The wait has been long, but it is finally over.
“It’s good to finally have a competitive day,” said coach Victoria Tefft on Friday night as her North Kingstown girls volleyball squad prepared for their injury fund matches against Narragansett and East Greenwich.
Friday’s matches marked the final tune up for the NK Spikers as they prepare to make a run at their first winning season in three years.
Though they qualified for the playoffs and advanced to the quarterfinals in each of those seasons, the Skippers went 7-7 and then 7-9, respectively, in 2011 and 2012. This fall, despite losing a pair of players to graduation and three more who, for various reasons, decided to move on for volleyball, North is on the verge of having everything come together and breaking through the .500 mark.
“We look like we have all the parts, but we haven’t got them synchronized yet like everybody else,” Tefft says. “I’m really pleased with the energy the girls are bringing to the court every day, the work ethic is fabulous.
“My key positions are solid – my two outside hitters, my middle, my setter, my libero – so we’ve got all the puzzle pieces. It’s so early in the season that we still have a few, ‘who’s really going to earn this spot?’ type of situations and [the Injury Fund matches] will tell me a lot. A lot different in practice than it is in competition.”
North has the pieces, but there is still work to be done for the Skippers as they inch closer to games that count. Players need to develop into their roles and perfect Tefft’s game plan if they hope to put together a strong season.
“I’m looking for consistent serving and passing,” Tefft says. “Aggressive serving. Attacking to score, that’s what we’ve been working on. Not just get the ball in the court, but attack to score every single time and know when you can and when you can’t.
“If you have to give up a little bit of power for control, we’re always going to play the control card first so that we can be in the match. Every coach tells their team the same, you have to eliminate the unforced errors. That’s really been our focus, eliminating bad volleyball, playing within ourselves, consistent communication on the court and relentless pursuit of the ball. They know how to play, it’s just a matter of you have to do what the ball makes you do.”
As the team adjusts, North’s strength will come up front with the return of outside hitters Hope Kane and Paige Olausen. Senior Allie Barton also should prove to be a factor for the Skippers, having moved from the outside into the middle, while Kaylynn Cason, a recent transfer to the school from Georgia, figures to be a “stabilizer for this team,” according to Tefft, filling the setter role.
From top to bottom on the roster, however, no matter who finds their way onto the court for the Skippers, the structure is built around the team concept and playing as a whole.
“Very unselfish team. They want to just to succeed. They want to do their best as a team,” Tefft says. “Not having a lot of issues with egos getting in the way right now. I mean, they all want to play. That’s the good news. You don’t want to have a team that’s satisfied to be practice players, so that’s good, inter-squad competition.”
With all the pieces in place to succeed, in the early season it seems to be only a matter of playing smart and gaining confidence, which will lead to the long-term success for North Kingstown.
“My expectation is you always, always, always give your best effort. There are no excuses for lack of effort,” says Tefft. “Physical skills will happen, let’s try to get rid of the mental errors. Good things happen when you get rid of the mental errors and you go full speed ahead. It builds confidence.
“The building block right now is the confidence one. Have to get that foundation of ‘we can do this’. If we get that foundation and that belief established, I think we’re going to have a great season.”
While last Friday’s Injury Fund matches served as a good test for the Skippers, giving those players new to the team and new to their respective positions a good taste of competition and a feel for game play, the real tests are still to come.
The first will be their season and home opener on Thursday night when North takes on perennial contender Prout in a 6:30 p.m. match.