BURRILLVILLE – In recent years, the East Greenwich High School boys cross country team has established themselves as one of the premier programs in a state that is becoming more well known for producing quality distance runners. It is a level of success that culminated last fall with their second straight Class C title, third in the past five years, and a finish as the top public school in Rhode Island.
As is the inescapable fate of any good high school team, there was the inevitable roster turnover with the loss of the graduating class. Ben Fazio, Scott Kulm, Caleb Gladstone and Scott Marcus were four of the six harriers to have graduated off of EG’s 2012 squad and four faces that left significant holes to fill at the top of the Avengers roster.
Following the successful defense of their Mike Brown Race title at the RIIL Cross Country Injury Fund Carnival last Saturday at Burrillville Middle School, however, a race in which the Avengers took home the top four spots and five of the top seven, it does not seem as though the loss of the last year’s seniors is going to slow down East Greenwich Cross Country.
“It’s weird. Depending on when you ask the question, there’s a different answer to it,” said boys team coach Peter Dion when asked if there would be any setbacks this fall. “…I thought it would be a step back, but I don’t see it. I think we’re going to just keep plugging away.
“A really good senior class graduated, but it seems like these other guys jumped on in stride, ready to pick it up and try to keep it rolling. So far, so good. …We have some work to do, but it was definitely a promising start on Saturday.”
Senior co-captain Garrett Scanlon, who won the Brown race with the day’s third fastest time at 15:59.82, returns to lead the pack for the Avengers, as do fellow co-captain Tommy Sommer and senior Angelo Acker, who finished third and fourth on Saturday. Graham Chapski, one of East’s best half milers on last spring’s outdoor track squad, joins the team for the first time this fall and dazzled in his first ever cross country race, finishing second on Saturday in a time of 16:30.75.
What could make East’s prospects for this fall even more promising is they dominated their competition on Saturday without a pair of runners – Matt Wegrzyn and Noah Barreto – who were held back because of injury, but should factor into the team’s top five.
As has been a key factor for the Avenger boys’ longstanding success, Dion has also welcomed in a talented crop of 14 freshmen, a group that took second in the freshmen race last Saturday and some of whom may factor into the varsity scoring at some point this fall, keeping the cupboard stocked for at least four more years.
“We had a great freshmen class that came in. People didn’t really expect that,” Dion said. “We have 14 guys and they’re really into it and they’ve bought into the program early. It’s nice. If you buy into the program early, the payoff is huge later on, beyond freshmen year.
“…It seems to me like quite a few of the freshmen are in right away and they’re going to be knocking on the door for varsity positions as freshmen, so it’s a pretty neat thing and they were pretty ecstatic.”
Conversely, where program depth will be the strength of the boys team, it could be the greatest of issues the girls program faces this fall. Though they will be strong at the top, they will be relying on a number of faces that are new to both the team and the sport to fill out their scoring positions.
“People were asking me before the season how the team looked or what things were going to be like? I told them ask me the first week of school because I know things are just going to start to develop at that point,” said girls coach Erin Newman. “Even though we are smaller, I only have 10 or 12 on my roster at this point, they’re all good kids and they are there every day.
“We actually had a few girls come out late, a couple girls decided not to play soccer and joined our group and they’re kids that kind of show up and work hard, which is always awesome. It’s kind of a different scenario than the boys team. …We’re not very deep. We’re going to struggle to get our four, five in most meets this season. We have sort of a big gap after our top three or so, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of our new kids kind of step up and find themselves in that spot and rise to the occasion once they figure things out.”
Junior Margaret McCaffrey, who finished sixth at last year’s state meet and second in the Sullivan Race at Saturday’s Injury Fund, returns to lead the way for the Avengers along with fellow junior Emily Browne. Thedita Pedersen, one of Newman’s new additions, is another junior who is joining the squad coming off a spring in which she won the outdoor 1500m JV state championship and will join McCaffrey and Browne in the team’s top three.
Phoebe Osterhout, one of East’s top 400 runner in outdoor track, is also making the transition from the track to the trails and should factor into the scoring for the Avengers, as will Caroline Blessing and Michaela Natal, a pair of juniors who are making a much different transition, moving from soccer to cross country.
With all the new runners and growing talent, Newman many not know yet who will play the pivotal roles for East as they go in pursuit of their goal of proving stiff competition for defending Class C champion Smithfield, but knows she has a group of girls who are going to be prepared and up for the challenge when it comes around.
“They’re a good group of kids,” Newman said. “They listen, they’re kind of taking it all in. They’re beginning to understand what the sport is about.
“I think they understand that our program is one that sets high standards. We teach them about the sport and they’re very prepared with all the different things that we do. We’re a pretty well rounded program in terms of training and also learning about the sport and how to race that I know other coaches don’t really get into and other teams don’t cover.”
Both teams will participate in the Twilight Relay this Friday at Cumberland’s Tucker Field as their final tune up for the official start to their 2013 season next Monday, September 16, with their first home, dual meet against Pilgrim, Warwick Vets and Classical High School. Races begin at 4:30 p.m. at Goddard Park.