Sentinels’ indoor track squads get back to business

Sentinels’ indoor track squads get back to business

Smithfield High senior Sophia Harrison, left, shown competing in the long jump during an RITCA outdoor track and field meet last August at Providence’s Conley Stadium, and sophomore Lauren Boyd, right, are two of the top athletes on this winter’s girls’ indoor team, which captured the Small Schools title last season. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Head coach emphasizes ‘a time to show kindness, support, and understanding’ during unusual season at PCTA facility

SMITHFIELD – Smithfield High head indoor track and field coach John Marchand has talked to several coaches around the RIIL this winter, and he’s heard some of their woes about the numbers in their programs taking a significant hit because of the high number of COVID-19 cases in this state and athletes and their families deciding to play it safe and sit out the winter season.

Because of this, the veteran head coach understands the state of affairs with the worldwide pandemic, how it’s important “to bring positivity to a world that’s not so positive right now,” and that any chance he gets to coach his athletes is a true blessing that shouldn’t be taken be granted.

“I think this is a time to show kindness, support, and understanding,” said Marchand. “And that’s what we’re doing. We’re a judge-free zone, and we’re going to support our athletes because everyone’s in a different situation. Some people and their families don’t feel safe, and we certainly understand that and support them, and those that want to give it a go, we’re going to follow the safety protocols and do the best we can.”

“It’s definitely different, but I have a lot of respect for the coaches in the track and field community who did a great job during the cross country season,” he added. “As long as everyone has an open mindset, is patient with each other, and isn’t afraid to be flexible when needed, I think everything will go well. We just have to remember that we’re all competitive and we all want our programs to do well, but this kind of puts things in perspective and gets you to reflect that there are a lot more important things out there.”

Marchand took a few minutes on Monday morning to talk about the state of affairs with the indoor track and field scene, and he touched upon his teams’ not-set-in-stone schedule, which is slated to contain three non-scoring dual meets, the boys’ Class C and girls’ Small Schools championship meets, and the season-ending state championship meet at the Providence Career & Technical Academy field house.

Gone this winter are the boys’ Suburban Division and girls’ Headley Division championship meets. There will also be a junior varsity state championship meet, but it’s up in the air if a freshman state championship meet and a “Last Chance” qualifier can be squeezed into the schedule between now and Feb. 20.

“A lot of stuff hasn’t been ironed out yet,” admitted Marchand, whose teams began their preseason workouts on Jan. 5. “But we’ll get through it. The coaches always pull together in Rhode Island track and cross country, so I have no doubt that we’ll do it again.”

As for the non-scoring dual meets, which will see the Sentinels compete on Saturdays and Sundays, instead of weeknights, at the PCTA facility, “I might be in the minority on this, but I think they are a no-brainer,” Marchand said. “If you’re looking at a meet with all that’s going on, do you really want to figure out how to squeeze every bit of a student-athlete in order to win it? Believe me, I’m all about competition, but this winter, it really helps to not have that pressure, and it’s also refreshing (to use these meets) to help develop an individual and take them as far as they’re able to go.”

The only meet that the Sentinels are targeting this winter is the class meet, which last winter, saw the girls’ team capture the 13th Small School title in its program’s history. The Sentinels, thanks to the 14 points they scored in the final event, the long jump, was able to end the meet with 74 points, just three points than runner-up St. Raphael Academy.

Two of the stars from that meet are back with the Sentinels. Senior Sophia Harrison will compete in the high jump and possibly the pole vault and the sprints, and sophomore Lauren Boyd, whose third-place finish in the long jump clinched last year’s championship, will return to that event and take part in the 55-meter dash.

In the distance events, the Sentinels have juniors Audrey Turcotte, Alana Urizar, Emily Rawlinson, and Christy Ramage and freshman Julia Cavanagh and Sadie DeMaggio in their arsenal, and two more key returnees from last year’s team are senior hurdler and sprinter Ariel Roberts and sophomore sprinter and long jumper Sela Bastajian.

In the throwing events, Smithfield lost three-time state shot put champion and nationally-ranked weight thrower Kendra Ezeama to graduation, but will have sophomores Shannon Holmes, Lily Ford, and Mady McDonough working hard and looking to step up in those events.

On the boys’ side, some of the runners who helped the Sentinels’ cross country team win the Class C championship last November are back on the indoor squad, such as seniors Zach Isble (sprints), Ethan Maione (distance), and Aidan Sayles (sprints, high jump, pole vault) and sophomores Elijah Saddlemire (sprints) and Camden Maione (distance).

Another member of the cross country team, who is making his indoor debut, is freshman Jason Padula. On Jan. 1 in East Providence, Padula won Ocean State Multisport’s Chilly Willy 5K in a time of 16:25 that was nearly three minutes faster than the runner-up finisher.

Four more returnees to watch are seniors John Golato (shot put) and Matt Antunes (sprints, long jump), junior Alex Leboeuf (shot put, weight), and sophomore Will Schiller (sprints).

“We’ve excited about coaching these young student-athletes,” said Marchand, who hopes his teams will be able to compete in their first dual meets next weekend. “I think the results will take care of themselves, and as long as people want to do track, we’ll be there coaching them. Basically, we just want to kids to stay active, set goals, progress in the sport, and get the physical and mental benefits of being on a team. That’s how we’re taking (this season).”