Last season was a growing process for the Warwick Vets boys’ volleyball team. With rookie head coach Brendan Friel taking over and not much experience on the roster, the ’Canes won just one league match throughout the course of the season.
But the improvement from start to finish was dramatic. This season, the ’Canes are hoping to show that same progression, but they’ll be starting much further along.
Vets has three key varsity players back in the fold and has some newcomers who should be able to step right in and make an immediate impact. That doesn’t mean the ’Canes will be the top team in the division, but they’re primed to continue moving forward.
With Friel now more comfortable at the helm, and 16 players out for the team – up from 10 last year – everything is much more settled.
“I kind of have my groundwork of the background information of the guys that are returning – their strengths, their weaknesses,” Friel said. “Now it’s trying to create a plan with some of those guys who are coming out as well as with what I had last year.”
And there’s really nowhere to go but up. With Interscholastic League realignment, the top three teams from Division II last year – Pilgrim, Barrington and Exeter-West Greenwich – all moved up to Division I.
That trends D-II more towards the middle, as the 15-team division should be ripe with parity, helping Vets’ progression even more.
The ’Canes will be in one of the league’s three subdivisions, D-II-South, along with Toll Gate, East Greenwich, West Warwick and Westerly.
“We’ve got a couple of teams on the schedule that we competed with last year that we didn’t come up on the winner’s side,” Friel said. “If things go our way I’m looking for at least a .500 record this year. And with the realignment of the divisions, anything is possible with making the playoffs.”
The top two teams from each subdivision are guaranteed playoff spots, with two other wild card spots up for grabs, bringing the total to eight. Vets would like to be one of those teams, and it will need big performances across the board to make that a reality.
Returning to the mix is senior captain John Moore, who will be the team’s setter once again. He should be one of the team’s most consistent players.
Also back is senior Slawomir Hermanowski, who should be one of the team’s better hitters, and senior Christiano Ourique, who has stepped his game up as well.
“Chris has been working on his hits a lot,” Friel said. “He’s been getting better. A lot of improvement there.”
Joining the fold is junior Pepe Phanhsena, who should make an immediate impact after not getting much time a season ago.
Murilo Bellacosa is a foreign exchange student from Brazil who will also step in and see some playing time, as he can play all over the court.
“He has family that plays in Brazil, and he’s got the basics,” Friel said. “He’s picking it up pretty good.”
Freshman Trevor Hassell has a chance to see some varsity time as well, although he’ll likely be swinging between varsity and JV early in the year.
Junior Will Remak, a basketball standout, is another new member of the team, as he considered it last year but didn’t end up playing. This year, he’s on the team and should be capable of being a significant factor.
“He’s a good athlete,” Friel said. “He came out kind of at the beginning of last year, didn’t stick with it. He came out this year, wanted to know if he could try it again, and he’s getting the hang of it.”
Last year, the emphasis for the team was on defense, and that was how the ’Canes were able to stay in so many close games, although most of them ended in losses.
Now, though, with the defensive intensity and fundamentals already established, the team has turned its focus a little more toward creating its own offense – something it was lacking in a big way last season.
The ’Canes want to be the team getting the big kill that changes the momentum.
“With what I’ve been seeing so far with our attacks and with the way our front row is starting to shape up, we’re going to be better,” Friel said. “Probably towards the middle of the year you’re going to see us running more sophisticated plays this year.”
Vets will get its first idea of where it stands on Thursday, when it competes in the Injury Fund. After that, its regular season opens up next Wednesday on the road at Classical at 5:30 p.m.
“Any where up is an improvement for us right now,” Friel said. “Hopefully if things start going the way I hope they will, we’ll start making some of our goals.”