The season is a month old and already we have plenty to talk about.
Let’s start with the Ocean State Invitational this past weekend. One of the region’s best competitions this time of year, proved once again why the number of entries are alway strong, despite other top meets in the northeast area. These meets included the Bowdoin XC Classic in New York and the Manchester Invitational in New Hampshire, events that featured a few RI teams and athletes that will get back to later in this column.
Two runners we feel are among our top contenders for the individual crown at the State Meet, Narragansett’s Cole Francis and Smithfield’s Jason Padula, broke 16 minutes for the 5K course at Ocean State, and produced our state’s No. 1 and No. 2 times. Francis finished ninth in the Championship race with a time of 15: minutes, 43.80 seconds. Padula tied for 22nd with a 15:59.40 effort. Mount St. Charles’ Ethan Fadden registered a solid PR of 16:18.20 to place 36th among the 154 finishers. In total, we had 10 that went under 17 minutes and 41 that averaged under six-minute pace for the 3.1-mile distance. While it did rain for much of the day, the conditions were just right for a cross-country race, at least those competing in the morning races. The wet stuff did pick up during the girls’ Championship race (12:45 p.m. start) and beyond. But given the forecast that was predicted throughout the week, it could have been worse.
We had a chance to talk with Francis after his top-10 finish. He was clearly satisfied with his performance, and looking forward to next week when he heads down to North Carolina for the Great American Distance Festival.
“‘”I’m really excited to get out there,” he said. “It’s the same plan as today for that race; just go out with the mentality that it’s going to hurt. But you have to accept that and put it all there and see what you can do and be proud of the result at the end.”
Like Goddard Memorial State Park, site of the Ocean State Invite, the WakeMed Soccer Complex provides a very fast 5K course for Great American. In the featured Race Of Champions, former La Salle Academy standout DJ Principe clocked the fastest time by a Rhode Islander with a PR of 14:32.40 in 2016. Hendricken alum Luke Henseler has the No. 2 time at the NC meet with a best of 15:09.40 from 2020. Not surprisingly, both runners won state titles with Principe capturing three straight from 2014-16 and Henseler taking the crown a month after his 11th place finish at Great American.
On the girls’ side, St. Raphael’s Rory Sullivan posted the best time for our local entries, placing 15th in the Championship race with a time of 18:37.40. Narragansett’s Maddie O’Neal was 18th at 19:10.70. Classical’s Grace Doyle was third in the Varsity 1 race with a PR of 19:24. Final totals had eight under 20 minutes and 22 breaking 21 minutes.
In writing our preview for the meet, we inadvertently did not mention Sullivan as one of our top runners at Ocean State, despite being one of our top contenders for individual glory at the states in early November. Head coach Chris Magill admitted to us that he didn’t let us know because he felt it would provide motivation for his star senior.
Apparently, his strategy worked.
“It was definitely a motivator,” she said. “But I was really excited for this race to begin with.”
Don’t fall asleep on the girls from North Kingstown, who have a flock of talented underclassmen. The Skippers were second overall in the Freshmen 1 race with 66 points. Lexington (MA) won the team title, scoring 45 points. NK had three of its runners finish among the top four with Abbie Tighe breaking the tape in 15:12.2, Lucy Stowe taking second at 15:35.9 and Maura Whitney finishing fourth in 15:45.6.
What makes the Ocean State Invitational extra special is the fact that it dedicates a separate day to give middle-schoolers the spotlight. The youngsters competed on Friday of the two-day meet.
The future looks bright for a runner whose last name should sound familiar, Kingston Bayha of Warwick. A year after winning the sixth-grade race, Bayha claimed the seventh-grade title where he was timed in 6:47 for the 1.2-mile course. The young talent is the grandson of Bob Bayha, who was a successful HS coach at Cumberland and East Providence and the former co-director of girls’ indoor track & field. Kingston’s dad is former Warwick standout and current Pilgrim athletic director Scott Bayha and the brother of Keaney Bayha, one of our state’s top distance runners.
Hendricken and Cumberland made the two-hour trip to New Hampshire for the annual Manchester Invitational. We were particularly impressed with the effort of Clipper junior Sam Henderson, who clocked a state-leading 15:41.60 to place sixth overall on a very difficult course against a quality field from the northeast.
Henderson, a winner at the Injury Fund Carnival at the beginning of the season, led during the early stages of the race. He hit his opening mile at 5:01 and maintained his consistency the rest of the way.
Henderson led a Cumberland squad that placed sixth overall in the Large School race with 217 points. The Blue & White averaged 16:44 by its varsity with other top placements from Connor Magill (22nd, 16:27.7) and William Shea (27th, 16:31.5).
Henderson likes the way things are going for the Clippers as we near the midway point of the fall campaign.
“We kind of been super honest with our training and every mile, every workout we do is super, super meticulous and we really try and stay in the zone to the end,” he said. “This is the second race this year we just let it fly. Injury Fund we opened it up, too, but we just didn’t have the training at that point in the season. It felt awesome to open it at the end of September where we are.”
Next up for the Clippers is a trip to Manchester again, only this time in the state of Connecticut. Cumberland is one of the top entries in the popular Wickham Park Invitational.
Hendricken, a frequent winner at the Manchester Invite, was third overall at last weekend’s meet. The Hawks scored 149 points and had an average time of 16:35. Jack Moretta was the first across the line for the defending state champions. He was 21st overall in 16:25.6. In typical fashion, the Hawks utilized pack mentality to the max with just 24 seconds separating their top five. Demonstrating its depth, Hendricken was fourth in the Freshmen race and went home with the plaque for JV. In that race, the Hawks scored a low 18 points with sophomore Jacob Silva claiming the top spot in 16:58.4.
The Hawks next big meet is one it makes annually this time of year, the Great American XC Festival.
La Salle demonstrated its team unity in the Freshmen race at Bowdoin. The Rams won a tight battle with 75 points. Just four points separated the top three. La Salle had its top three finisher within a 12-second span with Noah DosReis (10:46.6), Matthew Navarro (10:49.5) and Matthew Lewis (10:58.4) among the top 10. Sophomore Marshall Vernon was the No. 1 runner for the Rams in the Varsity race where he was 29th overall in 17:02.7.
The Cumberland girls will be looking to win their second team title at the Maine XC Festival of Champions on Saturday. The Clippers were second last year with 100 points, just 20 point behind team champion Bonny Eagle. In 2021, they were third. Cumberland won its lone title in 2016. The Clippers are coming off a sixth-place finish from Ocean State last weekend.