NORTH SCITUATE – North Kingstown’s girls cross country team was ready for a muddy and difficult course at Sunday’s RIIL Class Championship, but the field may have been unprepared for the Skippers as they inched out a victory over favorite La Salle in Class A.
The Skipper girls had solid finishes from their top six runners, and they needed every point as sophomore Olivia Joly’s 14th-place finish put them ahead of the Rams in a 46-46 tie. Joly’s 21:02.63 time beat Ram Ariana D’Alessandro’s 15th-place finish (21:06.54) by seconds to give NK their state-leading 10th class A title all-time, surpassing Cumberland’s nine and keeping La Salle at eight.
“[Winning] was the goal,” NK head coach Brian McNeiece said. “But there are a lot of good teams. It was a virtual tie, and our sixth runner brought it in, which is amazing, that’s what you look for. It was a big team effort.”
“We kind of needed [this meet],” McNeiece continued. “We hadn’t raced in a while. We felt like we needed that to get going again. We kind of use the Class Meet as a springboard to the states. But if there’s a championship, we want to win it.”
Saturday’s nor’easter postponed the meet until Sunday and made for mucky slip-and-slide stretches on Ponaganset High School’s winding covered-bridge track. Despite white jerseys spotted with kicked up mud, NK came through the soggy 5K looking cleaner than most, getting a third-place finish from the boys as well as the girls gold.
“In the woods, it was perfectly fine,” top NK boys runner Sam Toolin said. “The first mile and the finish, it’s awful. You’re feet go in a couple of inches and it’s like running on ice, your feet slip off to the side, there’s mud flying in your eyes.”
“It’s the worst I’ve ever run on here,” NK senior Lily Nunnery said of the track. “But we did a lot of training in the field. Three weeks ago, we ran at Wilson Park, which is way worse than this. Once you get after the first mile [at Ponaganset], it’s all dirt so it’s not even bad. That first mile is pretty muddy though.”
The course starts with all the runners bunched together and traversing an open grassy field before it funnels and shifts under the heavy canopy of trees, where the thinner packed track was less disrupted by rain.
“We were expecting it to be that wet, so no surprises,” McNeiece said. “It’s usually wet [at Ponaganset] anyway, but we’ve done some race-specific training. That gets them used to this type of situation, and they tend to be less tired out on the course.”
Nunnery led the race early and was the first lady Skipper to cross the finish, taking fourth place at 19:43.41.
“Class isn’t one of our main focus meets,” Nunnery said. “We’re mainly focusing on states next week. This is kind of pre-states, a way to get those legs moving, getting used to this course and the conditions here.”
La Salle sophomore Kaylie Armitage, a transfer from Exeter/West Greenwich, took first at 19:06.40. Ram senior MacKenzie Doyle (19:10.05) took second, and Coventry freshman Haley Oliver was third at 19:39.50.
Skipper junior Katelyn Haberle was the next Skipper to score, placing eighth at 20:37.91. Senior Keara Fontaine was ninth at 20:38.94. Freshman Tori Chace placed 12th at 20:57.02, and Nicole Gutkowski (21:00.39) was 13th. Joly completed the scoring for the Skippers, who won their first Class A title since they won eight straight from 1999-2006.
“The Middle School state race is [on Sunday] at this site,” McNeiece said. “So that will really get this thing chopped up. So, we’re expecting the same type of field conditions for next week [at the state meet].”
While NK’s girls lost their first dual meet since 2011 this season, they still went 8-1. Their last state title, their seventh total, came in 2006. Their eighth would match them with La Salle for the highest total in the RIIL records.
The boys came away from the mess with a solid third-place finish at 112 points. Bishop Hendricken won far and away with 19 points (getting first, second, fourth, fifth, and seventh place) to earn their second straight and 30th all-time Class A title. La Salle came in second place with 41 points, and Barrington came in behind the Skippers with 117.
Toolin (16:15.07) was the first Skipper boy to finish, taking eighth place. Their next finisher was sophomore Joey Confessore (17:28.56) at 22nd. Sophomore Greg Piturro (17:44.04) took 25th, juniors Justin Gutkowski (17:58.40), Nick Piazza (17:59.05), and Danny Shea (18:29.36) came in at 29, 30 and 35.
“You’ve just got to be ready for whatever happens,” Toolin said of preparations for the race conditions. “Then what happens in the race happens.”
“We mainly come out here to get loosened up for next week,” Toolin said of his own performance. “It went perfect; I just wanted to go out there and get a decent race, not go all out because states are in a week.”
In Class C, Exeter/West Greenwich junior Robby Millar (19:44.72) finished first for the Scarlet Knight boys at 40th. Freshman Michael Camacho (20:27.00) was 49th. Freshman Kathryn Fortin (27:47.38) was the top Knight girl finisher, taking 69th place.
The state meet will be at Ponaganset on Sunday, November 4, beginning at 1:15 p.m.