From day one, the Warwick Vets boys’ volleyball team has looked like it’s capable of having more success than it had last year, when it won just a single match. But it’s been a battle to get the Hurricanes themselves to believe that.
Midway through the season, though, it’s starting to take hold.
The ’Canes swept Toll Gate last Wednesday night for their second victory in their last three matches.
“Tonight, I just told them ‘You’re confident. You feel that you can beat this team. That’s how you have to play, no matter what happens,’” said Vets head coach Brendan Friel. “It’s a confidence thing with these guys so I’m hoping winning two out of three is going to give us the momentum to go into the second half of the season.”
The ’Canes improved to 2-7 with the victory before a 3-1 loss to St. Raphael on Friday dropped them to 2-8. Toll Gate remains winless.
Vets picked up its first victory of the season on April 23, when it swept Westerly.
It was a big moment.
“They were happy,” Friel said. “I really felt that was a load off their back. They were tight games and we made some mistakes again, but we were able to come out with a win.”
After losing to East Greenwich 3-0 two nights later, the ’Canes had a week to prepare for Toll Gate. They focused on the basics.
“You’ve just got to put it in play, pick your spots and get three touches on our side,” Friel said.
And they took care of business, winning 25-10, 25-10 and 25-8.
“Two out of three,” Friel said. “We’re getting there.”
Toll Gate stayed close for the early part of game one, winning four out of five points to cut a five-point lead down to two.
But then Vets found its groove – and never really lost it.
Kills by Murilo Bellacosa and Andrew Sjodahl powered a run of eight straight for the ’Canes. After a Jose Javier kill stopped the bleeding, the ’Canes surged again, getting kills from Slawomir Hermanowski and Christiano Ourique on their way to winning seven of the next eight points. A Hermanowski serve that wasn’t returned clinched the game one victory.
In game two, the ’Canes cruised again, riding kills from Ourique and Will Remak to an early 10-4 lead. The Titans never got closer than six and fell way behind when the ’Canes won six in a row in the late going. Remak had a tip to an open spot to get Vets to game point, and Bellacosa finished it with a kill.
Throughout game two, the ’Canes showed off their steadily improving attack. Thirteen of the 25 points came by way of a kill, with Remak notching four, Bellacosa getting three, and Hermanowski, Pepe Phanhsena and Ourique getting two each.
“This year, I have five guys and a couple of guys off the bench who, when they’re in the front row, they’re capable of being very aggressive at the net,” Friel said. “It’s almost the opposite of last year. We weren’t that strong on offense, so we focused on defense. Now, what I’m trying to focus these guys on doing is putting themselves in good position where we can get a good pass and get a good set because our strongest point is at the net.”
The ’Canes continued to play well in game three. Bellacosa had an ace while Hermanowski and Phanhsena had kills as Vets jumped out to a 6-1 lead. Hermanowski then stepped up to the serving line and powered a run of seven straight. Later, Remak landed three kills in a five-point span to make it 21-5. A block by Bellacosa sealed the sweep.
“We’re playing pretty well,” Friel said. “We’re improving. If we’re able to get rid of some of the mistakes in the back row, I think we can really get it going even more. My setter (John Moore) has been phenomenal, so if we can get a good pass, we’re going to get a good set.”
Now the ’Canes will try to keep improving.
“Our passing has started to improve but it has to keep getting better,” Moore said. “That’s the biggest thing for us. Good passes lead to good sets and then we can get our offense going.”
For Toll Gate, Wednesday’s match was another challenging one. The Titans are breaking in a number of newcomers who have never played volleyball before. Javier was a bright spot Wednesday, as was Matt Davis, who stepped in to play setter.
The Titans will keep looking for their first win this week with games against Lincoln, St. Raphael and Shea.
The ’Canes were scheduled to play Tolman on Monday, with results unavailable at press time. They’ll visit Lincoln Wednesday before hosting North Smithfield on Friday at 6 p.m.
“We’ve lost a couple of close ones at the beginning of the year,” Friel said. “Now that we’re getting a little more confidence and we’re getting our basic skills down, I’m hoping we’re going to be able to come out on top in some of those close games.”