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BURRILLVILLE â€“ Last fall saw the Coventry High School girls cross country team start its return to the dominant form the program became accustomed to in the mid-2000â€™s.
In 2012, the then young, somewhat inexperienced Oakers were a perfect 11-0 in the regular season to win a Suburban Division title. They placed third in both the Class A championship and state championship meets behind eventual New England champion Barrington High School and LaSalle Academy.
As the team embarks on the 2013 season, however, the Oakers are primed to take another step forward this fall.
â€śWe knew coming into this year that we had a team we think can compete with some of the best teams in the state,â€ť said Coventry coach Michaela Driscoll. â€śHopefully, weâ€™re looking to expand our success towards the New England meet and have a better showing than last year.
â€śI think we might have been 15th or 16th and I think weâ€™re shooting to try and be in the to 10 by the end of this year.
â€śThey are lofty goals, but I think our team is experienced now. Last year we had many new girls on the team that were successful, but it was their first year running cross country. I think this year everything is clicking into place where weâ€™re veterans and we have talented girls and we have hard working girls and it was the best Injury Fund Iâ€™ve ever seen.â€ť
To see the type of dominance the Oakers are capable of, one has to look no further than last weekendâ€™s RIIL Cross Country Injury Fund Carnival. Behind the swift performance of Jessica and Allison Bellows, Coventry blew away the competition in the Caswell Race, placing their top five runners in the raceâ€™s top 10 to unseat defending champion South Kingstown by more than 30 points.
After both finished in the top 15 at last yearâ€™s state meet as sophomores â€“ Allison in seventh and Jessica in 13 â€“ the now junior duo set the tone in Saturdayâ€™s first race, leading from wire to wire as Jessica took home first in the race with the dayâ€™s third fastest time (18:58.99), with Allison coming in second 23 seconds later.
â€śThe Bellows are just so talented,â€ť Driscoll said. â€śTheyâ€™re just so intelligent running and what happened is essentially everyoneâ€™s been chasing them at practice and theyâ€™ve all gotten much better. We had 23 girls run on Saturday and we had 13 personal records. Theyâ€™re all just chasing the Bellows and theyâ€™re all getting better because of it. On average theyâ€™re about a minute faster than last year. Itâ€™s pretty exciting.â€ť
Kelsie Lopez, a sophomore who is new to the team this fall finished her debut race in fifth, posting a time of 19:55.15. Seniors Kayla Dwyer and Amanda Trenzi rounded out Coventryâ€™s point scorers with finishes of seventh (20:15.77) and 10th (21:26.54), respectively.
More impressive than the results themselves is the fact Coventry had such a resounding finish in their Injury Fund race without Courtney Grant and Haley Dennis, both of whom project to be top scorers this fall, but did not run on Saturday.
â€śWeâ€™re in a just highly competitive state right now,â€ť Driscoll said. â€śRhode Island is just insane. Weâ€™ve never seen it like this before. We donâ€™t like to say exactly what place weâ€™re shooting for at the state meet. I think if they just keep improving, the sky is the limit. We want to compare ourselves to our former selves last year, not necessarily against other teams because we canâ€™t control that.â€ť
We would like to run better than we did at the state meet last year, although we ran very well last year, I think we can accomplish that this year. And then we want to have a more competitive showing at the New England meet than last year. I think last year we could have finished a lot higher, but I think the girls were a bit intimidated. There were about 300 girls in the race and I think five out or our top seven had never been to a race that big, so they were a little bit intimidated. This year we are going to go in with experience to the bigger meets and I think thatâ€™s going to help the girls.â€ť
The Oakers will not have to wait much longer before beginning their quest to redeem themselves in the New England spotlight. Following the Injury Fund exhibition, the team will take part in its first official meet of the season on Monday when they travel to Roger Williams Park for a tri-meet with Toll Gate, Juanita Sanchez and host Johnston High School. Races will begin at 4: 30 p.m.