Heading into Thursday’s volleyball match with Pilgrim, Bishop Hendricken’s only victories had come against teams below it in the standings. Against everybody else, the Hawks had to settle for solid efforts.
Thursday, the solid effort yielded a victory.
Facing a Pilgrim team that had won three straight, the Hawks won a back-and-forth battle in five games, dropping the first game but winning three of the next four for the victory.
“We’ve put together efforts like this a few times against good teams and walked away feeling really good about it but on the losing end of it,” said Hendricken head coach Mike Harrington. “Tonight, this was great. This was our best so far. It was a fun night.”
The Hawks are in the midst of an unusually tough year. The state’s preeminent volleyball powerhouse hasn’t had a losing season since 2001. With Thursday’s win, they improved to 3-7.
But even with the struggles, they haven’t wavered.
“We haven’t been getting discouraged with the season,” Harrington said. “We just want to battle every night. We never talk about the scoreboard or the standings. It’s just about staying competitive and battling. We’ve got guys who love to play and want to keep learning. It’s been great.”
They were rewarded Thursday. Nate Gyampo had 13 kills, Dan Flaherty tallied 12 and Garfield Coustard had 10 to lead the Hawks’ attack. Jordan Sasa dished out 50 assists and Christian Leonard posted 10 digs, along with seven kills.
Pilgrim could never quite keep up. Two days removed from a 3-2 win over Division I-North leader Mount St. Charles, the Pats played from behind in every single game against the Hawks, and it was usually a big deficit. They managed to survive for victories in the first and third games, but lost game four 25-18 and game five 15-11.
The loss ended a streak that had the Pats among the hottest teams in D-I. They fell to 4-6.
“We’ve played a lot of volleyball in the last couple of weeks and it kind of caught up to us,” said Pilgrim head coach Mike McGiveron. “But to Hendricken’s part, they play a very sound brand of volleyball. That’s old-school volleyball – just playing defense and blocking balls. You don’t have to hit. On the flip side, we just made way too many unforced errors.”
Pilgrim trailed 23-20 in game one but escaped thanks to a run of five straight points. Tyler Mantaian finished the surge with a kill as the Pats won 25-23.
But momentum faded quickly. Hendricken jumped to a 5-1 lead in game two, part of a trend that would last all night. The Hawks led 4-1 in game three, 6-0 and 9-1 in game four and 6-1 in game five.
“We started off every single game giving them four or five points,” McGiveron said. “I emphasized it, but the focus was never there. We wanted to start off fast, get a lead and get into a flow, and it never happened.”
Gyampo had a block to lead Hendricken’s early burst in game two. The Pats got within two at 8-6, but Hendricken won the next three points on kills by Leonard and Gyampo and a block by Flaherty. Pilgrim never got closer than four the rest of the way as Hendricken won 25-17. Gyampo finished it off with a kill.
“We just need to stay aggressive and attack the ball as much as possible,” Harrington said. “Too many times when we don’t play well, we’re just throwing the ball back over. I think we stayed aggressive tonight.”
In game three, Flaherty had a kill and Coustard had a block to power the early Hawks surge. This time, Pilgrim came back, building a 15-11 lead and holding on from there. After Hendricken closed to within one at 20-19, the Pats played their best volleyball of the night in winning five of the next seven points to clinch a victory. Rob Quaine had three kills in that span, while Caleb Fournier and Blake Doelling had one each.
Again, though, momentum was buried under a Hendricken run. Gyampo and Flaherty each had two kills as the Hawks raced to a 9-1 lead and never looked back. They won game four 25-18, setting up a winner-take-all game five.
And the Hawks started fast again. A kill by Gyampo, a block by Sasa and a tip to an open spot from Mason Cote gave the Hawks a 6-1 lead.
In a game to 15 points, it was almost insurmountable. Pilgrim got within two at 9-7 but two errors put the Hawks back up by four. Flaherty followed with two kills and Gyampo got the Hawks to game point with a kill that made it 14-9. A kill by Quaine and a net violation on the Hawks kept Pilgrim alive, but a return by Coustard found an open spot on the next point, giving Hendricken the win.
“It’s just about being consistent,” Harrington said. “It’s a lot of first-year varsity guys. They can look good for stretches, which we have, but to look good for most of the night, it was fun.”
It was not so fun for the Pats, who took a step backward when they needed the opposite to keep pace in the playoff race. One of the biggest culprits was a rough night at the serving line, which is typically an area of strength. The Pats made 15 service errors.
“It wasn’t so much overall, but just in critical situations,” McGiveron said. “I’d think we were getting there and we’d make a service error.”
Pilgrim will be back in action Wednesday when it plays 1-8 Barrington. After that the Pats return to Division I-South play, where they’ll need a run and likely some help to catch up to the league’s top four, who are all 7-3 or better.
“We have one more in the North and then we head back into the South,” McGiveron said. “We’ve just got to keep our heads up and win as many matches as possible. If it works out, great. We’ve got to pick it up instead of bringing it back down.”
The Hawks will try to build on Thursday’s win. They’re currently tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in Division I-North and will have a chance to secure it down the stretch.
“Every time we have a good effort, that needs to be our floor that we need to build from,” Harrington said. “This was our best effort and we need to keep it going from here. We turn around and play the north now and that’s been on my mind – La Salle, Mount, EP, Cranston East – when we lost to them the first time, we said ‘Let’s see what happens next time.’ I know we’ve improved, I know they’ve improved. We’ll see what happens.”
Hendricken was scheduled to play undefeated North Kingstown on Monday, with results unavailable at press time.