WARWICK — The clearest sign the Coventry volleyball team isn’t the same, old Coventry volleyball team came Tuesday night in a Division I crossover match against perennial powerhouse Bishop Hendricken.
Sure, this isn’t a vintage Hendricken team, but the Oakers made easy work of the 2012 state finalists to earn the program’s first victory of Hawks since Sept. 11, 2003.
Junior outside hitter Devin Paiva had a match-high 13 kills and 10 digs, while senior middle hitter Frank Field had 10 kills in two games of work to lead the Oakers to a workmanlike 25-14, 25-20, 25-19 victory over the Hawks.
“We really tried to work on our serve-receive, run a quicker offense and cover tips in the match,” Paiva said. “Although our serve-receive was lacking at times, I thought we played pretty well. We really just had that quick offense going and they couldn’t keep up.”
“We came out serving tough and passing the ball well,” said Coventry coach Jonathan Bartlett, who was a senior on that 2003 Coventry team which beat the Hawks. “I don’t think we passed the ball as well later in the match as we did in the first game. I thought our serving was also better early in the match.”
Coventry (7-0 Division I-South) remains the only undefeated team left in the top division and – barring a massive upset Thursday against D-I newcomer Barrington – that shouldn’t change any time soon. The Oakers are still just one game better than South Kingstown in I-South, while East Providence leads I-North with just one defeat.
Hendricken (4-3 Division I-North) has now seen the top teams in both division and the results haven’t been great. Hendricken beat Mount, which took Coventry to five games last week, but the Hawks were swept by the Oakers and Rebels.
“This team here is good and they have Frank, who is a solid offensive weapon,” Hendricken coach Mike Harrington said. “Everyone else seems to understand their role and play well. I think EP is in that same category. South is really dynamic with their main guy [Ryan Casci].
“Coventry and South play a different style of ball. Coventry’s strength is in the middle and South’s is on the outside. Whoever ends up in the semis and finals, it will probably be a match of clashing styles.”
If Hendricken, which was led by senior outside hitter Jahari Ford, is going to be in the semifinals then the Hawks are going to have to pass better than they did Tuesday night.
It didn’t take very long for Coventry to find the Hawks’ weak spot. Coventry defensive specialist Kyle Kirkland used a run-of-the-mill float serve to vex Hendricken’s passers. The Hawks made passing error after passing error to give Coventry a big advantage in the opening game.
“It’s a regular float serve that we practice,” Bartlett said. “That specific serve is something Kirkland has mastered. I teach more than one serve, but Kirkland does that float serve very well.”
Even though Coventry was playing the opening game without Field for disciplinary reasons, the visitors had no trouble ripping through the Hawks. Coventry only led 14-10 midway through the game, but middle hitter Sean Roles sparked a 11-4 run to close out the game.
“It’s just repetitions,” Roles said about his improvement in his first year playing the sport. “The more practice I get during the week the better I play.”
With Field in the lineup in the middle game Coventry used more Hendricken mistakes to jump out to a 17-11 lead. Unlike the first game the Hawks didn’t go away and Bartlett was forced to use one of his two timeouts as the Hawks tied the game at 20.
Hendricken committed a service error a few points after the timeout to help Coventry go on a 5-0 run to close out the game.
Hendricken, which actually scored the first point in each of the three games, dug itself another hole in the third game. Field, Paiva and setter Ryan Buglio led Coventry to a 16-10 advantage. Hendricken closed the gap to three (22-19), but Hawks simply couldn’t stop Field and the Oakers.
“So far the two divisions are equivalent,” Bartlett said. “Mount St. Charles gave us a huge run for our money and they’re the most solid passing team in the league and Hendricken was inconsistent, kind of like we were in the last two games. Our second two games weren’t as strong as they could’ve been.”