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Over the last five years in the Northern Division, Cumberland and Smithfield have occupied the top two slots in the standings with the Sentinels winning four of those dual-meet titles.
Joyce Bonner, who has been coaching the Cumberland girls the last eight years, envisions a little more parity this fall with at least four schools vying for the league crown. In the past, it was status quo for the Clippers and Sentinels to earn automatic berths to the state championships in early November by finishing among the top three in the division.
Bonner doesnâ€™t look at that as being a shoo-in this fall.
â€śThis year is going to be very competitive,â€ť she said. â€śBurrillville is going to be very strong. They came on strong last year and have added a [talented] freshman and Mount [St. Charles] is going to be strong, too. Itâ€™s going to be a fight to make it to the state meet whereas before itâ€™s been easy.â€ť
Cumberland has nearly all of its runners back from last yearâ€™s team that posted a 10-1 record in the league and finished 10th overall at the states. Senior co-captains Courtney Bricault and Laura Sullivan, Megan Calitri, another senior, and sophomore Hannah Tavares are some key returnees from that squad. Among other runners that should make an impact are sophomore Ashley Brecault, the younger sister of Courtney, and sophomore Kerry Connolly.
Bonner expects Courtney Brecault and Calitri to be battling for the top slot in her varsity lineup. Sheâ€™s also looking forward to how well Connolly performs. She was a promising frosh last fall, but suffered a back injury and was unable to compete during the season.
â€śShe was one of my best freshmen last year,â€ť the CHS coach said. â€śI am excited to see what she can do this year.â€ť
Smithfield, which last year fielded one of the smallest teams in the state but still finished perfect in the league at 11-0, is led by senior Rebecca Tellier. Last year, Tellier finished fourth at the Class C Championship and was 28th overall at the state meet, running 20:49.43 for the five-kilometer distance. Mount St. Charles tied with Burrillville for third in the Northern Division with an 8-2-1 mark despite not a single senior among its varsity runners. Senior Sara Brittany and sophomore Catherine Cardin are among those harriers that should make the Mounties a solid squad once again.
The team to watch in the division could be Burrillville. The Broncos have been making steady progress over the years and last year finished as runner-up in the Class C Championship for the second year in row.
Senior Anna Dumais and her sister Danielle Dumais, a junior, lead a very competent group of runners for head coach Marty Crowley. The elder Dumais was the No. 1 runner for the Broncos last year and the second best from the area at the state meet, placing 21st overall at 20:24.89. (Ponaganset junior Casey McGrath, another talented returnee, was the top local finisher, taking 16th overall at 20:15.87.).
Also coming back for the Broncos are junior Lizzie Rogers, senior Cassidy Bowers and senior Stephanie Lizzotte.
â€śEverything looks good at this point,â€ť Crowley said. â€śItâ€™s only the first week [of practice], but they have worked hard all summer. Itâ€™s definitely showing how strong we can be. We had a great year last year -Class C champs second year in a row. Hopefully everything we have done in the offseason will prepare us for another great season.â€ť
A hidden treasure for the Broncos this fall could be freshman Betsy Dumais. Sheâ€™s the youngest of the Dumais clan and showed great promise as an eighth-grader last year when she finished third at the junior high state meet for Burrillville Middle School.
â€śSheâ€™s just like Anna and Danielle,â€ť Crowley said. â€śSheâ€™s the real deal. Her adjustment will be in running the [5K] distance. We are very fortunate she gets to run with her sisters all year long.â€ť
The Bronco coach is optimistic about his teamâ€™s chance to excel this year, but he knows it wonâ€™t be easy in the always-competitive Northern Division, especially with the likes of Cumberland and Smithfield.
â€śI think our division is probably as balanced as itâ€™s been in a long time,â€ť Crowley said. â€śCumberland and Smithfield are great. Itâ€™s usually one or the other [winning the division] every single year. We are improved, but everything goes through Cumberland and Smithfield. I think weâ€™ll be competitive with kids returning and some newcomers.â€ť
The girlsâ€™ season begins this Wednesday with the statewide Injury Fund Carnival at Goddard State Park. The league season begins on Sept. 12 and the class and state championships will be held on Oct. 29 and Nov. 6, respectively. Both the class and state meets will take place at Ponaganset, which this year will also host the New England Championship on Nov. 12.