CUMBERLAND — Longtime coaches John Menna of Lincoln and Joe Bennett of Smithfield have had their share of success over the years in their respective programs and enjoy winning just as much as anyone else.
But neither coach was concerned about beating unbeaten Cumberland on Tuesday in a Northern Division dual-meet finale at the Monastery. The primary concern for Menna and Bennett was on the competition between their two teams.
With their outstanding depth and strong front runners, the Clippers seem a cut above the rest among their league rivals this season and one of the state’s best. Prior to the meet, Mount St. Charles (10-1) firmly held second place in the division with just one loss and a tri-meet against sub .500 squads Woonsocket, Burrillville and North Providence, also on Tuesday.
In essence, Lincoln and Smithfield were battling for third place, a slot that would solidify them an automatic berth in next month’s state meet.
“Last night when we had our pasta dinner we talked about forgetting about Cumberland and to try and beat Lincoln,” Bennett admitted. “That was exactly the topic.”
Said Menna: “That was absolutely our plan. We were going to follow Cumberland around, and they did, and then or race would be against Smithfield because both of us are vying for a spot into the states.”
The end result of yesterday’s meet was predictable for the overall winner as Cumberland (11-0) earned the Northern Division crown by sweeping past Smithfield, 20-35, and Lincoln, 20-37. Clipper junior Trevor Crawley captured individual honors, holding off Smithfield’s fast-closing junior Ryan Pagliaro by four seconds with a time of 16:40 for the five-kilometer course. Cumberland senior Matt Sutcliffe was third at 16:53 and teammate Tom Fownes was fourth with a time of 17:21.
The race within a race within a race went to the Sentinels, a narrow 28-29 winner the Lions.
“We did the best we could,” said Menna, whose squad ended the league season at 8-3. Smithfield finished at 9-2. “We just came up a point short.”
Smithfield, last year’s league champion, was competing in yesterday’s meet without one of its top varsity runners, freshman Carlton Eaton, who injured his leg during a mishap before the team’s pasta dinner.
“He has been running injured all year with a slight tear to his cartilage,” Bennett said. “The doctors gave him the go-ahead to run and last night he just misstepped wrong and it locked and now he’s on crutches.”
Without Eaton in the meet, Smithfield had to rely on a few of its other runners to step it up, and they did in the crucial meet. Pagliaro came through with his gutsy runner-up effort and No. 2 runner, senior John Allard, held off Lincoln’s Matt Tallo by a second to take eighth overall with a solid 17:31 clocking. Tallo was the third Lion to cross the line, finishing behind Matt Olean (fifth, 17:26) and Alex Carlson (sixth, 17:28).
The big difference came from the Sentinels’ fifth through seventh harriers - Connor Pagliaro (19th, 18:49), Brady Greene (20th, 18:50) and Angelo Pagano (21st, 18:51). The trio solidified the outcome by finishing ahead of Lincoln’s fifth-and-final scoring runner.
“This was a pressure-cooker, especially when 12 hours ago we lost someone that would have probably been our No. 4 guy,” Bennett said. “We expected Ryan to place ahead of Olean. John Allard holding off Tallo was big. If those two guys flip we lose. Obviously our five, six, seven guys beating their five were big, and we planned on that. That was part of the equation…Angelo Pagano really stepped up. He’s been my nine guy and he was seventh today and two seconds out of my five. That was big. Those three guys - along with John holding off Tallo by a second - that swung the race.”
Lincoln will now have one more chance to earn a berth to the state meet when it competes in the Class B Championship on Oct. 29. The Lions will have to place among the top two of non-qualifying teams.
“There are four teams that are always vying for it – us, Westerly, Toll Gate and South Kingstown,” Menna said. “The four of us are always in it every year and it seems like we always have to wait to the class (meet) to see if we can get in. It’s going to be that same scenario.”
The Clippers’ dual victory and league crown came three days after a sterling third-place finish at the Festival of Championships cross-country race in Belfast, Me.
“We ran very well today,” said CHS coach Tom Kenwood. ‘Some of the freshmen ran very well. We had two freshmen 19 (minutes or better) - David Agudelo (16th, 18:37) and Abdullah Kaba (22nd, 19:00) - and I had quite a few kids under 19 minutes.”
“It feel great to win (the league title),’ he continued. “We always go into the season with a goal to win the division. Of course, you’d like to go beyond that. Looking at our team, we ran outstanding in Maine. We were third-place overall. One team from Maine beat us and the top 10 teams from Maine were in the meet. The other team that beat us was a team from Nova Scotia. If we stay healthy we should do very well (at the state meet). Right now, we are pretty healthy.”
In the girls’ race, Smithfield earned its third straight league title, easily sweeping past Cumberland and Lincoln.
The Sentinels claimed the top six finishes, led by the freshmen trio of individual winner Stephanie Mattson, Rebecca Meinertz (second, 20:15) and Madison Saliba (third, 20:50). The Clippers’ Courtney Bricault was seventh overall with a time of 21:42, a mere second ahead of teammate Hannah Tavares in eighth.
Smithfield ends the season a perfect 11-0, its third consecutive undefeated record. Cumberland finished at 9-2.