WEST WARWICK — The West Warwick boys volleyball team had three returning varsity players and two green freshmen setters on the court in Thursday’s Injury Fund contest against Division II-North squad Tolman.
The Tigers, meanwhile, started a seasoned senior setter and an array of talented hitters.
So, it was no surprise the more refined Tigers came to West Warwick Thursday night and swept the Wizards 25-11, 25-19, 25-14 in the non-league contest. What did frustrate head coach Mike Shunney and assistant coach Josh Bednarczyk was the Wizards’ lack of defense and lack of communication.
“I learned that we are struggling to pass and play defense,” Shunney said. “One goal was to make sure we could get into serve-receive because this is new for a lot of them. They did a good, for the most part, of getting where they need to be. We just couldn’t execute from there.
“Communication was pretty poor and that’s something they should be better at. Our offense, to my surprise, wasn’t as good as it has been during practice.”
Shunney, who coached the Wizard girls to the D-II semifinals in the fall, and Bednarczyk, who coached Exeter-West Greenwich to the Division II title in the fall, still have 11 more days to prepare West Warwick for its Division II-South opener against Exeter-West Greenwich.
West Warwick will have one more non-league game to prepare for the start of the season when II-North squad North Smithfield comes to town Tuesday night at 6:00 p.m.
“We have to work on mainly controlling the ball more and not bouncing the ball,” Shunney said. “We let the ball hit us and bounce to places; we didn’t control where it went. We need to quite our hands down a little bit and keep our heads down.”
The match couldn’t have started much better for the inexperienced Wizards. After a kill to start the match, Tolman made a defensive error before sophomore Derek Johnson delivered an ace to put the Wizards up 3-0. Johnson is splitting the setting duties during the preseason with fellow sophomore Matt Senra.
Johnson’s ace was pretty much the final moment of joy for the Wizards in a contest that barely lasted 60 minutes.
Thanks to a Brian Rainville kill, the Wizards only trailed 10-8 early in the first set. Things started to change after that because Tolman went on a 10-0 run to open up a 20-8 lead. West Warwick’s problem during the run was their inability to handle Tolman’s short serves.
The Tigers ran away with the first set and then opened up a small lead in the second. The only thing that kept the Wizards in the second set was Tolman’s service errors. The Tigers committed three service errors in the first 12 points of the set to help the Wizards trail by just two.
But West Warwick’s inability to keep the ball in play allowed the Tigers to win the second set by six points.
“I don’t know why we struggled on offense,” Shunney said. “Wherever we swing from, the ball would go out of bounds. We were probably trying to avoid getting blocked.”
Tolman completely dominated the third game as the visitors opened up a 19-6 lead and rolled to an easy win. There was a bright spot late in the third game and his name was Austin Barlow, a sophomore middle hitter fighting for varsity playing time.
West Warwick struggled to block the Tigers for the entire match, but Barlow began to get his hands on attacks late in the set to slow the Tigers down.
“So far this year everything we’ve asked the kids to do they’ve been receptive to doing,” Shunney said. “They try hard, but we just didn’t execute today. I will say we are going to improve on Tuesday and we’re just going to continue to improve. I think it was good for some of the young kids to get a chance out there, like Austin Barlow.”
While Barlow shined for periods in the third period, senior libero Eric Cruz was West Warwick’s one constant through out the three sets. Cruz, who was the team’s libero last season, brilliantly moved about the court passing the ball and saving teammates from mistakes.
Cruz’s best play came late in the third set with the Wizards down by 122 when the senior dove and passed the ball to the middle of the court. West Warwick failed to communicate on the second ball and Tolman won a point they didn’t deserve to win.
“He made some great saves, but he can only touch one ball,” Shunney said. “Part of it is he tries to cover up for his teammates and then he’s out of position. We haven’t worked on defensive positioning yet, but that’s coming up. Overall, there aren’t a lot of positives.”