A year ago, the Pilgrim girls’ volleyball team reached a point in its success where it even surprised itself.
The Pats turned on the jets in the middle part of the regular season and finished with a 10-4 record. They followed that up with a playoff victory over Barrington in the preliminary round before their run came to a close against eventual Division II champion Exeter/West Greenwich in the quarterfinals.
That year went down as an unprecedented success. It was the program’s best season since it went 10-4 in 2003.
Much like that team came out and exceeded expectations, the 2012 version is hoping to follow a similar path. It’s comprised of a whole bunch of new faces, but it only has to look at last year’s team to realize what’s possible.
“I think that last year was a definite springboard for both players – this year’s seniors, and the new, upcoming players,” Pilgrim head coach Claire Baggesen said. “It really was a prosperous season for us. It really brought everything together and I think that’s also just a direct result of being able to build a program after so many years.”
The first task in finding success will be replacing the graduated members of last year’s team. Warwick Beacon girls’ volleyball athlete of the year Celena Dionne leaves behind the biggest void, but she’s far from alone. Pilgrim is losing primary setter Amanda Rode, libero Tiffany Legare and hitters Megan Stahowiak, Stefani Quaine, Maggie Dufault and Danielle LeBlanc.
Those are some big shoes to fill, but Baggesen is confident that – with some patience – this year’s group can get the job done.
“We’re going to do what we did last year,” Baggesen said. “Take it one point at a time, one game at a time, one match at a time.”
Luckily for the Pats they do have a few returning players who should make the overall transition a little easier.
Senior middle hitter Betsy Heidel is back after a breakout junior campaign. This season, Baggesen is planning on using her in a variety of roles.
“She’s going to be a multi-faceted player this year,” Baggesen said. “I know she’ll step up and really bring the team to success.”
At primary setter, senior Melissa Conti is taking over for Rode. Conti served as the secondary setter last year.
Also back is senior outside hitter Caitlin White, and senior defensive specialist Casey McCormick.
After that, it’s pretty much a brand new varsity group.
“I think that we’ve replaced the girls with some strong upcoming players,” Baggesen said.
Junior Michelle Asels is taking over for Conti in the secondary setting position, and sophomore Megan St. Jacques will fit in as a middle hitter.
Sophomore Jessica Russo should see some time on the outside, as will junior Lauren Picard. Sophomore Alexa Annotti will also be a big contributor, and so will Colleen Conti – the sister of Melissa.
Another sophomore, Deveny Dionne, should make an impact on the outside. Dionne is the sister of Celena Dionne.
“She’s got something to aspire to,” Baggesen said. “She’s got to make her own mark on the game, playing in a different position.”
There is also one freshman on the team, Nancy Alvarez.
“It’s very rare that we’ll have a freshman on varsity, but she demonstrated that she’s got the skills,” Baggesen said. “She should see some playing time.”
The changes in the roster have been accompanied by a hectic early season schedule, which included having to practice in Warwick Vets’ gym because the Pilgrim gym was undergoing some construction.
Yet, none of it is a deterrent. There is still plenty to be excited about, even if there is also some uncertainty as well.
“I know that we’re going to go out playing strong,” Baggesen said. “As any team, we’re going to have our wins, we’re going to have our losses, but I think we’ll be able to improve each match.”
The new-look Pilgrim squad will play in an Injury Fund match today at home against Central Falls at 4:30 p.m. before beginning its regular season on Tuesday at Narragansett.
That match is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The Pats hope it’s the start of another season to remember.
“We were very proud of what we did last year and our accomplishments,” Baggesen said. “I think that we’re going to be the same way this year. I think we’re going to be competitive, but it’s way too early to make any predictions of where we’ll be.”