The Warwick Vets volleyball team won three out of four matches in early May, including a 3-2 stunner over first-place Tolman. Unfortunately for the ’Canes, that was not the beginning of a surge. Vets lost its next five to fall out of playoff contention.
But on Thursday, the ’Canes could at least celebrate a strong finish. Vets swept Toll Gate 25-11, 25-16 and 25-19 in the season finale for both teams. Vets closed out the year at 5-13, while Toll Gate finished 0-18.
“It’s always good to finish it off with a win, especially for these seniors,” said Vets head coach Brendan Friel. “Junior year, they only had one win. We didn’t exactly have the year we wanted this year but at least we’re ending it on a positive note.”
While Toll Gate would have liked to hit a similar note, the Titans still found the positives in a tough season. With low numbers, little experience and no home court thanks to water damage in their gym, they stuck with it. They also picked up a non-league victory over Mt. Hope last week.
“We had a group of young men who went out every day and played with great intensity, great spirit, played as a team and never gave up,” said Toll Gate coach Claire Baggesen. “That alone is any coach’s dream. We don’t measure our success by the wins and losses, although everybody else does. They truly have played as a team. They learned a lot and they overcame quite a bit.”
The Titans hung tough again in Thursday’s finale, but Vets always had a little more, using big runs in game two and game three to put the Titans away.
After a steady 25-11 victory in game one, Vets jumped to a 10-4 lead in game two but couldn’t put it on cruise control. Toll Gate got a hitting error and pair of aces from Matt Davis to get within three. Later, a block by Chris Durand made it a two-point game at 13-11.
But Vets gathered itself. A hitting error pushed the lead back to three and touched off a run of six straight points. Slawomir Hermanowski had two kills, Trevor Hassell had one and Will Remak landed an ace.
After a Toll Gate point made it 19-12, Vets won five more in a row, sparked by kills from Hermanowski, Hassell and Pepe Phanhsena. That made it 24-12. The Titans stayed alive thanks to a tip by Jose Javier and five straight Vets errors, but the ’Canes finished off the victory with a Hermanowski kill.
In game three, the ’Canes needed an even bigger run. A push to an open spot by Sal Bustillo gave Toll Gate a 3-2 lead, and the Titans stayed in front from there. A kill by Javier made it 7-4 before the Titans got two kills from Faraz Siddiaqi to power a four point burst that made it 12-8.
For Vets, a deficit like that was nothing new. Inconsistencies cost the team in most of its matches. The key this time was to not let the deficit grow.
“Against a team like Toll Gate, when we go down that slope, we can ride it out and get back on the up slope,” Friel said. “We didn’t have that opportunity against a lot of other teams. We would start coming up again but the gap was too big.”
The ’Canes seized their opportunity against the Titans. Kills by Hermanowski and Christiano Ourique gave Vets a 16-15 lead, its first since the score was 2-1. The Titans continued to hang around, but Vets saved its best volleyball of the night for last. With Ourique serving, Vets won six consecutive points, all on aces or attacks. Ourique tallied three aces, Remak had two kills and Hassell had one.
That burst put Vets up 24-17. Two straight errors kept Toll Gate in it, but the ’Canes finished the job with a kill from Remak.
“That third game kind of summarizes the whole season,” Friel said. “We had inconsistencies but we could play pretty well when we were at our best.”
Though the ’Canes missed out on the playoffs, the season was a step forward for a program that won just a single match last year.
“Last year, we had a lot of question marks at the end,” Friel said. “I feel like some of those were answered this year and I’m hoping we can just continue the momentum.”
Toll Gate will look for more success, while remembering what it took to stick with it in a difficult season.
“I think a foundation has definitely been established,” Baggesen said. “They showed what a team is all about. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They were up against no gym, we had adversity right from the beginning. It never kept them down. They kept playing and kept fighting and fighting.”