Eliminated from playoff contention after losing four of its previous five matches, the Pilgrim boys’ volleyball team played pressure-free volleyball on Tuesday night.
Celebrating Senior Night and playing winless Exeter-West Greenwich, the Pats easily swept the Scarlet Knights 3-0 with game wins of 25-15, 25-20 and 25-15.
It was nice to get back in the win column before the season was over, and it was nice to celebrate the team’s four seniors – Phil Nemirow, Alec Labitt, Tyler Mantaian and Caleb Fournier – who helped deliver a Division II championship two years earlier and helped the Pats transition into a legitimate Division I program the past two seasons.
“The seniors on this team won state championships,” said Pilgrim head coach Mike McGiveron. “There’s nothing to be down about. They knew it was going to be tough coming in.”
Labitt worked as the team’s setter for the first two games Tuesday before the Pats had some fun by switching Mantaian into the role for game three. They each racked up assists, while Mantaian also had four kills. Fournier had nine kills, while Nemirow had seven kills, four aces and three blocks.
The match was rarely close except for game two, in which EWG took a lead as late as 18-17 before the Pats won eight of the final 10 points to pull away.
Pilgrim is now 6-9 in its second year in D-I. EWG dropped to 0-15. The Pats have defeated three playoff-bound teams this season after beating none in last year’s three-win campaign.
“It’s on the up and up,” McGiveron said. “We only won three last year. We could win six or seven this year. I’ve got a really good group coming in next year.”
In the first game against EWG, the score was tied at 11 before the Pats used a 4-0 burst to take control. Labitt faked a set and pushed the ball into an open spot for the first point, and Blake Doelling added a kill after that. EWG committed an error on the next point, and Nemirow followed with a kill to make it 15-11.
While the Knights got back within 16-13, Pilgrim cruised from there. Doelling had one of his three aces, Rob Quaine had two kills and the Pats committed only one error the rest of the game. The result was the 10-point victory.
“We knew we were out of (the playoffs),” McGiveron said. “The attitude wasn’t any different. Overall, as long as these guys come out here and have fun, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Game two was more of a struggle, as Pilgrim led by as many as five, but started committing a slew of errors in the middle portion of the game. They went from leading 16-11 to trailing 18-17 thanks to five errors.
Yet, they were still able to flip the switch before it was too late. Fournier had a kill and an ace, and after a service error, Nemirow had a kill and Labitt had an ace to make it 21-19 in favor of Pilgrim. A block from Nemirow continued the surge, and Mantaian found an open spot on the next point. The Pats didn’t let up until they’d won the game and taken a 2-0 lead.
“I bet you it would have been different if we were in the playoff hunt, but the last couple of matches we haven’t played as well as we could,” McGiveron said.
Game three was easier, with Pilgrim taking a 6-1 lead and never trailing. A hitting error brought EWG within 14-10, but the Knights never got that close again. Mantaian won a net battle, and Quaine had consecutive aces to make it 17-10. Nemirow came on late in the game, picking up two kills to finish the job.
To go with the performance of the four seniors, juniors Doelling and Quaine also were big contributors. Doelling had nine kills and Quaine had five kills and three aces.
Those two will be back next season for the third phase of Pilgrim’s foray into Division I.
“Now we almost expect to be in it,” McGiveron said. “It’s a progressive thing. You don’t build a Division I volleyball championship in two years. It takes years and years and years to build a culture and have more and more guys come out every year, develop them to be where you want to be.”
Year two isn’t quite over yet, though, as the Pats will play playoff-bound Chariho today on the road at 6:30 p.m. The Chargers beat Pilgrim 3-0 earlier in the season.
That will be the final send-off for the team’s seniors.
“Send these guys out on a good note, hopefully they do some good things,” McGiveron said. “Those four guys, I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’re all very smart kids, they’re all moving on to great things after this.”