Coming into Thursday, eight of the Pilgrim volleyball team’s 12 matches this season had gone to at least four games. That has bred a little extra toughness for the Patriots, and they needed it Thursday in a match that wasn’t supposed to be so close.
Facing one-win Warwick Vets – whom Pilgrim swept early in the season – the Pats dropped game one to an improved Hurricanes team and gave up 14 consecutive points to fall behind in game two. But the Pats delivered a comeback win in that second game, then took control in the next two, winning 25-13 and 25-10 to clinch the match.
“None of our matches are going to be easy so we need to stay mentally tough the entire night,” said Pilgrim head coach Kelly Harrington. “Vets is much improved since the beginning of the season and we are too. It was a great battle. I thought Vets played well, and we played well. The girls did a nice job of staying strong.”
Pilgrim improved to 7-6 in league play while Vets fell to 1-12. The ’Canes were disappointed that they couldn’t steal an upset victory, but the team’s play was better than it’s been in a tough last few weeks.
“They did everything they were supposed to do today,” said Vets head coach Jean McGarry. “Playing a team like that the way we did, I’m proud of the girls. They stuck with it.”
In the early going, it looked like the ’Canes might really have something to celebrate. Trailing by a point early in game one, they won 15 of 18 points to jump in front 20-9. Pilgrim came back with a strong run of its own, winning 11 of 13, but Vets regrouped. A service error by Pilgrim put Vets up 23-20. Elizabeth Iadevaia then landed a push to the back line. After a Pilgrim point, Vets clinched the victory with a kill by Alyssa McCracken.
“Game one, we seemed to just be out of sync – our passes were off, we were a little bit late getting to the ball,” Harrington said. “And Vets played really good defense. We had trouble putting the ball away.”
Pilgrim responded in game two, but the momentum swings and long runs that marked the first game would continue. After the Pats jumped in front 14-4, a hitting error made it 14-5 and sent Iadevaia to the service line. She didn’t leave until Vets was ahead 18-14 thanks to 14 consecutive points. Iadevaia three aces in the burst while McCracken and Rebecca Beer had kills.
“She had a fantastic run,” McGarry said of Iadevaia.
Kalia Thao stopped the bleeding with a kill and followed with an ace, but Vets was still looking good. A service error plus a tip and a kill by Jessica Tyree put Vets ahead 21-16.
Staring down the possibility of a 2-0 deficit, Pilgrim buckled down.
“The message was to not give up,” Harrington said. “We needed to fight every point and stay strong – come together, make a pass and stay aggressive.”
Colleen Conti landed a kill to make it 21-17 and Vets committed four straight errors to let Pilgrim tie it. After trading points, Pilgrim took a 24-23 lead on a Vets service error and won the game on an ace by Conti.
“We talk about keeping our effort and our intensity level throughout the entire match, no matter what happens,” Harrington said. “We struggle at times, but we battle through every point until the end.”
Had Vets won game two, things might have been different, but Pilgrim instead rode momentum to a pair of easy wins in the third and fourth games. Megan St. Jacques had three kills and three aces to spark a 25-13 win in game three. In game four, Thao served up two aces as part of a 10-point burst. Vets never got closer than 10 the rest of the way.
“It was a battle,” Harrington said. “We’ve been going four with most teams. We won in five against West Warwick the other night. We’re learning how to stay competitive throughout the whole match.”
Vets tried to match the competitive fire, but the steady play that marked the first two games was tough to sustain.
“Our serving hurt us in the last couple of games, where in the first couple of games, we had some awesome serving,” McGarry said. “We were very consistent. If you start to lose that, that’s a big part of the game.”
Still, the game represented a step forward for the ’Canes, who are hoping for some positives as they hit the stretch run.
“There were a lot of good things happening that we’ve been trying to do all year, like getting our back row players to hit and getting our front row players to block and keep the ball up. I’m pleased with what I saw today. I think we could have come out with it, but I think it would have taken a little more than what the girls had in them. They gave it everything they had.”
Vets is back in action on Wednesday at 6 p.m. when it hosts Exeter/West Greenwich. Pilgrim will visit Cranston East on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m., with an eye on solidifying its status as a playoff contender.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs and maybe win that first playoff match,” Harrington said.