WOONSOCKET – What is an appropriate slogan for the 2011 Mount St. Charles girls’ volleyball teams?
“Keep the good times rolling” seems applicable, given that the Mounties under the careful watch and observation of head coach Josh D’Abate have blossomed into a perennial championship contender. Standing at 13-0 in Division I-North with one regular season game remaining – tonight at home vs. La Salle – this Mount team is following in the footsteps of its decorated predecessors (MSC has posted a whopping 65-10 regular-season record since 2007, winning the Div. II championship in 2009).
Upon close examination, “Give me a chance, coach” or “My time is now” seem to fall in line with what’s taking place atop the hill on Logee Street these days. The Mounties are in the midst of yet another title run due to a host of fresh faces entrusted with replacing a core that was instrumental in MSC’s rise to the top.
D’Abate knows he’s coaching from a position of strength. Not every high school program, be it public or private, can handle losing five key players due to graduation –among the notables being Maria Saia and Tessa Jacobs – and move forward like nothing happened. Yet while the newcomers might be new to the varsity way of life, by no means are they complete strangers to their coach.
At this time last season, the Mounties were on their way to capturing the junior varsity states. Starring on that team were Kim D’Alessandro, Lindsey Morin, Erin Potter, Meaghan Walsh and Kelsey Gainor, all of whom were sophomores. Now they’re all juniors and taking full advantage of the opportunity presented to them.
In other words, the Mounties aren’t skipping a beat.
“As sophomores those girls could have played on a lot of varsity teams. Last year, we just happened to have a good group of seniors and juniors so there wasn’t any room for them to play,” said D’Abate about his program’s ability to stockpile talent. “Once given the opportunity, they have really risen to that challenge and saying ‘OK, we’re a good team. We’re good players, so lets put it all together.’
“It’s been fun to watch them compete,” D’Abate went on. “They play without any fear, which is really uncommon for a group of underclassmen. Usually underclassmen don’t want to make mistakes because they don’t want to upset the seniors, coaches or parents.”
Of the aforementioned group, D’Abate has been most pleased with the rapid development of D’Alessandro, who was asked to replace Saia at middle blocker.
“Kim is a very quiet player so I wasn’t sure how she would handle playing against bigger competition, but she’s been a real pleasant surprise,” the coach pointed out. “She’s done a lot of nice things and has come a long way from where she was last year to become one of our starters this year.”
The fresh faces joined a core that includes six-footers Kelsey Lace and Danielle Lippacher, both seniors. Junior Carissa Gould is also a year wiser after seeing significant time as a sophomore.
“Kelsey and Danielle are usually the first two girls to walk into the gym. You get that reaction that ‘Wow, they’ve got a big team,’” D’Abate said. “To have that luxury of two players who control the net and kind of do what they want, it makes it easier for our team to say, ‘OK, lets pass the ball and give them a chance.’”
After tonight the Mounties, who have dropped only four games this season, will set their sights on the playoffs. Their reward for winning the division is a bye in the preliminaries. Mount will host a quarterfinal-round contest on Friday, Nov. 4. Should D’Abate’s club take care of business, it’s then off to URI’s Keaney Gymnasium for the semifinals, on tap for Tuesday, Nov. 8. Mount’s season came to an abrupt in the semis a year ago, dropping a five-set heartbreaker to The Prout School, which went on to defeat Coventry to capture the championship for a second straight season.
The finals are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 12, also at Keaney.
Asked to provide a synopsis of the Division I playoff field, D’Abate offered, “We played [fellow unbeaten] Coventry in a non-leaguer a week ago. Given that both teams were 11-0 at the time, it was kind of an important game. Obviously I liked the way we played against them [Mount won three games to none], but they’re a team you need to look out for. Then you look at Prout. They’re young and solid just like us. East Providence and Ponaganset have challenged us a lot all year.”
That said, D’Abate is more interested in seeing how his team fares more than anything. For many, this represents their first playoff rodeo on the varsity stage.
“This team has so much fun that I don’t even know if they realize where they are in the season. I think they understand that they’re a good team and have a goal of winning a championship, but I don’t know if our past success really dictates what they do,” said D’Abate. “[The playoffs] are going to be interesting and I’m looking forward to see our team progress to the next level.”
The Mounties will conduct “Senior Day” festivities following Thursday’s match. Among those recognized will be Lace, Lippacher, Jessie Connaughton and Meghan Reilly.