Oh no. Oh no. Oh yeah.
That’s been the Pilgrim boys’ volleyball battle cry for many years, and it was at its loudest Thursday night, echoing off the walls of the Providence Career & Technical Academy.
For the first time, the Pats had a championship to scream about.
After the initial celebration and the handshake with Barrington, the Pats turned to a partisan Pilgrim crowd and unleashed it one final time.
“Oh no, oh no,” Sean St. Jacques yelled, and then everybody joined in for a resounding, “Oh yeah.”
I don’t think there was a Pilgrim supporter in the house who was quiet, and that was fitting.
This was everybody’s championship.
When you watch Pilgrim, it’s easy to focus on St. Jacques and John Zuffoletti, the stars of the team, and on Jason Ferguson, the senior setter who gets them the ball. If you dig a little deeper, you learn that the Pats couldn’t have done it without some new additions. Then you realize that their coaches are Pilgrim graduates, two guys who believe in the program’s tradition. And then you hear about the goal, how the Pats wanted this not just for themselves, but for their school.
All of those elements were at play.
But the story of the 2012 Pilgrim volleyball team isn’t any one of those elements. It’s about how all of them came together.
It’s about everybody.
“This is a group thing,” St. Jacques said as the celebration finally started to slow down. “Everybody contributed. It’s the team. I couldn’t be prouder.”
St. Jacques and fellow senior Zuffoletti have been varsity players for three years. St. Jacques started to emerge last year as one of the top players in the division and the state. Zuffoletti wasn’t far behind.
But ask head coach Mike McGiveron about those two, and he won’t talk much about what they do with a volleyball.
They set the tone.
“I’ve never met two kids who had an impact on me personally,” McGiveron said. “These are kids that, for their senior project, went down to Florida to help build a house for Habitat For Humanity. You don’t just do that every day. The character they have is incredible.”
Ferguson is another senior and he teamed with St. Jacques and Zuffoletti to form the core of this year’s team. But the Pats knew they needed help. They had some players ready to take on bigger roles, but they also recruited within the school.
They found seniors Matt McCabe, who turned into a standout middle blocker, and Tilden Thao, who emerged as a top defensive player.
“We’ve actually been trying to get them to come out since freshman year,” Zuffoletti said. “This was the first year they listened. I’m really glad they did.”
With their new additions, the Pats looked strong, and they had two pretty good pilots charting the course. McGiveron is a former player and he’s been at the helm for three years. The team’s worst record in that span was 10-4.
Assistant Jay Metivier is another former star. He’s served as an assistant under three different head coaches, helping to maintain the continuity of Pilgrim’s strongest program.
Mix it all together – talent and chemistry and hard work and leadership – and you’ve got a pretty good recipe.
“These kids came every single day in practice ready to work,” McGiveron said. “It showed. One through 11, these are the best kids you’ve ever met.”
At times during the season, the Pats were inconsistent. They found themselves in a few five-game matches that they probably shouldn’t have been in. But every time, they found a way to win. There was a feeling whenever that happened, a feeling that this team was special.
Thursday, they lived up to every bit of the promise, delivering their best performance of the season and running over Barrington, a team that was also undefeated.
It was a remarkable showing, and as the Pats celebrated with their fans, you could tell it wasn’t just about them.
“A lot of it has to do with school pride,” McGiveron said. “They did it for the school. That’s something I think everybody should realize. This team isn’t selfish. It’s for the school. They wanted to leave a mark, and they really did.”
The Pats will get a banner, the most tangible sign of a special season.
But that cheer will echo for a long time too.
“We all had our own individual reasons, but that was the biggest,” St. Jacques said. “We all wanted to leave Pilgrim with a state championship. We all just really, really wanted it. And we got it.”
William Geoghegan is the sports editor of the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and firstname.lastname@example.org.