WEST GREENWICH — The result was predictable. The road to the result wasn’t.
The undefeated Coventry volleyball team traveled just a few miles down Route 3 to face winless Exeter-West Greenwich Tuesday night. The Oakers had lost just three games this season, while the very inexperienced Scarlet Knights had won just two games.
Coventry returned home with its perfect record still intact after a sweep, but the Oakers were forced to work a little harder than they wanted to in a 25-13, 25-23, 25-18 victory over the Knights.
“We’ve been up and down through the start of the season,” Coventry coach Jonathan Bartlett said. “You saw it in our match with North. We can win a game 25-16 and we can lose a game 25-16 in the same match. We’re good at some points, but we need to be consistent through the whole match.”
“My four seniors are doing a great job,” EWG coach Jan McMahon-Boisclair said of her seven-member team. “They could’ve just laid down and said ‘We’re playing in D-I and we have very few players and we’re not doing this. They’re really stepping up to the plate.”
Coventry (5-0 Division I-South) played the final two games without one of its best hitters. Junior outside hitter Devin Paiva struggled through the first game after which Bartlett asked him how he was feeling. Paiva admitted he wasn’t feeling well and didn’t play another point.
Without one of their top hitters the Oakers struggled to find cohesion. Paiva’s absence allowed extra playing time for senior Jake Colvin and junior Tom Campbell, but neither hitter could replace what Paiva does all over the court.
“They played solid defense and we were a little out of focus not having Devin on the floor and having him in the hallway for most of the game not feeling all that well,” Bartlett said. “Maybe that was in the back of their heads for most of the game. I did try a bunch of different kids in his position.”
Exeter-West Greenwich (0-5 Division I-South) is doing something very difficult this season. The Knights have had plenty of success in Division II over the last few seasons, but they are now trying to rebuild with a green squad in Division I against the best teams in the state.
McMahon-Boisclair is seeing plenty of growth from players like Lucas Fitton, Alex delaCruz and Sean Greene, but the Knights are having a hard time treading water against bigger, more experienced teams.
“Each game we are getting better and better and we’re starting to look more like a team,” McMahon-Boisclair said. “This was one of our best blocking nights. I have two brand new players on the floor and this is a learning experience.
“In a way playing in Division I is kind of good because you are always going to play challenging volleyball.”
The first game played out the way the match was expected to go on paper. The Knights scored the opening point of the match on a Paiva hitting error, but then the Oakers went on a 10-4 run to take complete control of the game.
Senior right-side hitter Frank Field, who had 10 kills, seven digs and two aces, proved to be unblockable in the opening game. Coventry built a lead of 17-9 before cruising to a 12-point victory.
Even though Paiva didn’t play in the second game Coventry still led 15-11, but then the Knights battled to square the game at 16. Coventry jumped ahead 23-18 later in the game, but the Knights rallied back to even the game at 23.
Bartlett called a timeout to refocus his team and the timeout worked because the Knights missed the next serve and then hit an attack into the net on game point.
“There are quite a few things we still need to work on,” said Bartlett, who watched his team play well in Saturday’s Rhody Invitational. “Defensively we lost a few games on Saturday.”
Bartlett admitted his team was lucky to escape with the second game. The third game started the same way the other two began, with the Knights scoring the first point. Coventry battled back and never trailed in the final game.
Jon Equitani, Sean Roles and sophomore setter Ryan Buglio all played well in the final game as the Oakers went on a 7-1 run to close out the match.
Both teams are done with I-South play for the next few weeks as the Oakers host I-North tri-leader Mount St. Charles Thursday night.
“I know the top three teams are all tied so it’s any team any day, really,” Bartlett said about the balanced North. “They can beat us if we don’t play well.”
EWG, which received six kills and 12 digs from senior Jack Boisclair, will look for its first win of the season Thursday against struggling La Salle.