BURRILLIVILLE — In their first and only season together as teammates, the Belt sisters have paved the way for the Cumberland High girls cross-country team to maintain its longstanding status as the top team in the Northern Division.
With senior Olivia Belt placing second and younger sister/freshman Grace hustling her way to a fourth-place showing, the Clippers on Saturday streaked to their second straight dual meet sweep at Burrillville Middle School’s 3.1-mile course. With two meets in the books and two more remaining before the running of the still-to-be-ironed-out postseason, Cumberland finds itself standing on firm footing.
Through two weeks, a noticeable storyline has emerged for head coach Vanessa Molloy and her pack of lady harriers. Call it a sister act with the younger sibling quickly emerging as a dependable scorer, a status that her older sister has enjoyed from the moment she began her cross-country career.
After just missing out on a top-five finish at Ponaganset High, Grace Belt successfully shaved off 1 minute, 29 seconds from her first-ever varsity race to post a time of 21:30 at the Burrillville-based track. One can debate the merits of shining the spotlight on a ninth grader who in essence is just scratching the surface. Is it your classic case of too much, too soon?
When it comes to bringing value to the table, it’s clear to Grace’s older sister that a varsity neophyte – one who just so happens to live under the same roof as herself – is quickly moving up the rankings.
“You can it see over the past two races. She’s improved a lot and her confidence is building,” said Olivia Belt, who like Grace made a big leap time-wise from one week to the next – 20:53 at Ponaganset to 20:25 on Saturday.
“It’s really exciting to not only have (Grace) but all the freshmen. I think we have 12 or 13 on this year’s team. Cross country isn’t just an individual sport. It’s a team sport. We need them every day to push us in practices and I think that bonding shows in our races,” added Belt. “We’re definitely building a legacy that hopefully continues in the years to come.”
In terms of the here and now, Olivia wants Grace to remain comfortable.
“She likes running with her friends. I definitely want her to have her own experience on the team and not force anything,” said Olivia, who is looking to continue her running career at the NCAA Division I level. “It’s been exciting to run with her.”
Molloy is appreciative that the gift of running has been passed from one Belt sister to another.
“Grace didn’t even know if she was going to run in high school. She thought she was going to play soccer,” said the coach. “She’s clicked with the team and her competitiveness is coming out. You can see the potential.”
This time, Blackstone Valley Prep junior Lucy Noris had places to go after registering another first-place triumph. Not long after clocking in at 19:47, Noris got in a car that would take her from Burrillville to the Cumberland-based school for a 12:30 p.m. soccer game against Johnston.
“She continues to push herself and sets the bar incredibly high,” said BVP cross-country head coach Emily Drywa after Noris registered her fourth all-time win in a dual meet setting.
In an effort to not put Noris in a position where she has to choose one sport over the other at a time when most interscholastic events are held on Saturdays, BVP officials worked it out that no conflicts should arise between cross-country and soccer.
“Our athletic director (Ed Laskowski) scheduled the home soccer matches that there’s ideally enough time,” said Drywa.
Furthering her case as a bottomless pit of energy, Noris went from placing first in a meet to scoring a goal via penalty kick and handing out one assist as Blackstone Valley Prep defeated Johnston, 3-2.
Similar to Saturday’s girls meet, the Cumberland boys dominated the landscape with clean sweeps over Woonsocket, North Smithfield and Burrillville. Junior Ethan Carpenter breezed his way to a first-place time of 16:23. Making his season debut, junior Henry Dennen wasn’t too far behind Carpenter as he placed second (16:27). Like Carpenter, Dennen earned Second Team All-State as a sophomore.
“Happy to see Henry back out there,” said CHS head coach Kerrie Carpenter. “We’re approaching every race as if it’s the race.”
Cumberland grabbed eight of the first nine spots. Burrillville’s Garrett Dailey interrupted the Blue Streak stranglehold with a sixth-place showing (17:08). A sophomore, Garrett is the younger brother of Mitchell Dailey, last year’s top runner for the Broncos.
“He’s a great kid and just goes for it. He does all the work we ask of him,” said BHS head coach Samantha Stanton about Garrett.
For the Novans, senior Drew Paskanik was the team’s top finisher (10th, 17:42). Sophomore Josh Hanlon was the first representative from the Northmen camp to finish (22nd, 19:47).
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03