll Gate again this season, and the Titans will likely have to use all their firepower to hold them off once more.
The two teams will square off on January 10.
“We’re going to give it a good run,” Bouthillier said. “I think the big meet is going to be the North Kingstown meet. I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve. We’ve got some things we’ll work on, some changes, and a few ideas we might surprise some people with.”
Toll Gate’s success starts at the top with seniors Jordan Gray, Rylee Candon, Katie St. Amand and junior Haley Moen. The four of them were All-Staters last year.
Gray leads the way in the sprinting events, while Candon competes in sprints, the long jump and the high jump. St. Amand is one of the premier shot-putters around, and Moen is strong in the middle distances.
At Saturday’s Invitational, those four were some of the brightest performers. St. Amand took third in the shot put, Candon was second in the high jump and fourth in the long jump, Moen was third in the 600, while Gray was fifth. Gray and Moen were also part of the first-place 4x400 relay team.
“We have some big guns,” Bouthillier said. “Jordan Gray is going to be top two or three in any event she does. Rylee Candon is going to be top two or three in two events. Katie should be top two or three in the shot put, if not win it. Those three girls right there, that’s 24 points. That’s a lot of points. Then the relays, our relays are going to score – all three of them.”
But the Titans are plenty more than just their top performers.
Junior Shannon Garvey is a strong runner and hurdler, while sophomore Kathleen Morlock makes an impact as well. Senior Tess Russo, who had been sidelined with a hip flexor injury, is also one of the team’s top distance runners.
Returning after winning the freshman state title in the high jump is Maddie Thibeault.
Then there is this year’s group of freshmen. Erika Pena and Nora Hall are the two biggest standouts, and they were both on that first-place 4x400 team. Hall can compete in events from the 800 to the 300, while Pena is a strong high jumper to go along with the running. She came in fourth place in the 600 at the invitational.
“Nobody really believes she’s a freshman either,” Bouthillier said of Pena. “She’s just athletically and physically gifted.”
Freshman Jessica Cawley is also helping out, as she is one of the better distance runners on the team.
And when it’s all said and done, Toll Gate should be one of the top teams in the state yet again. The Titans are hoping to improve on last year’s fifth-place finish, and they think that somewhere in the top three is well within their range.
While La Salle is the odds on favorite to win the title, Toll Gate shouldn’t be too far off the pace.
“I think we’ve got a shot at second or third again,” Bouthillier said. “La Salle has so much this year. They didn’t lose anybody from last year’s tam, and they gained back [cross country state champion] Molly Keating, who is phenomenal. They’re going to be tough to beat.”
’Canes search for improvement
The Warwick Vets girls’ indoor track team knows it’s not going to contend for a state title, or likely even a division title, but that’s just fine.
As long as the ’Canes see the steady improvement they’re hoping for, they won’t be complaining.
“We just want to improve from where we were last year, and to improve with every meet,” Vets head coach Steph Shields said. “To get times down and distances furthered. We have a good group of returning kids.”
The season started out well enough, as Vets split its first dual meet on Wednesday. It beat Cranston East 63-32 and lost to Mt. Hope 80-29.
And it got some standout performances from the girls it expects to make the most noise on a statewide level.
Senior Megan Merlino paces that group. As a junior, Merlino came in 12th place at the state meet in the shot put and she easily came in first on Wednesday.
On top of that, she added a first-place finish in the weight throw as well.
“We’re hoping she can place top six and go to New Englands,” Shields said. “I think that’s clearly attainable for her. She’s improved. I think as the season goes on, we’ll really work with her to fine tune some of the technique she has.”
Shields also has high hopes for senior Liz Paras.
Last year, Paras – who competes in the 3,000 – broke her arm toward the end of the season, which caused her to miss out on qualifying for states.
Now back and healthy, Paras took first place in the 3,000 on Wednesday, as well as second-place in the 1,000.
“We’re hoping this year is the year,” Shields said. “We’re really hoping that she’s able to [qualify].”
Besides Merlino and Paras, Vets has a few others that it thinks has a chance to make a significant jump and come close to qualifying for states.
At the shot put and weight throw, the ’Canes also have sophomores Diana DiRocco and Bria McAloon to go along with Merlino.
DiRocco took second in the weight throw, while McAloon finished third. Junior Jamie Yates also did well, taking second in the shot put.
“Shot and weight tend to be some of our stronger places,” Shields said. “We’re hoping maybe they can qualify for states as well this year and improve from last year.”
In the sprints, senior Tara Hersey came in fourth in the 55-meter dash, while also taking fifth place in the 300. Sophomore Victoria Soares grabbed second in the 300, and freshman Taylor Axtmann took third.
Sophomore Alyssa McCracken ran on all of Vets relay teams, and she finished in sixth place in the 55.
In the distance events, the ’Canes have a few others besides Paras. Senior Jessica McDonald contributes, as does sophomore Kaitlyn Johnson. Sophomore Amber Beech has also made big strides from a season ago.
“Last year, we weren’t really sure where she was going to fit well,” Shields said of Beech. “This year, she’s really started out strong in distance events. I’m looking for her to do very well in the 1,500 and the 1,000.”
The team does not have any long jumpers or high jumpers, and it didn’t have anybody hurdling on Wednesday. However, junior Katelyn Ravenell is on the team as a hurdler, and sophomore Sabrina Spiver and junior Amanda Graves could help out as well.
The team as a whole has 31 girls on it, which is an improvement over last season. Eight freshman are on the roster, to go along with 13 sophomores.
That’s reason enough for optimism, and it gives Vets room to develop and improve over the next few seasons.
“We had more come out this year than we did last year, by a few,” Shields said. “We didn’t lose that many seniors last year, so I think that helps keep the numbers up. But a lot of new freshmen and sophomores, which is always nice to get younger kids so they have time to get used to how indoor track really works.”
In new division, Pats still hope to contend
Competing in Division II-Sullivan last year, the Pilgrim girls’ indoor track team made its presence known with a perfect 8-0 record.
And while it was quite an accomplishment, it facilitated a move that pushed the Pats up into Division I-Headley for this season, where the competition will be significantly tougher.
Pilgrim, though, still plans to be competitive, and it showed that in its first dual meet of the season on Thursday when it defeated Cumberland 67-42 and tied South Kingstown 50-50.
With a number of contributors from last year back in the fold, the Pats are excited about what they have.
“Thus far we’re very happy with the team,” head coach Tom Dolce said. “We got moved up to a stronger division, which hurts, but we’re doing the best we can. Hopefully we have a winning record.”
To go along with the first dual meet results, there are other signs that Pilgrim will be in the mix. It competed in the Rhode Island Track Coaches Invitational this past Saturday and had some standout performances against strong competition.
Senior Maggie Dufault came in second place in the weight throw, and she figures to be one of the top contenders in the state for that title. Last season, she finished fourth in the state.
“I think she could win,” Dolce said. “She’s throwing 45 feet and change. The girl from Rogers (Grace Janes) is throwing 47. The season is young. She’s at least top two or three.”
Joining Dufault as one of the best throwers in the state is junior Destinee Barrette, who on Saturday came in sixth in the weight throw and sixth in the shot put as well. In Thursday’s dual meet, she was second in both events.
“Destinee is top six in the state,” Dolce said. “She’s right up there.”
Pilgrim’s other top performer was senior Breyon Brown, who came in sixth place in the 55-meter dash. That came on the heels of a first-place at the dual meet.
“She’s working hard,” Dolce said. “The hardest she’s worked. She’s looking pretty good in the dashes.”
Brown is also part of Pilgrim’s 4x200 relay team, along with junior Heather Wolfenden, sophomore Rebecca O’Donnell and senior Emma Mascoli.
Although Wolfenden is currently nursing a quadriceps injury, Dolce thinks that team could make some noise on the state level going forward.
The Pats also have a strong stable of distance runners, led by freshman Melanie Brunelle.
In the 1,000 meter run on Thursday, Brunelle came in second place and set a school freshman record with a time of 3:21.80.
“She’s a hard worker,” Dolce said of Brunelle. “She’s going to be a good one before she graduates.”
Junior Natalie Tocco is also a factor, as she came in second in the 3,000 on Thursday. The Pats will also get contributions from sophomore Megan Wilks.
In the hurdles, Mascoli finished in second on Thursday, and O’Donnell is the team’s top long jumper. She came in first at the dual meet and finished in eighth at the invitational with a jump of over 16 feet.
With all that talent, Pilgrim knows it won’t be at the very top of the state, but it could make a run at the top 10.
That would go down as another strong season in the books.
“In states, it would be great if we could finish in the top 10, but it’s going to be real tough,” Dolce said. “Hopefully we’ve got enough talent. It’s going to be an interesting year.”