NORTH KINGSTOWN — If the Coventry volleyball team wasn’t sure there was a target on its back following last year’s state title, the Oakers found out Monday night in a Division I-South showdown with long-time rival North Kingstown.
The Skippers, who were coming off a big win over Prout to start the season, used the energy of their home crowd to take the first game to the Oakers and grab leads of 21-19 and 25-24.
North, however, couldn’t put the Oakers away in the opening game and it would prove to be its downfall. Coventry scored three straight points to end the opening game and then used the all-around brilliance of All-State outside hitter Jill Ward (11 kills, nine digs and four aces) and the solid setting of Abby White (30 assists and three kills) to down the Skippers 27-25, 25-18. 25-16.
“In the first game we were working out the kinks a little bit and we just had to get things together,” senior outside hitter Haley Dennis said after delivering 10 digs and six kills. “Coach (Leo) Bush always says that we have a target on our backs and we just have to live up to it.”
“After the first game was so close it brought us together,” Ward said. “It made us realize how badly we wanted it and how easily it can be taken from us by another team.”
North Kingstown (1-1 Division I-South) showed it could play with the Oakers for long stretches, but NK coach Vicki Tefft lamented her team’s inability to deal with Ward, White and libero Casey Head’s serves.
While the Oakers committed 13 service errors in just three games, they also used their serve to keep the Skippers out of system. North did receive some solid contributions from middle Ali Barton, Kristjana McCarthy and Heather Jackson, but it wasn’t enough.
“We forced them out of their system in the first game and then it went topsy-turvy,” Tefft said. “We had no offense. It’s hard to beat a team that has such good ball-control skills when you’re not generating an attack. It all stems from serve-receive passing. I’m not slighting them, but I’m disappointed with the way we folded mentally.”
Coventry (2-0 Division I-South) has yet to lose a game this season, but the Skippers and last week’s opponent, South Kingstown, have given the defending state champions stiff tests to start their title defense.
The Oakers, who received solid supplemental efforts from sophomore middle Thurstina Horton and junior defensive specialist Keely DiBiasio, host winless Toll Gate Wednesday night.
North let it be known the Oakers weren’t going to roll into town and earn an easy victory on the first point of the match when All-State middle Sam Higgins was blocked by Barton. Coventry did build a four-point lead midway through the game thanks to Head’s serve, but NK won six of the next seven points to grab a 17-15 lead.
“I think in the first game they had the crowd on their side and North Kingstown put some real pressure on us,” Bush said. “It kind of reminded them that they have a target on their back. That was a quality win in that first game because I’m not sure how many times we’re going to have our backs against the wall and they responded.”
Ward used her difficult-to-pass jump floater to put Coventry ahead 23-21, but North battled back and forced Bush to use a timeout on game point. North setter Kaylynn Cason tried to dump the ball on game point, but she put her attempt into the net. Coventry won the next two points to take the game.
Coventry only led the second game 6-5, but the lead could’ve been much larger if not for three early service errors. The Oakers eventually opened up a 16-9 lead by kills from right-side hitter Kelsey Ferrara and Horton.
North went on a 9-3 run to close the gap to four, but the Skippers’ inability to string together passes proved to be its undoing. North also has to improve its blocking, according to Tefft.
“Our blocking was porous,” Tefft said. “In the third game when we started to get some touches on the ball in made a difference. If you can’t slow them down at the net you’re in trouble. I know we can play with them, but I already foresee some changes in our lineup.”
North led for two points early in the third game, but Coventry’s offense simply wore down the Skippers. The Oakers raced out to a 10-5 lead and never let the gap get closer than four for the remaining 26 points. The Oakers only committed one service error in the final game.