PROVIDENCE — How bad was it looking for the Woonsocket High girls volleyball team as Saturday morning turned into Saturday afternoon?
“I was ready to text the bus driver. Start warming up the bus. We’re on our way home,” said coach Wayne Poitras.
Big-time adversity was afoot after the Villa Novans fell in a two-sets-to-none hole against Providence Country Day. At stake was the Division IV championship, a prize that seemed within the grasp of the top-seeded Knights considering how mightily the second-seeded Novans had struggled in losing by lopsided scores of 25-12 and 25-8.
Woonsocket appeared to be staring at the end of the line, something that Poitras is familiar with. A few years back, he succeeded in staving off kidney failure after receiving a donation from his wife.
“She saved my life so I could coach these kids,” said Poitras.
Fighting back when all appears to be lost … those same Woonsocket kids followed their coach’s lead and then some. What ensued at Rhode Island College’s Murray Center was a five-set thriller with the Novans going from having their backs firmly up against the wall to emerging as D-IV champs.
“These girls wanted this and we knew we were walking away with the win,” said Woonsocket senior captain Julia Bernard.
The scores from the final three sets – all in Woonsocket’s favor – were 25-22, 25-10, and 15-10.
“We told the kids to calm down and play Woonsocket volleyball,” said Poitras after handing PCD its first D-IV loss of the season. “The first two games, they were blaming each other for the mistakes and pointing fingers. We’ve had that problem all season long.
“I told them to believe in each other. That’s what got us here,” added Poitras, who hopped and skipped to where the Woonsocket fans were standing, showing them the plaque that signified a comeback bid that figures to be the talk of the Cass Ave. campus for some time.
Fittingly, it was the Villa Novan regarded as her team’s top server who supplied the title-clinching points. With Woonsocket protecting a 12-10 lead in the fifth set, sophomore Isabella Mencarini stepped to the line and proved instrumental in rattling off three straight points. Mencarini had a pair of aces up her sleeve for points 13 and 15 – the latter point setting off a euphoric celebration that principal Carnell Henderson and athletic director Nancy Giordano couldn’t wait to join.
“I knew Isabella was getting those serves in, 110 percent,” said Bernard.
Added Poitras, “I used to coach Isabella at Good Shepherd [Catholic Regional School] so I know what she can do.”
The Knights could do no wrong while on the flip side, the Novans were going against the grain. Every mistake that Woonsocket made during the first two sets, PCD was right there to pounce. The result was the two worst sets of the year for Poitras & Co.
No single Woonsocket player personified the turnaround more than sophomore Aje’ana Coleman, an outside hitter and newcomer to the sport. The first two sets, Coleman appeared to be tentative whenever it was her turn to send the ball back over the net. That wasn’t the case over the final three sets as Coleman rattled off one thunderous kill after another. She delivered back-to-back kills in the third set that helped Woonsocket get some breathing room at 23-18 after the set was tied at 18-apiece.
“That’s my girl. She swings and swings and swings,” said Bernard. “The first two games, she was limiting her swing and cutting herself short. I said, ‘Girl, play your game.’ Everyone was trying to do little serves and little hits. Play as hard as you can. Don’t do that lollipop serve. If you’re in the position to play, play.”
Added Poitras, “Coleman has been playing well all season. She’s one of my favorites. She’s crazy good. She accepts details very well. I’m not the easiest coach to play for. I’m pointing and pointing … do this and do that in a way that today, it all jelled.”
After dominating the fourth set that featured aces from Coleman and Mencarini along with sophomore Rylie Forcier and freshman Julia Raymond, the Novans kept the momentum going en route to jumping out to an 8-5 lead in the fifth set. The Knights never got to within two points the rest of the way.
“The best part of this is that they didn’t give up,” said Poitras. “They put three solid games together. They dug deep and here’s the result.”
The Novans only lost once this season – a five-set decision to the same PCD squad that appeared on the verge of earning a title. They end up 11-1 and with the program’s first crown since 1989.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” said Bernard. “Down 2-0, we knew we had to go all in. We know how each person plays. It had nothing to do with our physical abilities. It was all mental. We just had to get out of our heads. Once we did, we were working hard and having fun.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03