WOONSOCKET – Josh D'Abate's resume as the girls' head volleyball coach at Mount St. Charles is ridiculously impressive.
What's flabbergasting, downright astonishing, is how he became one in the first place.
He refuses to offer his age, but admits he's an “early 30-something” who graduated from Smithfield High School in the “mid-1990s.” He never took part in any JV or varsity sport while a Sentinel, and never picked up a volleyball, excepting perhaps in gym class, until long after his 17th birthday.
(Again, he didn't divulge when).
“I didn't start playing until then,” he laughed. “The knock on volleyball, and I was a believer, too, is that at lot of guys think it's a girls-only sport. My next-door neighbor had been playing in a rec league at St. Philip's School (in his hometown), and I told him what I thought. He said, 'What? You think it's just for gals?' I just said, 'You're playing. Why bother?'”
To avenge his buddy's comments, he challenged D'Abate “the naysayer” to a game of one-on-one basketball in his driveway.
“If I lost, I had to join his rec league at St. Philip's,” D'Abate chuckled again. “I did, so I signed up, but I fell in love with it. I was hooked from the very beginning. I couldn't get enough. Part of it was the people I met; I developed some great relationships with the people I was playing with, and I loved the competitive nature of it.
“They say soccer is the beautiful game. Not to me. I say this is the true beautiful sport, and nobody's going to tell me otherwise. I got into volleyball on a bet; that's the God's honest truth.”
Over the past four years, the hard-nosed D'Abate has led the female Mounties to three consecutive Division I-North championships, not to mention a Division II-North and subsequent state crown back in 2009. Since 2010, he's propelled his contingent to a perfect 38-0 record in I-North, and they've suffered only two losses in that span, both to non-league foes.
That same year, 2010, his club finished unbeaten in league regular-season play (16-0), and did the same the following year before sustaining a “mere” 14-2 mark last fall. That adds up to an astonishing 46-2 record in three girls' campaigns.
The lone defeats came to always-solid Prout and two-time defending Rhode Island D-I champion Coventry, which eked out a 3-2 triumph over the Mount in the state semifinals last November.
The natural question for D'Abate was “How the heck do you do it?”
“I think we've had a lot of kids who want to work hard, and that helps, but I also think it's the philosophy we try to teach,” he stated. “We tell them it's not just about technique, but the thought behind what we're trying to get across.
“Our enrollment is very small compared to a lot of other schools in the state. We're not going to get the six-foot girls or 6-4, 6-5 guys (he's led his males since 2002); our kids are very average in height, so we try to teach them to do the right things in practice. If we get them to understand the mental aspects, hopefully, the physical aspects will take care of themselves.
“The whole point is, if we make fewer mistakes in match because we're more mentally prepared, the wins will come.”
His coaching career started as an assistant for former MSC head coach Craig Letourneau in 2001 (with the boys).
“I helped Craig, a friend of mine, during the summertime at Mount, and then the job opened up at North Smithfield, so I grabbed it,” he noted. “Ironically, Jillian Bitee (the current girls' chief with the Northmen) was one of the first girls I coached. When Craig left (MSC to become the head coach at Rhode Island College), I started coaching the boys.”
He took over the girls' position in 2003.
“Again, I attribute our success to our philosophy,” D'Abate explained. “My assistant, Paul Gould (the father of All-State Division I selection at setter Carissa Gould, a 2012 Mount grad), has helped me grow as a coach. When I was younger, I was more concerned with the offensive side of the ball, but he taught me that defense is where your focus should be. He always told me that phase of the game is what will bring you the most success.
“I've been blessed throughout my life to have extremely knowledgeable people teach me things I hadn't studied,” he continued. “They've helped me not just as a coach but a person. Everything I teach, we teach, has to do with being more prepared than the other team. It takes a ton of work, but the kids we have, they enjoy doing it. They want to be at the best they can be.”
D'Abate refuses to say if he can take this current group of Mounties to the “promised land” (i.e. the state title), but he does know preparation won't be an issue.
“We lost a lot of good players (to graduation), and it's going to take a ton of work to get back to where we want to be,” he admitted. “Carissa was our setter, and she's now playing at Bryant. We also don't have Meaghan Walsh (an outside hitter who snared first-team All-State laurels), or Kim D'Alessandro (first-team All-Division, second-team All-State middle blocker), or Kelsey Gainor (second-team All-Division middle hitter).”
He also said “So long” to All-State second-team libero (defensive specialist) Lindsey Morin, and outside hitter Erin Potter.
On Tuesday afternoon, D'Abate's youngsters battled North Attleboro (led by pal and North Smithfield boys' coach Jeff Crins) in a scrimmage, and dropped all four games.
“We had to play without two of our starters; they're both out with concussions,” he said of junior Katherine Machione (who was hurt in the team's annual Red & White Scrimmage) and classmate Kara Dore (who sustained it in Monday's practice). “Katherine should be back sometime next week, and Kara will be out for a couple. They're both middle blockers, but they're going to be fine.”
He nevertheless is excited about his squad's prognosis for another super season. He indicated he has two starters returning, including senior co-captains Marissa Lahousse and Amy Schmitt (both outside hitters), and that sophomore Julia Rein hits “a very heavy ball.”
She should battle for one of the middle blocker spots.
“I'd probably say that a junior, Bernadette Charland, will have the most difficult job, as she'll have to fill Carissa's shoes (at setter), but I really like the progress she's made the last couple of weeks,” he claimed. “I'm excited about that. We also have Julia, and (junior) Jordan McCoomb has played well as our defensive specialist (a.k.a. libero).
“Right now, everything is up in the air,” he added. “I have no idea who I'm going to start yet. It's going to come down to how the girls practice, and who shows the most effort, as well as the mental and physical execution of our game plan.
“I don't even know what kind of offense we'll run. We're looking at a 5-1, but who knows? It all depends on what will be the most effective. For our kids, it could change day-to-day or week-to-week. All I know is, if we make fewer errors in a match because we've done the work (in practice) and know where we're supposed to be and why, we should do well, maybe even win. It's really that simple.”
With D'Abate's previous conquerings, can there be any doubt?