WAKEFIELDâ€”When the Coventry girls volleyball team walked off the Prout High School gymnasium floor as victims of an eye-opening 3-0 sweep at the hands of the Crusaders last month, Oakers coach Leo Bush knew that one moment would define his team for the rest of the season.
â€śThey served us off the court,â€ť Bush said.
It was a rare moment of weakness for the Oakers, who hadnâ€™t lost a game prior to that one â€¦ and havenâ€™t lost one since. It was a moment in which Bush knew his girls would learn a lot about themselves.
Saturday afternoon, the Oaker coach will find out if those lessons paid off because, if they did, Coventry will walk off the URI Keaney Gymnasium court with a Division I title in hand. If they didnâ€™t, however, that title will go back to the much more experienced Crusaders.
Talk about pressure.
The Coventry girls volleyball team heads to URI Saturday afternoon looking for its first Division I championship in recent memory but, to get to that point, theyâ€™ll have to knock off defending champion Prout, the same Prout team that hasnâ€™t lost a championship game in five years.
Itâ€™s the very definition of David vs. Goliath, of the overpowering favorite battling the upstart underdogs.
Bush would have it no other way.
â€śI feel like weâ€™ve got two really good teams that are going to play hopefully a really nice match,â€ť Bush said. â€śHopefully, a real nice, tight match and hopefully itâ€™s some clean volleyball and put on a pretty good show.â€ť
Crusader coach Dan Greene couldnâ€™t agree more.
â€śI think our team is going to play really well,â€ť Greene said in a phone interview Wednesday night. â€śI think weâ€™re going to come in, weâ€™re going to be confident, weâ€™re going to be playing good volleyball and I really hope that both teams bring their A game so that it can be fun to play in and a fun show for everybody that comes to watch.â€ť
The Oakers and Cursaders took vastly different roads in getting to the 2010 Division I championship game.
For Coventry, this fall has been one of great promise and even greater reward.
After finishing last fall with an 11-7 record and losing to La Salle in the D-I quarterfinals, the Oakers were touted as a team on the rise this season and showed exactly why in starting the year out 8-0.
Led by senior outside hitter Courtney DiBiasio, Coventry took advantage of a speedy, energetic offense and a tall-physical defense to downright dominate just about everyone that dared take the floor against them.
This included a 3-1 thrashing of Prout back on September 15th, a match in which the Oakers put the rest of D-I on notice that they were, indeed, the team to beat.
But in between the win over Prout and the subsequent loss one month later, something funny happened to Coventry. The Oakers began believing their own hype.
â€śPrior to that loss, we were finding ways to win late in a match and kind of not doing our jobs leading up to that point,â€ť Bush said.â€ťSo we were walking away as winners but not really having a good feeling that we accomplished a lot and made ourselves a better team. â€ś
For Bush, the loss to the Cruaders was, quite possibly, the best thing that could have happened to his team.
â€śProut beat us that night and it was kind of a wakeup call,â€ť he said. â€śWe started going back and revisiting some of the little things that are going to be important for us to advance.â€ť
That game was also a defining moment in Proutâ€™s season as well.
The Crusaders, fresh off of an undefeated 2009 campaign, entered 2010 as the favorites in Division I based on experience alone but with injuries to seniors Elise Walsh and Emily Caswell, not to mention a 1-2 record to start the year, there were those with doubts about Proutâ€™s chances this season.
It seemed, up until that point anyway, that perhaps the magic was over for Greeneâ€™s girls.
Then they got Walsh back. Then Caswell returned. Then they started putting it together.
Saturdayâ€™s game is likely going to come down to which team maximizes their strengths and limits their mistakes.
For Prout, the big key is stopping DiBiasio.
Coventryâ€™s tiny ball of energy, DiBiasio single handedly transforms games, whether itâ€™s by diving all over the place on dig attempts or jumping higher than her small frame would lead you to believe possible in slamming away kill after kill.
Stopping her, and limiting the damage done by the Oakersâ€™ large hitters up front, is what Greeneâ€™s girls will be focused on.
â€śWell, we have to serve well to try to keep them from running their potent middle attack,â€™ Greene said. â€śWeâ€™ve got to do a good job of stopping their big attackers. We probably have to keep the ball away from Courtney, which is pretty hard to do because sheâ€™s so quick and has such good court sense. Those are our keys.â€ť
As for the Oakers, it all begins and ends with the â€śBig Threeâ€ť.
â€śEverything runs through Elise,â€ť Bush said. â€śShe does so much at the service line, so much in running the offense. Sheâ€™s able to generate her own offense with the smart plays, with the tips and rolls and dumps. Weâ€™ve got to figure out a way to deal with Addie (Pendergast) on the right side, she not only does a great job offensively but sheâ€™s going to give us a hard time with her block over there.
And then Emily Caswell on the outside, sheâ€™s going to get her kills. Itâ€™s just a question of how much balls weâ€™re going to be able to fight off of her and Addy and weâ€™ll see what we can do from there.â€ť
If Coventry can find a way to limit those three, it should be a good match.
Either way, it will sure be fun. And, for both coaches, thatâ€™s really what matters.
The time for talking is over. The time for speculating on who the best team in Division I is over. Now itâ€™s time to lace up your boots and get to working.
And regardless of how the teams have fared against each other thus far, one thing is for sure Saturday: the winner is going to be the team that plays the best on that particular day.
â€śHaving swept them the last time we played them, I guess that would have to make us the favorites but we still have to play well,â€ť Greene said. â€śIf we play well, I like our chances. If we donâ€™t play well, then weâ€™re going home early.â€ť
â€śFor us to get this far and have it right there in front of us and have to do it against the defending champions makes life difficult for us, for sure,â€ť Bush said. â€śBut theyâ€™ve got something that they want and theyâ€™ve got something that we want so if we are good enough on that particular day to take it from them, then we deserve to do it. If we canâ€™t do it then theyâ€™ve been the best for so many years and thereâ€™s a reason for it. weâ€™ll find out on Saturday who wants it more.â€ť
Prout-Coventry tips off at 1 p.m. at URIâ€™s Keaney Gymnasium.