One Last Look At Another Memorable State Meet

Each year, we say the same thing at the conclusion of the State Meet. And each year, the answer is often the same. How can the State Meet we just witnessed be topped? The answer, it can’t. It simply can’t. In their own special way, each one leaves a lasting impression on us. Each one has us amazed at the level of talent in our small state. Each one confirms to us just how lucky we are to have the opportunity to cover these gifted track & field athletes, who always put on a show at the most important meet of the season.

With Conley Stadium providing the venue, this past Saturday’s meet saw two sisters from West Warwick once again lift their team to a girls’ state title with dominant performances in every event they ran. It saw the Barrington boys once again making school history by following their inaugural indoor title with their first outdoor crown. The Greatest Show In Town also saw a long list of exciting competitions, some where mere inches or feet determined the winners at the end.

Yes indeed, it was another memorable State Meet.

As we have traditionally done over the years at this time, here’s one last look at a truly unforgettable afternoon of track & field.

(All photos courtesy of Vernon Sterling of @RhodeAndTrack)

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As a coach, he’s been a regular fixture at these championship meets for more than three decades. Each time, he seems to display the same energy that coaches often exuberate when they first start instructing high school track & field athletes the knowledge they need to improve their craft and, just as important, become better individuals from beyond the fields, beyond the tracks they compete on each week. At the beginning of Saturday’s State Meet, Classical’s longtime coach Bob Palazzo was honored for his dedication and longtime service to track & field. His service to not only at a school he calls home, and a city he once starred in as an All-American weight-thrower at Central in the mid 1980s, but his service to the state as a whole for the betterment of this great sport. The ceremony included several dignitaries from the state and unveiled the naming of the field adjacent to Conley Stadium as the Robert J. Palazzo Throwing Complex. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more deserving of this honor than Palazzo, who also announced his retirement as the Classical coach at the ceremony. His success as a coach and his dedication to track & field in Rhode Island has been immeasurable. Besides dedicating his time to his own athletes and teams, where he’s helped produce numerous all-staters and All Americans as well as rack up a plethora of divisional, class and state titles, Palazzo has also ensured that his home state is often at the forefront when it comes to track & field from coast to coast. He’s worn many hats throughout his tenure, including the president of the Rhode Island Track & Field Association (RITCA) for several years. In 2020, Palazzo received the ultimate honor when he was named the NFHS National Coach Of The Year. We had a chance to talk with Palazzo before the meet got started, before he was honored on the field. He told us that the long hours that are needed to be an effective coach, the long trips he would often take his athletes to each season to have the opportunity to compete against the region and nation’s best, we’re taking its toll on him and he just felt the time was right to step down. While he won’t be the coach at Classical in the years moving forward, we can almost assure you Palazzo will regularly be in attendance at most meets, particularly during championship time. When you display passion like he does, that’ neve’s a given. Congratulations to a great coach, a great individual and true advocate for a sport that often doesn’t get the recognition it rightly deserves.

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What can you say about the Raye sisters, Lisa and Xenia, that hasn’t already been said before? As they always do, the West Warwick tandem were at their best at Saturday’s championship meet. Lisa Raye, the Wizards’ sophomore phenom, captured a predicted four individual titles, raising her total to 14 in just two years. Simple math says that she’s on pace for 28 crowns by the time she graduates in 2026. The crazy thing, it could be even more. The ridiculously-talented tenth-grader not only broke state records, she downright destroyed them on Saturday! The young Raye blazed to a nation No. 6 of 11.37 seconds in the 100-meter dash, knocking more than two tenths of a second off her previous mark prior to the states. She was more than a second under her old mark in the 300m hurdles with a winning 42.53 and erased a 14-year-old record in the 100m hurdles by nearly four tenths of a second with a time of 14.04. The one record that Raye didn’t get came in the 200m, and it was by no fault of her own when she clocked an eye-popping and wind-aided 22.73 for the half-lapper. If not for the wind, that time would have earned her the minimum qualifying standard for the U.S. Olympic Trials at the end of the month. Simply astonishing. We also can’t ignore what her older sister Xenia Raye did with a pair of racing spikes on her feet. The fleet-footed junior was a champion in the 400m and a runner-up in the 100m and 200m. She also ran a leg on the fourth-place 4x100m. In the shorter races she blazed to PRs of 11.67 for the 100m and 23.89 for the 200m. With limited rest after her sub-12 in the 100m, Xenia proved her heart is far bigger than the pain by grinding out a meet record and all-time best of 54.73 for the 400m.

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It was a long (and exciting) day for us here at Ocean State Running at the State Meet. When all was said and done, we managed to get 26 interviews from our top athletes and coaches. To be honest, we thought we could get even more. It’s always a thrill for us, having the opportunity to talk with all the deserving student-athletes out there about their accomplishments. With so much going on and with our additional duties of taking photos, it’s hard to get everyone, or even more than we’ve already gotten. In the future, please feel free to seek our yours truly, whether you won, finished second or just want to talk about your experience. In our eyes, you’re all equally important.

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It’s not an easy job officiating at a meet, particularly one as pressure-filled as a state championship. We commend all those that officiated at this past weekend’s competition and helping the meet run smoothly. It’s certainly not easy. But here’s our two cents and it’s by no means against the officiating that was done at the states, which we considered top notch. We understand rules are rules and must be followed. Sometimes, though, we think there has to be some wiggle room, especially in crowded and competitive races when runners are fighting for position. There’s going to bumping, there’s going to be a few unintentional elbows. It happens all the time at the collegiate level and nothing is called. Some may agree and some may disagree with our opinion on this. That’s okay. We get it. But our two cents says we sometimes have to let that go. If it’s too close to call, let it go. Often times, that doesn’t happen.

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You have to love the camaraderie that’s often seen at state meets, or any competition for that matter. It was evident once again at this past weekend’s meet where we saw numerous athletes congratulating their fellow rivals with heartfelt words and congratulatory hugs. After their fierce battle in the 800m where both clocked PRs by two seconds, Chariho’s Erin VonHousen and Mount St. Charles’ Emmy Belvin could be seen hugging on the track and offering praise to one another on a job well done. After the two mile, most of the top six runners, including 1-2 finishers Sean Gray of Portsmouth and Marshall Vernon of La Salle, posed for a photo together after their race and then met for a cooldown shortly after. These are just a few examples of the sportsmanship that’s often seen in this sport. Fierce rivals when in competition and good friends when it’s over. It doesn’t get any better than that, and is common ground in this sport of track & field.

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