Replacing top-notch talent is nothing new for the Bishop Hendricken volleyball program. In 2011, the Hawks regrouped after losing two of their top hitters and turned in a dominant season. Last year, they had to replace three standouts and did so in impressive fashion, coming up just two points shy of a third consecutive state championship.
This year, the Hawks will have to do it again. Gone are first-team All-State hitters Brendan Baker and John Kane, who carried a huge load for last year’s team. And this year, the Hawks don’t have as many proven standouts waiting in the wings, like Baker and Kane were last year.
But the approach will be the same.
“Baker and Kane were obviously tremendous players,” said Hendricken head coach Mike Harrington. “But every year, every team, has to say goodbye to very good players and figure out what they have to do to win. This year is definitely going to be different. We have a mix of players with different experience levels. But the athleticism is there. We’re going to be competitive.”
Four players are back to lead that charge – seniors Jahari Ford, Matt Medeiros, Trent Medeiros and Derek Vadnais. They’re lighting the way for four players who are up from the junior varsity level and three newcomers.
And they’re setting the right tone.
“The guys have impressed me so far with their attitude,” Harrington said. “They’re setting their sights high, but they understand that they’re going to have to work for it. It’s not going to come easy.”
Matt Medeiros returns as the team’s starting setter for a second season. He was the JV setter before taking over the varsity job last year. He improved steadily as the year went on and helped push the Hawks into the state finals.
“He’s such a competitor,” Harrington said. “He loves to be out there in the big moments, and it’s great to have a setter like that. He’s setting the ball well, a little better than last year. He’s more experienced, stronger. He’s going to do a good job for us.”
Medeiros will be sending many of his sets to Ford, who’s poised to shoulder much of the load that Baker and Kane took last year. Ford was a middle blocker last season and will slide outside this year.
“We’re going to have to use him a lot, and he’s ready for that,” Harrington said. “He wants that role. I think he’s going to be one of the top hitters in the league. He’s ready to carry the load.”
Trent Medeiros will also see some time at outside hitter after working his way into the rotation last year. Vadnais played libero last season and, while he can slot in anywhere, he may end up reprising that role this year.
The rest of the lineup will be filled with players who are new to the varsity court, but there’s potential across the board.
Sophomore Donnie Baker, Brendan’s brother, transferred in from North Kingstown. He stands 6-foot-5 and is primed to become a top offensive threat opposite Ford.
“I think he could be a key part of it for us,” Harrington said.
Four other players will be coming up from the JV team – Jordan Sasa, Mason Cote, Matt Rich and Adam Gautreaux.
“They’re all going to be looking for a way to contribute,” Harrington said.
The other newcomers are senior Mario McClain and sophomore Ira Lough. Both are new to volleyball but could see a lot of playing time in the middle.
“Mario’s a good athlete and his instincts are ahead of what you’d expect for someone who’s new to the sport,” Harrington said. “Ira is coming off an injury so I haven’t seen a lot of him yet, but he’s another kid who’s a good athlete.”
In all, the Hawks have the pieces in place. For a third straight year, they’re different pieces, but that’s okay. Hendricken will continue aiming high, knowing just what it’ll take to get there.
“It’ll be interesting,” Harrington said. “We’re not going to be a top team out of the gates. We just have to keep working and keep grinding it out. By the end of the year, we want to put ourselves in position to make the playoffs and win some games.”
The Hawks will open the season next Thursday with a 6:30 p.m. home match against La Salle.