It wasn’t the best start and it wasn’t the worst start.
For the young Pilgrim volleyball team, it was just an important first step.
The Pats traveled to Narragansett on Tuesday for their season opener and hung tough before getting swept by the Mariners. While they would have liked to open the new season with a win, they did some good things, and most importantly, they learned what needs to happen next.
“We did a lot of good things,” said head coach Claire Baggesen. “We need to now be able to work on those things that weren’t as good as we thought. We have to get back in the gym and go to work.”
The Pats are coming off a 10-4 season, the program’s best since 2003. But where last year’s team could dive right in with a full cast of returning players, the current Pats are still looking for their comfort zone. Only two starters return, and the rest of the lineup is mostly new to the varsity court.
From that perspective, Tuesday’s opener was in line with what Baggesen expected. The Pats flashed their potential throughout, especially in game two, where they rallied from a nine-point deficit to tie the game at 23-23. Ultimately they lost that game 25-23. Coupled with a 25-16 loss in game one and a 25-15 loss in game two, that was the recipe for a Narragansett sweep.
“Now that we’re back full speed, in every gym, with everybody here, we can really go to work,” Baggesen said. “We just have to work out a few kinks.”
The Pats didn’t show much in the way of jitters in game one, riding kills from Betsy Heidel, Megan St. Jacques and Jessica Russo and an ace from Michelle Asels to a 4-3 lead. They stayed close for the next five points until Narragansett won five straight to take control. Gabrielle Leclerc delivered two kills and Madeleine Cote had two aces to power the burst.
That stretch proved to be the difference. The Pats got within three soon after but never closer. A late four-point run by the Mariners put the game on ice.
In the second game, the Pats stumbled out of the gate as Leclerc stepped to the service line and landed four aces to spark a 6-0 start. Later, the Mariners won seven of eight points to go up 16-6.
At that point, it looked like the Pats might really be in trouble. Instead, they steadily responded with their best volleyball of the night, winning nine of the next 11 points to get within three. Heidel had three kills in that span.
After Narragansett went back up by four at 20-16, the Pats won the next two points on a service error and an ace by Melissa Conti to make it 20-18.
The Mariners came back with two straight, but again the Pats responded. A Heidel kill and two hitting errors made it 22-21. Pilgrim then tied the game when Narragansett couldn’t get a return after a hit by Caitlin White.
“It’s anybody’s game, but when you find your momentum, it really does come together,” Baggesen said. “They did that.”
Hannah Maymon put Narragansett in front 23-22 before Pilgrim tied it one more time on a tip by St. Jacques. But that was the end of the comeback trail. A service error gave Narragansett game point and Cote clinched the victory with a kill.
Though the comeback wasn’t completed, Baggesen hopes the Pats will use it as a springboard.
“They now have something as a focal point to use for future games,” Baggesen said. “It’s just working every single day in order for us to overcome.”
As for Tuesday’s game, the game two comeback wasn’t a springboard for game three. Pilgrim got an ace from Heidel and a kill by White to take a 3-2 lead, but after three straight points by Narragansett, the Pats never led again.
The Mariners won 11 of the next 16 points on their way to the 25-15 victory.
“We found our momentum a little bit late, but we’re getting it,” Baggesen said. “We started to play better in the second game and we were hoping to use that as a springboard in the third, but the fact is that momentum’s got to be working.”
Heidel led the Pats with nine kills and five blocks while White added five kills. Maymon led the Mariners with nine kills.
The Pats will return to action tonight at 6:30 p.m. for their first home game of the year. They’ll host East Greenwich, who swept Warwick Vets on Tuesday.
“Athleticism is not the issue,” Baggesen said. “It’s the mental, in any sport. We’ll be back in there, working on the minor tweaks and needless to say, the mental toughness.”