The Pilgrim volleyball team is steadily improving as it adjusts to life in Division I. The Patriots were happy they had something to show for that improvement on Tuesday night.
Hosting a struggling La Salle team, the Pats took care of business with the kind of steady effort they’ve been looking for and swept the Rams 25-9, 25-10 and 25-14. The win improved Pilgrim to 2-5 in league play.
“We played well,” said Pilgrim head coach Mike McGiveron. “It was consistent, and that’s the big thing. That’s what I’ve been preaching.”
Pilgrim, the reigning Division II champions, lost five of its first six league matches as it made the jump to Division I this season. Its only win came against Exeter/West Greenwich, another team that’s up from D-II.
Throughout those first six, the Pats flashed the potential to compete with the state’s top teams but also got plenty of lessons in what needs to improve.
Consistency topped the list.
“In some of these matches, it’s been like a light switch,” McGiveron said. “We lose a game 25-10 against East Providence and then we win the next one – it shouldn’t go like that. They know it. It’s a focus thing, not a physical thing. They did well with it tonight.”
La Salle was winless coming into Tuesday’s match, and the Pats quickly seized their opportunity to establish control. A kill and a block by Josh Salinger touched off a run of seven straight points early in game one. And the Pats did all of it themselves – without a La Salle error. Dan Colabella landed two aces, Phil Nemirow had two blocks and Salinger notched another block as the Pats turned a 6-3 lead into a 13-3 cushion.
The blocking would be a sign of things to come. Colabella, Nemirow and Salinger combined for 19 blocks on the night.
“That’s something we’ve been doing well all year,” McGiveron said. “The middles – Phil Nemirow and Dan Colabella – have done a great job blocking this year. They’ve been getting middle, outside, everywhere, which is good. Against these teams, you can’t let them just blast balls on you. You’ve got to at least get a hand on it.”
The Pats went on another run later in game one, riding two more blocks from Colabella and an ace from Nemirow to go up 23-7. Two La Salle errors clinched the victory.
In game two, the Pats showed off another area of improvement. With his team leading 4-1, Wendall Thao served up five consecutive aces as the Pats built a 9-1 lead and forced a La Salle timeout.
“That’s what we need is stuff like that,” McGiveron said of the strong service. “We can’t just be putting balls over serve-wise. We need to be aggressive to come back and take that ball back, get a run going of our own. At the beginning of the year, we were kind of just putting them over, and that doesn’t work in D-I. We’ve been improving and you can see the difference.”
The big early lead only grew. An ace by Alec Labitt powered a run of five straight, and two kills by Christian White got another five-point run going. Nemirow had a block and a kill on back-to-back points to put the Pats up 23-7 and they picked up their final two points on La Salle service errors.
It was more of the same in the third game. The Pats raced to an 8-1 lead on the strength of two Colabella blocks and kills by White and Nemirow. The Rams stayed within striking distance from there, but the Pats eventually stretched the seven-point cushion. With the score 19-12, Colabella recorded a block and White landed a kill. After a La Salle point, Nemirow put down a kill to make it 22-13. Errors by the Rams gave Pilgrim the match-clinching points.
“Any win’s a good win,” McGiveron said. “We did some good things. We were focused on passing. We haven’t been passing all that well. They’ve been getting better. That’s what creates the inconsistency is our passing. Today was good.”
Colabella had seven kills and 10 blocks to lead the charge for Pilgrim. Nemirow added five kills and five blocks, while Salinger posted four kills and four blocks. White added six kills and two aces while Labitt recorded 27 assists.
All in all, it was a step in the right direction as the Pats continue to get acclimated to Division I. It hasn’t been easy but the team has been up to the challenge. In addition, the junior varsity team is unbeaten in its D-I slate, a great sign for the future.
“It’s a good, positive atmosphere,” McGiveron said. “No one was ever like, ‘Oh, why are we going up to D-I?’ This team accepts challenges, moves on and sees what they can do.”
The Pats hope to use Tuesday’s victory as a jump start. Their next four matches are against teams that are close to them in the standings – Cranston East, Mount St. Charles, Bishop Hendricken and Barrington – teams the Pats need to beat if they’re going to make some noise.
“We know where we have to get to,” McGiveron said. “They’ve competed with some of the teams. Now it’s just really focusing in 100 percent of the time. It’s a good win to go into Thursday. Cranston East is a good team. We play them here and we always like to protect home court. It should be a good match.”
The match with Cranston East is slated for tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Pilgrim. The Pats will travel to Mount St. Charles on Tuesday before visiting Hendricken next Thursday.