If there’s one thing keeping Bishop Hendricken from joining the upper echelon of the Division I volleyball ranks, it’s the team’s tendency to be a little too low-key. On Thursday night, prompted by a hyped-up Pilgrim team, the Hawks may have finally found the extra gear they’ve been searching for.
After holding off strong charges to win the first two games, the Hawks watched their momentum disappear when Pilgrim won five straight points late in game three, with three of those coming on emphatic blocks of Hendricken star Jahari Ford. The Pats were fired up and ready for a comeback.
But with the game tied, the Hawks discovered their own fire. Playing with their best energy of the night, they won the next three points on kills and clinched the sweep.
“It’s fantastic,” said Hendricken head coach Mike Harrington. “This late in the year, we’ve talked a lot about bringing more energy and more focus and start playing at our playoff level. We did that tonight. I loved it.”
The Hawks, winners of three straight, are now 7-3, good for second place in Division I-North. Pilgrim dropped to 2-8 in Division I-South, having lost three in a row since a victory over La Salle.
The Pats held their own in the first two matches of the streak, falling in four games to Cranston East and Mount St. Charles. On Thursday, facing Hendricken in a league game for the first time in more than a decade, they did it again.
But the Hawks always had a little more.
“Any local school that comes in to play Hendricken is going to play us tough,” Harrington said. “They’re a good team. They just lack the firepower we have. They do things better than us in other areas.”
In the decisive game three, the Pats made one final run. Trailing 22-17, they got a point on a service error and then went to work. The Hawks went to Ford on each of the next three points, and Dan Colabella blocked every single one of Ford’s hits. With each one, the Pats and their boisterous crowd grew louder. The Hawks took a timeout to regroup, but the Pats tied the game at 22-22 on an ace by Phil Nemirow.
Then Hendricken buckled down.
Mario McClain landed a kill on the next point and the Hawks celebrated like they hadn’t all night. On the next point, they went back to Ford, who slammed a kill off the block and out of bounds to make it 24-22.
“When things didn’t go well, our guys fought hard to figure out why and there was a lot of spirit and spirited talks in our huddle to figure out why,” Harrington said. “It was great to see.”
Now fired up in their own right, the Hawks finished it off. Ford smacked an emphatic kill on match point and Hendricken celebrated the victory.
“Just don’t get blocked next time,” Ford said of what he was thinking. “Being a big hitter on the team, you know the other team is going to get fired up when they block you. I know I can’t afford to let my team down and get blocked again, especially at that point in the game.”
Ford finished with 19 kills, eight digs and two blocks, while McClain had nine kills. Trent Medeiros added seven digs and four aces, and Donny Baker had five kills.
“Playing for Hendricken, you expect every team to come in fired up,” Ford said. “We just want to never settle down. That’s what keeps us from being one of the top teams in the league. We know we have that ability. We just can’t settle and get down.”
And the Hawks never did, even when Pilgrim was pushing.
In game one, the Pats took a 16-14 lead and forced a Hendricken timeout. Out of the break, the Hawks won six straight points, with Trent Medeiros landing three aces to spark the run. After Pilgrim got back within two at 21-19, the Hawks won the final four points and clinched the 25-19 victory with a block by Ford.
The situation was even tougher in game two. The Pats led from the start and were in front 19-18 late in the game. Baker got the Hawks even with a kill, but the rotation had Ford in the back row – not an ideal set for a run.
But that’s just what the Hawks delivered. With Medeiros at the serving line again, the Hawks won the final seven points for a 25-19 victory. McClain had three kills and a block to account for four of the seven points.
“That’s when Mario took over,” Harrington said. “Trent was serving well and Mario was real effective and efficient scoring multiple times. That was great to see.”
With the victory, the Hawks climbed to second place in Division I-North, just one game back of 8-2 Mount St. Charles. More importantly, they feel like they’re hitting their stride.
“That’s something I’ve been looking for – who can provide that spark and that spirit,” Harrington said. “Just like negative plays can be contagious, positive plays can also become contagious. Our captains had a team meeting today to talk about that, and everyone seems to have responded well.”
With six matches remaining in the regular season – including another round of games against their D-I-North rivals – the Hawks hope this is just the beginning.
“There’s plenty of stuff to work on, but as a coach, I can’t really game-plan and teach if we’re not playing at this high spirit level,” Harrington said. “So if we can do this, I think we’re going to grow faster than we have.”
The Pats were scheduled to take on Division II Cranston West in a non-league game on Monday, with results unavailable at press time. They’ll return to league play tonight when they host Barrington at 6:30 p.m.