COVENTRY — Defending state volleyball champion South Kingstown and the team the Rebels beat in last year’s Division I semifinals, Coventry, both graduated a number of talented players and All-Staters.
The difference between the two teams Tuesday night was the Oakers have a number of players who spent the off-season playing for the Rhode Island Blast and playing in the sand.
And the Oakers had Sean Roles.
Senior right-side hitter Frank Field and junior outside hitter Devin Paiva each had 18 kills, while Roles, who has played volleyball for just under a month, chipped in with seven kills and four blocks as the Oakers defeated the Rebels 20-25, 25-14. 25-19. 25-19.
“We’re playing as a great team right now and that was a great team win,” said Field, who also added five digs, four blocks and two aces. “We passed well, we hit well, we served well and we blocked well. That was a good team win.”
“I wouldn’t say we played bad for parts of the match, we were just inconsistent,” Coventry coach Jonathan Bartlett said. “They played kind of inconsistent. I liked the fact that we played with energy, we
played as a team and that’s what I would like to continue doing going forward.”
South Kingstown (1-1 Division I-South) opened the season with an easy sweep of D-I newcomer Exeter-West Greenwich. Senior All-State outside hitter Ryan Casci and senior middle Kevin Delaney played well in Tuesday’s match, as did libero Jacob Barrett (17 digs).
Casci and coach Jackie Fagan both know the Rebels are young and it’s going to take some time to catch up to the likes of North Kingstown and Coventry.
“We have a lot of new kids and we haven’t played together that often,” Casci said. “We only have two returning players to varsity, so that’s kind of tough. I honestly think we can be really close to last year’s team, it’s just that we’re young.”
“I don’t feel we played one full game. We had moments of brilliance,” Fagan said. “We have a lot of young players and I have a sophomore setter [Michael Gross] and I have a middle who has only been playing for a few weeks. I would say that we lost because we made lots of unforced errors and silly plays.”
Coventry (2-0 Division I-South) built an 8-3 lead in the first game after a block by middle hitter John Equitani and the lead remained five for a few more points until the Oakers simply fell apart and handed the opening game to the visitors. Coventry committed five service errors as SK went on a 13-5 run to close out the opening game.
Momentum quickly switched back to the Oakers to start the second game. Coventry, behind the splendid jump serving of Paiva, scored eight of the game’s first nine points. Casci said the Rebels simply weren’t playing their game after taking the first.
“We let them get in our heads,” Casci said. “We would make a bad play and let it take us down. We didn’t pick ourselves up. Everything they did better than us we kind of let go to our head.”
The Rebels did close the gap to four after a Delaney kill, but that’s as close as the Rebels would get for the rest of the game. Paiva and Field both had a number of kills to pace Coventry to an 11-point win.
The biggest reason Bartlett and the Oakers recruited the 6-foot, 6-inch Roles to play volleyball was to slow down dominant hitters like Casci. Roles did his job in the third game by blocking a number of Casci attacks to help the Oakers open up a 14-5 advantage.
“I’ve only been playing volleyball for four weeks, but I know my job on the court and that’s all I’m really worried about,” Roles said after producing seven kills and four blocks. “I’m just doing what I was taught at practice. I don’t know much, so I’m doing what they told me.”
South cut its deficit down to three and forced Bartlett to use a timeout to stem the tide. Coventry regrouped and won the game 25-19 after a thunderous attack by Field on the right side.
Unlike the first three games South raced out to a lead in the fourth game. The Rebels earned advantages of 6-2 and 10-7 before their passing began breaking down and the Oakers took advantage. Coventry went on a 10-5 run to grab a three-point lead.
Field eventually put the match away with a kill to make it 24-18 and another kill two points later to finish the match.
“We found out tonight that we can play with the big boys and we’re going to go far this year,” Field said. “That’s what we’re hoping.”
“Last year we grew as a team and developed chemistry and I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen this year,” Casci said. “I don’t have many goals individually, I just want my team to return to the championship. It’s the greatest feeling to get there and win.”