COVENTRY - One team was playing for just the third time all season. The other had not appeared in front of their home fans in more than a full year. Such has become the norm during the Fall II phase of the RIIL season as athletes, coaches and schools continue to operate on a day-to-day basis throughout the pandemic.
For the Coventry High School volleyball team, Tuesday night’s match against visiting East Greenwich marked the first time the Oakers had taken to the floor at C. Arthur Gymnasium since late 2019.
The team was slated to have their home opener last week against Cranston West, but saw that match get postponed, leaving the Oakers with a full week to prepare for the Avengers following their road win against Cumberland last Tuesday.
Coventry would not disappoint the limited crowd on hand, entertaining them with a 3-0 sweep over EG (25-20, 25-18, 25-18) to run their record to 3-1 on the shortened year.
“This is our first home game, what a month and a half into the season,” head coach Jonathan Bartlett said, noting Coventry’s long-awaited return to the setting they are most familiar with.
Their opponents were not ones they have much familiarity with, as EG finds themselves playing up in Division I following a successful stint in D-II that saw them pick up four state championships since 2004.
The Oakers were solid and consistent on Tuesday, relying on their top players to help pave the way to victory.
Madison Lupino led the way with 13 kills while Haley Fornuto posted 13 assists to go along with five aces, with her sister Olivia contributing four kills and two aces in the winning effort.
In all, Bartlett was largely pleased with his team’s performance, the three tightly-contested sets all going in their favor.
“I feel like the girls played pretty well. EG kept sending the ball back over and making us have to hit extra balls, so that’s good. We’re having to hit winners, which is what we want to do on our side of the net,” he said.
There was not much of a specific game plan going into the night, given it was Coventry’s first time going up against EG in a D-I contest.
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Bartlett said, a theme that has been consisted this year for Coventry, even against their more familiar opponents. “We needed to bring our game and we’re still working on our side of the net. This is only our fourth game of the season. Usually, we play some Injury Fund games before the season even starts, which we didn’t get any of this year.”
While the win, the Oakers’ third of the year, was an important one given how short the regular season is, there still remains plenty of work for them to focus on.
“We’re still trying things out, but we’re missing one of our players who started the first three games. She’s out on quarantine,” Bartlett explained of his atypical lineup on Tuesday.
“We’re going to have to work through it. The season is all about working through what you’ve got.”
Coventry will hit the road next for a Thursday meeting in East Providence against the Townies.
On the other end of the net, Avenger head coach Justin Amaral has been working with a team looking to play catchup following a delayed start to the season.
“We had a couple of postponements due to COVID-related issues,” he said, with his team not taking to the court until a week later than most.
On top of their delayed start, they have had to deal with the challenges of facing off against D-I competition for the first time.
“Definitely a lot of things to work on. Being up in D-I is definitely a big adjustment for us,” Amaral said, including the Oakers in that statement.
“Coventry’s a great team. They’re usually one of the top teams in D-I, so for us to come out and lose by four or five points each set is encouraging for us,” he said.
Making due with a limited roster will serve as one of EG’s biggest challenges over the span of the next several weeks as they hope to qualify for the postseason.
“We’re getting there. Our numbers are a little low this year due to COVID restrictions, things like that,” Amaral said, noting the overall youth on his club as well. “We only have nine girls on varsity. We’re a pretty young team, two seniors, two juniors and the rest are sophomores,” he said.
The Avengers endured a hard fought 3-2 loss to Prout last week, but balanced it out with a 3-0 sweep over Barrington ahead of their meeting with Coventry on Tuesday.
Now 1-2, they will look to get back to .500 on Thursday night when they play host to Cranston East, the team responsible for Coventry’s lone defeat thus far.
Follow Nick Cantor on Twitter @cantornick