COVENTRY — With every Abby Lyons kill and every Ally Thomas dig it looked like the Prout volleyball team was going to take the opening game from Coventry Monday night.
The Crusaders, just like North Kingstown the week before, had a late lead on the defending state champions and a chance to dent Coventry’s aura of invincibility.
But, just like the Skippers, the Crusaders simply couldn’t weather the Oakers’ onslaught. Coventry scored the final four points of the opening game and then won 50 of the match’s final 75 points to earn a 25-23, 25-16, 25-9 Division I-South victory.
“The other team was definitely playing good and giving us a great challenge,” Coventry senior middle Sam Higgins said. “I would say that we usually start off a little shaky in our first game because we’re just starting, but we wrapped it up and I think we adjusted better to their serving in the last two games.”
“They received the ball really well and passed the ball really well,” Coventry coach Leo Bush said of the Crusaders. “They forced us out of system a lot early in the match. They nailed all of their passes on our serves. I just thought we got a lot of energy out of Thurstina (Horton) late in the first game and that was infectious.”
Prout (2-2 Division I-South) has yet to play a close match. The new-look Crusaders own easy wins over Toll Gate and Chariho and losses to the top two teams in I-South, the Skippers and the Oakers.
First-year coach Katie Walsh said she was pleased with the play of Thomas and senior setter Ally Chretien, but the Crusaders simply weren’t consistent enough over the three games to hang with Coventry.
“It fell apart after the first game,” Walsh said. “We lost some of our steam after the first game. If we won the first I think that would’ve made all the difference because that would’ve given the girls the energy and inspiration to keep playing. Our passing was very, very good in the first game and then it just started to break down.”
Coventry (4-0 Division I-South) has now won its last five matches by sweep dating back to last year’s state title win over East Providence. Higgins led the way with 12 kills and six digs, while senior outside hitter Haley Dennis delivered 11 kills and seven digs. Setter Keely DiBiasio had 30 assists and six digs.
Even though the Oakers rolled to the win, the players and Bush believe the team still can play much better.
“We can still get better,” Bush said. “I think it became a little evident that we can drop our guard energy-wise, but our ability can take over even without our energy. The main thing that they have to understand is they can’t fast forward to November. They need to figure out when it’s not perfect – as a group not as an individual – that they’re in it together.”
Prout, which is actually the last team to beat the Oakers, serve received in the opening game better than any Coventry opponent this season. The Crusaders stayed in system in the opening game and that allowed Chretien to set middle Kathleen Burns, right-side Olivia Hirst and Lyons frequently.
The Oakers opened a 7-5 lead early, but the Crusaders bounced back with a 10-5 run to take a three-point lead. Coventry tied the game a number of times late, but Prout continued to grab the lead and eventually went up 23-21.
“We were playing really consistent volleyball,” Walsh said. “We were passing the ball, we were putting it away and we were just playing our game. We kept the mistakes to a minimum and we looked really good in that first game.”
And then Higgins dominated the match like a first-team All-Stater should. The senior had two late kills and Dennis added a kill on game point to take the air out of the Crusaders.
Prout led the second game 2-0, but Coventry countered with a 19-5 run thanks to the play of Horton, DiBiasio, Dennis and outside hitter Jill Ward. Coventry started working on some different offensive attacks late which led to a few errors, but the Oakers still cruised to the win.
“We can play so much better,” Ward said. “I don’t know what it is, I just know we can do everything better.”
Prout scored the opening point of the third game, but Coventry countered with a 9-2 run to put the match away. Higgins had four kills during the early flurry, while Dennis and Ward chipped in with points. Libero Casey Head served nine straight points – including two aces – to extend the lead to 23-7.
“I just let them know after the match that we need to keep working hard,” Walsh said. “I told them we need to bring energy to every game and forget about the last point. A lot of these girls are learning to play at the varsity level.”