One of the year's top stories was the Cumberland High boys' basketball team, which won its first state championship since 1936 by defeating Shea High in the Division II title game. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
Each year, the Blackstone Valley boasts its share of amateur championship teams (from the high school ranks to the summer amateur leagues) and tremendous individual performances that rank among the very best in Rhode Island.
But itâ€™s been quite some time since this region has seen an outpouring of success such as the events that transpired during 2013.
A phenomenal winter campaign kickstarted what turned out to be an incredible year, one that grabbed the headlines of this sports section, so before setting our sights on what promises to be a truly outstanding 2014, hereâ€™s a look at the top stories involving the Valleyâ€™s youngsters from this past year.
The regionâ€™s championship run began in mid-February at the RIILâ€™s Swimming and Indoor Track & Field Championships, and it started with someone who was no stranger to achieving championship glory, Cumberland High senior Courtney Kent.
The University of Vermont-bound standout did it all at the girlsâ€™ meet at Brown University. Not only did she win her fourth consecutive title in the 500-yard freestyle in a 4:59.29 time, but she also captured her third straight in the 200-yard freestyle (1:54.33). She broke her own school records in both events by a combined 1.26 seconds.
Kent then copped the eighth state championship of her marvelous high school career by joining Kate Lebeau, Kayla Zerva, and Kayleigh Canavan on the 200-yard medley relay team that won in a school-record time of 1:53.92.
But Kent wasnâ€™t the only local swimmer to dazzle at the girlsâ€™ meet. Lincoln freshman Mollie Westrick swam like a true veteran in also winning a pair of events, the 100-yard butterfly (:59.54) and the 100-yard backstroke (:58.05).
That same weekend, Cumberland senior Trevor Crawley and Central Falls junior Erik Mateo also struck gold at the boysâ€™ track and field meet at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house. The Providence College-bound Crawley seized the 3,000 in 8:47.95 and added a close second in the 1,500 (4:10.22), and Mateo captured the high jump with a 6-foot-2 leap.
On the girlsâ€™ side, Woonsocket senior Kaylnn â€śK.K.â€ť Pitts claimed her first high jump title with a leap of 5-4, and Mount St. Charles, which earlier captured its second straight Small Schools championship, delivered some solid individual efforts as well.
Two days after the girlsâ€™ swim meet, the boys jumped in the water for their meet, and the top local finisher was another Cumberland senior, Andrew Bauer, who walked out of Brown with individual state titles in the 200-yard (1:43.59) and 500-yard (4:50.07) freestyles.
The following weekend, the wrestling championships took place, but surprisingly, only two local winners left the Providence Career & Technical Academy with championship medals, and both were from Lincoln -- 120-pound junior Alex Dâ€™Aloisio and 220-pound senior Nik Zicuis. Cumberland, a program that is no stranger to state champions, went 0-for-4 in the finals.
Dâ€™Aloisio captured his championship by pinning Cumberlandâ€™s Kris Nordby in 2:30 of the first round of their title match, while Zicuis went the distance with La Salleâ€™s John Georges in his match before coming away with a 10-5 victory.
The boysâ€™ basketball champions were also crowned at the end of February, and the area went 2-for-3 in the title department. Cumberland defeated Shea in the Division II finals for the Clippersâ€™ first championship since 1936, and North Smithfield boosted its record to 24-0 and won its programâ€™s first crown by topping East Greenwich in the Division III title game.
The Clippers, Northmen, and Raiders were also invited with 13 other teams to compete for the stateâ€™s Open Tournament championship. Cumberland and Shea lost their â€śRound of 16â€ť openers, while the Northmen reached the â€śFinal Fourâ€ť before losing to eventual champion Classical.
In March came the state finals in hockey, and the area was well represented in all four of the boysâ€™ best-of-three title series and the two girlsâ€™ best-of-three championships.
Only two of the six teams captured titles. Mount St. Charles won the 43rd state championship in its storied history (and fifth in the last six seasons) by routing La Salle in two games, and Lincoln, which was back in Division II after a six-year absence, capped a 23-0-1 season by sweeping its series with the Prout School.
Making it to the state finals, but coming up short, were the MSC girls (falling to La Salle in the Div. I finals), the second-year Lincoln/Cumberland co-op girlsâ€™ squad (losing to the East Bay co-op squad in Div. II), the Burrillville boys (bowing in three games to Barrington in Div. I), and the Tolman boys (ending their run as a varsity program at the hands of the West Warwick-Exeter/West Greenwich co-op squad in Div. III).
One more state champion came out of the winter season -- the Woonsocket cheerleading team, which won its first state title in the co-ed division. The Villa Novans became the eighth area team in the last six years to win a cheerleading championship.
The regionâ€™s championship run began on Memorial Day weekend at the state tennis finals at Slater Park, and as was the case in boysâ€™ basketball, the area went 2-for-3 in the title department.
In Division II, Mount St. Charles sprang a huge upset over the previously-unbeaten Prout School, posting a 4-2 victory that gave the Mounties their first boysâ€™ title in 20 years, and in Division III, the Northmen completed a magical 14-0 season by downing Narragansett in the finals, 4-2. The title was the first for N.S. after coming up short in the finals the previous year and from 2004-06.
The RIILâ€™s Outdoor Track & Field Championships took place the following weekend, and six area athletes came away with state championships. The best performances of the bunch came from two Mount St. Charles standouts -- University of Vermont-bound Cassie Roberge, who won the triple jump (35-9.5) and took second in the long jump (17-9.25), and Rita Donohoe, who seized first in the 300-yard intermediate hurdles (:44.7) and third in the 100-yard dash (:12.62).
Crawley put an exclamation point on his superb Cumberland career by winning the 3,000 in a 9:46.95 time. Central Falls was well represented by a pair of state champions in Tiffany Jenkins, who won the high jump (5-3), and Mateo, who again ruled the high jump (6-4), and Cumberlandâ€™s Kendra Plant was victorious in the shot put (39-6).
Boysâ€™ volleyball was up next, and so was Tolmanâ€™s run to the Division II championship. The Tigers won their fourth Division II title since 2000 by defeating top-ranked Central, 3-1, at the Providence Career & Technical Academy.
The region has had its share of unified basketball champions over the past few years, and this spring was no different, as Woonsocket took the Division II crown and Cumberland captured the Division V title.
But the two biggest sports stories of the spring came out of Lincoln, and again, the girlsâ€™ softball team stole the headlines with another unblemished season that resulted in a Division I state title. Led by two-time Gatorade Player of the Year and University of Virginia-bound Lindsay Mayer, and another senior standout, University of Bryant-bound Emily Bouthillette, the Lions concluded a 21-0 season (and extended their win streak to 43 games) by downing Coventry in the title game at Rhode Island College, 5-1.
Before the Lions struck gold again at RIC, a member of the Lionsâ€™ baseball team was making news of his own. Infielder Nick Zammarelli was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 28th round (and as the 833rd overall pick) in the MLB first-year player draft. Zammarelli, however, opted to put his professional baseball dreams on hold and continue his career in North Carolina at Elon University.
Another team nearly added its name to the list of championship performances, the St. Raphael Academy softball team. After winning just nine games over the last four seasons, the Saints won 16 games in Division II and made a strong bid in the playoffs for its first title since 2005. But North Providence derailed the Saints in the title game, 3-1, for the Cougarsâ€™ first state title in a dozen years.
High school sports might have taken the summer off, but that didnâ€™t mean the regionâ€™s run of championship teams took time off as well.
The good news continued for the Cumberland Little Leagueâ€™s Major Division (ages 11 and 12) All-Star softball team, which won its third straight state championship with a 9-0 record, outscoring its opposition by a 110-18 margin. In the Eastern Regional tournament in Bristol, Conn., Cumberland went on to establish itself as the best team in New England by recording a 4-0 mark in its pool play against the other N.E. teams in the bracket, but the localsâ€™ superb run ended when they lost in the semifinals of the regionals.
The Lincoln Little League Major Division All-Star baseball team return to the top of Rhode Island after a few yearsâ€™ absence by winning the state championship with a 13-2 drubbing of host Cranston West in the finals. That brought Lincoln to the regionals in Bristol, Conn., where the locals lost in the New England finals to Westport, Conn., 1-0. Lincoln ended its magnificent playoff run with a 12-2 record, winning its first 11 games by a 127-22 count.
In American Legion baseball, Navigant Credit Union Post 85 repeated as state champions, posting an 11-4 victory over Gershkoff/Auburn Post 20 of Cranston that wrapped up a 20-6 season in the league. E.J. Torres was named to the tournamentâ€™s MVP for the fourth-seeded Post 85, which had won its 2012 crown in magical fashion as the eighth seed.
The Pineview Big League baseball team, which featured some of the Pawtucket areaâ€™s top players from ages 16-18, also repeated as state champs, defeating East Greenwich, 10-1, in the championship game. The state title was the seventh in the last 10 years for Pineview, which went on to bat .500 (2-2) at the Eastern Regionals in Dover, Del.
The Boysâ€™ & Girlsâ€™ Club of Pawtucketâ€™s RBI Junior Division All-Stars, a talented team made up of some of the areaâ€™s top 13-15-year-old players, captured the Northeast Regional championship in thrilling fashion, with a come-from-behind 13-12 triumph in Queens, N.Y. over the Jersey City, N.J./Jackie Robinson Mets. The All-Stars went 5-0 in the tournament and won their first four games by a combined score of 57-1.
The Cumberland American 10-11 All-Star baseball team also took home a state championship banner by producing a 10-0 record and winning its title by downing Wickford, 10-5, in the finals.
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Surprisingly, only one high school team captured a state championship, the Burrillville girlsâ€™ soccer team, which knocked off previously-unbeaten Lincoln, 4-1, to complete a 13-3-1 season and win the programâ€™s second state title and first since 1993, when the Broncos claimed the Division III crown. Taylor Ross, who tied the score with the 94th goal of her superb career, went on to sign a National Letter of Intent with the University of Rhode Island later that week.
While the Lionsâ€™ girls were the talk of the fall with their unbeaten record, so was Lincolnâ€™s boysâ€™ squad, which won the Division II regular-season title with an 11-2-2 mark and reached the finals. Unfortunately for the Lions, they suffered a painful shootout loss in that game to Toll Gate.
One other local team played in a title game, the Cumberland football team in the Division II Super Bowl. The Clippers were looking to repeat as champions, but West Warwick threw a monkeyâ€™s wrench into their plans by soundly defeating them, 48-13.
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24