SOUTH KINGSTOWN—If Wednesday’s season opener proved anything to the South Kingstown and Coventry girls volleyball teams it was that both squads have a ways to go to get to where they want to be.
The Oakers entered the contest as the two-time defending Division I champs and for the most part played like it, securing a 25-14, 25-12, 25-18 victory.
Coventry coach Leo Bush knows though, if the Oakers want to defend their crown for the second straight year there is plenty of area for improvement.
“We established a tempo that we wanted to establish. I thought defensively we held our ground,” Bush said. “Defensively some things did not click for us and I see room for improvement and I love that. If we played a perfect game today and that was what we had then I’d feel like we had our work cut out for us.”
The Rebels, meanwhile, have clearly improved from last season – the more competitive scores prove that much – but still have more room to grow in some key areas of the game, namely passing.
The third game of Wednesday’s contest between the Division I-South foes highlighted both teams’ strengths and weaknesses.
After the Oakers built early leads en route to lopsided wins in game one and two, the Rebels got off to a hot start in the third and built an early 6-1 advantage.
The run started after the Oakers began the game by serving into the net, giving the ball back to the Rebels and allowing them an opportunity to better set up their block. Coventry drove three of its first six serves into the net in the final game to allow SK to gain some momentum.
“We’re normally a pretty good serving team,” Bush said. “We’ve got to work out some rust.”
The presence at the net – namely Stephanie Laraway and Olivia Finnegan – made it more difficult for hitters like Sam Higgins and Jill Ward to unload on SK’s back row.
With less pressure on the Rebels to pass out of big hits they managed to – for the first time during the match – string a strong run of points together.
“I switched it up, more like what we’ve been doing in practice and what we did at Prout [in Injury Fund],” Fagan said of the third game. “I was just trying to stop their best players with Stephanie Lararway getting outside to block on the opposite.”
Once the score got to 6-1 though, the Oakers found ways to get Higgins and Ward the ball in space to halt the spurt with back-to-back points from the duo.
Coventry’s initial struggles at the service line allowed the final game to remain close over the next 10 points but with the Rebels clinging to a 10-9 lead the Oakers tightened its game and began to pull away.
The passes that were a little off the mark and shaky serving that plagued the Oakers early on began to find their marks as Coventry rattled off five straight points to turn a one-point deficit into a 14-10 lead.
The Oakers never gave South a chance to get back in it from there as the Rebels struggled to serve-receive and pass en route to the seven-point defeat.
“We made some mistakes, we had some opportunities to bust it open,” Bush said. “Once we figured out we could play we were all right.
“…In game three they started serving pretty aggressive but I give our girls credit they [played defense] and figured out a way to take care of it.”
Ward led the way for Coventry with eight kills, 10 digs and two blocks, Higgins had four aces and nine kills and Haley Dennis notched five aces, six kills and seven digs.
The Oakers will be back in action Monday at 6:30 p.m. when they travel to take on North Kingstown, while the Rebels will also be on the road Monday at 6:30 p.m. at Chariho.
The game against the Chargers will mark the first of three in a busy week for SK with North Kingstown and Toll Gate also on the docket.
“Next week we’ve got three in a row – Monday, Wednesday, Friday – so it will be a good test for them,” Fagan said. “We’ll see how much stamina they have.”