In the past three weeks, the Pilgrim volleyball team has won three five-game matches, swept two strong teams, beaten a cross-town rival and topped a perennial contender in a non-league match.
On Tuesday, the unbeaten Pats faced a different kind of challenge. With that long list of big matches in the rearview mirror, the Pats took the long bus ride to Westerly for a match against the 2-4 Bulldogs. Between the road trip, the opponent and the relative lack of intensity compared with the past few weeks, it was a recipe for a sluggish performance.
But the Pats didn’t let that happen.
After a few small missteps out of the gate, Pilgrim caught fire in game one and never looked back en route to a 25-12, 25-13, 25-15 sweep of the Bulldogs.
“We played a good match,” said Pilgrim head coach Mike McGiveron. “All around, I was happy with it. Especially being on the road, plus a long bus ride, that can affect you. This is the best match we’ve played against a lower team. It’s just a focus thing, and I was happy with it today.”
The match marked the end of the season’s first half, and the Pats have officially navigated it perfectly. They’re 8-0 and they’re the only undefeated team in Division II-South. Barrington, who’s 7-0 in II-North, is the league’s only other undefeated team.
The Pats were happy to take care of business against Westerly, and their performance showed an ability to stay focused regardless of the situation. That’ll be crucial as the team heads down the stretch.
“Making these guys realize where they are right now is the key, especially the seniors,” McGiveron said. “I tell them all the time, ‘You guys don’t have much time left. Hopefully you make the most of it.’ This is the halfway point of the season and from now on, it’s all about focus.”
The Pats started Tuesday’s match with a Sean St. Jacques ace, and John Zuffoletti added two kills as Pilgrim jumped to a 4-1 lead.
It still took a while for the Pats to hit their stride though. Westerly won three straight points on a service error, a block by Rob LaBrosse and a kill by Raymond Deng to make it 7-6.
“The first little bit was a little shaky, but that’s fine,” McGiveron said. “Any road match, that’s going to happen. You play in a different environment and it takes a little while to get going.”
Once the Pats got going, they picked up speed quickly.
Matt McCabe ended Westerly’s run with a big kill on a perfect pass-set-hit sequence. Christian White followed with an ace, and suddenly, the Pats were off-and-running. Another kill by McCabe and another ace by White made it 11-6 and forced Westerly to take a timeout. Out of the break, St. Jacques delivered a kill and the Pats picked up a point on an error to make it 13-6.
Westerly won the next point on a Pilgrim error, but the Pats promptly won seven more points in a row to take complete control. St. Jacques had a kill, Dan Colabella delivered a kill and a block and Tilden Thao had an ace.
By the time a service error ended the run, the Pats were up 20-7. Colabella had two kills and Zuffoletti had one as the Pats cruised to the 25-12 win.
In game two, Pilgrim picked up where it left off. Trailing 3-2, the Pats won the next seven points, capped off by two Zuffoletti kills. After Westerly won four of the next six points to make it 11-7, the Pats caught fire again and won seven straight. St. Jacques started the burst with a kill, and Colabella added a kill as the Pats went up 18-7.
After a service error, the Pats got a kill by St. Jacques and another by Zuffoletti as they won six of the next seven points. Two service errors by Westerly clinched the 25-13 win.
The steady performances in game one and two allowed McGiveron to shuffle his lineup for game three. Starters St. Jacques, Zuffoletti and Colabella didn’t play, which allowed several younger players to see some action.
And they didn’t let the Pats slip.
Leading 6-5, the Pats won the next five points thanks to tough serves by Josh Salinger and two blocks by Phil Nemirow. Later, a kill by McCabe started a run of three straight that put the Pats up 15-7.
Westerly got back within six at 15-9, but the Pats responded by winning four straight on a kill by White and three Westerly errors. After the teams went back and forth for a while, White and Nemirow came up with kills as the Pats finished out the 25-15 victory.
“The more focused my starters are during the first and second games, the better,” McGiveron said. “Because I want to play these guys. They work just as hard as the other guys do at practices so it’s good to reward them like that.”
Zuffoletti led the Pilgrim attack with eight kills and four digs, and McCabe added seven kills and two blocks. Setter Jason Ferguson tallied 32 assists.
The Pats have now beaten every team in their division, including second-place Cranston West, whom they swept last Tuesday. The Falcons came into that match with an undefeated record – and they followed up the loss with a victory over third-place Exeter/West Greenwich – but the Pats were in control throughout.
“We went in there and the funny thing is we didn’t pass all that well,” McGiveron said of the win over West. “But we did everything else very well. We served well, we blocked, our net play was really good. That’s the good thing about this team – we can be a little off in one area and still come out with a win. We never let them get into a situation where they could beat us.”
As the Pats begin the second half of the season, they’d like to keep following the same formula. They’ll visit Warwick Vets tonight at 6 p.m.
“Like I said at the beginning, there’s no one in this division who I feel like we can’t beat when we’re on our game,” McGiveron said. “We just have to stay focused.”