PROVIDENCE — There’s a certain look the North Kingstown girls volleyball team gets. It’s not always there, but it always seems to be there when the Skippers need it.
“We’re just so focused and in the zone,” said junior Jaime Harrington. “When we’re in that mindset, we just play really good volleyball.”
When the best plays its best, look out.
The Skippers did it again Sunday night at Rhode Island College, dominating at times in the state championship match and rediscovering that form just in time when they wavered. The result was another win – the program’s 59th in a row – and its third consecutive state championship.
“What a wild ride,” head coach Brian Garrepy said. “It’s been great. Fantastic.”
North Kingstown has been to the finals in five straight years and hasn’t lost a league match in the regular season or postseason since the 2016 title match, when it was defeated by Barrington. The seniors on the team have ended each season of their careers in the finals, while the three-year players have never tasted defeat.
“It’s just really incredible,” senior Haley Sawyer said. “I don’t see it as 59 matches. I see it as we just won a state championship. Next year, I’m sure they’ll start over and try to win again.”
There have been close calls along the way, like last year’s championship match, in which the Skippers trailed two sets to one and had to win in five. This year, though, there wasn’t much drama. South Kingstown was the only team to take a set from the Skippers in the regular season. Cranston East did it in the semis, but North Kingstown responded for a 3-1 win.
“I think they were prepared for it,” Garrepy said. “In the semifinals and the finals, teams are giving you their best shot, every time. East served real well and this group (La Salle) has a lot more offensive prowess . . . We see it in practice every day. Our split groups are not the lineup you see on the floor. It’s very mixed up and it provides a high level of play night in and night out, and I don’t think that there’s panic in them.”
The Skippers took the opening set 25-18. After a back-and-forth start that left them trailing 11-9, they turned on the jets, with four kills by Keri Spitler and a block by McKenzie Monroe allowing the Skippers to win eight of the next nine points for a 17-12 lead. Three straight kills by Brooke Bolster, Spitler and Sawyer made it 22-15 after a brief surge by the Rams, and a kill by Spitler followed by a Bolster block finished off the win.
Game two followed a similar pattern, with the Skippers breaking things open midway through. Out of a 9-9 tie, they took advantage of two errors to grab the lead then got a Spitler kill and two Bolster aces in a run of four straight points. After La Salle made a late push to get within four at 23-19, the Skippers finished with a bang on kills by setter Ava Mattiucci and Spitler.
In the third set, the Skippers weren’t able to go on a run, winning no more than three straight points in the early going. La Salle did get hot, winning four in a row on two occasions. The second such stretch marked the beginning of a nine out of 12 run for the Rams, which gave them set point at 24-20.
A win by the Rams might not have changed the final outcome – there would still be two more sets to play. But anything can happen in a title match, and the Skippers don’t like to lose anyway. It’s never too far from their minds, 59 straight wins be damned.
“There’s always that,” Sawyer said. “Whenever you walk into a match, you have to focus or else. If we have a bad day, we are beatable. We’re not unbeatable. We always have to bring it.”
And soon enough, they brought it.
An error on the Rams made it 24-21. Solid serves by Mattiucci led to two more La Salle errors, which made it 24-23. Then came the boom, as dynamic defense by Harrington and Lauryn Mattiucci led to a kill by Monroe on the longest point of the night. Spitler followed with a kill that made it 25-24.
“That timeout I called late, it was the first time all season I saw a little bit of ‘Hey we’re just a little unsure about what we’re doing. We’re not communicating for just a minute. Is everyone OK?’ And they said, ‘We’re good, coach,’” Garrepy said. “I don’t think they thought they were going to lose at 24-20. I think on the bench, we felt like, get a couple of serves in, and play some solid defense, convert and execute offensively, we’d be all right. It doesn’t always happen, but I don’t think they thought at any moment that it was going to come to that point.”
Out of a La Salle timeout, Ava Mattiucci’s serve was off target, which tied the score again. The Rams won the next point on a North Kingstown error, but gave it back on a service miscue. A block by Cadia Greene got the Skippers to match point and they won it on a block by Monroe.
“We don’t really get rattled,” Harrington said. “We just did what we normally did, we didn’t change anything and we kept that focused mindset.”
Spitler paced the Skippers with 17 kills, Sawyer logged seven, Greene had five and Bolster tallied four. Monroe had four blocks and Bolster served up three aces. Harrington and Lauryn Mattiucci shined defensively, while Ava Mattiucci ran the offense well from the setter spot.
For Spitler, the championship was new territory. She’s a senior, but her family moved from Texas before the school year. She was a welcome addition.
“It was awesome,” Spitler said. “I’ve never had that feeling before. It’s so awesome to be able to experience that. The team was great. They’re all so loving and giving. They really accepted me on the team, which is awesome, especially for my senior year.”
That kind of atmosphere has been a constant throughout the win streak. It’s all in service of good volleyball when the Skippers take the court, but the good volleyball is perhaps in service of the team, too.
For 59 matches, the Skippers have tried to play their best for each other.
“We talk about it all the time. This is all bigger than you. It’s not about you, it’s about us,” Garrepy said. “We talked on the bus before we stepped off, about ‘Take a look at everybody around here and enjoy the moment. Look at the faces. Your memory that we share here tonight, win or lose, is with this group of people. Let’s just embrace this moment because it’s about us. It’s three months of hard work, and it’s the preparation in the summer and the preparation in the offseason, collectively you set a goal, you attain it. No one else in this gym can share that with you. That’s about us.’ It’s been a great group and it’s been a great run. A pretty awesome run.”