WOONSOCKET -- George Nasuti would have been extremely proud of this show of support.
After last September’s inaugural event attracted 259 participants, the newly-tabbed George Nasuti Novans Pride 5K, named in memory of the longtime educator, administrator, and Woonsocket High athletic director who passed away unexpectedly in February, saw a huge spike in signups.
Four hundred and seventy-nine runners and walkers laced up their shoes and flocked to the race’s chief sponsor, The Gym, LLC on Diamond Hill Road, on Monday morning to tour the 3.1-mile route and pay tribute to the beloved man who was the chief supporter and driving force behind the Woonsocket Athletic Department.
More than 300 hailed from Woonsocket, and included in that number were students, coaches, faculty members, alumni, and family members and friends of Nasuti’s. Some of them sported race t-shirts, while several others donned the traditional Villa Novan maroon and white colors.
“It’s amazing,” said race director Phil D’Eon. “Last year, we had around 260 [register for the race], so we’re very excited. This race really brought out a lot of people, and George would be very proud of it. The Give Respect, Get Respect [slogan] is all over the place, and a lot of kids came out. It’s great.”
As the case with last year’s race, former Mount St. Charles standout Roland Lavallee was the winner, breaking the tape in a 16:25 time, and just like last year, he topped a high school student for the victory, this time outdistancing MSC freshman C.J. Berg by 43 seconds.
Hot on Berg’s heels was the third-place finisher, Matt Gingras of Cranston, and he was immediately followed by Kevin Peloquin, a 2009 graduate and a former runner at Mount, and Philip Kiesling of Cranston.
Lavallee, Berg, and Peloquin were part of the MSC Running Club that ran away with the team title, topping a field of eight teams and also receiving a 12th-place finish from Douglas Dubosky (20:00) and top-60 finishes from Madeline Charbonneau and Cat Sherman.
“Some kids came to see me in the spring and wanted to start a club team for those who weren’t competing on the varsity level,” added Lavallee, who also teaches at Mount. “As you saw today, we had a pretty sizeable group.”
“Roland coached me from my sophomore to my senior year,” said Peloquin, who is also a teacher in Providence. “I went to college at PC, so we kept in touch and kept running together. It’s always fun to come race with him and see what he can do.”
In last year’s race, Lavallee, who was just coming back from microfracture surgery to his knee, dominated the race in a 15:42 time that was more than 3½ minutes faster than the runner-up finisher, Woonsocket High sophomore Keith Jillette.
While Lavallee was nowhere near that time in his return to the rolling course that covered some of the scenic neighborhoods of Bound Road, Elder Ballou Meeting House Road, and Mendon Road, he offered a valid reason why.
“We made a pact,” said Lavallee. “We said we were going to stick together in the early part [of the race] and run as a group. We went out conservative -- I was 5:29 after the first mile and a little bit ahead -- but it was perfect for these guys. They really raced their tails off the rest of the way.”
Lavallee was especially impressed with the strong performance of Berg, who played soccer last fall and pulled off a superb finish to top Gingras by three seconds.
“He ran really well,” added Lavallee. “He’s been running with me all spring and we’ve been having a blast.”
Jillette ended up finishing sixth in an 18:45 time that was 31 seconds faster than his runner-up finish from 2013, and Chris Hoard, the 2012 winner of Woonsocket’s Race Against Racism 5K, took seventh in a 19:16 time that bettered his third-place finish in last fall’s Novans Pride 5K by a minute and 35 seconds.
The women’s winner was Michaela Morgan of Cumberland, who placed 13th overall in 20:10. She beat the next female finisher, 19th-place Amy Noecker of Douglas, Mass., by more than a minute.
Amy Gingras (39th overall, 23:54) was third, and Woonsocket High senior Anna Barnhart (41st overall, 24:09) placed fourth and was also the first high school female finisher. Former Cumberland High softball and basketball standout Caylin Legare (48th, 24:38) rounded out the top five.
Among the Woonsocket High student-athletes who finished with Jillette in the top 20 were William Flores (ninth place, 19:30), Evan Bartholomy (11th, 19:50), Corey Mabray (15th, 20:54), Jalen Evans (17th, 21:02), Prinyavong Phongavon (18th, 21:03), and Nick Beals (20th, 21:26).
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24