Familiar area rivals like Cumberland, Lincoln, Smithfield and recently Mount St. Charles have consistently sent teams to the state championships and in some cases have done well.
Back in 2004, Cumberland shocked pre-race favorite Bishop Hendricken for the boys’ state crown. Last year, Mount St. Charles made big strides in its program by placing seventh among the 18th schools. In 2005, the Cumberland girls qualified for the New England Championship by finishing sixth, a point ahead of Lincoln.
It may not place among the top 10 schools at this Sunday’s state meet at Ponaganset, but a new kid on the block has quietly been making some noise lately in this neck of the woods.
Head coach Marty Crowley and his Burrillville girls will be making their second straight appearance at the state level when the seven varsity runners answer the starter’s gun for this weekend’s meet. The Broncos earned the slot by tying Mount St. Charles for third in the Northern Division at 8-2-1 and then followed that up with a strong second-place finish at this past Saturday’s Class C Championship, repeating their performance from last fall.
“It’s not really surprising we are in this position at this part of the season,” Crowley said. “The girls have been working so hard.”
Burrillville’s recent success is not the only time that it’s excelled on the trails. It just doesn’t happen very often. Since 1971, the Broncos have earned a berth to the states a total of 10 times. Burrillville’s best finish came in 1984 when it followed up a perfect 10-0 season in the league with a second-place showing at the state meet.
During that year, the Broncos had three of their runners place among the top 20 finishers. Freshman Candace LaFlamme, a future four-time all-stater, led the trio by taking 10th overall. Jenny Ouimette (17th) and Kelly Burns (20th) also had strong placements. Ironically, Ouimette’s daughter, senior Shannon Collins, currently runs on this year’s team.
“They were very good,” Crowley said. “They have some great runners on that team.”
Burrillville came back from that breakthrough year in 1985 and was fifth overall - a mere six points behind fourth-place Cumberland - at the states. Since ending an 11-year drought of state meet appearances in 1998, Burrillville’s top placement in seven trips to the Big Stage was its 12th-place finish last year.
Will that change this year? Judging by the results from last week’s three class meets, it would appear that way. The Broncos ranked seventh statewide.
Junior Anna Dumais, a third-place finisher at the class meet, leads the talented Broncos. Her quality supporting cast includes her sophomore sister Danielle Dumais, freshman Morgan Allen, sophomore Lizzie Rogers, junior Cassidy Bowers, junior Stephanie Lizzotte and sophomore Jackie Keable.
“Teamwise, I was talking with coach (Joyce) Bonner (of Cumberland) the other day and we were saying how anything can happen this week,” Crowley said. “I hope the kids can run well. We have the opportunity to leap over a few schools. We are hoping to be top 10. Would we like to be top six? I think we have potential, but I don’t think we are deep enough to get to that next level yet.”
The Broncos certainly look like they’ll have the potential to get to “that next level” next year. Burrillville loses just one senior from this year’s squad and will have a promising newcomer coming there way with eighth-grade standout Betsy Dumais competing next fall. The younger sister of the Broncos’ gifted siblings recently placed third at the junior high school state championship.
“On paper, we will be stronger. We’ll have Betsy, giving us another solid runner,” Crowley said. “But Smithfield is young and so is Mount and Joyce (at Cumberland) always has a strong team. We are excited about the future but now we are kind of stuck in the present and (focused) on Sunday.”
When Sunday does roll around, Crowley has two goals in mind.
“I’d like to see Annie in the top 25. That’s a realistic goal for her to do, but she has to get a little faster. Top 25 is definitely within her reach. Her times have dropped down drastically,” Crowley said. “As a team, I’d like to see us in the top 10.”
In his eight years as coach, Crowley ranks his latest batch at the top.
“This is probably the best team that I coached,” he said. “It’s our depth that has been the key.”
Of course, Burrillville’s not the only area team to keep an eye on this week. Smithfield, which captured its second straight Class C crown, has a very good chance to finish among the top six and earn a trip to the New England Championships in Thetford, Vt., on Nov. 13. The Sentinels had four of their runners under 17:30 on Ponaganset’s tough five-kilometer layout.
Senior Liam Hillery, the individual titlist in the class meet, should be among the top contenders. Brian Musard, another senior, has potential for a strong showing and improvement on last year’s 18th-place finish.
There’s also Cumberland and junior Matt Sutcliffe and sophomore Trevor Crawley. The Clippers finished seventh as a team at the class meet and Sutcliffe had the best finish, taking 18th overall with a time of 16:47.58.
“Next week I am looking for 16:30s,” said Sutcliffe, shortly after his race. “That’s what I’m really looking to do.”
The Clippers, who were second in the Northern Division behind Smithfield, have the ability to crack the top six if their runners can compete to their potential.
Mount St. Charles, with its 1-2 punch of Brian Deer and Patrick Butler, could also shine this weekend. Don’t count out Lincoln High, a team that has mastered the art of pack running.
Besides the Lady Broncos, Smithfield, Cumberland and Mount St. Charles all have a chance to possible break into the top 10 in the girls’ competition.
The boys’ race for this Sunday’s state meet kicks off at 1:15 p.m. The girls begin at 2:15 p.m.