Warwick Vets took a leap from one win in 2012 to five in the 2013 boys’ volleyball season, and it wouldn’t have been a stretch for the Hurricanes to make even more headway.
“There were a couple of games that got away from us,” said head coach Brendan Friel. “We would win the first set and then let it slip. If we could have finished off some those games, we would have had a chance to make the playoffs.”
The 2014 ’Canes have a new look, with a host of new starters, but as they try to jell and look for continued improvement, they’re remembering those games that got away last season. The next step for the program is to cross the thin line that separates tough losses from big wins – and to see where it takes them.
“I’d love to make the playoffs and really show the improvements that we’ve made the last three years,” Friel said. “It depends on how we respond. I’m remaining optimistic.”
The team that’s setting out on that task will have to do it while replacing a strong group of seniors that powered last year’s turnaround. But despite the inexperience, the trends are positive for Vets. Numbers are up, athletes from other sports are giving volleyball a try and the returning players know what to expect.
“The positive is most of the guys who are returning have been with me for three years and they know the system,” Friel said. “We lost three or four starters but we’ve got some good players coming up and they know the game.”
The top returning player is senior Pepe Phanhsena, who’s been a varsity player since his sophomore season. He emerged last year as one of the team’s most consistent performers, whether in the back row or in the front. He’ll be a captain and the clear leader this year.
“He’s an athletic kid and he has really excelled in the sport the last two years,” Friel said. “Coming back, he hasn’t lost a step at all. Hopefully, he continues progressing to one of the best players in the division.”
Phanhsena will be asked to do a lot for the ’Canes. At least of the start of the season, Friel expects him to split the setting duties with newcomer Justin Batista.
Other returning players include juniors Nick Marold, Jacob Pelletier and Anthony Ferri and sophomore Trevor Hassell. They have varying levels of varsity experience, but at the very least, they know the system from the junior varsity level. And Vets had a lot of success at that level last year, winning nine games.
“Obviously it’s a different level, but we’re hoping these guys will continue up to the varsity lineup,” Friel said. “We’re hoping it’s a good transition.”
Sophomores Saif Izhar, Kevin Staudt and Kyle Yang and freshman Noah Pike are also in the program.
Then there are the newcomers, all of whom are making up for a lack of volleyball experience with athleticism. Batista, a senior, is a soccer and basketball standout. Senior Mike Riccitelli was the goalie on the soccer team, and Jonathan Hunt also played soccer. Kyle Veyera is a hockey standout, Davin Lourenco is a state place-winning wrestler and Kevin Martin is a towering presence for the basketball team.
They’re all giving volleyball a shot.
“They’re tall athletic kids and they’re picking it up quickly,” Friel said. “Once they get the hang of where they need to be, I think they’ll be solid players.”
The key will be fitting the pieces together, and that process is underway as the season approaches. The ’Canes hope it yields a group that can take another positive step.
“If the potential comes to fruition, I think we can make a run at a playoff spot,” Friel said. “That’s the goal. It’s how far they come and how quickly they can do it.”
Vets will open league play next Wednesday with a 6 p.m. home game against Classical.