KINGSTON – The Coventry High girls’ volleyball team will have a shot at redemption Saturday at 1 p.m. when it makes it second straight appearance in the Division I final.
The Knotty Oakers advanced to the championship match by defeating East Providence in the semifinals Tuesday evening at the University of Rhode Island’s Keaney Gymnasium. The scores were 25-17, 22-25, 25-21 and 25-18.
“We’re pretty lucky to get past East Providence,” said Coventry head coach Leo Bush. “Now our season continues and so does our dream of winning a state title.”
Despite winning the regular season DI-South title last year with a 13-1 record, the Oakers were swept by The Prout School in the finals. This year, Coventry once again won the regular season title (14-0) and will have another chance to capture the DI state championship.
Coventry’s opponent on Saturday will be Ponaganset, who pulled off a surprising upset over Mount St. Charles Academy in the first semifinal match of the evening, 25-22, 25-20, 18-25, 25-21. The Mounties were the favorite to win it all this year after finishing the season undefeated and sweeping Coventry a couple of weeks ago in a non-league match.
The Oakers jumped out to a quick lead against East Providence, thanks in large part to the Townies’ numerous unforced errors. A combination of missed serves, errant passes and hitting errors helped Coventry build a comfortable 17-6 lead in the first game. The final point of the game resulted from E.P.’s sixth service error.
The second game was close throughout, with neither team gaining more than a three-point advantage. Coventry led 22-21, but a couple of hitting errors by the Oakers set up game point for the Townies. Middle hitter Kim Thomas finished the game off for E.P., 25-22, with a kill.
Coventry regained the momentum to start the third game. Back-to-back kills by Alexis Ruest and Samantha Clark gave the team a 7-3 edge. East Providence fought back with a 10-2 run, making the score 13-9 in favor of the Townies.
Coventry once again seized control, largely due to a couple of aces by Vanessa Equitani and several timely hits by Quincie Varin. Clark ended the game when her hit deflected off the block and landed out of bounds.
The Oakers led the fourth set from start to finish, jumping out to leads of 9-4 and 19-10. The Townies were able to string together six straight points, capped by a double block of Equitani by Thomas and Mary Monagle. But Coventry countered, closing out the match with a 6-2 stretch.
Outside hitters Ruest and Varin provided most of the offense for Coventry in the match, displaying a variety of shots that consistently fell out of reach of E.P.’s defenders.
"We had trouble getting the ball to Sam (Clark) in the middle because our passing wasn’t as accurate as we would like,” explained Bush. “But Alexis and Quincie stepped up and made plays. They did a great job of working around East Providence’s block.”
Ruest finished the match with 12 kills and nine digs. Varin collected 10 kills, 12 digs and three aces. Clark contributed eight kills and four blocks.
Ponaganset will present a different challenge than the Oakers faced in East Providence or the team that they expected to face in the finals, Mount St. Charles. The Chieftains have the shortest lineup of the final four teams, but arguably the quickest. Setter Taylor Stevens is considered by many to be the best at her position in the state.
“We’ll have to keep the ball away from their setter and take our chances with their secondary setter,” stated Bush. “We’ll also have to slow down their offense. They love to run a lot of quick plays.”
Saturday’s title match will result in the first state championship for whichever school comes out on top. But for Coventry, it would also mean redemption after last season’s disappointing loss in the finals.