'Canes close in on regular season title
Winter storm Nemo postponed just about every high school event in the state this past weekend, but not even one of the biggest storms in state history could stop the Warwick Vets gymnastics team from moving to the verge of a little history of its own.
The ’Canes defeated West Warwick and Toll Gate on Sunday at Warwick Dance and Gymnastics to improve to 10-1 on the regular season. By beating the Wizards, Vets took sole possession of first place in Division II, and can clinch the division title with a win over North Smithfield later this week. The Sentinels weren’t at the meet on Sunday due to the storm.
Vets scored 123.55 points, easily outpacing Toll Gate’s 112.90 and, more importantly, West Warwick’s 118.05. The Wizards, who were the only group to beat Vets this season - in the first meet of the season in early January - finished the regular season at 10-2.
Without a loss since that day back in January, Vets is the overwhelming favorite to claim the regular season title. All that’s standing in its way is North Smithfield, which is 2-8 overall and already lost to the ’Canes by over 16 points in their only meeting of the year, on Feb. 6.
Avenging the early season loss to West Warwick, though, was the biggest hurdle. The ’Canes got it done.
“We didn’t really do anything differently,” Vets head coach Stacy Capone-Melino said. “We knew it was going to be a close one. It ended up being a five-point win. It’s always by chance. You never know how it’s going to turn out, but we were happy.”
That first meeting between the teams was close, with Vets losing 121.90 to 119.80.
From there, both teams showed improvement as the season went on. Vets defeated Exeter-West Greenwich - another title contender - twice, winning 125-123 on Jan. 13 and then 126.60 to 118.80 on Feb. 2.
That 126.60 score was the ’Canes’ highest of the year. However, West Warwick - which suffered an early-season loss to EWG - had done even better, scoring a 126.90 on Feb. 3.
With that as the backdrop, Vets was entering possibly its biggest regular season meet in program history.
“We knew that we were tied,” Capone-Melino said. “We’ve been tied with West Warwick pretty much the entire season. We had that loss to them early in the season and it was close then. We were focused coming in.”
After three events, the meet was too close to call. Vets still had floor to do, while West Warwick had beam. The ’Canes held a lead of less than half a point.
“We knew it was very close,” Capone-Melino said. “We went up to the judges’ table at the end and I pretty much told the girls, ‘You’ve got to nail floor because we’re leading only by a little.’”
Vets rose to the occasion. It put forth a solid effort on the floor, while West Warwick suffered a few falls on the beam. That was enough to make the difference.
“We were thrilled,” Capone-Melino said. “It was close going into our fourth event. I knew we were only up by .25, but by the time they got to floor they really did a great job.”
The ’Canes got another dominant performance from standout sophomore Candis Kowalik, which helped them stay out in front. Kowalik, the defending individual state champion, had one of her best meets of the year. She added a twist to her routine on the vault, and ended up with a 37.65 for her total score.
In the last event, the floor, she got a 9.6, which was higher than her state meet score a year ago.
“Candis nailed everything, thank God,” Capone-Melino said. “She wasn’t off on anything.”
Sophomore Allie Quinn stood out on the vault, qualifying for states as an individual in that event. Senior Shannon Law, who has only competed in a few of the meets this season, scored a 7.55 in vault, which provided a boost to the team score.
Senior Thalia Rivera-Ortiz was solid as well and junior Kayleigh Desjarlais, who suffered an ankle injury earlier in the week, competed in only three of the four events but still managed to help out.
Adding to the victory was the fact that it took place on Senior Night, and the ’Canes were able to honor their six seniors - Elizabeth Bennett, Brittanie Cole, Danielle Granata, Law, Nicole Nehiley and Rivera-Ortiz - with an enormous win for the program.
The team had a party afterwards to celebrate the accomplishment. If Vets finishes at 11-1, it will be its best season in many years.
The date for the North Smithfield meet has not yet been determined. Following that will be the state meet, where the ’Canes will have a realistic shot of claiming the D-II state title, while Kowalik will be the favorite to repeat as individual champion.
Last season, West Warwick won the title with a 128.05, while Vets came in second with a 126.425.
“Anything can happen,” Capone-Melino said. “Injuries could be sustained between now and then. I’m just telling everyone to stay healthy, stay focused, and see if we can do this. The state championship would be a nice thing for the girls and my seniors.”
The state meet was originally scheduled for this upcoming Sunday, but was postponed due to the storm. A new date has not yet been set.