COVENTRY — The North Kingstown volleyball team pushed Coventry harder than any team has pushed the two-time defending state champions this season. But the Skippers, just like many of Coventry’s opponents, had no answer for senior middle Sam Higgins and junior outside hitter Jill Ward.
Ward went over, around and through North’s blocks all evening to finish with a match-high 18 kills, while Higgins used her speed and skill to record 12 kills and seven blocks.
North’s outside hitter combination of senior Allie Barton and junior Paige Olausen caused the Oakers problems and helped NK take the third game, but the Oakers proved to be too much in a 25-17, 25-21, 23-25, 25-16 victory in a battle between the top two teams in Division I.
“Anybody can step up when we needed them to,” said Ward, who also had a team-high 11 digs. “I noticed that they were double blocking the middle and I just wanted to take advantage of that as much as I could.”
“We had some big games from players we expected to have big matches,” Coventry coach Leo Bush said. “In the last game it seemed like everybody stepped up and found their game. Losing the third game might not be the worst thing. They served us tough and they took advantage of our mistakes.”
Coventry (12-0 Division I-South) can clinch the No. 1 seed from I-South next Friday night against one-win Toll Gate. The Oakers, who are looking for their third division title in the last four years, will head to Holyoake, Mass. Monday to take part in a prestigious invitational event.
North Kingstown (9-3 Division I-South) has now lost two of its last three matches, but the Skippers are still in great position to finish second in the division and stay away from the Oakers until a potential state final meeting at Keaney.
The Skippers looked every bit the equal of the Oakers in a third game where North served Coventry off the court. The Skippers trailed 16-13 and then Barton delivered three kills, forcing Bush to call a timeout after his team lost the lead.
Coventry retook the lead 22-21 after a Haley Dennis kill, but the Skippers scored three of the game’s final four points thanks to some tough serving.
The Oakers looked forlorn following the third game, but setter Abby White, who had 40 assists in a superb effort, pulled her team together in the three minutes preceding the fourth game.
“I could see that some of the girls were a little frustrated, so I went over to them and tried to calm them down,” said White, the team’s floor captain. “I told them that what was in the past was in the past and we needed to focus on the next game and get the match over with.”
After falling behind by two points early in the fourth game – a recurring theme in the match – the Oakers heeded their captain’s words. Coventry went on a 12-4 run to take complete control of the match. Ward and Dennis delivered kills during the run, while junior Keely DiBiasio served well.
North went on a 4-0 run to make the score 13-11, but that was as close as the visitors would get in the final game. Higgins had two kills to extend the lead to four and the Skippers made needless ball-handling errors late in the game to make it easier on the Oakers to earn the win.