“I was, like, so excited I couldn’t sleep last night,” Portsmouth senior and sixth-place finisher Abby Gilpin said.
PORTSMOUTH — The first sanctioned high school sports event on Aquidneck Island since March took place Saturday morning, when the Portsmouth boys and girls cross country teams welcomed Tiverton, La Salle and East Providence to Glen Park.
The La Salle boys and girls swept the competition, but you didn’t see any bragging athletes or visibly disappointed runners after the 3.1-mile races concluded.
“We haven’t raced in seven months,” La Salle senior and race winner Jack McLoughlin said. “My teammates are great and I love them to death, but we came out here to race against some other teams and it adds a little more pizzazz to the race. I was excited to just get out there and put an effort on the course. It was a lot of fun.”
“I was, like, so excited I couldn’t sleep last night,” Portsmouth senior and sixth-place finisher Abby Gilpin said. “Just being able to run against anyone is fun. I was like ecstatic because before I was thinking [cross country] was going to get canceled. I’m glad that we have such a low-contact sport that we’re able to do it. I need to finish high school strong.”
Great to see the PHS Cross Country teams back in action! @psd_ri @TheNewportDaily @PortsmouthHS_RI pic.twitter.com/mxLlq8pXDT
— Stephen Trezvant (@trezvants) October 3, 2020
Tiverton High School does not have a girls team this season, but the boys team went 1-2 on the day beating East Providence 19-36 and bowing to Portsmouth 15-48 and La Salle 15-50.
“I believe this is big for the kids. It’s actually not about them winning and losing, it’s about them being able to get out and socialize,” Tiverton coach Brad Botvin said. “It’s more for their psyche than it is for anything else.
“After being cooped up for five or six months, now they actually get to come out, compete and run. Hopefully the season goes well. It looks like it’s going to.”
There were two separate boys races held to keep congestion on the course to a minimum. There was just one girls race needed because only 37 runners competed. Portsmouth girls coach Jeff Rose exhaled deeply when the raced ended.
“What a relief. I was so nervous about this whole thing,” Rose said. “It’s good to know that what we did for the course worked. We had to do an interesting starting line with 150 yards of space for each team to run before they could merge.
“We had spaces in between the starting boxes so the athletes would be distanced if they weren’t on the same team. There was a lot of changing to the course this year, so I’m glad that it all went off relatively smoothly and we got everybody across the finish line safely.”
La Salle freshman Mia Bettez won the girls race with a time of 20 minutes, 1 second. Portsmouth senior Sabrina Leary was runner-up as she finished 13 seconds after Bettez.
“I died. I was glad I got as far as I did without crashing,” Leary said. “I forget how hilly this course is. This isn’t my favorite course, but I was so glad to be back.
“I think it’s been like eight months in indoor track since I’ve really run against people. The competition, I feel like that’s why I really run. The reason I like high school cross country is because I love races.”
Jeff Brady was the second Portsmouth finisher and the 11th overall to cross the finish line as the Patriots downed Tiverton and East Providence. La Salle defeated its three opponents 15-50.
“You’re always running against your teammates, but once you get those other teams — especially those big teams like La Salle — they really push you because you know they’re going to bring it and you’ve got to bring it too,” Brady said.
“It feels great to be back on our home course running as hard as we can and doing the best we can. It was nice.”
La Salle’s McLoughlin ran the fastest time ever on the slightly altered but still 3.1-mile course as he finished with a time of 15 minutes, 56 seconds.
“I like the course. It’s difficult,” McLoughlin said. “There’s a lot of grass hills so the spikes came in handy, definitely. Overall it’s a true 5K. I was going for the course record [16:01] so I was happy I was able to do it.”
Kaden Kluth was Portsmouth’s first finisher and sixth overall with a time of 17:30. Brady (11th, 18:50), Joe Hook (13th, 19:11), Hayden Shea (16th, 20:19) and Tanner McHugh, (17th, 20:33) completed Portsmouth’s top five runners.
Tiverton’s top five consisted of Nick Mercer (18th, 20:33), Dylan Combra (21st, 21:18), Ryan Souza (25th, 21:50), Will Gerlach (26th, 22:45) and Adam Costa (31st, 23:27).
Leary and Gilpin led the Portsmouth girls with Kitty Damon (8th, 21:55), Katie Yalanis (9th, 21:59) and Keira Foster (13th, 23:49) following them across the line. The La Salle and Portsmouth girls each defeated East Providence 15-50 while the Rams topped the Patriots 20-37. It was the first time in a while LaSalle did not shutout Portsmouth.
“We can be good. We didn’t lose anyone graduating last year,” Leary said. “But we did gain some new people, a couple who are going to be wicked fast. I think we’ve got a little bit more depth this year. So as a team, if we make it to states and if the pandemic doesn’t shut us down, we could do really well.”
There were course alterations at the starting line because of COVID-19 and more course changes because of construction — dormant on race morning — at Glen Park. Some Portsmouth runners also were to have taken SAT exams the day of the race, but those were canceled helping to ease some excess anxiety.
“Some of them haven’t raced since February,” Rose said of his Portsmouth runners. “So to get out here, we were very jittery about it. But I think once you get into it, it’s kind of like muscle memory takes over and you just compete. I was glad to see the girls compete today. They were really excited.”