Kelly Harrington has been a teacher at Pilgrim High School for more than a decade, but her time on the volleyball sideline was always spent across town at Toll Gate.
That changes this year, with Harrington taking over the Pilgrim program. The Pats have had some success in recent years, and Harrington is ready to set the stage for even more.
“I think the transition went pretty smoothly,” Harrington said. “I’ve been a teacher here for 13 years so it is surprising to some to see me in a different light, but overall it’s been a good experience and I think we’re all looking forward to the season. The girls have been fantastic.”
Harrington was the Toll Gate coach for two stints, most recently in 2011 and 2012. She led the Titans to a 15-3 mark and a berth in the Division I semifinals in 2007, during her first stint.
The Patriots moved to Division II in 2009 under previous coach Claire Baggesen and had a big 2011 campaign before struggling some last year.
This year, it’s a new start. While the Patriots dropped their first two matches, Harrington is confident that the team can start making some headway.
“I’m expecting a good positive experience, working together as a team and improving every single match,” Harrington said.
The Pats return a few players with varsity experience, led by captains Michelle Asels and Sara Dacey. Asels is the setter while Dacey will play an outside hitter spot.
“The seniors definitely bring experience to the table,” Harrington said. “We count on them to encourage the other players.”
With the captains setting the tone, the Pats will try to jell. They have nine varsity players, so the team is on the small side, but the positive part of that is that everyone will contribute.
“We have a small team of nine, which means everybody has a role on our team,” Harrington said. “We count on all of them to put in their best effort.”
The other seniors are Kalia Thao, Gabbie Demers and Jessica Russo. Thao has never played for Pilgrim before but has a lot of volleyball experience.
“Kalia Thao is a first-year player for Pilgrim and she brings a lot of skill to the team,” Harrington said. “She’s a leader out there on the court.”
The rest of the roster is made up by juniors Colleen Conti, Megan St. Jacques, Tayla Ferreira and Alexa Annotti. St. Jacques has significant varsity experience while the others are getting their first real taste.
Regardless of age and experience, the common thread is that the Pats are working hard.
“They’re all fantastic working on our serve-receive, working on our attack,” Harrington said. “We need to work on our defense overall and transitioning to the correct spot. Just having that effort where we never give up, we go for every ball.”
The Pats opened the regular season last Tuesday against Narragansett, who’s expecting to be one of the top teams in Division II. The Mariners posted a sweep, but the Pats cam away feeling pretty good about the future. They led for much of game one before a late run led to a 25-16 Mariner victory. In game two, they fell behind 5-0 but stayed within striking distance until another late surge.
The never-say-die attitude was on display in game three. Trailing 24-16, the Pats won five straight points with Conti at the service line before Narragansett held off the charge for a 25-21 win.
“I’m very impressed with the overall effort,” Harrington said. “Narragansett brought some strong serves and strong offense. I thought we made a couple of great digs and I thought we served tough as well. I was very proud of the effort.”
The Pats took a step in the right direction in their second game of the season on Friday, taking a game from East Greenwich before losing 3-1.
They’ll host West Warwick tonight at 6:30 p.m., and they’re hoping for another positive move.
“We’re taking things one day at a time,” Harrington said. “I’m not familiar with all of the Division II teams, but I know that the girls are excited about the season. I think you’ll definitely see some wins for Pilgrim this year.”