After opening the season with a 3-1 loss to Classical, the Warwick Vets volleyball team went up against three teams with a combined record of 14-2. The result was three sweeps.
On Monday, the ’Canes got a break from the gauntlet as they hosted a 1-3 Mt. Pleasant squad. For a Vets team that’s been steadily improving, it looked like a perfect opportunity to break into the win column.
Instead, it was another reminder of what Vets still needs to do to get over the hump.
After dropping game one, the ’Canes won game two in impressive fashion but lost a close game three and couldn’t rally in game four, ending their night with a 3-1 loss. Throughout, they flashed their potential, but they couldn’t overcome some frequent miscues.
“That’s where we are right now,” said Vets head coach Brendan Friel. “There are teams we should beat and if we keep the errors to a minimum, we will. There are nights like tonight, when we have too many errors and it’s going to be tough to come back from.”
The ’Canes have made significant strides since last year, when nearly everybody was new to the sport and the team won only one match. Now, with volleyball skills improving, the biggest hurdle may be mental.
“I think it’s a little bit of a mental block with these guys, having such a tough run last year,” Friel said. “I think once they start to win, hopefully it’ll be contagious and the mentality of the team will kind of change.”
Vets thought that might happen Monday. The Kilties rallied for a 25-20 victory in game one, but the ’Canes came right back with their best volleyball of the night in game two. John Moore opened with an ace and Slawomir Hermanowski landed a kill. A block by Hermanowski and Andrew Sjodahl led to a carry by the Kilties, and Will Remak followed with a kill for the 4-0 lead.
The Kilties kept it close from there, but Vets never trailed – and then pulled way. A service error put the ’Canes up 14-12 and started a run of six straight. Remak kept it going with an ace and Pepe Phanhsena picked up a point on a tip. Three straight errors by Mt. Pleasant put the ’Canes ahead 19-12. They went on to the 25-16 win.
“We’re getting there,” Friel said. “We’re getting a lot more kills, blocks, we’re covering a little bit more ground. We’re getting all that fundamental stuff in. We’ve just got to start winning.”
The ’Canes rode the momentum of the game two victory to a 4-1 start in game three but this time, the Kilties rallied, jumping in front 7-5. Later, they went up 13-8, forcing a Vets timeout.
From there, the ’Canes worked their way back into the game, riding two kills and a block by Remak to get within two and then winning four straight points to go up 22-21.
The Kilties responded with three straight points, but kills by Christiano Ourique and Sjodahl tied the game at 24-24. On the next point, Hermanowski dug a big hit by the Kilties and the ball soared back over the net. It landed close to the back line and was initially ruled in by the head referee. The line judge disagreed, though, and officials decided to replay the point.
This time, Mt. Pleasant’s Jose Small got a block to put the Kilties up 25-24. The ’Canes then let a ball drop after a miscommunication, handing the win to the Kilties.
“Three calls didn’t go our way in that third game,” Friel said. “That’s a situation where you can either get deflated or rise up, and we kind of came out flat-footed and deflated.”
It carried over to game four.
With the score tied 6-6, Mt. Pleasant rode the hot hand of Small and Kevin Desire to six straight points and a 12-6 lead. Vets won six of the next 10 points, capped by a Remak kill and an ace by Hermanowski, to get within four, but the Kilties won six more in a row after that to go up 22-12.
“Right now, it’s hard to keep them up and focused after a tough game three like that,” Friel said. “We’ve got to try to get them to that point – win a couple of games so they understand ‘Hey, we can win these games.’”
To their credit, the ’Canes kept coming. They won four straight points to make it 22-16, but crucial service errors robbed them of a chance to get closer. The first of the errors made it 23-16. Mt. Pleasant gave the ball back twice more, but both times, Vets served it out. Mt. Pleasant’s final three points were on service errors.
“It’s frustrating,” Friel said. “You’re thinking ‘We’re getting back into it, we just have to get it over and in.’ We’re going to have to focus on serving a little bit more. We really have to hammer that home.”
On the bright side, the ’Canes got strong performances across the board, especially from Remak. The junior is new to volleyball, but he’s catching on. He delivered nine kills and four aces on Monday.
“He’s picking up on it good,” Friel said. “Against Classical, he kind of stopped being aggressive. I told him to be aggressive whether we’re winning or losing. He’s the type of kid who can get that big kill or big block that can totally change the momentum of the game. Tonight, I was pleased to see he was aggressive the whole time, attacking the net.”
Now the ’Canes just need to turn their improvement into a victory. They were scheduled to host West Warwick, another contender, on Wednesday. They’ll return to action Tuesday against 1-4 Westerly.
“We’ve played some really tough teams at the beginning of the year,” Friel said. “We’ve just got to start cleaning it up a little bit better.”