A look back at some moments that stuck out from 2020
ONE IN A MILLION
On a February night in Warwick, Narragansett High School senior Colby Corson hit a shot that will be famous for a long time. With the Mariners trailing by three points in a game against Pilgrim, Corson rebounded a missed free throw by the Patriots in the final seconds and fired a 90-foot overhand throw that crashed off the board and slammed through the net. Fans went wild and the Mariners celebrated, then won in overtime. By the time they hopped on the bus, the video clip was spreading like wildfire on social media. It ended up as the No. 1 play on ESPN’s SportsCenter the next day.
Clay Brochu joined the North Kingstown boys basketball record books with a flourish - and he didn’t stop there. In early January, Brochu went into a game against Coventry needing 26 points to reach 1,000 for his career. With nine minutes remaining, he was still 15 points away, but surged to 16 points in two minutes and 47 seconds to reach the milestone. The points kept coming for the rest of the season, and by late February, Brochu was approaching the school’s all-time career record. A second-half putback against Smithfield put Brochu over the hump, passing Kirk Higham’s 1,270.
CHALLENGES FOR A CAUSE
The pandemic created a lack of competitive outlets for weekend warrior types, while also inspiring a desire to help those in need. Fitness challenges became a common theme in response. URI graduate student Ken Vinacco of Scituate ran 56.5 miles for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and the MS Dream Center, finishing at the Towers in Narragansett. Former South Kingstown resident Jon Pincince ran 74 miles on the North-South Trail to benefit the Nonviolence Institute. And Dianna Shaw biked 100 miles through South County to raise money for nursing home residents and employees.
There were no high school champions crowned in Rhode Island this spring, but a Rhode Island native captured a very big lacrosse title in the summer. South Kingstown’s Scott Hooper was part of the Boston Cannons team that won the Major League Lacrosse championship. Hooper grew up playing with South County Youth Lacrosse, then went to Moses Brown and the prep school ranks before an All-American career at Virginia. He has a day job in banking but makes time to play at the professional level.
Three local athletes were honored with Gatorade Player of the Year awards in 2020. South Kingstown native Megan Bodziony was the state’s girls basketball player of the year after a strong season at St. Andrew’s in the prep school ranks. South Kingstown’s Faith Hutchins was named the girls soccer player of the year after leading the Rebels to the 2019 state title. And North Kingstown’s Keri Spitler was the girls volleyball player of the year following the Skippers’ run to their third consecutive state title in 2019.
NEW TO THE HELM
Football season is still to come in the RIIL’s modified school year. When it happens, North Kingstown will welcome the debut of its new head coach, Fran Dempsey. After the retirement of longtime coach Joe Gilmartin in 2019, Dempsey was elevated from top assistant to the head coaching job, officially approved in the spring. The former URI offensive lineman inherits a program that has become one of the state’s powerhouses in recent years.
South Kingstown’s Grace Gibbons left St. Mark’s with the school’s top athletic prize and is bound for a college career in rowing. A hockey, soccer and lacrosse player at South Kingstown High School, Gibbons headed to prep school and made an impression at St. Mark’s. She won the Daniel B. Fearing Prize in June, an award that recognizes the top male and female athletes at the school. Gibbons started rowing at St. Mark’s and is joining the team at UMass this year.
ADJUSTING ON THE FLY
An abrupt end of the season was just the beginning of a wild ride for the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team. Three players transferred early in the off-season and Fatts Russell declared for the NBA Draft, with the option of returning. By the time Russell did decide to return, he had a lot of new company. The Rams brought in five transfers and three freshmen to restock their cupboard. All the transfers are eligible and contributing to the Rams this season.
For the first time since 1986, URI had a player selected in the National Football League Draft. Wide receiver Isaiah Coulter was picked in the fifth round by the Houston Texans and later made the 53-man roster. Teammates Aaron Parker and Kyle Murphy were also draft hopefuls. They were not selected but signed free agent contracts with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
The community mourned the passing of several prominent figures in the local sports scene. North Kingstown Athletic Director and former Narragansett football coach Dick Fossa was remembered for his selfless dedication to student-athletes after his sudden death in June. Tom Drennan was saluted by the URI and South Kingstown communities after a legendary career on the sidelines at URI and in the high school ranks. Longtime URI sports information Jim Norman was remembered as a fixture in URI press boxes and a passionate supporter of the Rams. Prout’s girls tennis team played its season in honor of coach Steven Matzner, who had recently led the team to three championships.
Fall signing days looked a little different in the pandemic, but plans were set for a host of local athletes. North Kingstown celebrated seven athletes - Dempsey Campbell (UMass field hockey); Emily Tow (UMass Lowell softball); Lauryn Mattiucci (Merrimack volleyball); Brooke Bolster (Franklin Pierce volleyball); Levi Shapiro (Florida Southern lacrosse); Justin McCarthy (Catholic baseball); and Haleigh Ward (Assumption soccer). South Kingstown baseball standouts Jack Wentworth (Seton Hall) and Zac Zyons (Bryant) made their commitments official. And Prout’s Helene Cummings (Holy Cross track) and Hannah Gurnon (Assumption lacrosse) also signed on. Two recent grads also signed letters of intent in November. Former Narragansett star Thomaz Whitford will play football at New Mexico State after a stint in junior college. Prout grad Henry Hersum is set to join Old Dominion baseball after a year at prep school.
GIVING IT THEIR ALL
The Prout girls soccer team was hoping for a title run in the fall season, but a close contact situation with an opposing team led to the Crusaders being quarantined for the first round of the playoffs. With no positive tests of their own, the Crusaders were eligible to come off quarantine by the date of the semifinals, so they pieced together a squad of mostly junior varsity players to try to navigate through the quarterfinals. It didn’t happen, but the effort was incredible. “Pure heart,” assistant coach Belle Pesante said.