After a fast start to the season, and having the daunting task of facing three tough opponents in a week, it seemed as though the Pilgrim volleyball team’s perfect run had a chance of coming to an end on Thursday.
Unfortunately for their opponents, the Pats had no intention of slowing down.
Pilgrim fell behind in every game of their match against Scituate, but hung tough and rallied each time on their way to a 3-0 sweep. The win keeps Pilgrim undefeated with a 5-0 league record.
“It’s tough,” coach Mike McGiveron said. “This is our third match in three days, and we played two five-game matches before this. If we can play through this and all the tiredness, I think we’ll be alright. And that’s a good team over there. They’re very disciplined, they have good defense, but we just stuck it out and pulled out the win.”
The Pats began the week with a 3-0 record, and knew they had a challenge ahead of them with games against West Warwick, Cranston East and Scituate. The Pats won their first two matches, but had to go to 5 games to do so in each. That made their game against Scituate look even tougher.
Early on, it was. Pilgrim fell behind early in game one, trailing by a score of 10-4 at one point.
Then the tide turned.
Over the next 21 points, Pilgrim outscored Scituate 16-5 to take a 20-15 lead. Sean St. Jacques had a kill and three aces in a four-point burst, and the Patriots twice won five points in a row. After Scituate won three points to cut the Pilgrim lead to 20-18, Pilgrim scored five unanswered points to win the game. St. Jacques began the run with a kill, and Christian White followed with a block. After a hitting error by Scituate, John Zuffoletti ended the game with two aces.
“I have a lot of senior leadership on this team, and that’s what really helps us out in those situations,” McGiveron said. “If I have a young team, it’s a lot harder to really pick up the focus. But I’ve got three guys here who have been playing with me for three years, and then they help out the other guys. It’s just a confidence thing. I give them confidence. There’s never a point where I don’t think they can do anything. They know that.”
Despite the dramatic game one win, the momentum didn’t initially carry over. Each team traded points early in game two, but Scituate eventually built a 12-8 lead. The Pats didn’t turn the tide completely in this game, but then again, they didn’t have to. Both teams were evenly matched, and the Pats stayed close before gaining a 19-18 lead, their first since the early part of the game.
Down the stretch, Pilgrim came up big. Scituate had game point three times, but Pilgrim came up with a gutsy effort to keep the game alive each time. Trailing 26-25, Dan Colabella pushed the ball to an open space to tie the game. Two kills by St. Jacques gave Pilgrim the 28-26 win.
“Volleyball is momentum,” said McGiveron. “It should define the word in the dictionary. It’s all about momentum. I tell these guys, it’s always about the next play, no matter what the score is.”
The Pats used that philosophy again in game three. After another back and forth match-up, Pilgrim found themselves in a five-point deficit, behind 20-15.
Once again, Pilgrim found a way to escape defeat. The Patriots went on a six-point run, thanks to kills by St. Jacques, Colabella and Zuffoletti, and an ace by White. Scituate came back to tie the game at 25, but an error gave Pilgrim a one-point lead, and St. Jacques finished it off with yet another kill.
St. Jacques led the Pats with 15 kills and 15 digs. Zuffoletti chipped in with 11 kills and five blocks. Matt McCabe finished the game with 9 kills and 2 blocks.
While St. Jacques and Zuffoletti had their typical strong games, the Patriots relied on contributions from everyone.
“I’ve got Matt McCabe, who’s a first-year player,” McGiveron said. “He’s never played volleyball before and you wouldn’t know it. My middles are the key. I was able to shift Sean outside because of my confidence in Matt McCabe and Dan Colabella. They’ve proved to this point that they’re very, very good. As long as we keep getting hands on balls, I think we’ll be alright.”
Serving was also a key for the Pats. They finished with 11 aces and often used strong serves to spark runs.
“I’ve got four high-quality serves all-around and then even the two who sub in are very strong,” said McGiveron. “Zuffoletti and Sean have very good jump serves. Ferguson does a jump float that catches people off guard. Christian has this very big swooping curve. The unique part about it is they’re all different serves, and that’s what I think helps. If you have the same serve, the defense can gear to that one serve. We have all different serves, and that’s one of our strengths. We’re serving at such a high percentage and that can be deadly.”
Pilgrim’s difficult stretch isn’t over yet. The Pats will visit fellow unbeaten Cranston West on Tuesday at 6:30 pm.
“I’m assuming it’s going to be two 5-0 teams going into that. It’s going to be at their place, but we have experience,” said McGiveron. “We’ve beaten two good teams on the road. We beat Exeter and we beat Cranston East, a Division I team, on the road last night. We think we can beat anybody. All these kids know that, and that’s the best part about this.”