When Bishop Hendricken takes the court this week for its first volleyball action of the season, the team will look a lot different than the one that finished off a dominant season with a state championship last June.
But the Hawks have proven they can win whether they’re dominant or not. In 2010, an inexperienced Hawks team peaked at the right time and won the championship after a 9-5 regular season.
The 2012 edition resembles that team more than last year’s, and the expectations are still high.
“This team kind of mirrors two years ago, as opposed to last year,” said Hendricken head coach Mike Harrington. “It’s definitely a different feeling this year. We have a mix of experience and guys who are relatively new. We don’t start as a clear favorite or front-runner, but I think we can have a good year.”
To do that, the Hawks will have to fill some major holes. Gone to graduation are last year’s captains, J.J. Bessette, Ted Seufert and Sebastian Noordzy, as well as contributor Steve Bevilacqua.
Those captains were the core of last year’s team, with Bessette dictating everything from the setter position, Seufert emerging as perhaps the top player in the state and Noordzy delivering steady play at the net.
“Those aren’t the type of guys you just replace easily,” Harrington said. “They were all such great leaders. J.J. was an excellent setter and Ted was the best player in the league.”
But the Hawks won’t worry about trying to match the profile of last year’s team. They’ve got their own strong mix, and if it develops right, they’ll have their own pretty good identity.
Hendricken is led by two returning starters, seniors Brendan Baker and John Kane. Both were key players last season and are primed to step into bigger roles this year.
Kane could be one of the top hitters in the state.
“If he can bring the same type of intensity every night, he’s going to be very good,” Harrington said. “He’s going to get a lot of the work.”
Baker will play opposite Kane and can also put the ball down with authority.
“He’s going to be in the same role,” Harrington said.
Baker and Kane give the Hawks a solid dose of firepower, but the team will need some other to players to step up as it tries to improve its overall game.
Seniors Rilwan Ilumoka and Nick Moreau return after seeing some varsity time last year. Junior Matt Medeiros, who came up from the JV team late in the season a year ago, is the front-runner to replace Bessette at the setter position.
“He’s all hustle and energy,” Harrington said of Medeiros. “He’s a perfect guy for setting. I think he’ll fit right in.”
Juniors Jahari Ford and Kazre Cummings are up from the JV team this season, along with junior Trent Medeiros. Junior Shane Davidson could be a key player on the back row, while junior Derek Vadnais, who’s new to the sport, has made the varsity squad and could contribute.
With so many players having similar experience levels, Harrington expects to find a role for everybody.
“Every year when I can utilize everybody, I think it’s a good thing,” Harrington said.
The key will be development. The Hawks are looking to improve and to find their own identity.
“We’re looking for that right now,” Harrington said. “We just have to decide if it’s important to us as a group to work hard for that improvement and embrace that. We need to start now.”
The Hawks know they’ll have their work cut out for them, with several D-I teams looking strong. East Providence beat the Hawks in an Injury Fund match last week.
“East Providence was a step ahead of us at this point,” Harrington said. “I haven’t seen a lot of the other teams, but I know La Salle and Coventry are improved, and I think South Kingstown and North Kingstown will be good. It’s pretty wide open. It’s a lot like it was two years ago. There were five teams who had a legitimate shot to win it.”
Of course, the Hawks were the ones who eventually won that crown, and they’ll set their sights on another this season. It’s going to be a process, but when June rolls around, they’ll hope to be right where they want to be.
“It’s just going to take quality practices and quality work,” Harrington said. “Last year, it was a lot of fine-tuning and working on the game plan for each match. This year, it’s working hard and working on our skills. We need to keep improving in all phases of the game.”
The Hawks were slated to open the season on Monday against La Salle. They’ll visit Chariho on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.