NORTH SCITUATE — Throughout the 2013 season the Coventry girls cross country team has battled adversity.
Down two of their top five runners in Jess Bellow and Courtney Grant, the Oakers didn’t make excuses when it came to race day and each time put their best foot forward.
“It’s definitely been tough mentally,” junior Allison Bellows said. “Training this season our team has had a lot of injured girls go out but we also have a lot of girls that have stepped up this season and that’s been pretty exciting to watch.”
Sunday afternoon at Ponaganset High School’s Covered Bridge Trail Coventry’s persistence paid off as the Oakers secured a trip to the New England Championships by virtue of its sixth place finish at the RI Girls Cross Country State Championship.
“All-year long from June on we talk a lot of time in making sure that every kid is getting the attention that they need,” Coventry co-coach Carlton Bradshaw said.
“Today, more than anything else that happened this season proved to us that [was important]. We kind of reached down and we got our boost from our No. 7 runner.”
“We stress that it’s not just the top five or not just the top seven,” Coventry co-coach Michaela Driscoll added. “The team gets better by having the eight through 14 get better and pushing the varsity girls up and that’s what happened. Our eight, nine and 10 ended up being on varsity this year and they ended up being key in the successful berth back to New Englands.
The Oakers finished the day with 216 points to hold off East Greenwich (240 points), South Kingstown (243 points) and Chariho (255 points) for sixth.
In the race for the state title La Salle narrowly edged out Barrington 36-39 in the closest state championship race in over 30 years. Barrington sophomore Emma McMillan (17:42.87) defended her individual title by breaking the course record set just one week ago by La Salle’s Eliza Rego.
North Kingstown (117 points), Cumberland (133 points) and Smithfield (181 points) rounded out the top five teams.
As for Coventry, Allison Bellows led the way in 13th place with a time of 19:24.40. Bellows, sticking to her plan, survived the blisteringly fast pace at the start to pick off runner as the race went along.
“It was definitely a competitive day,” Bellows said. “It went out pretty fast, probably something similar to last week at class.
“…My race plan going in was to go out at about a six minute [mile] pace, the pace I’ve been training at to race and that’s a little bit behind the big pack going out but it’s easier mentally to chase people during the race rather than hold a lead.”
The Oakers’ second runner to cross the line – sophomore Kelsie Lopez – more or less epitomized what Coventry has gone through this season.
At around the two-mile mark Lopez suffered an asthma attack and at that point whether or not she could finish the race was definitely in question.
Lopez fought through it though – just as her team has done all season – and finished the race in 33rd place with a time of 20:24.98.
“There were girls that had to drop out of the race,” Driscoll said. “It probably went through her head at some point when she suffered a huge asthma attack at two miles it would be easy to step off the course but she kept on powering through for the team.”
Had Lopez not finished the race the Oakers would have instead finished in ninth place and subsequently would have lost their chance to compete at New Englands.
Of course, two runners do not make a team score and Coventry got strong performances throughout its top seven to extend its season.
Senior Kayla Dwyer (20:54.76) finished in 43rd place, senior Amanda Terenzi (21:48.20) notched a 72nd place result and junior Laura Paiva (22:05.85) rounded out the Oakers top five in 82nd.
“They ran huge personal bests on the course today,” Driscoll said of Terenzi and Paiva. “Laura didn’t run varsity until a week ago and she finished as our fifth runner. That was huge and Amanda running a huge PR on the course [was too].”
Juniors Ashley and Haley Dennis also ran well, finishing in 85th and 91st with times of 22:15.13 and 22:26.32, respectively.
The Coventry boys cross country team had just one runner make states Sunday as sophomore Cameron Frazier finished in 59th place with a time of 17:44.56.
The Oaker girls will return to action Saturday when they travel to Derryfield Park in Manchester, N.H. for the New England Championships.