The winter high school sports season is underway with practices starting last week and some scrimmages taking place this week. Every year, every season really, amazes me with how fast it comes back around. I'm looking forward to another great winter of
The winter high school sports season is underway with practices starting last week and some scrimmages taking place this week. Every year, every season really, amazes me with how fast it comes back around. I’m looking forward to another great winter of local sports, so here are some of my thoughts as we dig in.
Bishop Hendricken basketball will, as always, be a threat to take home a state championship this winter. The Hawks have undergone some big roster turnover this winter and will force them to adapt on the fly. Jamal Gomes and his staff are the best in the state at adapting each year and finding the strengths of the guys on the floor, so it will be interesting to see what they come up with this time around.
My biggest takeaway is the loss of Jason Onye and Cam Hughes up front. In one offseason, Hendricken went from having the biggest front court in the state to one without a whole lot of size. Gomes and his returners, including state champion quarterback David Lynch, are not worried about the size issue and are plenty confident in the guys in the back.
Again, new look rosters are nothing out of the ordinary for Hendricken. Let’s see how they adjust here in the early going.
Fortunately for me and my selfish reasons, Cranston West hiring Matt Fontaine as its new boys coach gives me plenty of material to chew on considering he is coming from Pilgrim.
Fontaine had worked hard the past few seasons to turn Pilgrim around and was largely successful, making the Pats into a legitimate playoff team the past two seasons. The opportunity for him to coach his alma mater presented itself and he pulled the trigger.
Although West had a solid season last year, it did underachieve overall when considering the depth and talent on the roster. Will Fontaine’s arrival be enough to energize the few returners he has back and set them up for a deep run? Also, will Pilgrim be able to ride the momentum of back-to-back playoff appearances with a new coach? How much of what Fontaine implemented will be carried over versus washed away? Definitely something worth watching.
Perhaps our girls team that intrigues me the most this winter is Cranston East, who had an unbelievable turnaround midway through last winter.
When the Lady Bolts were entering the meat of their regular season schedule last year, they were winless and appeared to already be out of playoff contention. Then, just like that, they wont their final five games to clinch a playoff spot and would get an opening round win. I remember each passing game wondering, ‘What is going on with this team?’
Simply put, it learned how to win. The Bolts were no longer getting beat in close contests, they no longer felt inferior to tough competition. They really stepped it up and even had a chance to win their second playoff matchup. It was a great finish to the season.
How will they Bolts look this season? The returning girls will have some confidence and learned a thing or two down the stretch last year. Could East be a dark horse in the division?
I’m also interested in seeing how Johnston responds after losing its top front court option in Sarah Bandoma and top shooter in Tori Viau. Although the Panthers had a down year, those two became one of the toughest duos in the division and now the Panthers will be relying on some new faces to step up. Keep an eye on for point guard Emily Iannuccilli, who will likely be the go-to player moving forward.
The Cranston co-op boys hockey team won the state title last year in Division II, which was a pretty big surprise. It was a deep, experienced group, so it was not a total stunner, but most people including myself saw it as just another playoff team.
Now, Cranston will be looking to defend its title and will have a target on its back unlike last season. It will be fun to see how the group withstands the pressure of being the team to beat this time around.
The Warwick co-op will face a tough test this winter as it has moved up to Division I. I am pumped for this and believe that Warwick will be able to hang.
Last year, the team made the playoffs and made some noise including beating Mount St. Charles in a non-league exhibition. Although Warwick will be facing an uphill battle, I am so excited to see this team square off against some of the best clubs in the state each night. Pilgrim and Toll Gate should be itching to see one of their teams competing in the top division.
Our coverage area actually had some pretty impressive girls swimming teams last winter and I would not be surprised to see a title coming home to Warwick or Cranston.
The Lady Falcons flew under the radar much of last season but finished 9-1 and had a solid outing at states. Nearby East also had a nice season and finished strong.
East has grabbed more headlines in the four years that I have been in Rhode Island, so to see West firmly in the mix is exciting and will be fun to keep up with. The teams are squaring off during this week’s injury fund contest so it should give us a glimpse as to what they will bring this season.
As for Warwick, Toll Gate always boasts a pretty steady program and Pilgrim began to turn things around last winter after a tough start. It will not surprise me to see one of these teams take a step forward and be a factor by season’s end.
As for the boys, Hendricken will be the team to beat once again. At this point, it really all comes down to if a team can knock off the Hawks at the state meet. Everything before that feels like a formality. Similar to track, it always feels like the state meet will be between the Hawks and rival La Salle. Still, it is a compelling race.
I can go on all day talking about our teams, but I need to save some thoughts for the rest of the year. I hope everyone has a great winter and I look forward to seeing you out there.
Best of luck to all of our teams.
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