WEST GREENWICH — For the third time in as many five-game matches, it looked like the West Warwick volleyball team was going to play well enough to come up just short of a victory over a playoff-bound team.
Three-time defending Division II champion Exeter-West Greenwich scored two straight points to earn two match points. This time, the Wizards weren’t going to let all their hard work go to waste.
The Wizards overcame a two-game deficit and then burnt off two match points before finally winning the match 15-25, 5-25, 25-22, 25-22, 16-14 on an EWG hitting error.
“This means a lot. It means a lot,’ said West Warwick senior Hannah Derefaka, who went toe-to-toe with EWG All-State middle Jen Donnelly in the last three games. “It shows what happens when you work hard at practices.”
“We’ve always had it in us, we just haven’t always let it out,” junior outside hitter Amanda Menard said. “To me – and I’m sure to everyone else on the team – this means the world. This is a team we probably haven’t beaten in years; it’s just awesome.”
“I think this is nice for them,” West Warwick coach Mike Shunney said. “Every day the girls come to practice and they work hard. We knew we had to get a couple of wins and pull off some upsets. This is a place to start. To come back from losing 25-5 and win the last three games is great. It’s a great win for them.”
West Warwick (5-8 Division II-South) knew coming into Thursday’s match that a few victories over playoff-bound teams were needed late in the season if the Wizards wanted to return to the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
The Wizards still have winnable matches against Scituate and Warwick Vets, but they also must earn victories against teams like East Greenwich and Cranston West if they want to pass Cranston East for the final playoff spot.
Exeter-West Greenwich (9-3 Division II-South) is now tied with East Greenwich for second place in the division, but the Knights own the tiebreaker over the Avengers thanks to a season sweep.
Finishing second is important for the defending champions because it would mean a date with undefeated Narragansett couldn’t happen until the Division II final. EWG coach Josh Bednarczyk, however, isn’t worried about a potential final after Thursday’s defeat.
“We lost,” Bednarczyk said. ‘We had too many correctable errors. We started missing serves left and right in the final three games. Our serve-receive we stopped talking about balls were falling in-between us. Things got frustrating and the errors start compounding when that happens.”
The Knights, led by the middle-hitter tandem of Donnelly and sophomore Jenna Bridges and outside hitter Lauren Unsworth, were simply too good for the Wizards in the first two games.
West Warwick was only down 13-12 midway through the first game, but then the Knights scored 37 of the next 44 points to take the opening two games. West Warwick, which was credited with an extra point in the second game, simply couldn’t handle the serves of Bridges and Bridget Laferriere.
“Our biggest problem in the first two games was the ball was bouncing off of us on serve-receive,” Shunney said. ‘We were putting too much power behind the ball. The ball was going all over the place. I just wanted them to control it and keep it in play.”
After the ugly second game the Wizards used the hitting of Menard, the blocking of Derefaka and the defense of libero Kayla Rutter to stay in the third game. West Warwick trailed 15-13, but an EWG service error sparked a 12-7 run for the Wizards to take the game.
EWG scored the first six points of the fourth game and the Wizards were playing like they did in the second game. Behind the serving of Natalia Ponte and the struggles of the Knights to keep the ball in play, the Wizards battled back to square the game at 17.
Menard and the Wizards went on an 8-5 run to close out the game. The junior had a kill and a number of important serves late in the game.
“We had a lot of motivation late in the match,” Menard said. “We did it through teamwork. We talked a lot in those games. It was non-stop yelling and calling balls and picking people up even when they were down.”
The Knights, behind the serving Sophia Tidswell, raced out to a 6-3 lead in the final game, but the Wizards reeled the home side back in and took an 11-10 lead on a kill by Brittany Gough.
EWG eventually built two match points, but the Wizards scored the match’s final four points with Rutter at the service line.
“The passing wasn’t great in the last three games, but it was better and Exeter made more errors than we did,” Shunney said. “We didn’t try to kill it every time, but we were trying to be aggressive. Our aggression came from the service line.”