(All Photos by ABBY BROOKS)
There’s no denying the tremendous talent of La Salle Academy’s top runners.
One can also not forget the Rams’ depth runs deep, too.
Last week, despite the absence of one of its fastest harriers, Jack Salisbury, La Salle finished as a runner-up to the nation’s No. 1 squad, Christian Brothers (N.J.) Academy, at the Bowdoin X-C Classic in N.Y.
On Saturday afternoon, the varsity crew of the Maroon and White might have made a case that it should now be considered the top dog.
Missing the valuable Salisbury from their line-up once again, the Rams still manufactured one of the school’s most impressive performances at the prestigious Great American X-C Festival in North Carolina.
With its first four runners separated by less than 17 seconds, La Salle captured the featured Race of Champions (ROC) event with a 132-140 victory over second-place Marietta (Ga.) at the WakeMed Soccer Complex.
The day turned out to be a special one indeed for R.I. schools. Besides the Rams’ win, La Salle was a runner-up to powerhouse Blacksburg, Va., in the girls’ ROC event and Bishop Hendricken won the seeded boys’ race and also dominated the JV competition.
The La Salle boys were led by a seventh-place finish from sophomore D.J. Principe, who was timed in 15 minutes, 30.89 seconds for the five-kilometer course. Junior Matt Bouthillette was tenth overall in 15:31.6. Finishing out the scoring for the Rams was senior Jake Grundy (21st, 15:44.6), senior Dan Paiva (26th, 15:47.5) and senior James Placco (92nd, 16:35.5).
The race was won by Loudon Valley (Va.) junior Andrew Hunter, who crossed the line with a nation best of 14:46.01.
“It definitely was a great accomplishment,” said head coach Ken Skelly. “It definitely identifies the character of the kids we have here.”
Patience appeared to be the Rams’ best strategy against the elite competition that toed the line for one of the top regional meets in the country. According to Skelly, La Salle was in third at the 2K mark. At that point, the Ram trio of Bouthilette, Principe and Grundy occupied placements between 26th and 30th.
“The idea was to run the course to our favor,” the La Salle coach said. “I think the guys did a good job of executing. They came through the 3K strong and knew what they had to do, and poured it on.”
Again, La Salle did its damage without Salisbury in the field, a runner capable of running the 5K distance in the mid-15 minute range. Skelly stated his squad was focused and ready despite missing their key teammate.
“With the absence of Jack, we had an understanding going into the race that we had to put that aside this week,” he said. “We did a great job of focusing with the guys we had. You can’t replace Jack. (Today) we had to replace him with heart and determination.”
As for Salisbury, he’s still nursing a sore quadriceps but could be back on the trails soon.
“It’s a flexibility issue. The muscles need to relax,” Skelly said. “It’s getting better every day. We’d rather be safe than sorry.”
The Lady Rams were highlighted by an outstanding fourth-place finish from Eliza Rego, who ran a personal best of 17:38.29, the state’s fastest time ever for the 5K distance.
“Eliza ran absolutely amazing,” La Salle coach Kelly Martin said. “Last year she was third in 18:02. We were just hoping she could break 18 minutes. She looked amazing, super strong.”
La Salle junior Karina Tavares also cracked 18 minutes with a 17:59.55 clocking. Following her across the line was senior Sheridan Wilbur in 11th at 18:11.36. Both runners achieved PRs for the afternoon.
“Karina’s got some really good speed and she just kicked the last part of the course and that’s when she got Sheridan,” Martin said.
Midway into the race, La Salle was actually winning the meet.
“The girls took the first mile out hard. We were in it to win it,” Martin said. “With about 500 to 600 meters left, that’s kind of where we lost it.”
The La Salle coach is now preparing her squad for one more out-of-state meet before getting ready for the state meet. The Rams will be heading to New York next weekend for the Manhattan Invitational at Van Cortlandt Park.
“As a coach, I am extremely happy with what they did today. They all ran PRs,” Martin said. “Going into the state meet we still have to work on closing the gap a little bit. Once we do that, we can be a great team.”
In the boys’ seeded race, Hendricken showed its strength with a very convincing 50-127 victory over Abermarie (Va.). Senior Michael Potter led the Hawks by placing fourth at 15:46.90. Junior Dominic Parlato, last week’s JV winner at the Manchester Invitational, was second across the line for Hendricken, finishing seventh with a PR of 16:04.80. Rounding out the scoring was junior Avery Ingegeneri (14th, 16:20.20), senior Tom Grizzetti (16th, 16:21.60) and senior Grant Gauthier (19th, 16:28.30).
The Hawks occupied six of the top eight placements in the JV race with Walt Fitzhugh taking second at 16:44.50.