It's often said that passion in athletics among our youths has been lost. With all the distractions that kids have nowadays, such as video games, computers and iPods, the younger generation has been more inclined to sit down and punch keys or work a remote than dedicate themselves to a sport (or sports).
The decline in roster numbers and the empty fields and basketball courts on a daily basis has proven that some of that is true.
But the passion hasn't disappeared completely. There is still that urge to test one's strength to its physical and mental limits among some of our youths.
That was witnessed firsthand by yours truly at URI's Keaney Gymnasium on Saturday. In back-to-back volleyball state championship matches, four high school teams showed the true meaning of teamwork and the passion to excel, perhaps the most important benefit from athletics.
The afternoon began with Coventry barely holding off Ponaganset to capture the Division I crown. The Knotty Oakers dominated their rivals throughout the season, losing just three games out of 45 while posting a 14-0 record in I-South.
Except for the middle game, a 25-17 win by the Oakers, the other four games were close in Saturday's final. They were close because both teams refused to back down despite the pressure of winning on the sport's biggest stage.
Kudos to the Chieftains for never showing signs of weakness against the favored Oakers. I lost count how many times Ponaganset was able to return a smashing return by their opponent or came up with a key block. Ponaganset went in as a No. 3 seed from I-North and was attempting its second straight upset of the tourney. Just a few days earlier, the Chieftains shocked I-North's previously-unbeaten squad, Mount St. Charles Academy, 3-1.
“I am really proud of them and really proud of our program,” said PHS coach Sue Stevens.
She should be. It was a heckuva match that kept the fans entertained from start to finish.
In the second match of the doubleheader, again it was the No. 1 seed that was able to come out on top as unbeaten Exeter/West Greenwich had to withstand a very-determined Cumberland squad, 3-2, to earn its second straight crown.
The intensity of the third-seeded Clippers in the match was nearly identical to that of the Chieftains. On paper, the Scarlet Knights were the overwhelming favorite. Prior to the tournament, no team in the league had taken them to the limit. On their way to a 14-0 mark in II-South, Exeter/West Greenwich lost just two games in 45 tries and had a dozen shutouts.
Cumberland had the Scarlet Knights against the ropes with an early 2-1 lead. Although it wasn't easy, Exeter/West Greenwich showed why its the best of the best by managing to eke out the victory, winning the last two games by a combined eight points.
“I didn't know a whole heck of a lot to expect, but that's a great team on the other side,” said E/WG coach Josh Bednarczych. “They made us earn every point.”
In 10-plus years of covering high school volleyball, these two matches rank at the top. Passion was certainly alive down in South Kingstown.
The victory by Mike Marsella of Chariho Regional at the New England Championships this past Saturday at Ponaganset continues a strong presence by R.I. runners at the regional meet. Marsella becomes the second straight champion and third in the last four years. In last year's event, former Cranston West all-stater Robert Allen captured the title and in 2009 East Greenwich's Mark Feigen was the first across the line. Feigen's win led a 1-2-3 finish by Rhody with Westerly great Andrew Springer taking second and E.G.'s Nick Ross finishing third.
The Ocean State has had only six other individual boys' winners in the 77-year history of the New England's. Those champions are Louis Lepry of La Salle (1946), John Murphy of Portsmouth Abbey (1975), Darren Rojas of Bishop Hendricken (1978), Mike Pieroni of Rogers (1984) and Wayne Newsom of Hope (1989).
The area has had a handful of top finishes. Cumberland's Daryl Simoneau was second in 1978 and third in 1979. The Clippers' Patrick Gillooly was third in 1981 and the Blue and White's Bob Carew (1982) and Brian Thibodeau (1983) were runner-up finishers the next two years. Former St. Raphael standout Chris Magill was the last local finisher in the top three, placing second in 1989.
In Saturday's race, Cumberland junior Trevor Crawley had the best placement among our local contingent. Crawley placed 57th in the field of 267 runners with a time of 16:46. He was the eighth R.I. finisher. Mount St. Charles junior Patrick Butler was 99th overall with a 17:09 clocking.
Other area finishers at the New England's were Cumberland's Matt Sutcliffe (149th, 17:29) and St. Raphael's Sam Reinhardt (192nd, 17:47).