NEW HAVEN >> Just one meet into the indoor track and field season and the Wilbur Cross girls have already found a lot to smile about.
At the 5th annual Rhode Island Classic in Providence on Dec. 28, the Governors had a strong showing led by a first-place finish in the sprint medley relay, clocking an impressive time of 4 minutes, 17.11 seconds.
“(Danae Rivers) smiled after the Rhode Island Classic meet, and I made everyone say, ‘We’re having fun. This is how it should be,’” coach Travis Gale said. The first-year coach says he has a “much stronger team than last year.”
Said senior Shea Connors: “We’ve always been a very talented team, but now we have numbers.”
Gale has been encouraged by what he’s seen in practices and at the Rhode Island meet from his roster of about 40 student-athletes. He says the strength of the team is on the track side.
“On the track, we have people that will place top six, top three, hands down in any event,” Gale said.
It’s a bold statement, but one that is not unrealistic. The Governors return Connors, who runs the 400 meters, and senior Chaslynn Saucier, who placed fifth at last year’s State Open in the 55 meters. Rivers, a sophomore, is a newcomer to the indoor team and arguably the best miler in the state. She won the event at the New England Championships as a member of the outdoor team last spring with a time of 4:54.57. Freshman Leah Rivers, Danae’s sister, and sophomore Gabby Curtis, who transferred from Hillhouse, are also nice additions to the squad.
“I feel like now we have a team,” Connors said. “We’ll be competitive this year.”
Cross will be making the transition from Class M to Class L this season. How that affects the team’s success is yet to be determined, but both Gale and Connors agree the Governors will set themselves apart in the relays.
The sprint medley relay team of Saucier (200), Curtis (200), Connors (400) and Danae Rivers (800) that took first in Rhode Island clocked in better than two seconds faster than the 4:19.41 Ridgefield posted to win the State Open last season.
“We have four strong people. I’ve been waiting for that all my four years,” Connors said.
Gale said the 4×200 and 4×400 will be solid as well. As of last weekend, he said he’s still figuring out a 4×800 lineup.
Cross hasn’t won a state title since 2004 when it took both the Class LL crown and the State Open, but the Governors are hoping to add some hardware to the trophy case this season. Their next meet is the Southern Connecticut Conference Coaches Invitational on Saturday at the Floyd Little Athletic Center.
“I feel like we could go far,” Connors said. “I think it was a really great start to the season. We feel like it’s only going to get better.”
Time Will Tell For Powerhouse Hillhouse
It’s life after Precious Holmes and Kellie Davis for the Hillhouse girls this season. But don’t rule out the Academics as a contender just yet.
“We will have some young kids that will be able to step up, I feel. But they are not battle-tested yet, so time will tell,” Hillhouse coach Gary Moore said.
Moore listed Whitney Curtis, Alethia White and Jaliyah White as top returners for an Academics group which won Class M and finished second at the State Open last season.
The Academics will also be competing at the SCC Coaches Invitational on Saturday.
The boys team is led by senior standout sprinter Harold Cooper. Hillhouse placed third in Class M last year and fifth at the State Open. Cooper is the reigning 55-meter New England champion (6.42 seconds). Juniors Corey Maddox and Shawn Fletcher are two other runners to keep an eye on.
“The boys most definitely can compete in both meets, and the girls I think will be in the mix, but our lack of depth might hurt us in the end,” Moore said.