There’s a lot head coach Mike Harrington doesn’t know about his Bishop Hendricken volleyball team at this point.
But he does know one thing.
“We’re going to be the most improved team in the state from start to finish,” Harrington said.
That prediction is borne out of two competing facts – the Hawks are replacing most of their lineup with an inexperienced group, but they’ve got height, potential and enthusiasm. With the expected improvement, Harrington sees his team contending, as always.
The Hawks went 10-6 last year and were on the outside of the upper echelon. But in the first round of the playoffs, they nearly knocked off eventual runner-up South Kingstown before losing in five games.
“Nobody wants to play Hendricken volleyball in the playoffs because we’re usually playing well, peaking at the right time,” Harrington said. “We want to keep it that way.”
As they begin that quest, the Hawks are starting almost from scratch. They lost five seniors to graduation, including All-State hitter Jahari Ford and two-year starting setter Matt Medeiros. The only players back from the varsity roster are seniors Matt Rich, Jordan Sasa and Mason Cote, junior Ira Lough and sophomore Donny Baker. Baker was the only full-time contributor among that group.
“It really is a new team,” Harrington said. “Jahari and Matt were such huge parts of it. All the seniors did a lot for us. It’s a totally different look.”
Optimism begins with Baker, whose older brother starred on Hendricken’s 2011 championship team. Donny emerged as a standout last season, and shined late in the year, delivering a dynamic performance in the near-upset of South Kingstown.
“When he’s at his best, he’s one of the top hitters in the league,” Harrington said.
Sasa worked his way into the lineup as a defensive-minded player last year, and he will assume the setting duties from Medeiros. Lough saw some action on the front row last year and will be looking to make a mark, along with Rich and Cote.
The rest of the 12-man roster is new to varsity – and in a few cases, new to volleyball altogether. Senior Garfield Coustard, one of the newcomers, is coming off Most Outstanding Player honors in the Hendricken basketball team’s run to the state championship. The Hawks also have juniors Austin Bergeron, Jacob Eland, Daniel Flaherty, Nate Gyampo and Brennan Martin.
“There’s not a lot of volleyball experience, but they’re all excellent athletes,” Harrington said. “They’re hungry and eager to learn.”
With the first regular-season match less than a week away, the Hawks are still working on where everybody fits in. That can be a challenge with a big roster, but it’s also not a bad starting point.
“A lot of things are up in the air, but it’s really competitive for playing time right now,” Harrington said. “We’ve had a lot of guys returning the last few years, so we haven’t had that type of competition.”
The Hawks will again play in Division I-North, where they finished in third place last year, behind East Providence and Mount St. Charles. The other sub-division, D-I-South, has state champ Coventry, runner-up South Kingstown and perennial contender North Kingstown all poised for the top spots.
“The North, I don’t think there’s going to be a dominant team,” Harrington said. “I think everybody has a chance to make a run. In the other division, North has almost their same roster back and Coventry has a lot of strength back from their championship team.”
As usual, the Hawks hope they’re in the mix, even if the road is a little bit longer than usual.
“Our goal is to finish in the top four and be peaking at the right time,” Harrington said.
Hendricken’s first game is set for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m., at La Salle.