COVENTRY — There aren’t two boys volleyball teams in the state who know each other better than North Kingstown and Coventry thanks to off-season volleyball with the Rhode Island Blast along with assorted summer beach leagues around the state.
Whether it’s the North bench yelling ‘The ball’s going to Frank’ or the Skipper and Oaker players engaging in playful banter as they lined up for the ensuing serve, the Skippers and Oakers make it perfectly clear they know each other and they want to beat each other.
Maybe the familiarly led to a choppy first four games during Tuesday’s night’s battle between the only remaining
unbeaten teams in Division I-South. And familiarity might’ve been the reason for an engaging, back-and-forth final game.
The Skippers, after taking the fourth game by nine points to force a fifth game, jumped out to a four-point lead and had the Oakers on the proverbial ropes. But the aforementioned ‘Frank,’ Coventry senior Frank Field, and junior outside hitter Devin Paiva helped the Oakers rally for a 16-25, 25-16, 25-16, 16-25, 15-12
“When we were down late, we came back with a lot of energy, high intensity on the court, good swings an coming out of our serve-receive slump,” Paiva said after his 17-kill evening. “It’s all about our passing. Our hitting’s based on our passing, so when we get our passing right everything comes together.”
“This was a pretty big win,” Coventry coach Jonathan Bartlett said. “North Kingstown is extremely tough. They’re running the 6-2 with three hitters all the time. Garrett [Bucklin] played lights out. J.T. [Ricci] set really well. They’re very well rounded.”
“What I learned about us is they’re as good as I think they can be,” North Kingstown coach Joanne Fitts said. “I’m not pleased about the little lull we had in the second and third games, but these kids have played with each other on Blast all winter, so you get the emotional back and forth between the kids.”
North Kingstown (2-1 Division I-South) hadn’t been tested in its first two wins of the season over Chariho and Pilgrim, but that wasn’t the case Tuesday. The Skippers ran a 5-1 attack through the first two matches, but Monday Fitts decided to diversify the offense and switch to a 6-2 so Bucklin could attack. Bucklin led the Skippers with 18 kills.
Fitts was forced to make another change to her system in the fourth game after two terrible passing games. Junior Paul Pederzani spent the first three games as a defensive specialist, but he was moved to libero in the fourth game and the change paid off.
The Skippers’ improved passing allowed Bucklin and Ricci to keep the offense in system. North trailed 4-3 but then went on a 15-6 run to take complete control of the game and regain momentum.
“Garrett is one of our best offensive weapons because he can see the floor and he knows how to use a block.” Fitts said. “This was a good measuring stick but we wanted to see how we would stand up.”
Bartlett tried to counter NK’s change by making a lineup change of his own to start the decisive game. Field, who played right-side the first four games, moved to the middle and senior Joe Hanrahan was inserted on the right side as an auxiliary setter/passer.
The change didn’t pay immediate dividends. Bartlett was forced to call a timeout after North went up 6-2 and the lead was still four points two points later.
“I didn’t think we were going to win,” Bartlett said. “I didn’t think we had it in us, but somehow we clawed our way back into the game and just went point for point after that. We got a couple of points ahead at the right time.”
North started making hitting errors and the Oakers started passing better which led to a 9-3 run and a 12-10 Coventry advantage. North tied the match on a Bucklin kill and a Ryan Buglio setting error, but Coventry won the final three points.
Hanrahan delivered a block and then Paiva produced back-to-back kills to finish off the match.
“It didn’t feel good after that last swing until I saw where it was because I was kind of backing up when I hit it,” Paiva said. “The ball just hit the floor and I was pumped.”
Coventry (4-0 Division I-South) received 15 kills and four blocks from Field, while Buglio chipped in with 39 assists and 10 digs.
North Kingstown was let down by its serving. The Skippers committed 18 service errors, which Fitts puts down to mental mistakes. North overcame three service errors to win the first game, but too many service errors and serve-receive mistakes allowed Coventry to roll to easy victories before North battled back to force a final game.
“Coventry’s the team to beat,” Fitts said, “and we almost had them.”