Back on Sept. 14, after an 0-3 start, the Pilgrim volleyball team swept rival Warwick Vets and hoped it would be a springboard for the rest of the season. Instead, the Pats dropped their next match by a 3-2 score to Cranston East before getting swept by two of the top teams in the league. Then last Thursday, back against comparable competition, the Pats lost another five-setter to Westerly.
It was time for a win.
On Monday, the Pats got it. Hosting winless Scituate, the Pats seized their opportunity and took care of business with a 3-0 sweep. The victory moved the Pats to 2-7.
“Any win is a good win,” said head coach Claire Baggesen said. “I think we’ve been competitive all season and the scores show that against many of the teams. The way we’ve been playing, we’ve been happy. We lost a heartbreaker to Westerly, but at the same time, we played well. When you can play well and have a good competitive game, that’s important. It helps a team’s morale.”
The Pats have been competitive most times out, but the first half of the season was definitely a learning process. With eight players graduated from last year’s playoff team, the Pats have trotted out an inexperienced lineup that’s had to take some lumps.
Monday’s match marked the end of the season’s first half, and the hope is that it paves the way for a better second half.
“I think the first half of the season was a time for us to feel things out – our rotation, people’s strengths and weaknesses,” Baggesen said. “I think the whole team is looking forward to the second half of the season, and I think that’s where we’ll shine, just like we did last year.”
The Pats certainly finished the first half on a high note. They jumped to a 6-1 lead in game one of Monday’s match and never really looked back. Two aces by Michelle Asels and kills by Betsy Heidel and Caitlin White sparked the Pats to an 8-0 run and a 15-3 lead.
The Spartans never got closer than 10 the rest of the way, and the Pats finished strong by winning the last four points. Heidel had two kills in that stretch. Pilgrim won the first game 25-11.
The next two games were tighter, but the Pats rose to the occasion whenever Scituate got too close.
In game two, Scituate led 6-5 but the Pats won eight of the next 12 points to take control. A series of errors by the Pats let Scituate back in and gave the Spartans a 17-15 lead, but an emphatic kill by Heidel put Pilgrim back on track. The Pats won the next six points, thanks to a kill by Megan St. Jacques, an ace from Heidel and three Scituate errors.
The Spartans answered with three straight to get within one, but the Pats got solid serves from Caitlin White and won the next three points on errors to take a 25-20 win.
In game three, the Pats broke a 4-4 tie with seven straight points. Heidel landed a free ball, St. Jacques had a block and Asels delivered an ace to make it 11-4.
Scituate didn’t go away, but the Pats steadily put the game on ice. White had a kill to stop a four-point run and make it 17-14, and the Pats won eight of the next 11 points for the 25-17 win. Heidel had two kills in that run.
One of the biggest keys to success all night was Pilgrim’s serving. The Pats landed six aces and dished out tough serves all night.
“We’re strong on serving,” Baggesen said.
Asels had three of the aces and her tricky left-handed serve was responsible for a several long runs.
“Lefties are a blessing for any team in volleyball because it’s a different perspective for an opponent,” Baggesen said.
While the Pats were happy to get the win Monday, they know there’s still room for improvement as they get set for the second half.
“I think what the team is doing now is making mental errors,” Baggesen said. “It is by no means the athleticism. It’s the mental things. As far as passing is concerned, we’re not quite where we should be, but we’re better than we were. Once the passes are there, the setters are doing exactly what they’re supposed to do.”
Overall, the Pats are just hoping they’re on the right track. They were scheduled to host Narragansett on Wednesday, and they’ll return to action next Wednesday at home against West Warwick.
“They need to find their momentum and work on mental toughness,” Baggesen said. “I think we’ll be competitive.”