WOONSOCKET — Uncertainty.
That might best describe what’s in the mind of longtime Woonsocket High track coach George Briggs right now concerning the upcoming winter campaign.
While the numbers are big this year with more than 40 kids, the Villa Novans lost some key point-scorers to graduation, have two of their best athletes recovering from injuries and are still awaiting word if a few more are coming back this year.
“We have our work cut off for us, and we are in a very tough division” said Briggs, making reference to the ultra-competitive Northern Division. “Cumberland is very strong. Central Falls and Mount St. Charles are very tough competitors. The positive thing is we have a lot of middle and long distance runners, a lot of cross-country kids that are filling in the gaps.”
Woonsocket will be minus a pair of its versatile stars from last year with Jessie Charette (long jump, triple jump, high jump, sprints) and Anthony Neal (high jump, sprints) graduating last June. Another multi-talented athlete and 42-foot triple-jumper Alex Correia has decided to play basketball this season.
The Villa Novans nearly had two of their other prime scorers miss this winter, junior sprinter Jalen Evans and senior weight-thrower Juan Rivera. Evans, a star running back for the Woonsocket football team, broke his foot during a scrimmage game in late August and had to sit out the entire season. Rivera, also a Villa Novan gridder, broke his ankle and was out for most of the fall.
The good news is both athletes were cleared on Friday to compete again.
“They are two of my biggest point-scorers,” Briggs said. “The season wouldn’t be the same without them.”
Evans would have perhaps been the biggest loss had he not been able to compete. In his first season of track and field as a tenth-grader, the gifted runner set a school record of 36.9 seconds for the 300-meter dash and also ran a fast 22.2 clocking for the 200 on the outdoor surface.
Evans was a sixth-place finisher in the 300 at last year’s indoor state meet.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team and one of our team captains,” Briggs said. “I never coached an athlete with such a positive attitude. He also can do a lot of events. He has been at practice every day.”
Rivera is another Novan that can make some noise. He throws the shot put in the 42-foot range and the low 50s for the 25-pound weight. As a sophomore, he finished 16th overall in the shot at the states, despite competing in just half the season.
“He’s had injuries the last two years because of football,” Briggs said. “Last year he had a broken wrist that kept him out of competition until early January.”
So far, Brian Gilbert has not indicated whether or not he’ll compete during the indoor season. Gilbert has a best of 5-10 in the high jump and 20 feet for the long jump.
“I have yet to see him,” Briggs stated.
Senior Tyler Bourk will give the Villa Novans some strength in the sprints. He was one of the team’s top speedsters last year and was part of their eighth-place 4x200 relay squad at the state meet.
Senior Jacob Berard, who was the captain of this year’s cross-country team, will compete on the indoor boards for the first time this winter and will more than likely be the Villa Novans' 600 specialist. Senior Chad Giguere, another newcomer, has looked impressive in the hurdles the last few weeks.
One of the big surprises has come from junior Jeremy Nadeau. The Villa Novans’ top harrier this past fall will specialize in the longer events.
“Right now, his time has improved in the 3,000 by 40 seconds from last year,” Briggs said. “We are really looking for him to step up. He’s running in the low 10s right now.”
The Villa Novans have one of their biggest teams in recent memory with 43 athletes.
“We have a lot of young kids, a lot of enthusiasm,” Briggs said. “But we are as green as grass. Our numbers are good and so are our girls, It’s going to be a process. We will take our lumps.”
The Woonsocket coach lists defending league titlist Cumberland to once again be the team to beat this season. The Clippers have a strong core of athletes, including all-state cross-country runner Trevor Crawley and standout jumper Ryan Rei.