The Pilgrim volleyball team was in a tough spot. After controlling game one of Thursday’s match, the Patriots watched Warwick Vets seize the momentum and take a late lead in game two. On top of that, the Pats – who use their depth to its full potential – had reached the per-game substitution limit.
But in a testament to that depth and to Pilgrim’s faith in it, the Pats found a way.
Danielle LeBlanc, a late sub who hadn’t played in the match up to that point, capped a back-and-forth stretch with a kill to clinch a 26-24 win for the Pats. They went on to win game three for the sweep of their cross-town rivals.
“We have a lot of strength, and this is the first year we really have depth,” said Pilgrim head coach Claire Baggesen. “They dug deep and they realized they couldn’t do it by themselves. They know they have to do it as a team. That was exactly what you saw.”
The win moved Pilgrim to 3-2, while Vets dropped to 2-3. The difference between the teams seemed big when Pilgrim rolled to a 25-8 victory in game one.
But game two put Pilgrim to the test. After the Pats built a 21-14 lead, Vets won four straight points on errors then got three consecutive aces by Alexa Zinno. The ’Canes also won the next point to take a 22-21 lead.
That’s when Pilgrim rose to the occasion. Celena Dionne pushed a ball into open space to tie the game. After Vets won the next point, a tip by Amanda Rode made it 23-23. The ’Canes came back again to win the next point, which gave them game point at 24-23, but Dionne landed a kill to tie the game.
Dionne then served up an ace for the 25-24 lead.
Vets took a timeout to regroup, but Pilgrim was undeterred. The teams went back-and-forth in a long rally before LeBlanc got a set on the left side and put down the kill to clinch the victory.
“When any team pulls together, the impossible becomes possible,” Baggesen said. “There’s no question that these girls have heart, they have determination and they have the athleticism to bring it all together.”
The frequent substitutions could throw a team off-balance, but the stretch at the end of game two showed that Pilgrim can handle it. Whoever’s on the court, the Pats are ready.
“We’re very excited about that,” Baggesen said. “It certainly does help. Depth is wonderful.”
After its game-two win, Pilgrim caught fire in game three. Leading 10-8, the Pats won eight consecutive points to go up by 10. Maggie Dufault had two aces in that run, while Dionne and Stefani Quaine each had a kill.
After Vets stopped the surge, Quaine and Betsy Heidel delivered kills to make it 20-9. The ’Canes fought back to get within six, before LeBlanc delivered another game-winning kill to seal the 25-18 victory and the sweep.
Heidel led the Pats with seven kills, while Dionne and Quaine added five each. Quaine led an impressive effort at the serving line with six aces. Dufault had four and Dionne chipped in with two.
The loss ended a two-game skid for the Pats and reinforced their belief that they can be a Division II contender.
“I’m really proud of these girls,” Baggesen said. “We’re working very diligently. My assistant has really put a lot into the JV program, and with the efforts on both sides, you’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”
For Vets, the loss exemplified some of the youthful struggles that the team has had this season. But head coach Jean McGarry also saw more bright spots than she’s seen thus far.
“The positive I took out of tonight’s game is that we did come back from some deficits,” McGarry said. “We kept fighting. The games against Bay View and West Warwick, when they saw the scores get that far away, they saw the writing on the wall and tossed in the towel. We’ve talked about that and they know that they can’t just lay down. That’s what I take from tonight. They didn’t give up the fight.”
McGarry was pleased that the team’s attack ran at a higher level than it had in previous matches. She’s also liking what she sees from an adjusted lineup in the back row.
“We switched around our defense and that’s coming,” she said. “Change sometimes causes errors, but in our case, it’s helping us. I think it’s making us a better team. Once we get more comfortable, we’ll be more solid. And that’s what we’re looking for.”
Vets was scheduled to return to action on Monday against Mt. Pleasant, with results unavailable at press time.
Pilgrim is slated to visit Johnston tonight at 5:30 p.m., and Baggesen hopes the team can continue building.
“We always have to go back to basic skills,” Baggesen said. “As long as we revisit that every day in practice and then try and live outside the box, we’re going to be a competitive force I think.”