WOONSOCKET– The past few years have seen Connor Fugere bring acclaim and notoriety to the throwing section of Woonsocket High’s track & field program. A recent graduate who is poised to take his talents to Northeastern University this fall, Fugere has been a source of inspiration for his Villa Novan track peers.
Last month, Fugere competed at the National Junior Olympic Championships, held in Houston, Texas. Unlike last year when Fugere went to the acclaimed meet by his lonesome, the traveling party to the Lone Star State included two returning Woonsocket student-athletes, senior Tara Rochefort and sophomore Jared Briere.
The trio netted All-American honors after each of them finished in the top eight in their respective age groups at the event.
“I’m happy with what I’m leaving behind,” Fugere said recently while standing next to Rochefort and Briere outside the Cass Ave. campus.
The success of Rochefort and Briere on a national stage is one of the fruits of Marc Piette’s carefully calculated expansion efforts
“I never had anybody the caliber of athlete of Connor,” said Piette, both the head coach of the Woonsocket’s girls’ track program and mentor to Novan throwers of both sexes. “Once I started taking him to all these national meets because he was the only one that qualified for them, I began taking as many people as I could,” he said. “I figured the more they could compete at a higher level, they would strive to become better and try to work harder.”
For Fugere and his fellow Novans to spend part of their summer at the competition, it took a combination of dedication to the sport, success at the appropriate qualifying meets and fundraising. According to Piette, the junket to Houston for the three throwers and their coach cost $2,600.
“We’ve already got fundraising for next year starting this month,” said Piette.
To qualify for the National Junior Olympic Championships, one must place in the top five in regional competition. For Piette’s three prized pupils, a trip to Houston was contingent upon a strong showing at a meet in Fitchburg, Mass.
The athletes said competing against strong local talent prepared them for the talent level on display at the regional meet.
“We’re used to facing good competition in Rhode Island so it wasn’t as intimidating as you get to the bigger meets,” Briere said.
Competing in the 17-18-year-old group in Houston, Fugere earned a seventh-place finish in the hammer with a throw of 192 feet, 10 inches.
“The (performance lists that are frequently published during the high-school season) make you look past the strengths of Rhode Island participants,” said Fugere. “To see a couple of guys in person and hang out with them was pretty cool.”
In the 14-15-year-old division, Briere garnered third place in the hammer (178 feet). His current personal best in the event is 179 feet, 5 inches, a mark that has him third amongst freshman in the country.
“It was a really experience because I figure I’ll be going to these types of meets for a while,” said Briere, who turns 15 on Monday. “To go to something like this in my first year, it helps you get into the flow as far as what a national competition is all about.”
For her part, Rochefort took home a fifth-place finish in the 17-18-year-old girls’ division, and her heave of 139 feet, five inches went in the books as a career best.
“I can’t wait to go back to nationals next year because I had a lot of fun,” said Rochefort. “I didn’t think I was going to do so well so I was happy I placed and set a PR.”
“When you go to a meet of this caliber and do poor, you don’t feel as confident,” Piette said. “When you go there and compete at a high level, you have more confidence the next you go there.”
Fugere thinks there’s no question that the program he helped breathe fresh life into stands well-positioned for the future.
“Coach Piette and I talked about how we built this program up from really close to nothing,” Fugere said. “We’ve had throwers, but not to the caliber that we have now. We never trained during the summer or been religious with throwing throughout the year. It was one of those deals where you took six months off and saw everyone the following year.
“Now we have a feeder system where you throw throughout the normal season. Kids are like ‘Hey, this is kind of fun.’ They get into it and end up lifting in the summer. It’s one of those deals where if you don’t show up, you’re the black sheep,” Fugere continued. “All the letters I received while I was recruited, I’ve handed them to coach so that they can at least get started.”
Added Piette, “Last year we had two people come to the weight room every day. Now it’s between 8-15 kids showing up every day.”
As she prepares for her final year at Woonsocket High, Rochefort is confident that she can take what Fugere built and keep pushing the program to further heights.
“I really hope they look up to me in the same way they always looked up to Connor,” she said.
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