Year one of the Division I project wasn’t a success in the win column for the Pilgrim boys’ volleyball team. The Pats went just 3-13 a year ago in their inaugural season in the state’s top division.
But a low win total doesn’t mean that the year wasn’t beneficial for the program, and head coach Mike McGiveron is more than excited for his team’s potential to grow into a contender in year two.
Graduation claimed a few of Pilgrim’s top players, but the Pats feel they have quality all over the court thanks to a few returners and the emergence of some swing players and junior varsity players from last year’s team.
Two years removed from winning the Division II championship, there is excitement at Pilgrim.
“The season looks really good,” McGiveron said. “We got better from last year and I think some other teams might have lost some important people. I think we’re going to be a lot more competitive this year.”
The Pats will be without some of their top contributors from last year like Dan Colabella, Chris Fitta, Josh Salinger and Christian White.
Yet, experience is not an issue, with three main varsity players back and a few more who got a taste of the varsity while jumping back and forth from the JV team.
Most of Pilgrim’s players know what it takes to win in D-I.
“I told these guys last year that were coming back, ‘Doing what we did last year is going to help you,’” McGiveron said. “The speed of the game is a lot quicker in D-I than D-II. They know what to expect. My top six or seven guys have seen that.”
Maybe the team’s most important player is senior Phil Nemirow, who played a big role a season ago. He’s a middle hitter who excelled at putting up a block. This year, with that part of his game down, the hitting is coming along.
“Last year he took a big step in terms of blocking,” McGiveron said. “It’s a lot harder to block in D-I. Middle blocking is the toughest thing to do in volleyball. He actually excelled in that last year. Now I’m just trying to make sure he gets his approach and everything hitting-wise right.”
Junior Caleb Fournier served as one of the main hitters for the team last year, and he’ll be back to reprise that role this season. Joining him will be Blake Doelling and Rob Quaine, who are also juniors. Doelling is a standout on the basketball team, while Quaine is the football team’s quarterback. Both of them played a little bit on varsity last year, and they’re showing high-end potential.
“They’re really two juniors on the rise,” McGiveron said. “I could really see them making some kind of all-division teams.”
The setter duties will fall to senior Alec LaBitt, who was on the varsity team last year. He’ll be the primary setter in the team’s 5-1 offense, with senior Tyler Mantaian joining him if the team goes to a 6-2. A third setter is junior Greg Goodinson.
Junior Luke Phaneuf will play some in the front row, and then McGiveron has four others who will be swinging. Sophomore Ethan Schneider and junior Anthony Stevens can help out with the hitting, while sophomores Jeremy Plante and Dan Peladeau will fill in on the back row.
“We got a lot better in terms of quality of player with the youth, from the ninth to the 11th grade standpoint,” McGiveron said. “I do have that solid leadership from the seniors – I only have four – but it’s good to have that.”
Pilgrim’s road to the playoffs won’t be easy, as it is in what appears to be the tougher of the two sub-divisions in Division II. It’s in D-I-South, along with defending state champion Coventry, defending state runner-up South Kingstown, perennial contender North Kingstown and Chariho and Exeter-West Greenwich, also solid programs
“We’re in a tough subdivision so it’s going to be tough,” McGiveron said. “I think NK and Coventry are going to be toward the top. I think we’re going to make a run for their money and see how it goes.”
And regardless of the competition, Pilgrim expects it to go well.
“These guys know that they’ve got to go get to a certain level to make the playoffs,” McGiveron said. “I fully expect to make the playoffs this year. My goal is to try to take one or two games from these top two teams and then try to do the best we can against the rest. Then get to the playoffs and see what happens from there.”
Pilgrim’s first league match will be on Tuesday at home against Coventry at 6:30 p.m. It will travel to North Kingstown next Thursday.