NKHS winter sports preview
An early season schedule laden with away games has North Kingstown High School boys' basketball coach Aaron Thomas thinking a little like Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz." There will be no place like home when the Skippers take on Bishop Hendricken on Wednesday, where the Skippers will try to deal the Hawks only their second loss in three years.
"Their record is 39-1 over the last three seasons, but we gave them their only loss. We beat them here two years ago, and I think that we keep getting better this year, so I think it is going to be a great game," Thomas said.
The Skippers are 7-4 overall so far this season, with a 2-2 record in Division I play. One division loss came against rival South Kingstown, a game where the Skippers were ahead with just three minutes to play in the game.
"We were ahead with just a few minutes to go, but they had a kid that went 8-8 from the foul line, and we just couldn't hit a shot to close it out," Thomas explained. "Our other division loss was against Chariho, and in that game, we also had a stretch, about 8 minutes, where we just couldn't score."
Thomas said the team's strength is in defense, so he has set key goals to help them improve offensively and is seeing game-by-game improvement. "I think that we are really hitting our stride. We came into the season with no one having a lot of game experience, maybe with just a few having played eight or 10 minutes a game, but now we are really gelling as a team."
One of the key defensive players for the team is Jamestown resident Mike McDonagh, a senior. "He played for us last year, but this year he is one of our starters and really a force for us on rebounding and defense," Thomas said.
Along with McDonagh, seniors Jeff Siatti, Roshan Pathak, and Mike Bessette are providing leadership and a lot of minutes for the team. "Bessette is probably playing the best basketball that he has ever played in his life right now," the coach explained.
Thomas is optimistic about the team's chances in the playoffs this year. "There are 16 teams in Division I and only two are still undefeated this early in the season. That means this is a pretty even league. With us getting better every game, I think we will do well," he said.
Although having so many away games early on has been a learning experience for the young team, Thomas said he feels like it may work to their advantage in the end. "Five out of our last six games are at home, and I think we definitely play a lot better at home," he concluded.
Peter Kells stepped into the girls' indoor track head coaching position this year with a definite goal in mind. "Traditionally, NK has been a very strong distance school, but a little less so on sprints and throwing, and I am here to try to balance that out," he explained.
Having four strong and versatile Jamestown runners on his varsity sprint team goes a long way toward providing that balance.
Although traditionally a longer distance runner, senior Caitlin Crawford can be a threat at any distance between 300 to 1,000 meters. Crawford and fellow islander Caitlin Downing, a freshman, put in a strong performance at the CCRI Invitational by finishing first in the 4 x 400-meter relay.
Ashley Smith and Meryl Evangelista provide some speed in the 45-meter dash and the 4 x 100- meter relay. Evangelista, a junior, also competes in the high jump, but considers the 4 x 100 her strongest event.
Smith, a junior, has not run track since running at Lawn Avenue School in eighth grade, but is enjoying being part of team. "I think that every section works really hard and pushes themselves to be the best they can be. The coaches have set big goals for us this year, and I think that we are going to be really strong by states in February," she said.
In the mid-distances, 600 to 1000 meters, the Skippers are expecting big things from Alexa Mazur. "She finished second at her distance last year at states, and the person she competed against is no longer on the team, so that opens the door for her," Charlie Breagy, mid-distance coach, explained.
The distance runners are looking to Jamestown resident Erin Brennan to put up a good show this year. Brennan finished fifth in the state in cross-country and has carried her good form over to the track team.
"Erin is an incredible athlete and has more energy than anyone I have ever met. She is very talented and works hard," Keven O'Neil, distance coach, explained.
Expected to pick up some points for the throwers are juniors Allison Lofgren and Meghan McGovern. Both have broken school records, and Kells expects that there may be a state qualifier in the group.
Kells, with good reason, does not like to show his hand too early in the season, but he does believe his team is competitive at the state level. "Historically we have competed for the top spot. I say we qualify as many people for states as we can and see what happens," he concluded.
The thundering that the Bishop Hendricken Hawks hear coming up behind them is the sound of the North Kingstown High school boys' indoor track team. The Skippers finished second to Hendricken last year in the state championships, but if head coach Charlie Breagy has anything to do with it this year, it will be the Hawks looking up from second place.
"We have had two division meets so far this year, and the boys looked fantastic," Breagy enthused. "I can honestly say that this is the best team we have ever had."
Being second in the state does not mean that the team is second rate, however. The Skippers have won five straight division championships and have been undefeated in their division for the past three years.
Fresh off of a cross-country team state championship, Jamestown resident Nate Wigton is expected to be a force for the track team at the 600 and 1000-meter distances.
"Nate is so hard working and he is only a junior. I really see him making a go at the state championships," Breagy noted.
Two-time state champion Brandon Burns, a senior, returns for the team at the 1000 and 1500-meter distances.
Junior Kevin Alexander, who finished fourth in the state last year, anchors the team in hurdles. Alexander finished fifth in the Brown Invitational over the Christmas break and was tops among Rhode Island hurdlers at the event. Also expected to be a hurdles threat is senior Sam Paster, who finished fourth among Rhode Islanders at Brown.
Seniors Chance Logan and Alex Birn and sophomore Will Cawley anchor the sprint team.
Logan, instrumental in helping the Skippers to a football playoff run this year, will be headed off to Georgetown University on a football scholarship in the fall, but not before he gives the track team some help in the speed department. He finished second in the 55-meter dash at Brown.
Like the ladies' team, the boys have tended to be distance minded, but not this year, according to Breagy.
"Our talent is really spread out this year. We have a lot of talent, but there is no doubt that our sprints is really our best," he said.
The team's top thrower in weights and shot put is Tim Daly. Daly, a senior, finished seventh in the state last year and recently returned to competition after an injury. Breagy said that he has seen him compete, and he looks to be in good form.
Breagy and Kells would no doubt like to provide the Skippers with a second boys-girls championship this year. One thing is for certain - it is going to be fun watching them get there.